§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH,
in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that having trespassed at some length on the indulgence of the House on a recent occasion, when he asked leave to introduce the Bill, it was not his intention to occupy its attention now for more than a few minutes. He would not enter into the motives or the policy of the Government, which he then indicated at sufficient length, nor would he again refer to the new powers which they considered necessary to be entrusted to a county authority. Those powers seemed to be generally acceptable to the House, and he should have an opportunity by-and-bye, if occasion should require, to enter into them more fully. He wished now to explain more clearly than he had hitherto done, some of the provisions of the Bill, as to which some little misapprehension appeared to have arisen. First of all, there was the selection of the petty sessional area as the area upon which the new county body was to be constructed. So far as it was to be of an elective character, it must not be supposed that the Government had any rooted objection to the Union area as a basis of local administration, and still less that there was any d priori desire to select the petty sessional area on account of any motive which was not apparent on the face of the Bill, or in the speech with which he introduced it. There was no such motive or intention. Indeed, when he first began to endeavour to construct a Bill on this subject, his desire was to adopt the Union area as the unit, and he only gave up the idea, just as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) gave it up eight years ago, because of the extreme difficulty and complexity which he found to exist in connection with it in pursuing it to a final issue. The Government had therefore adopted the petty sessional area as the unit most convenient and ready to hand, and which seemed to present, on the whole, the fewest objections and the greatest advantages. All the objections he had heard against the adoption 1652 of the petty sessional unit applied equally to the Unions, while the recommendations in their favour far outnumbered those who attached to the Union as the unit, besides which, they would have the effect of encouraging county feeling, which, were it not for the Parliamentary Elections, would have long since died out. One objection to the adoption of the Union area was, that out of 650 Unions—in round numbers—in England and Wales, 180 overlapped county boundaries, and some of the Unions overlapped the boundaries of two and three counties. Therefore, in laying down the regulations for the election of a county board, it would be necessary to provide special arrangements for the exercise' of their duties by the Guardians of such outlying parishes. That alone was a very serious difficulty. He would not here dwell upon the question as to whether it would be possible to bring the Poor Law business within the county boundaries, as that would lead him to prolong his remarks to too great length. He would only say that although, in some instances, that no doubt might be effected in the course of time; yet, generally, he should say that the operation was impossible so long as the Poor Law administration remained as it was. The extent to which Unions overlapped county boundaries varied very much; but, however large or small the overlapping portion might be, that portion must, of course, be represented on the county board. Another objection to the Union areas was, that in many cases they comprised quarter sessions boroughs, which were omitted from the action of the present Bill. That objection was entirely removed by adopting the petty sessional area, which in no case included quarter sessions boroughs. Then the petty sessional divisions, when combined together, formed a complete county, and the centre of each petty sessional area would generally be a more convenient place for the Guardians to go to than the workhouse of the Union. Further, there was the incidental advantage that the clerk to the justices was a convenient person to exercise the functions of a returning officer for the purpose of conducting the elections under the Bill. It was a postulate of his that these petty sessional areas must, as a rule, be convenient. It might be said, however, that they varied 1653 very much, in size. No doubt there was a good deal to comment upon as regarded their inequality; but did it really matter if inequality existed as regarded population? He should argue that the great object was to get the county represented as a whole in a convenient and equal manner; and taking the average of the counties of England, the petty sessional areas were sufficiently numerous to form a fair basis for constructing a county authority. They had no separate rating powers, and no separate interests, which would make them rivals of one another, and that appeared to him to be a very great advantage. It should be remembered, too, that there was not a large proportion of very small petty sessional divisions. Out of 750, only about 50 contained a population of less than 10,000; there were 33 with a population under 6,000, and 21 with a population of more than 6,000 and under 10,000. One great advantage of the arrangement he proposed would be that the county boards would be framed with a view to the interest of county ratepayers as a body. It not being a rating area, the members would attend the county board in the interest of the county rate as a whole, and they would have for the first time to look at the county as that which was to be the special object of their attention. There could be little doubt that advantage would arise from making the counties the real administrative areas; although, without doubt, something could be said in favour of the adoption of Unions as the units. The natural effect of the Bill, moreover, would be to give to the largest populations the major part of the voting power. As regarded the county rate, the working of county boards would not necessarily involve any great addition to the expenditure. He had already shown that when the Prison Act came into operation, the county rate would not exceed 1½d. in the pound, and there was no indication that under the Bill any large expenditure would be incurred. Whether, as time went on, any further powers would be assigned to the county board was a point on which he would not enter. There might certainly be some small addition, but the main function of the boards would be to carry on the work which had previously devolved upon the magistrates sitting at quarter sessions. It had been supposed that under Clause 19 the elected mem- 1654 bers of the boards would have nothing to do with the administration of the county road fund. That was a misapprehension of the objects of the clause. The only elected members who would be debarred from the administration of the fund in question would be those from the towns, who contributed nothing towards it; the other elected members would, of course, take part in it. It had been suggested that the three Bills which stood in his name on the Paper—the County Government Bill, the Highways Bill, and the Valuation of Property Bill —might in some particulars have been amalgamated; but he could assure the House that, having carefully studied the whole question, he had only included in each measure the principles which belonged exclusively to the particular subjects with which they proposed to deal. At the same time, he had endeavoured to arrange the provisions of these Bills so that they would work into each other. The Highway Bill, he hoped, might be read a second time at the same time as this Bill. Its great object was to facilitate the formation of highway boards. With regard to the Valuation Bill, it proceeded on the same lines as the Bill of last year, and the system was one which was familiar to the Assessment Committee. It was no new scheme; indeed, much of the difficulty had arisen from attempting to separate in the public mind what was old from what was new. He might mention that he had inserted in the Valuation of Property Bill a provision which set out very clearly the duties and functions of the county board with respect to valuation business. If, hereafter, when the county boards should have secured their position in the country, they should become dissatisfied with the operation of the proposed measure, they might endeavour to construct a new system of valuation upon the principles of the Scotch Act. In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman moved the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
§ MR. STANSFELD,
on rising to move as an Amendment—That, with a view to simplify and strengthen local self-government, it is desirable, with as 1655 little delay as possible, to bring each sanitary-district and Poor Law Union within the area of one county, and to give to the ratepayers in and of such districts the power of directly electing members to the county board exceeding in number the representatives of justices,said, that he had no intention of defeating the Bill, and did not wish to press his Amendment to a division; it was not framed to catch votes. If he received assurances from the Government that they would go into Committee with the view of making this really a House of Commons' measure, he would not divide. There would, however, he believed, be a division on the Bill; because some hon. Members were so strongly impressed with the conviction that the Bill was insufficient to meet the exigencies, that they would vote against its second reading. Such was not his view. He wished to compare the Bill, as explained by his right hon. Friend, with the Amendment which he had placed upon the Paper, avoiding entirely the question of the functions of the county boards, and dealing only with their construction. The modern art of drafting a Bill had become quite a strategical and diplomatic matter—indeed, he might say a fine art—and it would seem that the present Bill was no exception. It was usual now to place at the commencement of a measure some clause which would define and express in some few words the policy of the whole Bill. That clause was called a dominant clause, and he had found that all inconsistent clauses which followed it either disappeared in the course of discussion, or became inoperative. In the Bill now before them, the 3rd and 4th clauses were the dominant clauses. They provided that the court of quarter sessions, when transacting administrative business, should constitute the county board. The board was to be a quarter sessions board—a justices board, with the addition of some elected representatives. They were to be chosen in a division which was a justices division, and not within the administrative area. But he held that the question of the consolidation of a system of local government in our counties was so important that the best way was not necessarily the easiest way. They should look difficulties in the face and adopt the best, although it might not be the easiest, course. The 25th clause of the Bill proposed to confer upon the new county 1656 board very important functions, and enabled it to undertake a difficult and, it might be, an invidious task. The county board would be entitled to prepare schemes for the approval of the Local Government Board and the confirmation of Parliament for the re-arrangement of areas and boundary lines. That was an admission that such re-arrangement was desirable. He would go further, and say it was not only desirable, but absolutely essential. His right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Selater-Booth) had said—and it had been made almost an argument in favour of the Bill—that the elected members of county boards, not being so as representatives of administrative areas, would represent the county at large, instead of any particular district. Instead of that being a virtue, he (Mr. Stansfeld) considered it as a radical fault, a fatal provision of the Bill. He failed to see in the composition of the county board the motive power or the authority necessary for the carrying out of the policy of the 25th clause. The members of the board would be chosen by Guardians, it was true, but by Guardians of the petty sessional division. There would be, in fact, no relations between the board and the subordinate sanitary authorities, either in the functions or in the constitution of the board. The power to be conferred was permissive, but there was an entire absence of motive to exercise it. There was no obligation placed on the board to undertake the difficult and, as it would sometimes be, invidious work of dealing with areas and boundaries. If there was failure as to motive, there was failure also in the matter of authority. It would no doubt be said— and there was some truth in it—that gentlemen chosen to represent districts would be the most difficult to convince of the necessity for a re-arrangement. Although it would be very difficult, the true way to go about the matter and get the work done—work which was admitted to be desirable and which he regarded as absolutely necessary—would be to put upon the districts concerned the duty of re-arranging the boundaries. With the permission of the House, he should now pass from the Bill to the Amendment. It involved three propositions, and they were large ones. The first was that, in order to ensure a sufficient reform of the organization of local 1657 government, all subordinate areas should be brought within the county, and that the members of the county board should be chosen in and for those areas. The second proposition was that the members of the board should be chosen by the direct election of the ratepayers; and the third proposition was that the elected members should be the majority of the board. The first proposition was, in his mind, the most important, though the others were also important. Let them inquire what it was they wanted when they proposed, as hon. Members had been urging, the institution of county boards. If their sole object was to create some body partly representative and partly consisting of the justices of the county, if their views were confined to that question, then the Bill was a very good one. He should undoubtedly have certain criticisms on clauses to offer; but, if that were the limit of his hope and vision, he should not have placed an Amendment on the Paper to the second reading. But he did not think that was the problem in the minds of local government reformers. He thought it was a very much larger problem. It was the simplification and consolidation and strengthening of local government within the counties, and he hoped that the simplification and consolidation could be effected in connection with the institution of county boards. That was, he held, a very much larger proposition. There were certain principles which he thought should be kept in view. In the first place, they ought, according to his opinion, to begin and build up from the smallest administrative units, and every large area in a county ought to be a multiple of those smaller units. The relation of the county to the smaller bodies, in his opinion, ought to be that the county should be a federation of the whole. In the second place, all the functions in a given area ought to be exercised by one governing body. If they wanted to get the best men, they must not be afraid to place responsibilities on the boards, and they must avoid small and petty areas. In the third place, let all the electoral areas be administrative; because, he believed, by that process they could best consolidate the local government of a county into one whole, and thereby enable it, in these difficult, centralizing days, to hold its own. He maintained 1658 that the principles he had laid down were the principles contained in the Re-port of the Sanitary Commission. It laid down a proposition which the Public Health Act of 1872 was drawn to carry out, and since it was passed the whole country had been divided into sanitary districts, with only one sanitary authority in each. In framing that measure, he was not restricted to this object, but he had in view the proposal now before the House. The passages in the Report of the Sanitary Commission relating to the waste of power in local government from the variety of areas, and the desirability of making the larger areas exact multiples of the smaller, showed that he was not original in the views he laid down; but that he was entitled to endorse them with the authority of the Sanitary Commission. There were two lines, either of which the House might adopt; but it could not devise a compromise which would secure the advantages of both. It might adopt what he would without offence call the quarter sessions point of view; it might recognize the fact that the justices, as the existing authority, held the county administration, and might constitute a board by adding to the court certain representative members. That was the easiest plan, if we did not look further than the construction of a board to do the present work of the justices. The other view was that which he had endeavoured to embody in his Amendment —that of local government reform, of building up from units an administrative whole, and thus constituting an authority which should have vitality, cohesion, adaptability, and strength enough to resist the centralizing tendencies of the day. That was an advantage they would never get out of a board standing by itself. He did not much care about its present functions; he was content, when it was founded, to give it enough business to begin with, and to let it have time to grow. But it was essential, when they undertook re-construction, that they should construct upon true lines, and should constitute a board the best calculated to accomplish the objects for which it was founded, and the best able to hold its own. If, however, they once adopted the plan now proposed, it would stand in the way of a more eligible scheme. Any mistake in respect to function or the mode of electing members 1659 might easily be remedied; but, if county boards were once built up from petty sessional divisions instead of administrative areas, the difficulty of abandoning those lines 'would increase with the necessity for doing it, and he believed they would have to abandon it if they were going to effect any real reform. There were between 30 and 40 urban sanitary districts which crossed county boundaries, and 11 of these were boroughs; and of Unions which did so there were about 180. The difficulties presented by these cases ought to be faced, not only for the sake of improved administration, but also for the sake of certain reforms which their solution would facilitate, and which he had long had in his own mind. For that reason, he was anxious that the first part of his Amendment should be adopted. It was now universally admitted that the great test of a good administration of the Poor Law was the rigid administration of out-door relief, and that it was not only best for the ratepayers, but for the poor man himself; and the process would be assisted by enlarging the area of charges for in-door relief. That had been the experience of the metropolis, and it would probably be that of the country. Union of administration would also facilitate the classification of poor-houses and of pauper inmates, and that in itself would be an immense administrative reform. It was evident the transitions incidental to these changes might render it less difficult to deal with outlying parts of Unions beyond county boundaries. There were two other propositions on which he would touch very briefly. The first was the question of election. He was in favour of direct election by the ratepayers. If the members of county boards were elected in that way, they would speak with greater authority. He thought that the Metropolitan Board of Works had gained neither in dignity nor in authority by the process of indirect election. The objection to direct election was the very natural one of trouble and expense. But that objection might be completely met by the adoption of the American system of simultaneous election throughout the country of all kinds of local boards on the one day, the one hour, and by the same process. According to the Bill, in only 12 out of 60 counties would the elected members be in a majority upon the boards. He proposed 1660 in his last proposition, however, that the justices should be in a minority of one-third upon the boards, and not on an equality; as, according to the provisions of the Bill, they would be, in 48 counties out of 60. He believed, even from the justices' point of view, it would be far better that the justices should be in a minority of one-third. He had not the slightest feeling of jealousy towards the justices. They belonged to a class which had the utmost capacity for county work, and it would be their own fault if they did not become supreme in the management of the county board, however that board might be constituted. But they had better be in a minority, because, if they were half, a question of parties would arise, and there would be a Guardians' party and a justices' party; whereas, if they were put in a minority of one-third, they would be put in a position in which they would seek to lead. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "with a view to simplify and strengthen local self-government, it is desirable, with as little delay as possible, to bring each sanitary district and poor law union within the area of one county, and to give to the ratepayers in and of such districts the power of directly electing members to the county board exceeding in number the representatives of justices,"— (Mr. Stansfeld,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. J. E. YORKE
said, he had listened with great satisfaction to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld), which was characterized by great clearness of statement and philosophical breadth, and was a valuable contribution to the literature of this question. With the exception of that part of it which related to direct election, he agreed with all the propositions laid down in the Amendment, and if the right hon. Gentleman would only consent to leave out that little question, he (Mr. Yorke) would be willing to enrol himself as one of his disciples. In the construction of the higher local authority we ought to consider the position in which it would 1661 stand towards the intermediate authorities -which at present dealt with so many different functions, and in the future would probably have to deal with more. He believed, therefore, it would be the wiser course in the long run for his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman and make the rural and sanitary district the administrative unit. He had listened with great pleasure to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the Poor Law reforms likely to result. He (Mr. Yorke) was a member of the Board of Guardians of St. George's Union, Hanover Square, and he had been much struck by the superiority of the work done in London for the education of the young and for making provision for the aged and infirm over what could be done in rural districts, where the inmates were comparatively few and the workhouses scattered. A large number of officials might be abolished altogether, while the different classes of paupers were better attended to than they were at present. He agreed, also, with the right hon. Gentleman as to the propriety of extending the area of contribution towards the expense of in-door paupers. It would, in his view, be very fortunate if they could add to the already powerful inducements to restrict out-door relief, especially if, in more prosperous times, they could get help for these purposes from Imperial sources. The right hon. Gentleman had every right to speak with authority on this subject, for he was the first to divide the areas into urban and sanitary districts, and the first effect of the measure they were now called upon to consider would be not only to strengthen local government as opposed to the advance of centralization; but also to promote the simplification of the extraordinary complexity and difficulty of intermediate areas and jurisdictions. As to the number of magistrates as compared with the elected members of the future board, he said that he was willing to believe that the majority of the elected members would be magistrates, and he agreed that it was better they should be so; because they not only had more leisure, but, from the advantages of the position they occupied, were particularly qualified for the office. If they were magistrates, it was better 1662 that they should appear there as elected members rather than as ex-officio members. He had always considered it a great anomaly that the nominees of the Crown should appear to deal with rates not as ratepayers, but in their official capacity; and he thought they would occupy a stronger position, and be less likely to excite jealousy, if they appeared not as nominees of the Crown but as elected ratepayers. The only other point between himself and the right hon. Gentleman was that of direct election, and here he thought he saw, he was sorry to say, a little of the cloven foot of political feeling. There was a talk of household suffrage in counties, placing everything on the same footing as in boroughs. This Bill had even been called a measure for erecting county municipalities. Now municipalities were very good in their way; but there were many drawbacks associated with them. There were contests which led to carnivals of intoxication and riot, which often lasted some days, and the best men were not always appointed. Then there was the objection of expense, which was one of the questions which the Local Taxation Committees had set their faces against, believing that they had sufficient in the way of expenses already; the school-board elections had produced a considerable amount of dissatisfaction on account of the expense involved, and he would be unwilling to see any further steps in that direction. He believed if his right hon. Friend having charge of this Bill would consent to substitute the area proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite for the petty sessional area which he sought to introduce, and would grapple boldly with the question, he would have a better chance of effecting a great and satisfactory change than if, from alarm at difficulties as to the question which were rather on the surface than real, he were to pursue a different course. At any rate, if the right hon. Gentleman withdrew from his Resolution the part he (Mr. Yorke) had indicated, he should be prepared to give him his support.
§ MR. HUTCHINSON
said, it was his intention to support the Amendment. When the Bill was introduced, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) expressed his satisfaction that the Government had redeemed the pledge given by them last Session, and there 1663 could be no doubt that great interest was generally felt on the subject. He approved of the proposals which tended to make the office of Guardian of the poor more important by investing it with new powers. The 19th clause, as it stood, would be most objectionable, and should be struck out, as it included justices as well as elected members, the latter being assumed to be unworthy or incompetent. [Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH said, he had already explained that that clause had been wrongly drawn.] The questions of direct and indirect representation, and of the proportion in which magistrates and elected members sat at the board, were of vital importance; and he thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) could only make a system of indirect election acceptable by increasing the proportion of the elected members. The public might accept indirect election, provided there was a majority of two-thirds of nominated elected responsible members. The propriety of giving in-door or out-door relief depended entirely on different social conditions, and there were cases in which it would be a great cruelty and a great error to force a family into a poor-house when a little out-door relief would enable them to avoid it. It was an omission that there was no provision in the Bill for the publicity of the proceedings of county boards and for the periodical publication of accounts of the expenditure of the rates. In view of the large sums of money which these bodies would have at their disposal, their accounts should be periodically published, and should be forwarded to each contributing body. He should vote for the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld), and, should it not be carried, for the second reading of the Bill, on the ground that it was the beginning of a better state of things. The public once being accustomed by it to a system of local self-government, would desire to extend what must now be looked upon as an experiment.
§ MR. W. STANHOPE
thanked his right hon. Friend for producing this Bill. He thought, in doing so, that the Government had worthily, so far as opportunities had been presented to them, fulfilled those pledges which they gave when they came into office, inasmuch as they had redressed the grievances of ratepayers who had been paying taxes 1664 which ought to be transferred from local to Imperial account. The Government now proceeded with a steady step in the same direction, and he thought it very necessary that a large and powerful body should be interposed between the Unions and the Local Government Board. There were continually new duties which had to be cast, on account of fresh legislation, upon Unions, such as sanitary and educational measures. Many of these duties were not such as could be properly performed by the quarter sessions; and, therefore, there should be a direct authority established by a fresh modification of the quarter sessions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) had remarked that the dominant clause in the Bill was the 3rd clause, and it was to that clause he took the greatest exception, and wanted to fill up the county board from the areas of the rural and urban sanitary authority. He (Mr. Stanhope) differed from him on this point, because there existed so large a number of urban authorities, composed of small isolated parishes, where the Local Government Act had been adopted. Twelve or 13 years ago he proposed that this authority should be built upon the authority of the quarter sessions, and that proposition had been favourably received by the Guardians and by the ratepayers generally, by whom he thought it would be considered more of an honour to be themselves received as members of quarter sessions for all purposes except those for the administration of justice than that the magistrates, on their side, should be elected to a county board which sprang from a lower division of the people of the county. But it was necessary that a large and fair portion of that body should be elected, though not by the direct system approved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. If the right hon. Gentleman was unwilling to have one-half magistrates, he (Mr. Stanhope) was willing to accept a smaller proportion than that. The great object with respect to this board was, that it should comprise men of all classes who were best acquainted with the subject, who had time to give to the work, and who were likely to form a good working county board. Then, it should do its work by committee; and, being composed of a large number, it should comprise some of the first people in the county—Members of Parliament, gen- 1665 tlemen who had been chairmen of committees on county business, and of Chairmen of Boards of Guardians who were not magistrates. On the question of boundaries, the county boundaries should be inviolate; parish boundaries should not be altered further than they could be altered by existing laws; and the question was, what would be the best representative area? He had always advocated Unions, and he thought the best and most direct representation could be secured in that way. With respect to the petty sessional divisions, although they might be useful in bringing the Guardians together for the purposes of election, still that gave too much of a magisterial complexion to the popular part of the Bill. By the law of England, if two magistrates met together they could hold a petty session. He thought the suggestions about direct election to the boards most objectionable —in the first place, because of the expense which they would involve; and, in the second, because he did not believe there was any real popular feeling on the matter. Good men would not like to subject themselves to the excitement of having to secure an election for a wider district than their own parish. He regarded the provision of the Bill that the members of the board were to remain in office for one year only as objectionable; but he had nothing to say against the proposed constitution of the board, although it had been generally admitted, and, indeed, could not be disputed, that the administration of county funds by the magistrates had been very economical. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who was opposed to the Bill, in speaking of the Corporation over which he had presided, stated, in the last Session of Parliament, that they had incurred a debt of no less than £5,000,000. Well, that was not the kind of administration they desired to see prevailing in the counties. Their debt in the West Biding only amounted to £140,000; but perhaps some gentlemen, if popularly elected, might think that a very poor affair indeed. He, therefore, hoped that when the new county boards were constituted, they would go on the lines of those who had hitherto managed county finance. It seemed to him that the Bill did not clearly enough distinguish between what belonged to its principle and what were 1666 matters of detail for consideration in Committee. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would, no doubt, explain; but to him (Mr. Stanhope) it appeared as if the Highway Bill were included in the County Government Bill, and that the former was merely a kind of enabling measure directing how the highway provisions in the latter were to be carried out. He, however, looked upon this Bill as providing a new starting-point in county government, and he should be glad to support the second reading.
§ MR. MUNTZ
observed that if his hon. Colleague (Mr. Chamberlain), to whom the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Stanhope) had referred, were in his place, he could have explained that the debt to which allusion was made had been incurred under the authority of an Act of Parliament in the purchase of gas and water works. He regretted to oppose any measure brought forward to meet the wants of society; but with respect to the present Bill, he was opposed to it, because he believed that to adopt it would simply be getting out of the frying-pan into the fire. He admitted that the present position of county affairs was anomalous; but still the existing system of county government worked well; it was the most economical and most orderly of any that he had known in any part of the world. They must, therefore, go in for something better or leave well alone. This Bill was neither one thing nor the other. It offered what was to him always repulsive, a divided responsibility, and under its provisions the responsibility of a high-minded body of men would be taken away. He would ask, however, whether the magistrates did not represent the great mass of the property in a county? He had worked on town councils and on quarter sessions, and he knew which was the more economical of the two. The existing county government was to be displaced by a sort of hybrid body, composed of county magistrates and men elected by Boards of Guardians, who belonged to different classes and were not likely to work well together. In the place of those whose administration was efficient and economical they would have 15 or 20 men of one class and 15 or 20 men of another, and if everything did not run smoothly the responsibility would be thrown from one to the other. County boards should 1667 embrace such important duties or responsibilities so as really to encourage the most competent men—not the highest in position, not the moneyed men, but those who would humbly and unostentatiously do so—to come forward and discharge the various important duties connected with county administration. As now proposed, there would be a series of boards all making and levying and collecting rates at enormous expense and with no little difficulty. He had considerable doubts whether these county boards would ever be properly worked by single counties. He doubted whether they would ever get the class of men they desired to work on these boards if they had simply single counties. It appeared to him that it would be better— and that the Bill furnished an opportunity—whereby if they could have two or three counties together, so that something like Provincial Councils might be formed. They would thus have something on a larger scale than that proposed in the Bill, and local legislation could be achieved under favourable conditions. Work which now to a large extent came to London could be done in the counties, and they would not have men coming up to London from long distances for the purpose of getting little matters arranged which might be arranged in their localities. If the Bill were carried, he hoped the Government would adopt the Union instead of the petty sessional district as the electoral area.
§ MR. PERCY WYNDHAM
said, he agreed with the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Muntz) that the present system of managing county business was satisfactory, and would contrast favourably with the manner in which Business was conducted in that House or by Boards of Guardians. It was not, however, a matter of much surprise to him that it should be so; because those now entrusted with the management of these local affairs were the first men in the country, and the system on which they acted had been laid down by such men as the late Speaker, Lord Eversley, Sir William Heathcote, and Mr. Charles Buller. He thought they must first agree upon the object they wished to effect, and from what stand-point they viewed it. If the object was the good government of the counties, he believed that could not be 1668 better arrived at than by leaving things as they were. If they were to satisfy a feeling which it was said was growing, but which he believed was exaggerated, that representative government should be carried out fully—they must adopt a scheme much more stringent than that before the House. But he was content to leave the scheme before them as it was, and contrast it with the proposition of the right hon. Member for Halifax. He understood the right hon. Gentleman adopted a via media between the two. He did not himself see, however, what was the use of retaining so small a number of magistrates as one-third. He preferred the scheme of his right hon. Friend to that shadowed forth from the other side of the House. He hoped, however, with regard to rivers, that it was not intended that the county board should usurp the power of conservancy boards. As to the elections, it was suggested on the other side of the House that there should be elections for all the county officers on the one and the same day; but he believed if this were carried out, and if they had elections for all the objects covered by the Bill in the same day, in Cumberland, at least, and, probably, in most other places the elections would be turned into a political question, and people would vote blue and yellow as the case might be, instead of centring their attention in the one object for which the person was elected.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, that though prepared to vote for the Bill, he was not prepared to give a silent vote. If the Bill were founded on a grievance at all it was founded, to a great extent, on a sentimental grievance. The grievance was that the taxation and government of counties by magistrates at the quarter sessions was a violation of the principle of popular representation, that taxation and representation should be co-extensive. But those things never could be co-extensive. There must always be people who were not represented. The county magistrates did not tax by virtue of the commission of the peace—they taxed by virtue of the power given by Parliament, which had thought fit to delegate to magistrates the power of taxing counties. Therefore, the powers which magistrates exercised for the levying of rates were practically the powers of Parliament, which represented the nation. It had not been shown that the 1669 magistrates of counties had been extravagant in the expenditure of county money. Many of the magistrates were owners of three-fourths of the land of the country; and seeing that the land bore the burden of the rates, it was clear that the rates were paid more by the magistrates than by anyone else. It was therefore very unlikely they would be extravagant; and he must say he had always observed the most minute care taken with regard to the details of the finances of counties. Turning to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he found it exceedingly difficult to understand it. As far as he could make out its scope, however, it did not propose to remove the magistrates altogether, but to constitute a Governing Body, on which there should be a majority of elected representatives of the ratepayers. The effect of the Amendment would be to create a sort of Home Rule government in each county; and whatever he might think of Home Rule for another country, he did not think it would work well in each county. He objected to anything that was likely to turn the elections for these county boards into trials of strength between political Parties. In the case of Town Councils many men were elected, not because they were capable administrators, and therefore best fitted for the office, but because their election served Party ends. This evil would be greatly intensified if it were extended to the elections for county boards, which would then become hotbeds of corruption and jobbery. He thought, therefore, that the proportion of the magistrates on these boards should not be diminished, inasmuch as they were naturally averse from spending money, part of which must necessarily come out of their own pockets, unnecessarily. Popular representation, on the other hand, would be unable to resist local pressure, and would, therefore, be unable to exercise a prudent control over the expenditure. It should be borne in mind that once this power of electing the members of the board was given over to the ratepayers it would be impossible to resume it, and therefore it should not be bestowed without full consideration of the consequences the gift would entail. He thought the plan proposed by the Bill—providing for the election by the Unions of a certain number of representatives on the county 1670 board—preferable to that proposed by the right hon. Member for Halifax, and far less dangerous. He objected to the proposal to hand over the conservancy of the rivers to the county boards, inasmuch as he thought that the only bodies which could properly deal with the rivers were those which had control of them from their sources to their mouths. He had been a Member of two Committees of that House which inquired into the Thames Conservancy, and of one Committee of that House which had inquired into the conservancy of the River Lea; and from his experience of those Committees he thought that if they entrusted that duty to the county boards they would necessarily, in cases where a river ran through several counties, have a divided jurisdiction, and he therefore hoped the point would be reserved for further consideration. He also doubted the propriety of placing the control of sanitary matters in the hands of these boards; but, in any case, he hoped that some steps would be taken to prevent the sanitary officers from being a nuisance and a source of annoyance to all the landowners of the district.
§ MR. RATHBONE
Sir, this Bill has been a great disappointment to those who desire a thorough reform of our local administration. I have always felt that a Conservative Government possessed great advantages for dealing with this question, and had hoped that they would deal with it, as far as they dealt with it at all, effectually, and so as to prepare the way for a gradual systematic improvement of our local institutions. But this Bill, it seems to me, deals very incompletely with many of the points that it attempts to deal with, and I fear that it will actually make the real reform of our local institutions, where most needed, more difficult than ever. A Bill introduced by Government to deal with county management can only be considered as part of a great plan for that reform of the local government of the country which is generally admitted to be necessary. Such a Bill must evidently contemplate the adjustment between the country and the different administrative districts within it of the various functions of local government. It should provide for the joint performance of some of the most important of those functions. This is, in fact, admitted by this Bill, on the face of it, in that im- 1671 portant part dealing with highways. The principle on which it deals with some parts of the country is admirable. But it leaves altogether out of the application of that principle the largest proportion of the population of the country. The urban sanitary districts, though included for other purposes, are left untouched; and yet the most aggravated cases of hardship, as regards highways, occur in many of those urban sanitary districts. This is a Bill which we have all been expecting so anxiously, and which professes to deal with this question of highways; and yet I do not see how it deals, or how it is to be made to deal, with this question with regard to so large a proportion of the districts in which the hardship is so seriously felt. I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) will explain this point. This is an instance of sins of omission of one class which, in my opinion, renders the Bill defective. But the sins of commission chargeable against the measure appear to me to be still more serious, for it not only omits to introduce simplification and improvement into our primary areas of local government, but, by constituting a new area, it actually makes it more difficult to introduce improvement in the future. I have never said or intimated, as the right hon. Gentleman once inferred, that I expected, in the establishment of county boards, a panacea for the present widespread disorder and inconvenience which prevail in our primary areas of local government. On the contrary, I have rather advocated that it would be well to begin by establishing good primary areas of local government, and, on that foundation, proceed to build a system of county administration. But, as it has been decided to begin with county government, the multiplicity and confusion of our areas, and consequent weakness of our system of local government, ought not to be aggravated by such a Bill as this, when a wisely-drawn measure might be made the means of greatly improving those areas. I will leave others to deal with the question of the choice of the petty sessional division as the unit of representation for the members of the board who are justices; but so far as the petty sessional division is made a unit for representation for the elected members, the proposals of the Bill appear to me to be unwise, contrary 1672 to the recommendation of the Sanitary Commission, and contrary to the course of recent legislation. One of the recognized evils of the present system of local government is the multiplicity of areas; another is the overlapping of areas. The Bill proposes to create a new electoral area for administrative purposes, and one which overlaps and differs from every other area. It ought to be a principle in legislation— and it has in recent years been adopted as a principle—that the unit of local government should be strengthened. The Union, or sanitary district, has now been adopted for most purposes, and it is desirable to consolidate and strengthen it; but the Bill proposes wholly to disregard the Union. It is an admitted principle that electoral units ought to be based on community of interest. How is this Bill consistent with this principle? The chief local interests are sanitary, highways, poor, rating, and education. All these are common to the Union or sanitary district in a more or less complete degree. No one of them is usually common to the petty sessional division, which most often disregards the sanitary area, the highway board area, the area of poor relief, the area of rating, and the area of the educational powers recently given to the Union. The petty sessional division has no community of interests, and is unfit to be an electoral unit. Even on its own merits, the petty sessional division is an inconvenient area. They are very unequal in size and population. In Bedfordshire, four divisions with less than 40,000 aggregate population will have 12 elective members; and four other divisions will have only the same number of elective members for 90,000 aggregate population. In Berkshire, divisions of less than 3,000 population will have the same representation as divisions of 20,000. In Durham, 70,000 persons in one large division will elect two members; while 66,000 persons in six small divisions will elect six times as many. While in the West Biding of Yorkshire, Kirkby Mal-zeard, with a population of 3,000, will send the same number of representatives as East Morley with a population of 108,000, and West Morley with a population of 110,000. In other words, divisions 36 times as populous as Kirkby Malzeard will have to be content with the same number of representatives.
1673 This question of area appears to me to be the most important of all, because it is the very foundation of local government. Now, as to the constitution of the county board. In the first place, it seems to me a very great mistake to have so excessive a proportion of members who sit there as justices. It will be a constant source of discontent, and a loss of real influence. We must all wish that men of culture and wide experience and leisure should have great influence on these boards. This would best be secured by taking care that you do not require that a greater number of justices should be elected to sit on the county board than you can find men who will attend regularly and do their fair share of work, and who will not come down only when an appointment has to be made, or a particular point carried. Men of position and ability in this country always have their full share of influence on such bodies if they have to rely on convincing and carrying their colleagues with them, and do not excite jealousy by what may seem to the other members an unfair share in the representation. If the Bill really made an equality between the justices and elected members, still that would have the unfortunate effect, as it has had in such cases, of arranging them into two separate parties, as it were. Now, I do not care so much for direct representation as some others on this side of the House. It has some very great advantages; but there is considerable uncertainty whether people will take sufficient interest in the elections to realise all those advantages. But the plan proposed in the Bill, while not obtaining the advantages of direct representation, throws away all the advantages which are secured by the ordinary approved form of indirect representation. If the Board of Guardians, as the rural sanitary authority, were empowered to send their best men to sit upon the county board, they would send men whose work they had seen, and could judge of; whereas, voting in the petty sessional division, they will be called upon to vote for men of whom they have no such experience; and again, the knowledge that the Guardians were to choose the county board would increase the interest taken in the election of Guardians, and be an inducement to men who thought they might be useful on a county board to obtain that honour 1674 by seeking election as Guardians, and doing good service on the Board. There is another omission in this Bill to which I must draw attention. It is surely very unjust that all those boroughs with separate courts of quarter sessions, which are compelled to contribute largely to county expenditure, should have no representation whatever. For instance, Liverpool contributes from £12,000 to £16,000 a-year towards general county expenditure, and yet would, under this Bill, have no representation whatever. I am sorry to have had to find so much fault with the Bill, and glad to find some points on which I can speak with unhesitating praise. I am glad that, with regard to the payment for roads, the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the principle of dividing the cost between owners and occupiers. It is just that the whole of a charge of this sort, liable to fluctuations, should not be thrown primarily upon the weaker party; but to my mind it is of the greatest importance to the owners of property that their attention should be called to the rise and fall of these charges, and that they should be led to watch and control them before, having become permanent, they have to pay a considerable share of them. Another admirable provision of the Bill is that which requires the county board to classify its work, so as to divide it among committees, and gives it authority to delegate all its powers, except that of borrowing, to such committees. The power of providing county asylums for imbeciles will also, I expect, be found very valuable. I am not without hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consent to modify his Bill to meet objections which I observe have been raised very generally, from the rural as well as from the urban point of view. I think I understood him to infer that he considered this petty sessional division a provisional area, and that it might subsequently be exchanged for a more convenient one. I hope he will consent to grapple with the difficulty at once, and that he will adopt the sanitary district as the primary area. No one knows better than he does, that with every increase of rates or charge, it becomes more difficult to re-adjust our areas; and, at the same time, no one knows better than he does that there is no insuperable difficulty in doing this, for he is constantly making such re-adjustment in the case of sanitary districts.
1675 Suggestions have been made in several quarters for rendering more equitable the incidence of certain of our local burdens. These, if adopted, would still more facilitate this re-adjustment; and I am inclined to believe they are not looked upon with disfavour by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. One suggestion, which I know has the concurrence of many hon. Members opposite, though I do not know the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman thereon, is that, for purposes of in-door relief, counties should be substituted for the present Unions. Such a measure would produce great economy, and make possible great improvements in the administration of poor relief; and if it were adopted, a contribution towards the necessary cost of in-door relief might be one of the best forms of public grants in aid of local expenditure, because it would give a direct and powerful stimulus to the general enforcement of the recognized principles on which poor relief ought to be given. I must just point out that a Paper which has been recently issued by the Local Government Department would, if read casually, give a, very exaggerated idea of the amount of change necessary to bring the boundaries of Unions within the borders of counties. Anyone looking at that Return of Unions and Petty Sessional Divisions would suppose that there were no fewer than 862 Unions in England and Wales, and that out of those 862 Unions, 403 distinct Unions were partly in one county and partly in another. Now, in this enumeration, a number of Unions are made to play the part of soldiers in a pantomime, in which the same body of men march round and round, appearing several times, in order to make an impression by their numbers. Some of these Unions are made to do duty in this way as many as four times. But what are the real facts? In 1876 there were only 646 Unions in England and Wales. I cannot place this matter before the House so shortly and clearly as it has been put in a paper by Mr. R. S. Wright, a short extract of which I will read—Out of about 650 Unions, about 60 are wholly urban; of the remainder, about 410 are" wholly comprised each in one county. Out of the 180 Unions which remain, and which extend into several counties, the parts which extend into a different county from that in which the bulk of the population is situate have in 100 1676 cases a population of less than 2,000, and in 54 other cases less than 5,000, and might probably be merged in other Unions. In the 63 other cases the population of the outlying part exceeds 6,000. In some of these cases there will, no doubt, be some inconvenience in disturbing the existing Unions. But even if it should be thought expedient in certain of these cases to preserve the existing Unions, with special provisions for representation on the county boards of the several counties into which they respectively extend, this does not appear to furnish a valid argument against simplification of areas and authorities in that great majority of cases in which no such special difficulties exist.I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consent to modify the Bill so far as regards the choice of the electoral area and the number of elected members of the county board. Unless this is done, it appears to me that the Bill will only make a real reform unlikely, and I should be sorry to see it pass.
§ MR. PELL
said, that if the thanks of the country were due to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) who had brought forward the Bill, they were also due to his Predecessor in the office of the Local Government Board, the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), for the speech and the propositions he had made. He (Mr. Pell) would say at once that he entirely concurred with the greater part of his Amendment—namely, with so much of it as related to the electoral area. He thought they would get with greater readiness a better selection of representatives upon the board if they voted in the Unions. No doubt, such a change as the permanent re-arrangement of Unions would impose upon the Department a vast amount of inconvenience, labour, thought, care, and time and patience; but, after all, these made up the best part of human life, and he would not, on the strength of such considerations, abandon the idea of reform, but would rather face every difficulty. But although the area which the right hon. Gentleman opposite proposed for electoral purposes might perhaps be the best, his method of election was decidedly the worst. It was the unhappy conjunction in the Amendment of two propositions that made it difficult for hon. Members to know how to vote. He suggested, then, that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw the latter part of the Amendment—namely, that which came after the word "county," relating to the mode of election; and that if he did so he 1677 would probably receive an overwhelming amount of support from both sides of the House. With regard to the Bill, he was quite sure that the House would do its best to make it a good Bill. As to the composition of the board, it was not quite clear to him; but he supposed it would be possible for the Guardians to elect a magistrate, if they liked, over the heads of other persons who were qualified to serve on the board, but who were not magistrates. If that was so, and knowing the sort of feeling there was in the country to elect the big man of a district, he thought the Bill would be none the worse, and probably more acceptable to the counties, if, with such limitation — not more than one-third magistrates—the electors were free to select whom they chose, whether he was a magistrate or not. The hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer), crossing the House from the other side, where he was naturally to be found— ["No, no!"]—as much so as a salmon in a river when it was not visiting the sea—in order to speak on this side, had propounded the most extreme Tory doctrines. Whatever might be the case in Ireland, rates fell upon occupiers in England. The hon. and learned Baronet said he had been a conservator of two rivers, including the Lea, which was contaminated by indiarubber works and gasworks, and in other ways between Hertford and London; and, as one who once drank the water, he remembered that you could tell by the sickness in a street the side that was supplied with the water and the side that was not. For his own part, he (Mr. Pell) thought that the transfer of the conservancy of such rivers as the Lea from special to county boards would prove a very beneficial change. As to the second portion of the Bill, with regard to roads, he considered that it had better be omitted altogether, for the less the Bill was loaded with details, the more likely was it to get the assent of Parliament this Session. It was undesirable to give the new boards too many functions at first, and the questions concerning the highways might very well have stood over for the present, to be dealt with by the Highways Bill now before the House. The change proposed in the manner of electing coroners, by transferring the franchise from the freeholders 1678 to the county board, was a very desirable one; but he had indulged the hope that the county rate would be relieved of that official, and he still wished the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench would take him under their charge, appoint him, and pay him—everything, in fact, except let him sit upon them. The most valuable portion of the Bill seemed to be that relating to the re-adjustment of areas, comprising, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Halifax, the re-arrangement of Poor Law Unions. If the House would not sanction the new electoral area suggested in the Amendment, he hoped nothing would be done by the Bill which would put the office of Guardian, or the area in which he worked, into an inferior position to that in which a country gentleman performed his public duties. By making the Union the electoral area they would get men who had been accustomed to act together in reference to the most important of questions — the administration of the Poor Law. It was possible that in future the administration of justice might be more or less intrusted to stipendiary magistrates; but the Poor Law could not be administered by paid officers; the duty must devolve upon those volunteers who were willing and able to discharge it. It would rather raise the position of Guardians and encourage them to cherish noble aspirations if representatives of the petty sessional divisions were sent to work with the Guardians in their Unions. Perhaps one of the first questions dealt with by county boards would be in-door relief. The contrast was most marked between the provision made in London by means of combination and that furnished by isolated Unions in the country. The advantages of combination were seen, not only in dealing with the sick and aged and mentally diseased, but also in matters of education as regarded pauper children. The economy of combination was as well accompanied with better teachers, better buildings, better apparatus, better results. They did not get so good a class of teachers for the Union schools in the country as they had in towns, and there was little hope of any improvement in that matter. It was also impossible to do justice to a few children in a small establishment; and in his district they had disposed of the question by passing 1679 the children into the village school with great advantage, especially to the children themselves. He hoped to see two of their almost empty workhouses transformed, where it was possible, one into a district school and the other into an infirmary for imbecile patients. He believed that by that means the rates would be greatly diminished; that the unfortunate creatures referred to would be better treated; and that their friends would be more likely to send them into an infirmary than into the workhouse, to the very name of which they had a strong objection. The country ladies, with time to spare and an aptitude for such duties, would visit them and look after their comforts, as they did in the Metropolis. In that way, and by mixing up men of higher education with the Guardians, the Bill would unite individuals of the highest position and education with those who belonged to a class below them in the management of county establishments in a way in which they had never been united before, which would, he thought, be productive of the best results.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER,
in reference to a remark from the last speaker (Mr. Pell), explained that he had never stated that he had been a Conservator of the Thames and of the River Lea. What he did say was that he had been a Member of two Committees of that House which inquired into the Thames Conservancy, and of one Committee of that House which had inquired into the conservancy of the River Lea.
§ MR. DODSON
accepted the Bill with satisfaction, because it was a step in the right direction—in the direction of a board that would conduce to local centralization, which he regarded as a great and much-needed safeguard against the tendency to Government centralization. Further, he held the Bill to be a stepping-stone from which they could go forward at no distant period towards a more popular and more powerful institution. He was sorry to hear the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), who was so conversant with subjects of this kind, express a wish that the functions given to the board might be diminished by the withdrawal of the clauses relating to roads. Instead of that, he should like to increase the importance of the board by giving to it more functions than were 1680 named in the Bill; such, for instance, as the duty of deciding appeals with regard to assessments, and. questions relating to arterial drainage and the storage of water. Having accepted the Bill as embodying a sound principle, he should not be prepared to vote for the Amendment, if he thought that Amendment was in any way calculated to defeat the Bill. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth), however, must be aware that, technically 'and literally, the Amendment did not defeat the Bill, but only deferred the second reading to another day. He (Mr. Dodson) thought the Amendment might be advantageously incorporated with the Bill. Indeed, two of its principles were not resisted by most of the speakers who represented the landed interest; and as to the third— the principle of direct election, as to which objection had been taken by several hon. Members opposite—it was more in accordance with the custom and habits of the people than indirect legislation, which was quite a novel institution. There were only three instances of it to be found in the country—the Metropolitan Board of Works, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and Aldermen. He would further make a few remarks upon the point. Indirect election might be valuable as a check against democratic excitement. County boards would arouse no passions. Indirect election almost necessarily involved one of two evils. Either the elected elector became a mere delegate—a sort of telephone through whom the original elector conveyed his own voice to a remote point, or else the original elector lost sight altogether of the purpose for which he was entrusted with a vote. In the present case, he thought the original elector would remember that he was electing a person to discharge the duties of a Guardian, and he would not attach much weight to the fact that this Guardian was to hold a power of attorney, as it were, to elect on his behalf members of the county board. This would be the least of the two evils, as otherwise, instead of choosing the man who was best fitted to discharge the duties of Guardian, the original elector would select the man whom he could reckon upon to vote for a friend or a patron whom he might wish to see introduced to the county board. One of the advantages of direct election was this—the 1681 men who would be directly elected by their constituents would sit with the magistrates on the county board with a keener sense of the importance and responsibility of their position than they would otherwise have. Another advantage would follow; one rural ratepayer becoming accustomed to elect representatives for different purposes and with distinct functions would be prepared for political enfranchisement. He objected to the multiplication of elections; but this might, in the present case, be easily avoided, inasmuch as the ratepayer might be called upon to elect a member of the county board at the same time that he was electing his Guardian. If these elections were held at the same time, a good opportunity would be afforded of getting rid of plurality voting and substituting for it single or cumulative voting. And now as to the proportion of justices to elected members. For his own part, he would not have the least objection to make the whole board elective, and he thought eventually the whole of the members would be elected directly by the ratepayers. He had no fear that the justices, if they cared to be elected, would not be elected in sufficient proportions. But he was not willing to risk the passing of this Bill by pressing an Amendment of that description. It was essential to the good constitution of the board that there should be on it a considerable proportion of gentlemen in the position of magistrates or, at all events, of owners of property. The interests of owners and occupiers were, he would not say antagonistic, but different. The owner had a permanent, the occupier a transitory, interest, and it was important that both should be duly represented on the board. He was quite sure that gentlemen in the position of magistrates would be quite able to make their influence felt, though in a minority. Magistrates would be men of larger knowledge and wider experience than the elected members, and it would be well for them and for the character of the board that they should feel the necessity of relying for their influence on their knowledge and experience, and not on their numbers or social position, He did not wish to go at length into the important question what was the best area to constitute the unit out of which these boards were to be selected. Simplification of areas was no doubt the one 1682 thing specially needed, because many areas meant many authorities, many authorities meant insignificant authorities, more elections, more officers, more expense, waste of power, and less unity of interest. Wherever it was possible the area ought to be the same. There were 649 Unions, between 700 and 750 petty sessional divisions, 640 local boards, about 70 improvement districts, 400 highway districts, and 6,000 highway parishes. In that multiplicity of areas there was scope for immensely reducing their number. It ought to be our aim to assimilate the petty sessional divisions and the highway districts to the Unions. That would get rid of a great many of those divisions. The difficulty was as to the rectification of Unions. There were 181 or 182 Unions which ran into different counties—not only into two, but into three or four counties. It was easy to say, Rectify the boundaries, lop off that part of the Union which projects into another county; but there was this difficulty to be got over—a change of area meant in many cases a shifting of burdens. It might be said that a Valuation Bill would equalize the assessments throughout the country, and no doubt such a scheme would remove some difficulties, but it could not equalize rates. It appeared to him, therefore, that, however desirable it might be to rectify the boundaries of areas and to diminish their number, the task was a difficult one, and would take a considerable length of time. If that could be effected at once, he was prepared to give it his hearty support; but if that could not be done, he would rather accept the disadvantages attending petty sessional areas. He cordially gave his adherence to the principles embodied in the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, and if all three or any of them could be introduced into the Bill in Committee, he thought it would be an effective improvement of the measure.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he might congratulate his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) upon the reception which his measure had met with, because the right hon. Gentleman opposite who moved the Amendment (Mr. Stansfeld) distinctly stated that he did not wish to vote against the principle of the Bill, although he set up a directly opposite principle in the programme he laid before the House. He gathered 1683 from the right hon. Gentleman that rather than imperil the passing of the measure, he would cordially support its second reading. No doubt some objections had been made to the Bill, and they had broadly to consider what was the best thing to be done under very difficult circumstances. They had got to constitute a new board from the commencement, and to take the best materials they could find at hand. He believed his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), while objecting to the number of magistrates upon the board, had stated, and would state again, that so far as magistrates were concerned they had administered most fairly, most economically, and most justly all those matters confided to their charge. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) would go a step further. He was speaking before men who thoroughly understood the question; and while he agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) that it was of the utmost importance that they should take not those who were highest in position, not the moneyed men, but those who were determined to do their duty humbly and unostentatiously, none could be got more likely to act in that way than the magistrates of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) called this a Court of Quarter Sessions Board; but there was nothing which had so much kept the counties together as the quarter sessions and assizes held in them. The right hon. Gentleman had said before doing anything with regard to an elected board they should rectify all the anomalies which now existed.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
considered that to be the very pivot of his speech; but what the right hon. Gentleman wanted—the altering of the boundaries of Unions—was the most difficult of all things to do. How were those Unions usually formed? They were formed so that they should be nearest to the largest towns in the district to enable members of the Boards of Guardians to attend at what was known to be the most convenient place. It would be a downright revolution to change all these Unions, and the Committee which had investigated the subject, over which the right hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. 1684 Stansfeld) presided, distinctly laid down that no alteration of boundaries of counties should take place except where portions of a county were situated within another county, and they did not feel themselves justified in making any alteration in the boundaries of Unions. They did recommend outlying portions of parishes should be annexed to the parishes they joined. Yet all these alterations were to be made before any board was established.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, that what he had said upon the matter was in directly the contrary direction. His argument was that the board which he proposed would be an efficient instrument in preparing a scheme for the purpose.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
asked what the board was which the right hon. Gentleman proposed. He proposed that one-third should be magistrates, and that the remainder should be elected by the Unions; but those Unions had not always the interest of the county at heart, because they were situated in different counties. They must consider that. But his right hon. Friend said, Take what you have got—petty sessional divisions which did not overlap other counties and parishes—let them elect representatives. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) was not going further than that. He considered that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was right in adopting the petty sessional district as the electoral area. It was the best scheme that came to hand, would be more easily carried out than any other, and would give an efficient body of men. Then, as to direct representation, the right hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) wanted a scheme which would teach these men to vote for county representation. But that, of all things, was not wanted.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
wanted to have these boards kept absolutely free from politics. They did not want talking, officious men, but members who would discharge their duty in the best interest of their county, totally irrespective of politics. He was, therefore, entirely opposed to direct election. Considering the importance of these boards, and the number of duties that would be imposed on them, he thought they ought to be elected, not for 1685 one year but for three, if not for five years. If they were to have control with regard to turnpikes, rivers, the building of schools, asylums, &c., time must be given to them to mature their plans. The duties which they had once undertaken they would like to carry to a successful termination. With regard to turnpikes, which were being destroyed as fast as possible, his right hon. Friend proposed that they should be handed over to these county boards, and he proposed that in certain cases they should be enabled to erect a toll. Now he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), for one, totally dissented from the proposition to give them the power of erecting tolls. If it had been thought wise to do away with tolls, he was certain it would be unwise and impolitic to erect tolls. There should be some way of getting out of the difficulty. Surely those on the other side who represented towns must see that the main traffic was between town and town. Take Leeds and Bradford, take Manchester and Oldham, or Sheffield and Rotherham, or any other towns you wished to name, and then see whether the putting of tolls just outside those large towns would not be very detrimental to them. Surely some arrangement could be arrived at by which the towns, for the benefit of which more or less these turnkike roads were made, should pay a small proportion of the county rate. Considering the enormous omnibus traffic in towns like Manchester, he thought that traffic might fairly be charged by itself. There were few people who knew anything about rivers or Commissions of Sewers who would not like to learn from his right hon. Friend how far he meant the control over matters of that kind to be undertaken by a county board. In all our counties where there were tidal and other rivers there were Commissions of Sewers. Did his right hon. Friend mean to sweep away those Commissions and to give to the county board authority in such matters? Those who lived on the spot knew more about those matters than persons who lived at a distance. With reference to the observations of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) as to workhouses and schools, there could be no doubt that it was a most important thing to curtail out-door relief. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had said that for years. He had pressed upon Guardians that a 1686 lavish expenditure in out-door relief was one of the most mischievous things as far as the people of this country were concerned, and in order to make an improvement in the system, in more than one rural district they might combine the Unions together; while the workhouse children might be educated outside. The schools in the workhouses were not to be compared with those outside, and if the children could be brought up in a different atmosphere a good work would be done. He had also always been in favour of imbecile and harmless lunatics being kept in proper and certified workhouses, instead of being sent to the costly lunatic asylums; and he hoped this would now, should this Bill become an Act of Parliament, be carried out. Looking at the whole matter before the House, their great object ought to be to have such a board as should not only carry out all the matters which would be entrusted to it to its own satisfaction, but to the satisfaction of the counties as well and of the country generally.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he thoroughly agreed in what had been said by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) as to the way in which magistrates had discharged their duties with regard to the finances of counties. No body of men could have managed matters more better or economically than the magistrates. Neither did he think there would be any great jealousy between Guardians as a class and magistrates as a class. In fact, a feeling of mutual confidence was often manifested between the two classes. He could not agree with the observations of the hon. and gallant Baronet as to the making of the petty sessional district a unit for the purposes of this Bill. He thought there were many reasons against the petty sessional system, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would re-consider that part of the Bill. The most important question brought forward was the area, because when it had been decided upon in the Bill it would remain the area for all time to come. But as to the mode of election, whether direct or indirect, and the tenure of office, that could be altered in the future. The right hon. Gentleman had said that there were 180 Unions that overlapped counties, and that arrangements would have to be provided for 400 different Unions. He 1687 (Mr. Hibbert) was quite prepared to admit that special arrangements would have to be provided, although his right hon. Friend looked forward to the time when the boundaries would be so altered as to be coterminous with the counties. On the other hand, there were so many reasons against fixing upon petty sessional districts as areas that he was hopeful his right hon. Friend would not persevere with that part of his Bill. What he would advise was, that they should be satisfied with leaving the clause to be considered by the county boards when elected, and that they should at present accept the Union for their unit. Until the question of boundaries was considered by the county boards there would be no difficulty in accepting his (Mr. Hibbert's) own proposal, providing that Guardians of Unions which overlapped counties should vote in the counties in which they resided. The change would certainly be no greater than that proposed in the Bill. As between Unions and petty sessional districts, the adoption of the Union as the unit would slightly reduce the number of persons to be elected, but would give a fairer representation. Another point in the Bill to which he thought it right to call attention was that in petty sessional districts the towns which had a court of quarter sessions would not be represented. While in some parts of the country towns with courts of quarter sessions did not contribute to the county rates, Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton, and Wigan contributed to the general purposes account, for Militia storehouses, and to the asylums no less than £8,000. If a board was to be a real county board, he did not see how the boroughs, which contributed to the county finances for a variety of purposes, could be left without the representation which the Bill did not propose to give them. [Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH said, he believed those arrangements were peculiar to Lancashire.] Perhaps that was so; but there were, or would be, reasons why all boroughs should have representatives; and one reason would be furnished by the proposal to make the boards courts of appeal in matters of assessment, instead of the courts of quarter sessions. He objected to the petty sessional districts being the areas of election, because it would be introducing another new electoral district, 1688 another anomaly into local government, and adding to the chaos which at present existed. As to direct or double election, there was much to be said on both sides; and while, on the one hand, there were good men who did not like to go through a contest for office, yet, on the other, direct election was more in accordance with the present system. He could state that there was a growing feeling in favour of Guardians being elected for three years, instead of as now for one year only. He would further suggest, that as it was a tentative Bill it might only be passed for a limited period, say, for three or six years, and then reconsidered. They were all anxious to get the best boards possible, and in the meantime it might be ascertained how far the proposals contained in the measure, when adopted, had answered the purpose they had in view. He was, however, very anxious not to add to the difficulties and anomalies of the present system; and therefore he hoped that the Union would be taken as the unit for the elections, that being the unit for all administrative purposes. In conclusion, he thought the questions raised by the Bill were so important that they might well occupy the attention of the House not for one night only, but for several nights.
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
said, on the occasion of the first introduction of the Bill a hope was expressed by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) that no political or Party feeling would be imported into the discussion, and he (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) ventured humbly and longo intervalio to re-echo that hope. Perhaps, therefore, he might be allowed to observe that at least up to this point the discussion had been singularly free from any Party bias, and he trusted it might so continue if they were to get a real practical measure. He should hardly venture to take an active or prominent part in such an important discussion, had he not for some time past taken an active share in the administration of a county and also of a Poor Law Union that had been looked upon as very favourable examples of local administration and government; and, with the practical experience of those localities before him, he came to the conclusion that the Bill was singularly well adapted for carrying out the principles which it undertook—namely, the 1689 self-government in the counties. To-day they were, of course, discussing the principles. At the proper time there would be Amendments in detail to be submitted; but the points chiefly objected to on principle were, he thought, the mode of election and the area of election. In a lesser degree also the term of office touched on a principle. Now as regarded the mode of election— that was the principle of double election herein embodied—a broad distinction might be drawn between legislative bodies, which might or might not be constituted by direct popular election, and administrative bodies, which should not, in his opinion, be so constituted. Indeed, he would go so far as to say that if it were proposed to constitute these boards by direct election this measure, which had his hearty support, would have his strenuous opposition; the best men would decline to come forward, and our whole local government would be ruined. There was another principle contained in this mode of election which he would designate "local election." A Guardian was elected by the ratepayers of his parish who knew him, and the elective member of the board would be, under this Bill, elected by his brother Guardians, who also knew him personally. But if he were to present himself to the whole Union there would be an end of that personal or local election, and the worst candidate, not the best, would generally be elected. Then, as to the area, he confessed he was himself taken by surprise at the proposal to adopt petty sessional districts. Also, he entirely agreed with hon. Members opposite and on the Liberal side that ceteris paribus the Union would be the best, as the most important, local body, to send representatives. Further, he agreed that a better selection might be made by men with whom the elective representative should have transacted business; but the difficulty of reducing the Unions to the dimensions of the counties, which applied also to sanitary and highway districts, was for the present insurmountable. It would cause a delay of three years to create a Boundary Commission to correct the overlapping and to act on it, causing at the same time endless local difficulties and heart-burnings. Therefore, he came to the conclusion that the petty 1690 sessional division, the only one conterminous with the county, was, at least for the present, the right one to adopt —it was the only practical solution of the difficulty. Then as to term of office, it might be thought by some hon. Gentlemen opposite that the one year of office would be more democratic than a longer term; but, in fact, the contrary was the case, as a man would have no weight or influence until he had learnt the business, which he could not learn in one year; he would altogether be a more useful member of the board if he remained three years or more in office; and they had likewise the precedent of the school boards. But there was another class of objections, of which they had heard very little that night—in fact, not enough— except a few words from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz). It was a feeling held by many out of that House, as well as some within the House—and, if he did not share their conclusion entirely, he quite sympathized with their reasoning. It was the argument—"Let well alone." The county business was almost a pattern of how public business should be managed; it was administered as efficiently and economically, on the whole, as it well could be by the magistrates. Why seek to interfere with them? That was a very-strong argument to one who looked at the question from the practical point of view that he took; but he submitted also those other considerations to those who offered that objection. The magistrates who now managed the business so well would in every case be associated still to the Board of Management of the county, and be, he trusted, supported by the elective members as much as by the magistrates heretofore. Then there was a not unnatural aspiration among the ratepayers to take a more active share through their elected representatives in the business. Then, again, they would have many larger functions thrown upon those boards, and it was well to strengthen the foundation to carry a heavier weight; and, lastly, those boards would, he trusted, become sufficiently important to counteract the centralizing tendency of the day. To sum up the general results, if the Bill became law, he believed that where a county strengthening and popularizing of local 1691 had been well and efficiently managed, like his own county, there would be little or no perceptible difference; in some there might be room for improvement; in some—very few, be trusted— there might be a slight change for the worse; that was in the expenditure; but even that would be cheaply purchased at the strengthening of local self-government. He believed there were men scattered up and down in the country in every county of England, as there were in every community of this Anglo-Saxon nation, willing and able to undertake the work of local government, who would bring their best abilities to the work for the benefit of their neighbours and the public; and, if he might venture to go one step further, he would say that should that great House ever come by faction, obstruction, or corruption, to lose something of its old renown—or by adhering too closely to the theories of foreign States rather than to the practical teaching of their own stately history, that Assembly should come to lessen its great influence in the councils of the State—then, perhaps, those rural municipalities, those local parliaments they were to-day calling into existence, might serve to maintain in the country the principles of good government and purity of administration, which were the essence of practical progress and of civilization.
§ Motion agreed, to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.