§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Before the House proceeds to the consideration of this Bill, there are several Instructions on the Paper standing in the names of hon. Gentlemen to which it is my duty to refer. The first Resolution stands in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Saffron Walden Division of Essex (Mr. Gardner), and refers to the mode of election and constitution of Boards of Guardians. That question was settled by a Division upon the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) for an Instruction to the Committee on the Local Government (Electors) Bill, which was in these terms—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions in the Bill with a view to assimilate the qualifications of electors of guardians of the poor, including the abolition of plural voting to the conditions prescribed in the Bill with regard to electors of county authorities.So that the Motion made with regard to the constitution of Boards of Guardians was clearly dealt with on that occasion. The second Instruction stands in the name of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace), and it deals with the question of the administration of justice. That question, in my view, it would be irregular to attach to a Bill of this nature, otherwise a very reprehensible practice would be followed or instituted of attaching to a Bill a subject which is in no way relevant to it; it would amount to what is called a tack to a Bill, a practice which would load to considerable inconvenience, and which has been severely reprehended in former times. The same objection applies even in a stronger degree to a Resolution 1441 standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Anderson), because the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes not to give extra powers to the proposed Councils, but he proposes to create a distinct series of Bodies whose jurisdiction would not be coterminous with counties, and which would extend over matters, as in the case of fisheries, of even International importance. Passing over, for the moment, the fourth Instruction, the last three instructions are unnecessary, as it is competent for hon. Gentlemen to move what they propose in Committee without the necessity of a previous Instruction. I have, therefore, lastly, to allude to the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk (Mr. F. S. Stevenson), which is in Order, and I now call upon that hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
said, it was not his intention to detain the House for many minutes on the subject of the Instruction standing in his name, partly because the necessity for dealing with this matter was largely pointed out in the course of the discussion on the Motion for Second Reading, and also because he ventured to think, and hope, that before the close of the discussion on the Instruction he had placed upon the Paper, it might be possible for the Local Government Board to make some proposal in the direction he wished to go. He was not aware what course the Government would take; but he ventured to point out that assenting to this Instruction did not commit them, or others who might support it, to any particular line of action. What it did commit them to was the principle that, in any measure of Local Government reform there should be included a provision for dealing with the reform of Local Vestries. The Vestry was an institution most endeared to the people; it was most connected with them by every tie that was historical, and in it they felt the deepest interest. He thought enough had been said on the second reading to show that there existed in many quarters of the House the feeling that no measure of Local Government would be complete unless it contained a provision of this character, and during the period that had elapsed since that debate a similar feeling had been found to exist. The rural districts 1442 laboured under a considerable disadvantage as compared with municipal boroughs. When the latter had a grievance a great agitation came into force; Members received letters from Town Clerks and deputations waited upon them; but in the case of rural parishes the inhabitants were scattered apart, and had no means of taking such steps and bringing their grievance before the House of Commons and the country such as were possessed by the municipal boroughs, and it was therefore necessary for them to wait until the time of a General Election, when the feeling of the local population found expression at the polling booth. In the case of a measure of such magnitude as that, he thought that the House and the Government would be very ill-advised if they were to wait until the next General Election to hear the opinion of the rural districts on this subject, and if they did not forestall what was now the opinion in the country at large. He had had the opportunity of coming face to face with the opinion in the rural districts, which was that the Bill, as it now stood, was not such as to meet the wants and requirements of the great bulk of the inhabitants of the rural districts. They were particularly interested in the magistrates, so far as their judicial functions were concerned, and in the Boards of Guardians. But while the Bill failed to deal with either, it also failed to deal with that in which they were still more concerned. Although parishes differed widely in size, some being very small and others very scattered, yet the parish formed the historical unit around which certain associations grouped themselves. To the inhabitants, the management of charity lands, allotment lands, were all matters of interest and were closely connected with parochial affairs, the administration of which at the present time was little more than a farce. The Vestries met at an hour when the bulk of the inhabitants were unable to attend; they met at 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock in the morning, and this fact prevented the people from recording their opinions on local matters. Again, they were interested in having the power to elect their own chairman. At present, the incumbent of the parish took the chair, ex officio, and it was impossible, in those circumstances, for the inhabitants to 1443 have the same freedom of expression, of opinion which they would otherwise possess; and when it was decided that a poll should take place there came into operation, under Sturges Bourne's Act, the system of plural voting, which was of such a nature as to prevent the free expression of the wishes of the inhabitants. They were told that all this was to be remedied by the Local Government Bill, inasmuch as under it the inhabitants of the parish would have a direct voice in the election of representatives on the County Councils; but there was no sufficient reason for thinking that the inhabitants of the rural districts would find from the County Councils that amount of consideration which would remove from them the apathy and indifference which they now felt in Local Government. In the first place, the County Council would meet in the county town, which, in many instances, would be very remote indeed from other parts of the county, and it would be difficult for anyone, except those who had leisure and wealth, to engage in the transaction of county business. Again, the inhabitants of the parish would not have any strong interest in the action of the County Council, because the elections would be so frequently fought on the drink question, and if the Compensation Clauses remained in the Bill those who were sent to the Council would not be the persons who sympathized most with the wants and wishes of the inhabitants. These were some of the reasons why they would not take interest in the County Councils, and it was on their account that they wanted to send men who would really represent them. Then, with regard to the District Councils, they were told that the powers of the Sanitary Bodies, including such matters as that of allotments, were to be transferred to them. He ventured to think that it was impossible for the interests of the inhabitants of the different parishes of a district to be adequately represented by an area so wide as the existing sanitary area. He ventured to point out that the reason why the Allotments Act had been in many parts inoperative was that its application had been entrusted to so wide an area as that in which it was now proposed to establish the District Council. He was also of opinion that the question of water supply ought not to be dealt with 1444 by District Councils, but by the parish. Since the debate on the second reading he had received letters from various parts of the country, in which special stress was laid on the power which ought to be vested in the parishes to maintain their own water supply. It was pointed out that in many places it was impossible to obtain an adequate water supply, the cause being that the sanitary area was too wide to allow the wishes of the inhabitants to be carried out. In the case of a parish of 500 inhabitants, it appeared that the only means of getting water was to sink a well, which could only be done by voluntary effort at the present time, the Vestry being unable to take any action in the matter. It appeared to him that such a condition of things ought to find a remedy in the present Bill. He contended that if the parish was left out the title of Local Government Bill would be a misnomer, and he believed that the Government had not altogether realized the task they had entered upon by that omission. The Government were, in his opinion, taking a step in a wrong direction in removing from the Vestries powers which were capable of considerable development, and he pointed out that if they took steps of that kind in a centralizing direction, they would be unable to retrace them, and the powers taken away from the parish vestry could never be restored. Therefore, they ought to make an earnest endeavour to restore to the parish what the Bill proposed to take away from it. Their object should be to develop local life and interest. He could not conceive why, with all the interests and associations clustered around the parish, they should be unable to do what was done so successfully in France and America and other countries. They were told that some parishes were too small to be dealt with as being capable of self-Government; but as far as that went, out of about 15,000 parishes in England and Wales there were only between 1,200 and 1,300 in which there were less than 100 inhabitants, and in those cases there would be no serious difficulty in extending the process now carried out under the Divided Parishes Act. While England and Wales together had about 15,000 parishes there were in France about 36,000 communes. The average size of the latter was considerably less 1445 than the average size of an English parish, and the commune had its own Mayor and Municipal Council. If the system existed in France under the circumstances described, it ought to be much easier to carry out that system in England. Again, he had the example of certain American States before him, and would take New York as typically representative. He found that a village in that State of 300 inhabitants had certain powers vested in its representative authority, and he remarked that they were wider than any Member of the House would propose to confer upon an English parish. From the extremely long list of powers he would read a few items. They had power to compel the removal and abatement of public nuisances, to regulate hawking and peddling and parish grounds, to establish bye-laws, to regulate museums, and to protect trees, to regulate the water supply, drainage, and other matters. These were powers which, as he had said, no one would propose to give to the authorities of an English parish. The wide scope of those powers showed, however, how easy it would be to vest in the English parish the powers asked for. He did not wish to press at that moment any particular Amendment upon the attention of the House, because the object of the Instruction was to enable consequential Amendments to be made in the Bill in connection with parish Vestries, but he thought there were some principles which ought to be adhered to in any Amendment which might be introduced in Committee to deal with this matter. To Clause 47 he had placed an Amendment on the Paper in which certain of those principles were embodied, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) would find on examination in a more perfect form. In the first place, it provided that the powers proposed to be transferred to the District Council should remain with the parish, if the Vestry should choose, and on the condition that the Vestry should be reorganized on a new basis—namely, that it should meet at a reasonable hour, that the members should vote by ballot, elect their own chairman and other parish officers, that they should have the right of delegating to them certain functions, and that the matters placed in their hands 1446 should be such as were distinctly and specifically the affairs of the parish itself. Such matters as those specified in Clause 47 were also to be retained in the hands of the existing Vestries. His Amendment also proposed that the allotments question should be in the hands of the parishes instead of the District Councils. In addition to this the parish was to act as trustee of charity lands, and other powers might hereafter be conferred upon it. He pointed out, however, that the carrying of this Instruction did not necessitate that those who voted for it should vote for the Amendment be had mentioned with regard to Clause 47. There were other Amendments of which he had given notice also relating to the parish, and there was one that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) had placed on the Paper which he should most cordially support. But if this Instruction were lost it would be impossible for hon. Members to introduce any Amendment dealing with parish government, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give a favourable consideration to the Instruction in order that a most vital and essential part of Local Government might not be destroyed, but that, on the contrary, everything possible should be done to develop that local life and energy which he was afraid the Bill in its present form did so much to take away. He hoped the Government would not shelter themselves under the futile plea that the introduction of an Instruction of this kind would over-burden the Bill. That would be simply for the Government to shelter itself behind a plea so often put forward by crafty politicians for the purpose of disguising their craftiness. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would support the Instruction, by doing which they would make it possible for hon. Members on both sides of the House to bring forward on the Committee stage proposals dealing with the reform of parochial government. If the Government were not prepared to do this the district clauses ought to be opposed, on the ground that they would take away from the parish powers which could not be restored, and because, so far from meeting the wishes, feelings, and wants of the various parishes, they would, on the contrary, be taking the life-blood from them, and doing more 1447 than had been done perhaps during the last two centuries to remove that sense of independence and self-reliance which, in the past, had so largely helped to make our rural population what they were at present, in spite of an injurious Poor Law and a still more injurious land system. For these reasons he hoped the Government would not meet the Instruction with an emphatic "No," but that they would declare their willingness to accept its principle in order that the reform of parish government, so essential at the present time, might be effected.
§ MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
said, he would not detain the house more than a few moments in seconding the Instruction which had been moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eye (Mr. F. S. Stevenson). He could not help thinking the course the Government had taken in dealing, or rather in not dealing with the question of parish Vestries was a very unexpected one as regarded the rural population in villages in England and Wales. He thought it was generally understood in the debate that took place last Session on the Allotments Bill——
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. COBB
said, he was saying that the course the Government had taken, in excluding altogether any notice of Vestries was a very unexpected one to rural populations in England and Wales. Those of them who had taken part in the discussion last Session had reason to believe what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie)—namely, that the question of Boards of Guardians and Vestries would be dealt with in the present Bill. Now, he (Mr. Cobb) looked upon what the right hon. Gentleman had said as a distinct pledge, and he would very shortly quote what the right hon. Gentleman had said in answer to a question put by him (Mr. Cobb) and his Friends. On the 19th August last the right hon. Gentleman used these words—The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken in supposing that the present Government imagine that they will deal adequately with the question of local government, if they confine their 1448 attention to the reform of local county government or the setting up of a County Authority. If the hon. Member saw the Bill now in print he would find that we propose not only to deal with County Authorities, but with all authorities within the county."—(3 Hansard,  1,183.)He (Mr. Cobb) did not know whether when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of all the authorities within the county, in his own mind, he included Vestries; but he (Mr. Cobb) could tell the right hon. Gentleman this—and he had some knowledge on the subject, as he had had an opportunity of seeing and conversing with a great many of those who had hoped to derive some benefit from the Bill—he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that those people and the country people generally believed that the right hon. Gentleman had meant that. On the 5th of September, in reply to an hon. Member, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board used these words—I have already said more than once that it is the intention of the Government on the earliest possible day to introduce a Bill dealing with Local Government, not only providing Local Government for counties, but also dealing with Boards of Guardians and other Local Authorities, which, I hope, will be placed on a more popular basis."—(3 Hansard,  1,302.)That, also, they (on the Opposition side of the House) took, and he knew that the labourers and artizans in rural districts also took it on their part to mean that the Vestries and Boards of Guardians would be dealt with. Hon. Members expected, and those people expected, a thoroughly popular measure. They had expected a measure which would not only reform existing institutions, but would also provide new institutions founded upon a popular basis. Now, he would ask the House whether there was any body more important in a rural district than the Vestry? The Vestry had been looked upon, for reasons which he would point out presently, as they had hoped it would be looked upon in the future, as really a Village Parliament. They had hoped, and they had reason to hope, that the parish would be adopted as the unit of Local Government, and he was sure, when he had told the House the reasons they had for so doing, hon. Members would admit that they were reasonable in their expectation. Everyone remembered the scheme which was introduced by the 1449 right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1871, called the Rating and Local Government Bill. In introducing that Bill, the right hon. Gentleman had said that the unit of local administration would be the parish, and one of the objects of the Bill, and as be (Mr. Cobb) understood the right hon. Gentleman, the main object of the Bill, the incipient object, if he might say so, was that the Vestry should annually elect parochial boards and manage their own affairs. He was not going to follow the hon. Member for Eye through his speech. The hon. Member had passed over somewhat lightly the reforms of the Vestries which they had hoped to find in this Bill; but he would, with the permission of the House, point out some reforms to which the agricultural population of the country looked as applying to their institutions. They were very simple, so simple that he could not imagine how the Government had failed to deal with them. He could not imagine how the Government could vote against this Instruction; he could not imagine what object they had in doing so, as these simple alterations which were proposed were necessary in order to do justice to the agricultural population in the counties. What were the main reforms asked for? First of all, there was a reform which he was sure everyone in the House would admit to be absolutely necessary. Surely, it was right, in the case of the meeting of a Vestry, as in the case of a meeting of Parliament or of any other legislative assembly whatever, that the meeting should take place at an hour when those interested in its proceedings were able to attend. But how was it in the case of parish Vestries? Did not hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House know, as he knew, that parish Vestries were very often designedly called to meet at such a time that those who were interested in its work were not able to be present? The meetings were called for 10, half-past 10, and 11 o'clock, and so on, hours at which, as hon. Members knew, labourers and artizans and small shopkeepers could not possibly attend, and the result was that the Vestry meeting very often consisted solely of the vicar and the parish clerk. Now, the vicar was instrumental in calling the meeting. He (Mr. Cobb) had had some experience 1450 of vicars calling these meetings, and he had taken some trouble to investigate several cases where meetings were called, not in the evening, but in the morning, at hours when it was impossible for the parishioners to attend. It so happened that in his own constituency he had come across many cases of the kind, one of them of such a remarkable nature that, with the permission of the House, he would state it. In his own constituency in Warwickshire there was a village called Kineton. Well, the villagers there, the artizans and small shopkeepers, and agricultural labourers, sent a very proper and respectful requisition to the vicar, asking him to call the Vestry at a time when they might be able to attend and express their views on parochial affairs; and he would read the letter which the Rev. Mr. Miller, the Vicar of Kineton, sent in reply to this requisition. It was a long time ago, and he (Mr. Cobb) had had the letter he was about to read in his possession for some time; but that was the first opportunity he had of using it. The letter was dated the 24th of March, 1886, and was in these terms:—
§ "Mr. G. Jarvis and others.
§ It appears to be customary to choose one of the twelve hours of the day for a Vestry meeting—if otherwise, many might reasonably complain. Permit me to advise you—to 'be content with such things as ye have,' to 'love God with all your heart, your neighbour as yourself, and to do your duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call you.'
§ Yours faithfully,
§ F. R. MILLER."
Now, one would have thought that this gentleman, looking at the position he occupied in the Church, would have been able to quote accurately the Church Catechism. The Church Catechism was, at all events, liberal in this respect—that it gave some hope to everyone who read it, that there might at some time or other be a change in their state of life; but this vicar told the people that they must be content with such things as they had. He misquoted the Church Catechism, and said they were to do their duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call them, though the House knew very well that the Church Catechism mercifully contemplated some possible change in that position by holding out a hope that it might please God to call them
ultimately to something better—some amelioration in their present condition. As a matter of business, there surely could be no objection to accepting that Instruction. What possible objection could there be to introducing clauses in the Bill, obliging the Vestry meetings to be held at such times as to enable the parishioners to attend? Secondly, as was well known under the present law, the Vicar had the right to take the chair at every Vestry meeting. Why should that be? Why, in the world, should Vestries not have the right of selecting their own chairmen? If the Vicar was the best man to take the chair, they might be quite certain that he would be the person chosen; but, if he was not the best person, why on earth should he have the right to take it? Vicars were not all accustomed to live in their parishes, and, for local as well as other reasons, might not always be the best men to take the chair, although he admitted that in many parishes probably they would be the best men. He was not giving altogether his own opinion upon that subject, for, if the House would allow him, he would quote a passage from what he thought the best book upon Vestries which had been written. It was called a Treatise on Vestries, and was written by Mr. Justice Wills. Here was a passage bearing upon the Chairmanship of Vestries, which occurred on page 51 of that book—
The proceedings of Vestries are liable probably to more irregularity and informality than those of any other class of public meetings, inasmuch as they are not only frequently distinguished by great heat and animosity between the contending parties, but are commonly conducted by chairmen whose bias is strong and almost uniformly in one direction, and whose habits and occupation render them unlikely to be familiar with the usual practices of men of the world in respect to the conduct of public meetings and the transaction of business thereat.
Then, the third point of reform, those who advocated this Instruction maintained was a very simple one, especially if this Bill was to be passed. It was thought in connection with the Vestries that the principle should be recognized of one man one vote, and that that vote should be given by ballot. He did not wish to go over the same ground traversed during the second reading of the Bill, and he did not wish to deal with
the evils of plural voting, The Government were thoroughly alive to those evils, or they would not have adopted in this Bill in the election of the County Council, the principle of one man one vote. Well, he asked, if County Councils were to be elected on that principle, why should not Vestries and Boards of Guardians be so elected? They were giving the villager the right of voting by ballot; they were giving him a vote which would count for as much as that of any other man, whatever amount of property he might possess, at County Council elections. But these County Councils were of very little importance to the villager as compared with the Boards of Guardians and Vestries in which he was interested. Then there was a fourth point on which reform was required, and that was the right of adjournment of Vestries. One was accustomed in public meetings—in that House, as also, he supposed, in every assembly that was conducted on proper principles—to decide the question of adjournment for themselves. It was generally held that those who belonged to an assembly should decide whether or not an adjournment should take place. He admitted that there was some difficulty from a legal point of view with regard to Vestries in this matter; but he believed that, according to the latest decisions, it had been held that the only person who had the right to adjourn a Vestry meeting was the Chairman, who was the incumbent of the parish. What a very small thing then it would be to introduce into this Bill a clause bringing about these reforms in connection with parish Vestries—particularly upon this point, saying that Vestries should be adjourned by resolution. Probably, the most important thing which the parishioner claimed for parish Vestries was that they should have the right of electing their own parish officers by ballot, as he had explained, on the principle of one man one vote. The election of parish officers was a very important thing indeed. Here, again, he would assure the House that he was not going over the whole second reading ground with regard to churchwardens and overseers, except to this extent—namely, to point out that it was a most important thing for the people in a village to have the right of electing their own
churchwardens and their own officials—for this reason, that in a great number of parishes the parochial charities were vested in the incumbent, overseers and churchwardens, and if the people had the right to appoint overseers and churchwardens, they would have a majority on the Committee that carried out the distribution of these charities, and thus they would have what was intended for their own benefit in their own hands, instead of in the hands of those, who, he was sorry to say, now largely applied those charities, not for the benefit of the poor, but for the benefit of the Established Church. He did not know whether he was right in saying so, but it had struck him in reading the debates an the Allotment Bill of last Session, that the Government and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) had not sufficiently appreciated the importance of this question of Vestries. He knew that it seemed a very small matter to many hon. Gentlemen in the House, and he must say that it seemed small also to some of those who were now pleading for parish reform, before they had to mix with the people in the counties as he had had to do, and before they were aware of how vitally important it was to the people in the parishes that they should have the management of their own affairs. He could assure the Government that this question of parish Vestries was no small matter. He believed that that question, and the question of Boards of Guardians, which the House would have to consider very fully when they came to the Amendments on the Bill, were far more important and far more thought of by the people in the villages than any question of County Councils or District Councils. Those questions, in his opinion, the people in the villages cared very little for. Now, he hoped very much that the Government would allow this Instruction to pass. If they did not, ho was speaking for himself, he hoped his hon. Friend who had moved the Resolution would go to a Division upon it. He should like to know why hon. Members should not have, at all events, an opportunity of bringing forward any Amendment they might like to propose in Committee. Why should the Government deprive them of an opportunity of having their proposals debated. He could tell the
Government that the Bill, as it now stood, would not satisfy the villages; he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board knew that, but he was quite sure that the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) did. That hon. Member knew it probably better than he (Mr. Cobb) did, having mixed more with the people than he had. The hon. Member know that the villagers of the country thought more of their Vestries and Boards of Guardians than they would think of any County Council or District Council that might be established. It was true, and he admitted it, that the Government had been liberal in the matter of County Councils, and he, for one, accepted what they offered gratefully. It was true that the Government gave the people of the villages a vote for members of the County Councils—that was to say, for a very small fraction of a member of a County Council for every village—but it must be borne in mind that County Councils would be inaccessible to the ordinary villager. The County Councils would be far distant, and almost as difficult to get into as that House—and every Member of that House knew how far away he was from every villager, and how little a villager could expect to get anything from that House. But he thought the main reason why he should urge the Government to accept this Instruction was this—that the villagers of the country had certainly been led to expect that parish Vestries would be dealt with in the Bill. He had already quoted what the President of the Local Government Board had told them in dealing with the Allotments Act last Session. But the expectations of the villagers had been founded not only upon what the right hon. Gentleman had said, but upon other speeches made to them by politicians, and especially by one who was now supposed to have great influence on the counsels of the Government. He (Mr. Cobb) remembered very well, in September, 1885, travelling a very long distance to attend a meeting—and a very good meeting it was, he enjoyed it very much—to hear a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). This was what the right hon. Gentleman said in Glasgow on that day; and he quoted it because it ex-
pressed in far better language than he (Mr. Cobb) could hope to use, what his (Mr. Cobb's) views were now, and what he hoped the right hon. Gentleman's views still were. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said—
I want to build up a system of Local Government from below from small beginnings. I would like to see no parish, no village, without some kind of Local Authority. I do not want to crush out the germs of local life, however small and insignificant they may appear to be. I want to foster them, and to promote the political education of the people.
Then, again, a few weeks afterwards, on the 14th of October, at a meeting at Trowbridge, at which he (Mr. Cobb) was not present, the right hon. Gentleman said—
But what is meant by Local Government? If you want to know what the Liberals mean, let me ask you to read the admirable exhaustive speech which was delivered last night at Halifax by my Friend, Sir Charles Dilke. You will find our proposals complete in every detail. I will only say briefly of them in a sentence that they comprise the idea of a thoroughly popular Local Government in every village, in every Union, in every county, which should be given the largest powers and widest discretion, by which the local affairs of the people should be conducted without supervision or interference.
He only hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham adhered to these views that day. He could only hope that one of the benefits, at all events, that the rural labourers would reap from the present action of the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the Rural Labourers' League would be the promotion of the opinions then expressed by the right hon. Gentleman; although he (Mr. Cobb) very much feared, from the names of the Vice Presidents of that Institution, that it would not turn out to be so so. He felt that he had detained the House too long. He presumed that the answer which would be made by the President of the Local Government Board, when he got up to address the House, would be that there was no time to put everything into this Bill. Well, of course, they all, as sensible men, recognized that. Of course, the Bill could not deal with everything; but he (Mr. Cobb) had a suggestion to make to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. He had pointed out, as far as possible, the nature of the changes they desired.
1456 Those changes could be effected very easily indeed. He (Mr. Cobb) had a Bill before the House which probably the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had not read. If the right hon. Gentleman had read it, he would probably have found that some of its clauses might very well be introduced into this Bill. They would be very simple, and, he thought, could be accepted by all sections of the House. But he had a suggestion to make to the right hon. Gentleman even as to the short time it would take to get this measure, and that was that he should drop some parts of his own Bill, which, it was obvious, would give rise to very great discussion, and which he thought it was equally obvious the Government would never pass. He alluded to the Lincensing Clauses of the Bill. If the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) were present, he (Mr. Cobb) would have made bold to have suggested to him that he would save some of the time of the House by dropping one of the measures that the Government laid before the House—namely, that for giving a salary to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had already wasted a considerable time on that measure, and if the right hon. Gentleman would now give it up, there would, no doubt, be plenty of time to pass the few clauses he (Mr. Cobb) recommended. He invited the attention of hon. Members on the other side of the House to his proposal. There were, he knew, a great many hon. Members on the other side who represented agricultural constituencies. He defied those hon. Gentlemen to tell him that this question which he was dealing with was not one of interest to agricultural constituents, and he defied them to tell him that when they voted against the Resolution, as they would be doing that night, at the behest of the Government, they would not be voting against that portion of their constituents who were the rural labourers and artizans. He could tell the Government that if they made this small concession—and it was a very small one indeed, though large to the people who lived in the country districts—if they would really reform the Boards of Guardians and Vestries, they would confer the greatest blessing that had been con- 1457 ferred on the people of the villages for many years; for those people would feel, what they had never had occasion to feel before—and what he (Mr. Cobb) felt they could not feel then—namely, that they had power to manage their own affairs.
§ MR. JAMES ELLIS (Leicestershire, Bosworth)
said, he wished to say a few words on the Resolution before the House from a practical point of view. He had, during a great part of his life, taken part in the management of the parishes immediately around his place, and he had extensive experience of the great utility and value of the work——
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions for the reform of parish vestries."—(Mr. Francis Stevenson.)
§ MR. JAMES ELLIS
said, he was saying he had had great experience in regard to the operations of Vestries. In the parish in which he lived at one time the Vestry meeting was held in the morning, and the vestry of the church being so small, it was found inconvenient to hold it there. There were three public-houses in the village, and the meeting was held at each of these in succession. When he went down to the first Vestry meeting at the first public-house the clergyman took the chair, and he (Mr. Ellis) moved that the meeting be removed to the village school room. That resolution was carried, and from that time to the present the Vestry had been held in the village school room at half-past 7 in the evening, which was the time proposed by the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this Resolution to the House. From the time the Vestry meeting was held in the evening almost every householder in the parish in which he lived had regularly attended it, and taken part in its debates, and the result of that had been that a village life had grown up. The state of things was entirely different to that which had obtained before these evening meetings were held. The same practice had extended to several of the large villages round that with which he was more intimately connected. The Vestry meetings there were now held in the evening, 1458 and were attended by a great part of the inhabitants of the villages, and he was only sorry that these Vestries had not greater powers than they at present possessed. Some villages were too small to have efficient Vestries, and he believed that if the Government had consolidated the villages so that they would have had no Vestries at all except for districts of a population of 500 or 600, and if greater powers had been given to the Vestries, they would have had a better Local Government Bill, even if no District Councils had been proposed at all. He believed they might have gone directly from the consolidated Vestries to the County Councils, and that by doing that they would have had a much better Bill than that proposed by the Government. His opinion was this—and he know, from his experience of Boards of Guardians, that many men who were intelligent and fit to take part in village debates, and would be perfectly fit to go and represent villages on Boards of Guardians, were unable to do so, because they had no conveyances, and the place of meeting was often six or seven miles from their homes. That would also be the case with regard to County and District Councils. The man who took part in and would do the work of the village Vestries, would not take the same active part which it was desired that they should in the management of county affairs. He had not found the difficulties connected with the position of the clergymen of the parishes which the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rugby Division of Warwickshire (Mr. Cobb) had found. In his own parish, he (Mr. Ellis) always took the chair himself, as the clergyman was averse to taking it. The meeting was held on Saturday evening now, so as to enable him to attend to take the chair; but in other villages he believed that the clergyman mostly took the chair, and, no doubt, in nine cases out of 10 they were the best men to do so. No doubt, it would be found, if the needed parish reforms were brought about, that the clergymen in the parishes would be alive to the responsibilities of their position, and would be prepared to act justly by those they came in contact with. He was amazed that any gentleman holding the position of a clergymen of the Church of England should have written such a letter as that which the hon. 1459 Member (Mr. Cobb) had read. He (Mr. Ellis) complained that the centralization system of the Local Government Board had been snatching one right after another from the parishes. He remembered some years ago thinking that it would be a good thing to take the young people round and beat the bounds of their parish. There were difficult points to remember in connection with the bounds of an English parish, and few people could tell where the bounds were. The English parish was not a straight square, like an American division, but went in and out, here by a brook, there by a lane, and it was important that the young men of the parish should know where the bounds were. Well, when they had beaten the bounds, what did the Local Government Board do? Why, they struck out the two guineas expenses which had been incurred, and the people of the parish had to collect the money themselves. It was not so much that fact as the interference of the Local Government Board that he complained of. Then there was another matter in which the Local Government Board had interfered with the parish. They used to kill sparrows in the parish. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh at the killing of sparrows, and think it a very foolish thing; but, so far as he was concerned, he thought it a very wise thing; at any rate, they used to do it in the parish of which he was speaking, and when a charge was made in respect of the operation the Local Government Board struck it out, although the money, of course, would come out of their own pockets. This charge also had to be met by a popular subscription. He thought the Government, in their Bill, should make the villages big enough, and then give them the right to manage their own affairs. With regard to education, he thought that the parishes, when made sufficiently large, should have the management of that. He was not prejudiced against the Church schools, having been a manager of several national schools and chairman of a large Board. He had no feeling against the national schools, but he must say the time was coming—and must come—when the education of the people in the parish must be managed by the people of that parish. The reason that the parishes had not the management of 1460 education was that some areas were extremely small, and there were a large number of extra-parochial districts where no burden for education was borne. Well, if the Government had sent out someone with powers to construct parishes, say, of 500 inhabitants or upwards, and then give those parishes as much power as they could, they would have done much better for the parishes than by constructing an elaborate scheme of county government. Another thing they wanted in rural parishes very much, and that was the right, as there was in towns, to establish free libraries. It might be a small library; but they wanted a library. They wanted also the right of constructing play grounds for the people In his own parish, in consequence of the In-closure Laws, the parish common was taken away about 1800, and the people could only play now on the side of the road. In his opinion, the parish Vestry ought to have the power of acquiring some field, which they could devote to the recreation of the people. The Vestry, too, ought to be able to provide a room in which the people could meet in the winter time. These were larger questions than some people imagined, because they affected the condition of the labouring class. The absence of amusements, of libraries, and of other means of instruction, tended to drive men more and more into the large towns. Day by day and year by year they were intensifying an evil which they all lamented. It was time they looked this matter fairly in the face—to give power to the County or District Councils would not attain the object in view; they must make the parishes large enough, and then give them power to act. A good example of parish government was afforded across the water; our kinsmen in America were wiser than they were. Some people might think that American politics were corrupt. Perhaps they were, but the village and town assembly had always been clean. He did not allude to large places like New York, but to little villages far back, not only in New England, but away West. The village life there was pure; and it was from such village life that great Presidents of America had arisen—men like President Lincoln. He begged the House not to pass this measure, for- 1461 getting that the one thing they ought to care for in this country was the welfare of the parishes.
§ MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
said, he very gladly joined in the request made on the Opposition side of the House that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would give his earnest consideration to this matter. He felt that the House could hardly realize, and he was quite sure that the country at large did not realize, that by this Bill the parishes of England would practically cease to exist. It would be found that under Clauses 46 and 47 parishes were entirely superseded in all their remaining powers by the Rural District Councils. The Rural District Council was the successor to the Rural Sanitary Authority. Of a Rural Sanitary Authority he had had a good many years' experience; and he had no hesitation in saying it was the worst possible Authority for all local purposes. They were, in fact, no more than mere outposts and delegates of the Local Government Board. Local administration, in its spirit and essence, should proceed from knowledge of the facts and local conditions which men possessed themselves of, consciously or unconsciously, during the routine of their daily life. Hon. Members would find from the Return made in 1881, which was presented to the House not long ago, that the Unions of the country averaged from 120 to 180 square miles in extent; and, whatever government that might be, it certainly could not be described as Local Government. It could not be asserted that the men who met together, sent from the different parishes which made up those Unions, really had that intimate and direct knowledge of local needs which constituted the valuable qualification for local administration. He knew that in his own experience it certainly was not so. Sitting with many other Guardians, he found that they concerned themselves with the affairs of their own immediate parish alone. In needs beyond their own parish they had no knowledge or interest, and they could not be even induced to stay to take part in the work of considering and deciding upon matters which were presented to the Authority on the part of parishes with which they felt they had no concern. At one time the whole farce of this local administration 1462 was felt to be so great that the Chairman of the Authority he spoke of declined to preside over its meetings. If they abolished the parishes, the agricultural labourer would really lose all chance for the real expression of his wants. Who were available for Guardians in the country districts? It had always been found that the clergy and the tenant farmers practically constituted the great bulk of the Boards of Guardians; and he put it to the House whether upon such a question as allotments the country clergy and tenant farmers could really be in hearty sympathy with the wants and the wishes of the agricultural labourers? It was upon such matters as allotments that the agricultural labourer must be allowed to speak for himself. He had no other chance whatever of speaking for himself but in the meeting of the inhabitants in open Vestry assembled. In a parish in his own constituency there was during last Easter, on the part of the inhabitants as a body, the greatest anxiety to procure allotments; 400 or 500 people flocked to the Easter Vestry Meeting in their anxiety to devise means for the obtaining of allotments. There was no hostility whatever on the part of anybody, either rich or poor. They were all agreed that allotments should be procured; but when the people came to the Vestry what they practically found was that the Vestry, as an instrument for the purpose they had expected to employ it, was useless. It was pointed out that they must proceed under the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings); but what was said was that the opportunity afforded by that Bill was too remote—that the machinery provided by it was so complicated, that the men could not use it for themselves; and the people went away under circumstances of the greatest irritation. Everyone felt for them, and it was not unnatural that the irritation found expression in some violence of language. It was really felt by everyone that the labourers had a real grievance, and that they were deprived of what was naturally and historically the most valuable and convenient mode by which inhabitants might make known and provide for their wants, with which they must certainly be better acquainted than anyone else. He earnestly hoped the House 1463 would consider that the debt of the nation to the parish in the training which it afforded was very great, and that the Government would not, as it were, indirectly and stealthily give a deathblow to the ancient parishes of England.
§ MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
said, he desired to say but a few words upon this subject, and he should not have intervened in the debate at all were it not for the fact that he represented an agricultural district where this difficulty was very seriously and painfully felt. It was thought by some persons who were best acquainted with this subject in the division which he represented that this Bill would do more harm than good, unless it were very seriously altered on the lines of the Resolution now under consideration. Practically, under the name of extending Local Government, they were giving to Local Government a deathblow. Bad as the arrangements at present were, they were, at all events, local arrangements; there was a mingling of different areas and different jurisdictions, but this was to some extent advantageous locally. There was no definite arrangement made by the Bill by which they could be sure that the area they were going to establish would be the whole area of a county or a Parliamentary Division. If the division he represented was to be a County District, the extent of the district would be something like 436 square miles. If, on the other hand, they dealt with sanitary districts alone, his district would be something like 130 or 140 square miles in extent. It might be that it was wished to keep the entire representation in the hands of the wealthy, whose time was at their own disposal, and who had means of transit of their own—and he regretted to say that the means of transit were not very abundant in the division he represented—but to contend in the face of people living at the extreme limits of districts or areas of the size he had specified, that this was Local Government, was simply playing with words. He would not go into the details which had been referred to a great deal by speaker after speaker; he would not enter into the various grievances which necessarily arose; but he did wish to criticize as earnestly as he could the mischief of having extended areas instead of working on the unit of the parish and taking 1464 that area as the one from which they were to operate. He could not help thinking that the Government were rendering it absolutely impossible to have anything like Local Representative Government, because it would not be within the power of very many men who had not great wealth to attend, as they ought to attend, the various meetings connected with the administration of local affairs. He thoroughly believed that by their present proposal the Government, in the words of one of his constituents, would do more harm than good to the great principle of Local Government, and, therefore, he should give his hearty support to the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. F. S. Stevenson).
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG) (Wilts, Devizes)
said, he thought that the remarks of the last few speakers would certainly lead one to believe that the opinion of those hon. Gentlemen and their Friends had undergone a considerable change since the introduction of the Bill. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, he thought a reference to the speeches delivered by those hon. Gentlemen and their Friends on the introduction of the measure would certainly not lead anyone to conclude that this Bill would tend to the destruction of local self-government. It had been said that night that this Bill, instead of giving now life to local self-government, would lead to its total destruction. That was very different from the statements which had been made by nearly all the speakers from the Opposition side with the exception of the ex-Under Secretary for the Home Department when the measure was introduced, and which were to the effect that there was a general consensus of opinion that this Bill went a great way in extending local self-government. Hon. Members opposite might congratulate themselves upon the fact that their commendable efforts with regard to this measure had been supported by a speech from an hon. Member below the Gangway on the Government side of the House. It might be a matter of great gratification to hon. Members opposite that a measure that had been introduced into that House by the Government had been condemned by an hon. Member on their own side of the House. [Cries of "No, no!"] The conclusion which the hon. Member for the Hornsey Division 1465 of Middlesex (Mr. Stephens) had drawn, that because the Allotments Act did not give the Vestries the power of granting allotments, that Act was therefore a failure, was inaccurate. If the labourers desired to obtain allotments, the Act provided efficient machinery to enable them to get them. The hon. Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk (Mr. F. S. Stevenson), who had moved this Instruction, had said that in no single instance had the compulsory powers of the Act been put into force. The hon. Member was mistaken in that matter, because he (Mr. Long) had reason to believe that at that moment a Rural Sanitary Authority were contemplating putting the powers in force.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
said, that he had referred to the answer which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) had given a few weeks ago, which was to the effect that in no single instance in either England or Wales had the compulsory powers of the Act been put into force.
§ MR. LONG
said, he thought the hon. Member had overlooked the fact that what was the case some few weeks ago might not be the case now. However that might be, he (Mr. Long) had heard hon. Members opposite express a desire that land for the purposes of allotments should be acquired by voluntary sale rather than by the exercise of compulsory powers of purchase. This subject, however, was scarcely germane to the question before the House. He ventured to repeat the remark he had made upon the second reading of the Bill—namely, that there was no doubt a great deal to be said in favour of a reform of the smaller area of local self-government, but he understood that the object of the Instruction now moved to be that those powers of local self-government proposed under the Bill should be conferred on the parishes of the country. Now, if they conferred powers of local self-government on an authority or a district before they had put that district into a proper condition to receive those powers, they would find it much harder afterwards to amend their boundaries and create a district which should be satisfactory to receive such powers. The Government believed that it was far better to get their local areas adjusted first of all through the medium of the 1466 County Council proposed by this Bill, and then later to confer upon those local districts in the shape of parishes the extended powers of local self-government, than to begin by conferring powers and creating authorities and having afterwards to alter and adjust their boundaries and destroy the authorities which they would thus have commenced by setting up. He quite admitted that there was no question which demanded more anxious and careful attention or from which greater local benefit would be derived than that which related to the re-adjustment of the parish boundaries. At present those boundaries were most irregular and most inconvenient, and in many cases their re-adjustment would be of the greatest advantage, especially to the labourers within their areas, who ought to be encouraged to take an active part in local administration. In this respect he did not think that any very strong case had been made out for strengthening the procedure which was proposed by the Bill. It had been remarked that the Bill might be called a County Councils Bill or a District Councils Bill, but that it had no right to be called a Local Government Bill because it was not based upon the parishes. That point, however, had been sufficiently discussed upon the second reading of the Bill, and he did not think that hon. Members opposite had thrown any new light upon it by their remarks that night. Her Majesty's Government had put this Bill before the House and the country as one which they had carefully and anxiously considered, and which they honestly believed would establish a better system of local self-government in our counties and districts. By that measure they must abide, not only because if they were to alter their minds in the direction indicated by hon. Members opposite, time would prevent them from carrying the Bill, but because, more than all, they believed that they were proceeding in the right direction by following the lines laid down in this measure. He earnestly hoped that in view of the great mass of Amendments that had been placed upon the Paper, the House would proceed to the consideration of the measure in Committee as rapidly as possible.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
said, that the hon. Gentleman who 1467 had just resumed his seat (Mr. Long) complained, in his opening remarks, that a different view was taken of the Bill that night from that which was taken on the occasion of the second reading of the Bill. That was very likely the case, in many instances; but he (Mr. Broadhurst) thought that the hon. Gentleman would admit that a considerable part of his (Mr. Broadhurst's) speech upon the second reading of the measure was devoted to the complaint that the Government had overlooked the mainspring of county life by not beginning with the parish. He, therefore, at any rate, was not open to the charge which the hon. Gentleman had made against some of the hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches. It was, after all, not unnatural that hon. Gentlemen overlooked some of the main points of the Bill on the occasion of the second reading, for the best of all reasons—namely, that the House was so possessed by the Radical nature of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) in introducing the Bill, that they could not turn their attention to the contents of the Bill itself. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a great Radical speech, introducing a highly flavoured Tory measure. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) had discovered that since the second reading many hon. Gentlemen had read the Bill, and ascertained its true nature, and he now complained of their making speeches on the merits and demerits of the Bill rather than on the great merits of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie). The speech of the Secretary of the Local Government Board had disclosed this fact, that the Government in regard to this Bill had proceeded on entirely novel lines in matters of reform; and that instead of following out the good old Tory doctrine of rather improving that which already existed, they had devoted their time to creating new institutions. If the Conservative Government had carried out their favourite doctrine in this ease, they would have been maintaining their ancient principles, and, what would have been almost equally novel, they would have been carrying out a good and sound system of reform. It would have been a great deal bettor for the 1468 Government to have proceeded to reform the Vestries. Even if it were necessary to proceed in parts, it would have been better to have proceeded by reforming the Vestries instead of creating these great, unwieldly, unmanageable Councils, which the counties and villages would have no sufficient control over, and have very little voice, as it were, in their compostion. If they had commenced with the Vestries themselves, they would have laid a great foundation for County Reform, and they would have solidified and enlarged a sure and certain foundation for a great and effective system of Local Government Reform. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) and his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie), who were in charge of the Bill, and the Government themselves evidently lacked knowledge of the principles of construction. They ignored the elementary principles of construction, for they began with a great superstructure, and altogether neglected the fundamental principle, that the foundation was to carry the weight of the whole system. The reform of the Vestries should be the mainspring, and must be the mainspring, of any effective and comprehensive system of Local Government Reform. It was discovered now that the Government had commenced at the wrong end, that they had proceeded upon wrong lines, that they were adopting entirely wrong principles; and the Government would do well, even at the eleventh hour, if they were to admit their mistake, admit their want of knowledge of the way to proceed upon the question of Local Government, and ask leave to withdraw the Bill until they had made themselves acquainted with village life and with what really constituted a system of Local Government. His hon. Friend. (Mr. Long) knew something of village life, he was aware; but he did not think the hon. Gentleman would claim the same extensive knowledge for all his Friends to the right and to the left of him—he did not think the hon. Gentleman would make that large claim upon the imagination of the House. If they admitted the principle that they could not deal with all the parts of Local Government in one Session, let the Government ask leave to withdraw the Bill and introduce a measure to reform 1469 the Vestries, and thereby construct a foundation upon which next Session the House would give them every opportunity and every encouragement to build a sound and proper superstructure of Local Government. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board was amazed at the originality of the Mover of the Resolution (Mr. F. S. Stevenson), and seemed to say in his speech—"Why this is a different sort of speech from what you made on the occasion of the second reading, and, therefore, I have nothing to say to it; I have no answer to it." No; there could be no answer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. S. Stevenson); there was nothing to be said to justify the position which the Government assumed upon the occasion. The speech of his hon. Friend the Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk, the speech of his hon. Friend (Mr. Cobb) who, seconded the Resolution, and the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for the Bosworth Division of Leicestershire (Mr. James Ellis), were speeches of hon. Members who thoroughly knew the subject upon which they were speaking, and who were acquainted with the village life which they were bringing under the notice of the House of Commons that night. If the Government were unable to meet the arguments advanced in debate by his hon. Friends, why did they get up and, in the person of the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long), say they could not accept this Instruction. There was nothing more reasonable in the world than that the Government should accept this Instruction. The Instruction embodied, as he had already said, a sound Conservative principle. It embodied the principle of improving that which already existed when it was capable of improvement. But Conservative principles seemed to have changed sides; now they heard revolutionary and Radical principles advocated by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, while his hon. Friends endeavoured, to the best of their ability, to plead to the Government to return to their ancient professions, and improve the existing institutions of the country, although small they might be, in the shape of the parish Vestries, and to proceed upon that basis for reform of Local Government. It was a very re- 1470 markable speech of his hon. Friend (Mr. James Ellis). He told the House, in language plain and simple and unmistakable, of the enormous increase in village life which has followed upon the voluntary reforms of Vestries, small though they were in the case of the villages in his neighbourhood. What Member of the House was there who could not welcome with delight the statement made by his hon. Friend, and desire that the state of affairs to which he alluded should be perpetuated in every parish in the United Kingdom? The establishment of these great County Councils would not meet the pressing wants that had been explained to the House that night by his hon. Friends. By the establishment of these Bodies, the questions of the parish library and the parish playground would not be met. When would they be able to deal with the improvement, or rather the creation, of some elementary system of sanitation. This was a matter of great importance, as many villages had no sanitary arrangements at all, and one of the chief evils existing in villages was the want of a proper water supply. They would find in villages within 20 miles of that House whole rows of cottages wholly dependent for their water supply upon ponds, at which the sheep of the common and the cattle which travelled along the roads drank, and in which they often walked. [Laughter.] He saw that some hon. Gentlemen opposite made merry at his statement. If he were connected with some of the great estates of this country, which he was sure some hon. Gentlemen were connected with, he would be ashamed to hear a statement made in that House, that the inhabitants of many villages, even within 20 or 30 miles of the Metropolis itself, had to depend upon roadside water for their domestic purposes. A system of Local Government was needed that would place in the hands of villagers power to alter that evil condition of things. This Bill, he feared, would do nothing of the kind. It was a Bill which, unless the Instruction moved by his hon. Friend was acted upon, would be, as he had once before said, so far as Local Government was concerned, a great sham, and there would be no representation for the labourers and the villagers. They were creating great Bodies, great Councils, and Local Coun- 1471 cils, which would be monopolized by the squire, by the great farmer, and the parson, but in which the labourer and the village mechanic would have no part or parcel. He was very glad to notice, he hoped he noticed correctly, that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) was not very emphatic in his refusal to accept the Instruction proposed by his hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) had yet to give a final decision on this question, and he (Mr. Broadhurst) hoped the Government would reconsider the not very emphatic words of the hon. Gentleman, and that they would even at that hour express their willingness to consider in Committee, if they refused to accept the Instruction that night, some Amendments drawn upon the principle aimed at in the Resolution of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, he generally agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Broadhurst), but he confessed he did not at all agree with the hon. Gentleman's expression of hope that the Government would withdraw this Bill. He (Mr. Winterbotham) had not said a word about this Bill in the House as yet; but he hoped the Government would persevere with it, for there was in it that which he thought was good. He was sorry that at the beginning of the Committee stage the Government should have met them with a non possumus, after the able and admirable speech which was delivered by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Stephens). That speech proved conclusively to the minds of many of them that the hon. Gentleman had studied village life, and that he knew the feelings of villagers upon this question. It had been well said that the villagers of England cared little for County Councils. For the most part they believed, and he thought they believed rightly, that the Quarter Sessions, which had hitherto conducted their affairs, had conducted them ably, honestly, and economically, and they did not look for any great help and furtherance of the objects they had dearly at heart from the change from Quarter Sessions to a great central authority. What the villagers of Eng- 1472 land wanted were, the administration of their Poor Law; the administration of their charities, and the control of their education. He entreated the Government not to receive this Instruction in the way in which it had been received by the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long). The hon. Gentleman could not have read it; he spoke of it as an Instruction to the Committee to give to the parish Vestries powers of government. There were no such words in the Instruction. He (Mr. Winterbotham) begged the House to take notice of what the Instruction said.
The words were—That it should be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions for the reform of parish Vestries.There was nothing there about giving any powers of government to parish Vestries. A Bill was introduced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1871. He wished the Government had had the courage to adopt an admirable provision in that Bill, in Part 2, Section 7, a provision for the election of a parish board every year with a chairman. That was all this Instruction asked them to do. They talked about not having time to do it. He asserted that, if they would so far accept the wishes of agricultural constituencies in this country, and if they would give the Vestries some locus standi before the District Council and County Council, they would save a great deal of time, for it would give an inducement to forward other parts of the Bill through Committee. But the Government, through the Secretary to the Local Government Board, met them with a non possumus. The hon. Gentleman described the able speech which was delivered by the hon. Member behind him (Mr. Stephens) by misrepresenting entirely what that hon. Member said. He said the hon. Member spoke of the destruction of local self-government. The hon. Member said nothing of the sort; what he spoke of was the destruction of village life in England.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
said, he would appeal to hon. Members who 1473 heard the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Stephens) whether he did not correctly represent the tendency of the speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman when he said it went to show that the Bill destroyed village life in England; the hon. Member did not say one word about the destruction of self-government. The Secretary to the Local Government Board spoke of the condensation of the Bill, instead of its criticism. He (Mr. Winterbotham) was one of those who pointed out to the President of the Local Government Board last Session, when the Allotments Bill was under discussion, that the Guardians were not the people who would successfully carry out the Act, and he also pointed out how differently they on the Opposition side of the House would regard the powers placed in the hands of the Guardians if they had reform of parish life, and especially reform as regarded the election of parish officials. He had not the exact words of the right hon. Gentleman's reply by him. He remembered that the President of the Local Government Board, in answer to him, said—and he thought he could give the very words—If the hon. Member, and those who act with him, will have patience until I introduce the Local Government Bill, they will see that I am prepared to reform the election of Guardians.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
said, he begged the hon. Gentleman's pardon. He never used those words. What he did say was something to the effect that if he waited until the Local Government Bill was brought in, he would see that the Sanitary Authority, which was the Board of Guardians, would be differently constituted.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
said, that the words painted in Hansard would be found to be rather different to what the right hon. Gentleman had just said. At all events, the Members of the Opposition did look forward with hope to the Local Government Bill as likely to provide a reform in the election of the parish officials. Let them have a reformed Vestry, and give that Vestry some locus standi before the District Council. That was all the Instruction asked for. It was not very much to ask. Members of the Government must know how very keenly 1474 villagers clung to their village life and to their parish authorities. In what way was reform desired? First of all, they wished that the Vestry meeting should be held at a time when people could attend. They wanted that the Vestry should meet once a year and elect a Chairman. If the parson was a fit man, he would be elected; if he was not desired, he ought not to be thrust upon the people. Then, again, they thought it unfair that the efforts of those who gave up a day's work to vote at a Vestry election should be rendered nugatory by the action of men who might have six votes apiece. They asked for no powers of government. They asked the Government to reform the Vestries, and then give them power to consult the District Council on any matters in which the parish might take an interest. He hoped hon. Members would realize the spirit in which the proposal had been made. He hoped they would enter on the discussion apart from Party politics. He wished to make the Bill as perfect as possible. This part of it deeply interested the agricultural labourers. He appealed most earnestly to hon. Members opposite who represented agricultural constituencies to vote with the Opposition to-night, and thus acknowledge that the wish and desire of the agricultural labourers throughout England, that their parish life should be maintained, ought to be observed.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
said, that one thing which puzzled him was that hon. Gentlemen opposite always stopped short of the very point on which information was wanted. What would they give these reformed parish Vestries to do? He had listened carefully to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen, but had been unable to ascertain what work they would give the Vestries. He had asked questions upon the subject of gentlemen outside the House, but had been unable to get a satisfactory reply. Only that day he had a long conversation with a gentleman once a Member of the House. That gentleman said—"You are all wrong; you are beginning at the wrong end; you are not beginning with parish Vestries." He asked his friend to tell him what parish Vestries were to do when they were reformed? The gentleman stopped short there, as hon. 1475 Members had done. One or two proposals were made the other night, but whether they were seriously made he could not say. He would refer to them in a minute. First of all, let him refer to some remarks made by an hon. Gentleman (Mr. Broadhurst) speaking from the Front Opposition Bench. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the reformed parish Vestries ought to deal with allotments, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Stephens) said that the labourers in his parish were annoyed, because, having met together to take action under the Allotments Act, they found themselves unable to do anything in their parish Vestry. Now, under the Allotments Act, the movement for the acquisition of allotments in a parish must emanate with the parish Vestry. He (Mr. Llewellyn) had had some experience in respect to the acquisition of allotments. Since the Allotments Act was passed, and in every parish with which he was connected and in which steps had been taken, the people had been called together and then and there stated what their requirements were. The next step, as they all knew, was to go to the Rural Sanitary Authority, and then followed what, he was glad to say, was the general experience of parishes—allotments were procured without the enforcement of the Compulsory Clauses. The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) considered that all duties with regard to water supply and sanitary matters ought to be left to the parishes. He (Mr. Llewellyn) maintained that the parishes had power in such matters now. He was bound to say they had not got the motive power; that rested, in the first place, with the Sanitary Authority. But, as hon. Gentlemen knew perfectly well, under the Sanitary Act of 1875 the Sanitary Authority had power to delegate to parochial committees the powers of the Act for the carrying out of the works of their own parish, and it was quite right it should be so. It was left to those who had to find the money to say how it should be spent. It was said also that the management of the schoolroom should be left in the charge of the parish. Where schoolrooms belonged to the parish, there was no reason why they should not be in the management of the parish authorities; but in the 1476 majority of cases parish schoolrooms were private property, and in such cases the parishes could have no right to interfere in the management of the schools. When one hon. Gentleman rose the other night, he (Mr. Llewellyn) thought they were about to hear something of the real work of the parish Vestries. Without a smile, the hon. Gentleman proposed that the parish authorities should have the charge of the parish pig club, the parish cow club, and the parish cricket club. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman was serious; but his proposal was recorded in Hansard. There were anomalies in regard to the parish Vestries; but did hon. Gentlemen think that these Vestries should be reformed and officers appointed to take the management of the parish pig club, the parish cow club, and the parish cricket club? It was also said that where parishes were small they might be grouped. But if they once joined two parishes together they destroyed the unit. They would have two churchwardens, two overseers, and two assistant overseers, and they would at once destroy the unit they proposed to create. And, in addition to that, they would multiply authorities. They would have the parish authorities, or a group of parish authorities; they would have the District Council, and possibly they would have some other authority. Surely that was not the object of local reform in the present day. He would not detain the House longer, because he felt he had no right to do so. But he earnestly begged hon. Gentlemen who possessed experience of parish life to bring that experience to bear in the debate, and not allow ideas to be put into their heads by others. If an hon. Gentleman's experience was simply restricted to the parish Vestry, he begged he would not try to bring the proposed Councils to the level of such Vestries.
§ MR. A. H. D. ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)
said, he would like to say one or two words with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. The hon. Gentleman had asked those who advocated the retention of parish Vestries what duties the Vestries were to perform? The supporters of this Instruction simply asked why they should not reform and put on a satisfactory footing a body which existed and which met 1477 every year. What was it to do? Why should it not consult, as town's meetings in other countries did, with great advantage to the people? Why should it not, when it chose, consult on all matters concerning its welfare which might be raised? The Vestry was to have power to meet in open assembly, and consider anything which concerned its welfare. One of the best clauses in the Bill which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) introduced in 1871 was the clause which provided that the Chairman of the Vestry should be compelled to summon a meeting whenever five ratepayers asked that any matter which concerned the parish should be considered. That was practically what was asked now. Allow him to point out that, even under the present Bill, they would not be able to do without the parish assembly. The Bill said that the District Council should take under their charge Acts like the Free Libraries' Act. How were they going to carry out the Free Libraries' Act through the District Council? Take the case of a District Council composed of the representatives of about 20 parishes, of which the population ranged from 200 or 300 to 3,000. Suppose that in a large parish of 2,000 or 3,000 a benevolent man gave a library on condition that the parishioners were willing to support it. Did hon. Members mean to tell him that the District Council would impose a rate on that parish without consulting the people? If the District Council did so, the Free Libraries' Act would be carried into force in country districts in a manner very different to that in which it was carried out in towns. The District Council would be compelled, unless it went against the spirit in which the Free Libraries' Act was passed, to come to the people and say—"Do you want a free library established in your midst?" District Councils might try as much as they liked, but they would not succeed in carrying out the Free Libraries' Act without consulting the parishes, and if they had to consult the parishes they would have to consult reformed Vestries. The same remarks applied to other Acts. If recreations or playgrounds were wanted the parishes would have to support their establishment. Parishes were to a great extent, and must remain, the centres of local life in these matters. They must 1478 be consulted, and, therefore, it was as well they should exist not under the antiquated system which dated back 100 years or so, but under a system based on modern ideas. He had tried to give, very briefly, some answer to the question—what were the Vestries to do? He would ask what was the reason, when they must have the Vestry, for not reforming it. If the Government would introduce in the Bill three or four simple clauses, making the existing Vestry a responsible body, they would meet with no opposition, but they would certainly grease the wheels of the Bill. He said, frankly, that if the Government refused to meet them on that point, they must not be surprised—he said it in no Party spirit—if some cry was raised, not merely in agricultural villages, but in many of the large mining villages which were well fitted for self-government, that it was somewhat unfair that in the matter of, at least, deliberative powers the Government would not meet them. Hon. Members would, perhaps, be asking shortly—"Will you make any provision for working-men Representatives to go to the County or District Council?" If the Government refused to provide some reasonable means by which working men now on Local Boards and School Boards could find their way to County and District Councils, it might fairly be said they were hardly meeting the villages in a reasonable way. For his part, he thought it was a great pity that in this comparatively simple matter the Government had not tried to lay what he might call a democratic foundation, without injuring the principle of the Bill. Had they done so, they would have made their Bill popular, without damaging it; but, what was most important of all, they would have provided a real educational agency throughout the mining and agricultural districts. He sincerely regretted that that political training in our villages was not to be provided. It was a great misfortune that thus one really valuable educational opportunity would be lost.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the hon. Gentleman had very frankly told the Government that if they did not accede to the Instruction he and his Friends would make that question one for agitating throughout the length and breadth of the country.
§ MR. A. H. D. ACLAND
said, he had expressly stated that what he said was in no Party spirit, but that the Government must not be surprised if a cry was raised by the agricultural and mining villages that they were unfairly dealt with.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the House would judge of the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman met the Government. It seemed to him that the hon. Gentleman's observations amounted very much to a threat that they would agitate the country against the Government. So far as he (Mr. Ritchie) was concerned, he was not astonished at the course the hon. Gentleman thought it best to pursue. They had already seen the remarkable change in the reception which that Bill had had at the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) said the reason why there was such a material difference in the way in which it was regarded now and at the time when he had had the honour to introduce it was that his speech was a democratic speech, but that the Bill was a Tory measure. But he thought the bulk of hon. Members on both sides of the House would assent to his claim that there was not a single observation he had made in that speech which was not fully justified by the text of the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite at first imagined that the Bill was of so broad a character that it would not be received with favour on this side of the House, and, therefore, they praised it; but when they found that hon. Gentlemen on his side were willing to accept it as a fair attempt to settle the question of Local Government upon large and liberal lines they changed their views as to the merits of the scheme. Some hon. Gentlemen to-night had treated this question as one of vast importance, so much so that if the proposal now made were not accepted they would rather see the whole Bill withdrawn. Others had said that on no account would they desire to see the Bill withdrawn. Some spoke of the powers given as of a small, others as of a large, character. So they differed from one another. He would beg of hon. Gentlemen, when making such a proposal, to agree as to its scope. Some had practically confined their recommendations to changes in the mode of appointing the chairman, in the hour 1480 of meeting, and in the mode of appointing the overseers. But such changes would hardly warrant the moving of this Instruction. Others had desired to effect changes of a large character. He was afraid to think of the great number of questions which some thought ought to be entrusted to the parish Vestries. The House had been told that the water supply, drainage, the administration of the Poor Law, and education ought to be in the hands of the Vestry. He would point out that if such changes were contemplated they must necessarily lead, not only in that House, but throughout the country, to a very large amount of discussion and of opposition, for it must be borne in mind that the aim and object of the legislation of the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. W. E. Gladstone's) Government in 1872 was to take away from the parish Vestries those powers which it was now contended ought to be conferred upon them. The Sanitary Commission, before the legislation of the right hon. Gentleman, reported that the Vestry failed to discharge some of the duties which the hon. Gentleman would confer upon them, and that was the reason why the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) brought forward his legislation of 1872, which had proved of such advantage to the country. Therefore, the step which the hon. Gentleman would take now was a retrograde step. The Government were told that if their Bill passed, the parishes would have no opportunity of discussing questions which concerned them. But the Government made no change in that respect. It was as open to the Vestry to meet after the passing of the Bill as it was now. The hon. Member for the Bosworth Division of Leicester (Mr. James Ellis) had told the House that neither as to the appointment of a chairman, the hour of meeting, nor several other matters which had been alluded to, was any difficulty felt in his own or in the surrounding parishes. The Vestry met in the evening, and when there was a desire to appoint a chairman other than the vicar there had never been any difficulty. It was impossible to deal with the large matters which hon. Gentlemen had in view unless you reformed the area of the parishes. The hon. Gentleman said that there ought to be no parish with a population less than 500 1481 or 600. But it was well known that there was a large number with a smaller population; and, therefore, it was impossible to deal with the great mass of the questions raised on the other side of the House until you reformed the area of the parishes. That was the answer of the Government to the proposal. The County Council would be a very proper body to inquire into the question of the revision of the areas of parishes, and the Government looked forward to the County Council as a great engine of reform in parochial and other matters. The Government were bound to look at the Instruction in the light of the Amendments placed on the Paper by the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Halifax. Both desired to set up in the parish the Vestry as the executive. The Vestry was to be the only Body by which the Acts with regard to sanitary matters, baths and washhouses, and so on, were to be carried out. That, as he had said, was a distinctly retrograde step. While the Vestry was a useful medium for expressing the wishes of the inhabitants of the parish, it was altogether unsuited for the purposes which hon. Gentlemen had in view. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Instruction said that' if carried, it would not necessarily imply that all the Amendments put down on the subject should be adopted; and he added that if it were accepted other Amendments might be put on the Paper. But the hon. Gentleman must be aware that they were now getting towards the middle of June, and that there were already on the Paper Amendments almost unparalleled in number, while the matters to be discussed within the four corners of the Bill were almost more than the House could properly get through. What chance, then, was there of being able to deal satisfactorily with the large and very important question of the parish Vestries, in addition to all other questions? The Government believed there was considerable room for improvement in many matters connected with the parishes, and he begged the House to believe that they would be very glad if they were able at some future time to deal with many of the points which had been raised that night.
§ MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
said, that he must enter his protest against 1482 the language of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The Government had been fairly treated from the first with regard to the Bill. It was a very complicated measure, and therefore it must meet with very great discussion and difference of opinion. As far as he could judge, there had not been any disposition on that (the Opposition) side to treat the Government unfairly. One question he would raise to-night was this—what were the means by which the Government might hope that the Opposition would continue to act in that way? It was by meeting them in a different spirit from that which the right hon. Gentleman had shown to-night. The right hon. Gentleman had suggested that a threat had been addressed to the Government, when all that had been done was to give them a friendly warning. The right hon. Gentleman imputed motives and designs. That, surely, was not good policy on the part of a Member of a Government introducing a measure of this importance and complexity. To impute to the Opposition a design to defeat the measure was, in the circumstances, likely to engender a suspicion that the Government would themselves regard its defeat with equanimity. If the acceptance of this Instruction were necessarily to be followed by proposals to confer very extensive powers upon the Vestries it might be objected with reason that the progress of the Bill would be retarded. But he believed that the Party with whom he was connected would be quite content if the moderate Amendments which he had placed upon the Paper were accepted. The statements made by the right hon. Gentleman last Autumn had certainly raised expectations that the Vestries would be dealt with by the Bill. On August 19 the right hon. Gentleman said—The hon. Member is quite mistaken in supposing that the present Government imagine they will deal adequately with the question of Local Government if they confine their attention to the reform of Local County Government or to setting up of a County Authority. If the hon. Member saw the Bill now in print he would find that we propose not only to deal with County Authorities, but with all authorities within the County."—(3 Hansard,  1183.)Was not a Vestry an authority within a county? Then, on September 5, the right hon. Gentleman said— 1483I have already said more than once that it is the intention of the Government, on the earliest possible day, to introduce a Bill not only dealing with Local Government, not only providing Local Government for counties, but also dealing with Boards of Guardians and other Local Authorities, which, I hope, will be placed on a more popular basis."—(3 Hansard,  1302.)
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that the Bill carried out the promise of that speech. It proposed to set up a properly constituted Sanitary Authority.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, that the impression produced by the right hon. Gentleman's words was that he proposed to deal with Boards of Guardians, and to establish them on a more popular basis. But the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman would do nothing for the parish and nothing for the Vestry. On the contrary, the 47th section of the measure would deprive the Vestries of rights which they now possessed. Ought he not, therefore, to compensate them by endeavouring to infuse a little new life into their constitution? There was practically nothing in the Amendment which he had put on the Paper which was not perfectly consistent with what the right hon. Gentleman himself had said on the second reading of the Bill, or with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). He (Mr. Stansfeld) was aware that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had referred to remarks which he had made on a previous occasion, but it had been from an imperfect report; because when he came to study the speech of the right hon. Gentleman he found that the right hon. Gentleman and he himself were in the most perfect accord. The right hon. Gentleman had thought that it was advisable, without going into any great scheme, to do something to infuse life into local matters, and to train the people in the management of public affairs. For his own part, he did not think that anyone would say that that would not be a measure advisable in itself. Supposing the Government insisted on taking from the parish those functions which, in his opinion, it might be advisable to leave to them, why should they not do something to reform and popularize it, and to infuse local life into the parish? Why should they determine to do no- 1484 thing? That was really the question. Why was it absolutely necessary, if they were taking away something, to do nothing ill return? The argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that because he did not know what Amendments might be proposed he, therefore, could not accept this Instruction. He asked whether the tone the right hon. Gentleman had adopted in complaining of the Amendments was a tone in which he ought to address the House? That was not the tone, temper, or method by which the right hon. Gentleman was likely to conciliate persons who, though sitting on the other side of the House, had no desire to defeat his Bill. He believed that hon. Members on that side of the House would be satisfied with a very moderate discussion if this Instruction were accepted, with the few and moderate proposals he had made, and he felt certain that the right hon. Gentleman would not lose but would gain time. He had never, in a considerable experience of that House, known a policy such as that pursued by the right hon. Gentleman to be successful; it was better to treat the House with confidence, instead of assuming an ill purpose in everything that was proposed on that side of the House, and to give as well as take. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he was to take everything and give nothing. That was a mistake; the right hon. Gentleman had gained nothing by it, and would gain nothing. In these circumstances, he believed that if the right hon. Gentleman would make this concession on the strength of the assurances which he (Mr. Stansfeld) had given the right hon. Gentleman he would increase the progress of the Bill.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) had referred to a speech which he (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had made on the second reading of the Bill, and especially to the remarks he had made with reference to the organization of the parish. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he believed, from reading that report, that they were practically in accord upon the point at issue. For his own part, he thought that that was a perfectly accurate statement. As far as he understood the proposals of his right hon. Friend, he 1485 would be prepared to support them, and he did not think that there would be much difference in the House on the matter. As far as he understood the opinions of the Government, as expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie), they were favourable to some further organization of the parish; and he did not think that the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax would provoke much discussion or opposition. As he understood these proposals, all that the right hon. Gentleman asked was that the powers now possessed by the Vestries should remain in their hands; but that, having regard to the popular organization which was now about to be given to the District Councils and the County Councils, something in the shape of a little more popular organization should be given to the Vestries. He thought, also, that hon. Members on both sides of the House, and especially those who had lived in the country, and could speak with authority with reference to parochial matters, would agree that it was most important, in introducing this great change, that attention should be paid to the beginnings of Local Government, and the smallest interest should be considered. The great mass of the new voters to whom they were intending to introduce the privileges and responsibilities of Local Government should have something in the nature of an education in connection with what he might call their domestic interests. If the ratepayers in the parishes had some work to do, they would become, in consequence, very much better electors of County Councils and District Councils, and be much better able to deal with the important work which they had to consider in connection with the larger institutions. What was the difficulty? Why could not this very moderate organization be given to the parish? What seemed to be the opinion of the Government was that they had undertaken a somewhat large business, and that they had got almost as much on their hands as they were able to manage—at all events, without something like a definite assurance on that side of the House that their difficulties should not be increased and complicated by further indefinite proposals; and 1486 when he looked at the Amendments on the Paper, especially those of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. F. S. Stevenson), he did not wonder at the reluctance of the Government to consent to Instructions which might open to them a perfect sea of trouble. If the hon. Member for Eye was to move all the Amendments, although he (Mr. Chamberlain) should give the matter his most cordial and serious consideration at the proper time, he would also be prepared to agree with the Government that at this period of the Session, and with the work undertaken, they were not justified in opening the gates to all this new controversial matter. Now, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax had, in his (Mr. J. Chamberlain's) opinion, put a new face on the matter; and he thought that it would be worth the while of the Government to consider what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman. As he understood the right hon. Gentleman, he had, as far as possible, on behalf of hon. Members behind him—and certainly speaking for the ordinary Opposition—given a pledge that the discussion would be confined to the very moderate proposal which stood in his own name. He (Mr. J. Chamberlain) did not know how far the right hon. Gentleman had entered into previous consultation with those who worked with him, or how far he was able to speak absolutely in their name; but, if an honourable assurance was given, he thought that the Government might consider these questions, which they themselves admitted it would be very desirable to add to the Bill, and which they considered as necessary to complete the measure, if there was to be nothing in the nature of controversial discussion.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
said, he wished to explain that what he had said was that if this Instruction were given, he should be willing to support the Amendments to the 47th clause to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, instead of moving his own.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that that statement rather strengthened the argument of the right hon. Member for Halifax. If other hon. Members on that side of the House were inclined to deal with the subject in the same spirit, and to accept concessions from the 1487 Government on this point with the understanding that they would not introduce unnecessarily controversial matter, and that the discussion should be confined to the Amendments of the right hon. Member for Halifax, as far as he (Mr. J. Chamberlain) could see, the Government might improve their Bill without delaying the measure or undertaking any serious responsibility.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, he was sure there was a general agreement in the House as respected the desire to improve the parochial organization, and hon. Members opposite would do him the justice to remember that he was himself one of the original patentees of the idea that village life should be enlarged by improved organization. Therefore, he was in sympathy with the object which had been advocated to as great a degree as any single Member on the other side of the House. He was also sure it was the feeling of the Government that they would not have completed the work to which they had set their hands, until they had not only made small adjustments in parochial life, but had dealt as broadly and thoroughly with that portion of the question as they had attempted to deal with other portions of it. The great difficulty was that they had not only to deal, if they accepted this Instruction, with the particular Amendments that would follow from it, but also with the question of grouping the parishes. The question of boundaries and grouping must precede the re-arrangement of the parish. The Government had, therefore, thought that that was too large a matter to deal with in the present Bill, and that they could not deal with it satisfactorily until they had organized a system of grouping. In his own Bill he proposed the parish as the unit of organization, and one of the strongest arguments used against his proposal was the great diversity in the sizes of parishes, and the differences of organization that were required. That was one of the reasons why his own plan failed to commend itself to public attention. He rejoiced to think that there was now a public feeling in favour of re-organizing the parish; but it must first be seen how they would stand when grouped, and that would be too great a task to undertake by the present Bill. 1488 They did not wish to accept the Instruction; but it would be admitted that that was a work which ought to receive considerable discussion, and they entirely recognized the friendly feeling that had been expressed with regard to any compromise. They did not desire to meet the House with any non possumus; but it would be the desire of the Government to conduct the measure through Committee without any infusion of Party spirit, and they would most gratefully accept any assistance that might be given, from whatever part of the House it might come; but they could not accept the proposed Instruction on account of the difficulties he had stated.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he would point out that the objection in regard to the question of boundaries would not be involved in his proposals, for the reason that they were applicable to parishes as they are.
§ MR. RITCHIE
, in explanation, said, that the speech of his which had been quoted as implying a promise to deal with Boards of Guardians had special reference to dealing with allotments, as to which he said the Guardians were to be superseded by a more popularly elected authority.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said, that the speeches just made produced the belief that there was a limited good which it was in their power to attain, and he could not but believe there must be on the part of the Government a desire to concur in any measure to attain that good, unless it could be shown that there were insuperable difficulties. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had pointed out what was, no doubt, a practical difficulty in the way of dealing with the question—namely, that there must be a grouping of parishes before the House could proceed to deal with the important questions that would be raised in regard to the powers and action of the Vestries. Now, although the interpolation with respect to the grouping of parishes was a very necessary matter, admitted to be necessary before the larger question connected with the improvement of the Vestries could be proceeded with, yet it was no necessary condition at all with respect to such limited and moderate proposals as those which were now made from the Opposition side of the House 1489 and by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Stansfeld). He hoped the Government would be disposed to consider that view of the case. As far as his hon. Friend the Mover of the Instruction (Mr. F. S. Stevenson) was concerned, he had in the frankest manner put aside all idea of bringing forward large questions under cover of this Instruction, because he had bound himself to act in a manner which would make it impossible that that difficulty should occur. It might be there were other Members who were not prepared of a sudden to pledge themselves in the same definite manner; but yet the Government might rely upon it that those who were now promoting the Instruction avowedly with a limited and practical view, and certainly not with the intention of raising unnecessary debate, and thereby retarding the progress of this hopeful and valuable Bill, would do the best they could, if occasion arose, of preventing any difficulty that might arise if the Instruction should be granted—that was to say, the Opposition Leaders would use any influence legitimately in their power upon hon. Members, to whose confidence they might in any degree have access, for the purpose of restraining such Members from making proposals to which the objection just stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would apply—namely, that they could not be entertained until the important matter of the grouping of parishes had been dealt with. That was a state of facts and expectations which might encourage the Government to accede to the Instruction.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, he desired to acknowledge the very considerate manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had approached the consideration of this question, and he was quite prepared to admit that if the Government had an unlimited amount of time at their disposal this question might be most hopefully considered by the House. But the Government felt that they had entered upon a task of very great magnitude, and did not think that the time would permit for the consideration of the question which its great importance demanded. The Government recognized fully the desirability, even the necessity, for doing much for the improvement of the parish Vestry, and of giving to 1490 village life the strength and power that it once possessed; but they had undertaken as much work as they could possibly carry to a successful issue. Under these circumstances, and at this period of the Session, the Government must ask the House to postpone the consideration of that portion of the Local Government Bill until another Session, when they would be disposed to give it the most full and favourable consideration.
§ MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
said, as the only other Member who had given Notice of an Amendment in regard to the point, he should be happy to withdraw his Amendment, and follow that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), if the Government would accept the Instruction now before the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 183; Noes 229: Majority 46.1493
|Abraham, W. (Glam.)||Cremer, W. R.|
|Acland, A. H. D.||Crilly, D.|
|Allison, R. A.||Crossley, E.|
|Anderson, C. H.||Davies, W.|
|Asquith, H. H.||Dillwyn, L. L.|
|Austin, J.||Dimsdale, Baron R.|
|Ballantine, W. H. W.||Dodds, J.|
|Barbour, W. B.||Duff, R. W.|
|Beaumont, W. B.||Ellis, J.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Ellis, J. E.|
|Bolton, J. C.||Ellis, T. E.|
|Bradlaugh, C.||Esmonde, Sir T. H. G.|
|Broadhurst, H.||Esslemont, P.|
|Brown, A. H.||Evershed, S.|
|Burt, T.||Fenwick, C.|
|Buxton, S. C.||Ferguson, R. C. Munro-|
|Byrne, G. M.||Finucane, J.|
|Cameron, C.||Flower, C.|
|Cameron, J. M.||Flynn, J. C.|
|Campbell, Sir G.||Foley, P. J.|
|Campbell-Bannerman, right hon. H.||Forster, Sir C.|
|Foster, Sir B. W.|
|Carew, J. L.||Fowler, right hon. H. H.|
|Causton, R. K.|
|Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.||Fry, T.|
|Channing, F. A.||Fuller, G. P.|
|Childers, right hon. H. C. E.||Gane, J. L.|
|Clancy, J. J.||Gaskell, C. G. Milnes-|
|Clark, Dr. G. B.||Gill, T. P.|
|Cobb, H. P.||Gladstone, right hon. W. E.|
|Commins, A.||Gladstone, H. J.|
|Conway, M.||Gourley, E. T.|
|Conybeare, C. A. V.||Grey, Sir E.|
|Corbett, A. C.||Grove, Sir T. F.|
|Cossham, H.||Gully, W. C.|
|Cozens-Hardy, H. H.||Gurdon, R. T.|
|Craig, J.||Haldane, R. B.|
|Craven, J.||Harrington, E.|
|Crawford, D.||Harris, M.|
|Hayden, L. P.||Pugh, D.|
|Hayne, C. Seale-||Quilter, W. C.|
|Healy, T. M.||Quinn, T.|
|Hooper, J.||Randell, D.|
|Hunter, W. A.||Redmond, J. E.|
|Jacoby, J. A.||Reid, R. T.|
|James, hon. W. H.||Rendel, S.|
|Joicey, J.||Roberts, J.|
|Jordan, J.||Roberts, J. B.|
|Kay-Shuttleworth, rt. hon. Sir U. J.||Robertson, E.|
|Kenny, C. S.||Roe, T.|
|Kenrick, W.||Roscoe, Sir H. E.|
|Kilbride, D.||Rowlands, W. B.|
|Labouchere, H.||Rowntree, J.|
|Lalor, R.||Russell, Sir C.|
|Lane, W. J.||Schwann, C. E.|
|Lawson, Sir W.||Sexton, T.|
|Leake, R.||Sheehan, J. D.|
|Lefevre, right hon. G. J. S.||Sheehy, D.|
|Lewis, T. P.||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Lockwood, F.||Stack, J.|
|Lyell, L.||Stansfeld, right hon. J.|
|Macdonald, W. A.||Stephens, H. C.|
|Mac Innes, M.||Stevenson, F. S.|
|Mac Neill, J. G. S.||Stevenson, J. C.|
|M'Arthur, A.||Stuart, J.|
|M'Arthur, W. A.||Sullivan, D.|
|M'Cartan, M.||Summers, W.|
|M'Donald, P.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|M'Lagan, P.||Thomas, D. A.|
|M'Laren, W. S. B.||Trevelyan, right hon. Sir G. O.|
|Maitland, W. F.||Tuite, J.|
|Marum, E. M.||Vivian, Sir H. H.|
|Montagu, S.||Waddy, S. D.|
|Neville, R.||Wallace, R|
|Nolan, Colonel J. P.||Wardle, H.|
|Nolan, J.||Warmington, C. M.|
|O'Brien, J. F. X.||Watt, H.|
|O'Brien, P. J.||Wayman, T.|
|O'Brien, W.||Whitbread, S.|
|O'Connor, J.||Will, J. S.|
|O'Hanlon, T.||Williams, A. J.|
|O'Hea, P.||Williamson, J.|
|O'Keeffe, F. A.||Williamson, S.|
|O'Kelly, J.||Wilson, I.|
|Parnell, C. S.||Winterbotham, A. B.|
|Philipps, J. W.||Woodall, W.|
|Pickersgill, E. H.||Woodhead, J.|
|Picton, J. A.|
|Plowden, Sir W. C.||Marjoribanks, rt. hon. E.|
|Power, P. J.|
|Power, R.||Morley, A.|
|Provand, A. D.|
|Addison, J. E. W.||Barttelot, Sir W. B.|
|Agg-Gardner, J. T.||Bates, Sir E.|
|Aird, J.||Baumann, A. A.|
|Allsopp, hon. G.||Bazley-White, J.|
|Allsopp, hon. P.||Beach, right hon. Sir M. E. Hicks-|
|Anstruther, Colonel R. H. L.||Beach, W. W. B.|
|Beadel, W. J.|
|Anstruther, H. T.||Beckett, E. W.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Bentinck, Lord H. C.|
|Bailey, Sir J. R.||Bentinck, W. G. C.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. A. J.||Bethell, Commander G. R.|
|Baring, T. C.|
|Barry, A. H. S.||Biddulph, M.|
|Bigwood, J.||Goldsmid, Sir J.|
|Birkbeck, Sir E.||Goldsworthy, Major General W. T.|
|Bolitho, T. B.|
|Bond, G. H.||Gorst, Sir J. E.|
|Bonsor, H. C. O.||Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.|
|Borthwick, Sir A.||Granby, Marquess of|
|Bristowe, T. L.||Gray, C. W.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.||Grimston, Viscount|
|Gunter, Colonel R.|
|Brookfield, A. M.||Hall, A. W.|
|Brooks, Sir W. C.||Hall, C.|
|Bruce, Lord H.||Hamilton, right hon. Lord G. F.|
|Campbell, J. A.|
|Chaplin, right hon. H.||Hamilton, Lord E.|
|Charrington, S.||Hamley, Gen. Sir E. B.|
|Clarke, Sir E. G.||Hanbury, R. W.|
|Coddington, W.||Hankey, F. A.|
|Coghill, D. H.||Hardcastle, F.|
|Compton, F.||Heathcote, Capt. J. H. Edwards-|
|Cooke, C. W. R.|
|Corbett, J.||Herbert, hon. S.|
|Corry, Sir J. P.||Hermon-Hodge, R. T.|
|Cotton, Capt. E. T. D.||Hervey, Lord F.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hill, right hon. Lord A. W.|
|Crossman, Gen. Sir W.|
|Curzon, hon. G. N.||Hill, Colonel E. S.|
|Dalrymple, Sir C.||Hill, A. S.|
|Darling, C. J.||Hoare, E. B.|
|Davenport, H. T.||Hoare, S.|
|Davenport, W. B.||Holloway, G.|
|Dawnay, Colonel hon. L. P.||Hornby, W. H.|
|De Lisle, E. J. L. M. P.||Hozier, J. H. C.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Hubbard, hon. E.|
|Dixon, G.||Hunt, F. S.|
|Donkin, R. S.||Hunter, Sir W. G.|
|Dugdale, J. S.||Isaacs, L. H.|
|Duncombe, A.||Isaacson, F. W.|
|Dyke, right hon. Sir W. H.||Jackson, W. L.|
|Jardine, Sir R.|
|Edwards-Moss, T. C.||Jarvis, A. W.|
|Egerton, hon. A. J. F.||Jeffreys, A. F.|
|Elcho, Lord||Johnston, W.|
|Elliot, hon. H. F. H.||Kelly, J. R.|
|Elton, C. I.||Kennaway, Sir J. H.|
|Ewart, Sir W.||Kenyon, hon. G. T.|
|Ewing, Sir A. O.||Kenyon-Slaney, Col. W.|
|Eyre, Colonel H.|
|Farquharson, H. R.||Kerans, F. H.|
|Feilden, Lt.-Gen. R. J.||Kimber, H.|
|Fellowes, A. E.||King, H. S.|
|Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.||Knatchbull-Hugessen, H. T.|
|Fielden, T.||Knightley, Sir R.|
|Finch, G. H.||Knowles, L.|
|Fisher, W. H.||Lafone, A.|
|Fitzgerald, R. U. P.||Lambert, C.|
|Fitzwilliam, hon. W. H. W.||Lawrance, J. C.|
|Lawrence, W. F.|
|Fitz-Wygram, Gen. Sir F. W.||Lea, T.|
|Fletcher, Sir H.||Legh, T. W.|
|Folkestone, right hon. Viscount||Lennox, Lord W. C. Gordon-|
|Forwood, A. B.||Lethbridge, Sir R.|
|Fowler, Sir R. N.||Lewisham, right hon. Viscount|
|Fraser, General C. C.|
|Fulton, J. F.||Llewellyn, E. H.|
|Gathorne-Hardy, hon. A. E.||Long, W. H.|
|Lowther, hon. W.|
|Gathorne-Hardy, hon. J. S.||Macdonald, rt. hon. J. H. A.|
|Gedge, S.||Mackintosh, C. F.|
|Maclure, J. W.||Selwyn, Captain C. W.|
|M'Calmont, Captain J.||Seton-Karr, H.|
|Madden, D. H.||Shaw-Stewart, M. H.|
|Malcolm, Col. J. W.||Sidebotham, J. W.|
|Mallock, R.||Sidebottom, T. H.|
|Maple, J. B.||Sidebottom, W.|
|Matthews, rt. hon. H.||Smith, right hon. W. H.|
|Mattinson, M. W.|
|Maxwell, Sir H. E.||Spencer, J. E.|
|Mayne, Adml. R. C.||Stanhope, rt. Hon. E.|
|Mills, hon. C. W.||Stanley, E. J.|
|Milvain, T.||Stewart, M. J.|
|More, R. J.||Swetenham, E.|
|Morrison, W.||Talbot, J. G.|
|Mount, W. G.||Tapling, T. K.|
|Mowbray, R. G. C.||Temple, Sir R.|
|Murdoch, C. T.||Theobald, J.|
|Noble, W.||Tomlinson, W. E. M.|
|Northcote, hon. Sir H. S.||Townsend, F.|
|Vernon, hon. G. R.|
|Norton, R.||Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.|
|O'Neill, hon. R. T.||Walsh, hon. A. H. J.|
|Parker, hon. F.||Watson, J.|
|Pelly, Sir L.||Webster, Sir R. E.|
|Penton, Captain F. T.||West, Colonel W. C.|
|Plunket, rt. hon. D. R.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Plunkett, hon. J. W.||Wharton, J. L.|
|Powell, F. S.||Whitley, E.|
|Raikes, rt. hon. H. C.||Whitmore, C. A.|
|Rankin, J.||Wilson, Sir S.|
|Rasch, Major F. C.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Reed, H. B.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Richardson, T.||Wood, N.|
|Ridley, Sir M. W.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Ritchie, rt. hn. C. T.||Wright, H. S.|
|Robertson, J. P. B.||Wroughton, P.|
|Robinson, B.||Yerburgh, R. A.|
|Rollit, Sir A. K.|
|Russell, Sir G.||Douglas, A. Akers-|
|Russell, T. W.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)