§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
Mr. Speaker, I have to move for leave to bring in a Bill to make further provision for Local Government in England and Wales, and in so doing I must recall to the House some of the circumstances connected with the introduction and progress of the Local Government Bill of 1888. Hon. Gentlemen who were Members of the last Parliament will recollect that that Bill as originally introduced was much more comprehensive in its character and much larger in its powers than the Bill which eventually passed into an Act. Yet my right hon. Predecessor, in bringing in that Bill, frankly admitted that it did not cover the whole area of Local Government. In the speech in which he introduced the measure, he said—The Government would have been glad to have proposed a reconstruction of parochial organisation, and reform in the system of valuation, in order to make it more simple and more uniform;680 and he added—That if he had not dealt with these questions in the Bill it was not because the Government did not fully recognise their importance, but because they felt the absolute necessity of keeping their Bill within reasonable limits.That Bill contained a very large provision for the constitution of District Councils. But owing to Parliamentary pressure, or, perhaps, to pressure of time, the Government found it necessary to omit those clauses. Those hon. Members who were present when the Government announced that intention will, however, recollect that they admitted—and I will quote the words—a paramount obligation to introduce the Bill in the next Session of Parliament. That was in 1888, and we are now in 1893. I am not recalling that pledge or the omission to keep it by way either of complaint or criticism. I know the pressure that the late Government had in other matters, and I am not disposed to find fault with them because they were unable to complete their scheme of Local Government. But the bringing in of that Bill in the original form, and the promises—the distinct promises—which were made by the Government when that Bill was attenuated, formed a distinct pledge to the House and the country, that no further delay, if possible, should take place in completing the re-construction of our system of Local Government. I think, therefore, the present Government are not open to the censure which has been rather freely cast upon them of introducing a sort of harum-scarum Bill for which there is no necessity or demand, and which is supposed to serve some political purpose. This Bill is introduced in fulfilment of pledges given by the late Government; and the present Government would have been guilty of a serious neglect of duty if they had allowed this Session to pass by without submitting a scheme of Local Government. Some years ago a high authority now sitting in this House said that there was no labyrinth so intricate as that of our local laws. I will in a sentence or two tell the House of some of the extraordinary anomalies under which we live, so far as our local administration is concerned? The inhabitant of a borough lives in a fourfold area for the purposes of Local Government—he lives in a borough, a parish, a union, and 681 a county. None of these is coterminous, unless by accident, with any other. Different parts of a borough may be in different parishes and in different unions. He is, or may be, governed by no less than six Authorities—the Council, the Vestry, the Burial Board, the School Board, the Guardians, and the Quarter Sessions. The inhabitant of a Local Board district lives in four kinds of districts—the Local Board district, the Parish, the Union, and the County. He also is, or may be, under six governments, and most of these Authorities or districts may be different for inhabitants of different parts of the same Local Board district. The inhabitant of a rural parish lives in a parish, a union, and a county, probably a highway district; he is, or may be, governed by a Vestry, a School Board, a Burial Board, a Highway Board, a Board of Guardians, and the Justices. My hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. W. Rathbone) once stated in this House that, in the place where he lived, there were no less than 35 different Local Authorities. I can give the House some statistics as to the state of things now existing. The Local Government areas into which England and Wales are divided may be enumerated as follows: 62 counties, 302 Municipal Boroughs, 31 Improvement Act Districts, 688 Local Government Districts, 574 Rural Sanitary Districts, 58 Port Sanitary Districts, 2,302 School Board Districts, 362 Highway Districts (comprising about 8,000 Highway Parishes, 6,477 Highway Parishes (not included in Urban or Highway Districts), 1,052 Burial Board Districts, 648 Poor Law Unions, 13,775 Ecclesiastical Parishes, and nearly 15,000 Civil Parishes. The total number of Authorities which tax the English ratepayers is between 28,000 and 29,000. Not only are we exposed to this multiplicity of authority and this confusion of rating power, but the qualification, tenure, and mode of election of members of these Authorities differ in different cases. For Town Councillors the only qualification is practically that the man to be elected is an elector—that is, household suffrage pure and simple. In the case of Guardians the qualification has been a rating qualification, ranging from £10 to £40. The Government last autumn decided, in the due and proper 682 exercise of their statutory authority, to make a uniform qualification of £5. As nearly every act of the Government in the Recess has formed the subject of criticism and debate in this House, and as no allusion has been made, either directly or indirectly, to the reduction of this qualification, I think we may take it that it has met with practically the unanimous approval of the House of Commons. When I come to the case of Local Boards, I find that the qualification is it rating of £15 where the population is under 20,000, and of £30 where it is over 20,000. Real or personal property without rating is available, provided the amount be £500 or £1,000 according to the population. For Burial Boards ratepayers are qualified. For Highway Boards (Waywardens) the qualification is real estate of £10 value or personal estate of £100 value, or occupation of premises of £20 rateable value. In the case of Lighting Inspectors, the qualification is being rated at not less than £15. Overseers must be substantial householders. For School Boards, where, if any qualification be needed, it ought to be the higher on account of the duties the members have to discharge, no qualification whatever is required. As to the method of election: A Town Council is elected by ballot, and one man one vote; Local Boards by voting papers left at the houses of voters, and collected in about three days, plural voting; Boards of Guardians, by voting papers left at the houses of voters, and collected on the following day, plural voting; Burial Boards, Highway Boards (Way-wardens), Lighting Inspectors, by show of hands, and open poll, if demanded, involving plural voting; Overseers are appointed by Justices; School Boards are elected by ballot, with the cumulative vote. Then as to the scale of voting: Town Councils are elected by occupiers, one vote for each candidate up to the number to be elected; Local Boards by owners, one vote to six votes, according to rating, up to £250, and by ratepayers on the same scale; persons can vote in both capacities, and, therefore, when rated up to £250 can have 12 votes; Boards of Guardians by owners and rate-payers respectively, according to the same scale as Local Boards; Burial Boards, Highway Boards (Waywardens), and Lighting Inspectors by rated inhabi- 683 tants, with from one to six votes, according to assessment; School Boards by ratepayers giving as many votes as there are candidates, which may all be given to one candidate or distributed as the voter pleases. With regard to the tenure of office: Town Councillors are triennial, one-third retiring each year; Local Boards are triennial, one-third retiring each year; Boards of Guardians are annual generally, but in many cases triennial, with either one-third retiring each year or all retiring together; Highway Boards (Waywardens) are annual; Lighting Inspectors are triennial, one-third retiring each year; Overseers are annual; Burial Boards triennial, one-third retiring each year; School Boards triennial, all retiring together. Such a state of things justifies what was said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) some 22 years ago. The right hon. Gentleman said—The truth, Sir, is that we have a chaos as regards authorities, a chaos as regards rates, and a worse chaos than all as regards areas. And not only that, but every different form of election which it is possible to conceive is applied to the various Local Authorities who administer these various rates in these various areas. It is a curious fact that, while we might expect to find not identical, yet, at all events, very similar, principles governing the election of Guardians, the election of Local Boards, the election of highway surveyors and overseers, and the election of other Local and Parochial Authorities, yet in all these cases a different form of election actually prevails. In some instances you have an election by plurality of votes, in others by single votes; in some instances you have an election by owners and occupiers, in others by occupiers only; and where you have a plurality of votes the scale varies, there being, for example, one scale for the election of Guardians and another for the election of highway surveyors.But what is the cause of all this confusion? It is the legislation of this House which has created special authorities and special districts for special purposes, but in doing so has not proceeded on a uniform or a symmetrical system. And at what a cost has this system been created! We have multiplied officials, we have divided and confused jurisdictions, we have diminished the authority and impaired the efficiency of the various Governing Bodies. Our Local Government system has been extravagant in the time which is occupied in its administration, extravagant in the men needed to administer its affairs, and extravagant in the cost of that adminis- 684 tration. I should be the last to deny that the Act of 1888 was a great step in advance. The Opposition of that time frankly admitted from the first day the Bill was brought in down to its Third Reading the statesmanlike lines on which the Bill was drawn; and although they differed in many respects from the policy of its authors, and succeeded in introducing some great improvements in it, no Member of the Opposition hesitated to welcome the extension of Local Government to our counties under that great Act. We think the time has arrived to develop and enlarge, if not to complete, the work then accomplished. The first question we have to discuss is this: what is to be our primary area, what the unit of our Local Government? In dealing with this question we must remember that there is an essential distinction between urban and rural districts. The conditions of the two differ in their requirements, in the number of their population, in the massing of that population in limited spaces in the one case, and in its spreading over large districts in the other case, and in their necessary expenditure and available income. In our urban districts, according to the last statistics, the average population to the square mile was 4,000, while in the rural districts it was 158. To a great extent the machinery of urban government has already been organised, at all events, so far as our large towns and cities are concerned, and except in one or two points, there is very little room for improvement. Those great Municipalities are doing, in my opinion, the best work ever done by Municipalities in this or any other country; the people are contented with them, and, therefore, as far as this Bill is concerned, the Municipalities are left alone. I therefore come to deal with the question exclusively as it relates to rural districts. Are we to create a new area, or are we to utilise an existing area; and, if so, what is that area to be? Very high authorities on Local Government differ on this point. What I may perhaps call the doctrinaire school have advocated forming a new area totally irrespective of what has been done in the past, and of all the machinery and institutions now at work. Whatever may be the opinion theoretically, I 685 think both sides of the House will agree as to the undesirability of creating a new area except in the last resort. Our two great areas are the parish and the union. The parish is an ancient institution influenced by local sentiment and invested with local interest. It represents the old township, or rather, a group of the old townships. It is the oldest aggregation in this country of men for the purposes of self-government and local administration, and many difficulties would arise if we were to disregard the parish in any scheme for rural reform which might be set up. On the other hand, very high authorities who have written on the question of Local Government are strongly in favour of the union. The union was formed for a specific purpose 60 or 70 years ago, and it seems to me, looking at it as a matter of history, that the idea which those who formed the unions had in view was the grouping together of certain areas round a market town, which would be convenient for the Guardians to attend. There was a disregard of every other local consideration, and one of the great impediments in dealing thoroughly with this question of Local Government, and in selecting the area, was the crossing by the union of the counties in so large a number of cases. The union has its advantages. It has its complete organization with a large area of administration, and for all administrative purposes in which the expense is likely to be large you want a large area. You cannot have a small area, which is a costly area, and there are many points in which it is desirable to have an area which will bear a sufficient range both of taxation and expenditure. The Government propose to take both the parish and the union. We shall follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite in taking the parish as the primary unit of local administration in rural districts, and we shall propose to re-constitute it entirely. Let me explain the meaning of the word "parish" as far as local administration is concerned. We have in this country upwards of 13,000 ecclesiastical parishes, upwards of 14,000 civil or Poor Law parishes, and upwards of 14,000 highway parishes, which in many cases are not identical with either of the other two areas. So far as this Bill is concerned, I think we shall dispose of the highway 686 parish altogether. I must, however, draw attention to the distinction between the ecclesiastical and the civil parish. The civil parish—and this the Legislature has declared to be the true test of a parish—is a district or area for which a separate poor rate is or can be made, or for which a separate Overseer is or can be appointed. The ecclesiastical parish was once identical with the civil parish; but now, according to the last Return presented to Parliament, out of 15,000 civil parishes, not more than 10,000 had the same boundaries as the ecclesiastical parishes. Therefore, the terms by no means represent the same area or the same population, or, in many cases, the same interests. How has this great discrepancy arisen? It has arisen partly from the Church side, and partly from the Parliamentary side. The Church, under powers given to it by the numerous Church Building Acts, has divided large and populous districts into ecclesiastical parishes, these being created solely for ecclesiastical purposes, not affecting the civil parish. On the other hand, the Legislature, at least 200 years ago, took a large number of outlying townships of large parishes which had long acquired the right of appointing their own Overseers and of being separately rated, and regarded them as civil parishes. That was chiefly done in the North of England, and I find that the Poor Law parishes which are townships, or parts of ecclesiastical parishes, chiefly in Yorkshire, Northumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, and Durham, amount to upwards of 5,000. Therefore, the House will not be surprised to find that there is a great discrepancy in the exact boundaries of these two great divisions. But for the purposes of this Bill and of all legislation for many years past, we deal exclusively with the civil parish, the parish which Parliament devised and has defined. Well, what is the organization of the parish? The parish simple is organized into its Vestry and has its Overseers, and I take it that those two institutions practically represent what the parish is and does. The Vestry is, I believe, the technical term for the ratepayers of the parish assembled in Vestry. The clergyman is entitled to preside, and questions are settled by show of hands. If a poll is taken the system of voting is 687 plural, the voters having from one to six votes, according to rating, and the female ratepayer can vote. There are also select Vestries in certain parishes, which are practically Parish Councils. The functions of the Vestry are mainly the management of the parish property and parish charities, and the adoption and working of certain specific Acts. Now is this organization, and are these officers working satisfactorily to the present day? I venture to think the Vestries and the officers of Vestries are decrepit survivals of former days. They have the form but not the power of Local Government; they do not possess the confidence of the rural population, and they are in the main useless and obstructive. They do not meet at convenient hours; they do not transact business in the way that other Representative Bodies do, and, as far as any practical efficiency is concerned, I think their duties are practically nil. Let me quote on this point an authority far better than mine, that of a gentleman from whom we differ in politics, but who certainly is a very high authority upon parochial government, and upon all the phases of the land question in our rural districts. I refer to Mr. George Brodrick, the present Warden of Merton College. He says—It is impossible to survey county administration in its entirety without being; struck with the extraordinary absence of self-government in rural communities. We are wont to look on Saxon times as barbarous, and on the feudal system as oppressive; but the simple truth is that nine-tenths of the population in an English country parish have at this moment not merely less share in local government than belongs to the French peasants of the present day, but less than belonged to French peasants under the 18th century Monarchy.… With all its advantages, the parochial system, as it exists in English country parishes, is singularly ill-calculated to supply democratic training for self-government, or to promote the recognition of common interests and mutual duties in village communities. The humblest member of a Presbyterian congregation, by virtue of his spiritual independence, is made to realise that he is a citizen, but the ordinary English farm labourer, accustomed to depend on the clergyman in spiritual matters, as he depends on the squire for his cottage, and the farmer for his wages, does not feel himself to be a citizen, and will not be made to feel it by the mere acquisition of a Parliamentary vote.Before speaking of the first step in the re-constitution of the parish, I must tell the House the number of 688 parishes with which we have to deal. After deducting the urban and metropolitan parishes there are left, in round numbers, 13,000 rural parishes. Those Members who were in the last Parliament will remember that the great objection to any re-organization of the parish always was the large number of parishes that have a small population. I hope that this Bill will deal with that objection to some extent. Speaking in round figures, there are over 6,000 rural parishes that have a population of less than 300; there are 2,500 between 300 and 500; there are 2,300 between 500 and 1,000; 1,200 between 1,000 and 2,000; and 1,000 between 2,000 and 5,000. Therefore, I think the House will see that it will be impossible to take a parish as a unit without any regard to, its population. We must draw a line, and the line we propose to draw is at a population of 300. There is a precedent for that limit in the power of the Local Government Board to group parishes for the purpose of election of Guardians which is exercisable in the cases of parishes of less than 300 population. We are not going to leave the small parishes out in the cold, but hon. Members will understand that, as regards the organization I am submitting to the House, I am dealing with parishes in rural districts which have a population of 300 and over. We propose that there shall be constituted in every such parish a Parish Council. A rural parish is a parish in a rural sanitary district. If a parish is partly in an urban district and partly in a rural district, it will be automatically divided into two parishes, and the parish which is in the rural district will come under the Bill.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
No, I will explain subsequently how we deal with those. Whether a parish be a rural parish with a population of 300 or part of a rural parish possessing that population, the other part of which is in an urban district, it will form the area for the Parish Council. How are the Parish Councils to be elected? Who are to be the persons entitled to vote in the election of the Parish Council; or, in other words, who are to be the people 689 who are to form the parish meeting which will be really the electing Body? The electors will be all the men and women who are registered as County Council electors, and every man who is registered as a Parliamentary elector. The Parish Council will consist of a Chairman and Councillors, and the number of Councillors will be such as is fixed from time to time by the County Council, being not less than five and not more than 15. If a poll be demanded, it will be taken by ballot, and there will be no plural voting. The Chairman will be elected by the Council itself. There are certain purposes for which the Chairman will preside over a parish meeting, and others for which the parish meeting will choose its own Chairman. A parish meeting is to be opened not earlier than 6 and not later than 8 o'clock in the evening. This is to be fixed by Statute, He that no question shall arise on that point. The election will take place at a parish meeting in the first instance, and any elector will have the right to demand a poll. The Council will be elected annually in the month before the 15th April. Immediately after the election it will hold a meeting to elect a Chairman; and we make the holding of four meetings of the Parish Council in the year compulsory. We give the parochial electors the right to use, free of charge, for any parish meeting or meeting of the Parish Council at all reasonable times, any suitable room of a public elementary school receiving a grant out of moneys provided by Parliament. In every rural parish the power and duty of appointing Overseers of the Poor and Assistant Overseers, and of filling up casual vacancies will be vested in the Parish Council. The House will understand that we draw a broad dividing line between civil and ecclesiastical matters. We do not touch the parish in its ecclesiastical aspect at all. We do not interfere with its ecclesiastical functions or powers, but as in all civil parishes Churchwardens are ex officio Overseers, we see no necessity that they should continue in that capacity in the future. We therefore provide that in rural parishes Churchwardens shall cease to be Overseers, and that an additional number in their place shall be appointed by the Parish Council. We propose that the parish meeting and the Parish Council 690 together shall take the place of the Vestry. There will be defined certain matters in which the Parish Council exclusively will act, certain matters in which the parish meeting exclusively will act, and certain matters on which the Parish Council will require to have the consent of the parish meeting. Subject to these considerations we transfer to the Parish Council the appointment of the Overseers and the appointment of persons to be Overseers in lieu of Churchwardens. We transfer to them, in lieu of the Overseers, the holding of parish property; the powers, duties, and liabilities of the Vestry, except as regards Church affairs and except powers which are specifically given to the parish meeting; the powers and duties of Churchwardens, except as respects to Church or ecclesiastical charities; the powers and duties of Overseers and Churchwardens as to rating appeals, and the provision of Vestry rooms, parochial offices, parish chests, fire engines, fire escapes, and all the various minutiœ which various Acts of Parliament have imposed or conferred upon Vestries and Overseers. We transfer the powers of Boards of Guardians as respects the sale of parish property. We also transfer to them the power of making representations with respect to allotments and the election of allotment managers, and, in fact, in the whole machinery of the Allotments Acts we substitute the Parish Council for the authorities therein mentioned, although we do not interfere with the power Parliament has given to a certain number of electors to take action of their own volition. Then there are certain of what draftsmen call adoptive Acts, dealing with lighting, watching, public improvements, baths, Public Libraries, and so on; and we say that, where under existing Acts the consent or approval of the Vestry is required, the parish meeting shall be substituted for the Vestry. That meeting will have the power of adopting them, and the Parish Council will be the instrumentality by which they will be carried out. We give new powers to Parish Councils. We propose to confer on them power to provide and acquire buildings for public offices, and meetings and other public purposes, and to acquire land for such buildings, for recreation grounds, and for public walks. The Parish Council 691 will have the power of utilising any supply of water within the parish. There are a great many parishes which cannot bear the cost of waterworks, which have no necessity for waterworks, but which have an adequate supply of water if there were anybody to look after it, to keep it pure, and to see it properly distributed. There would, therefore, be great advantage in giving a Parish Council power to utilise a supply of water existing within the parish. There are also powers to deal with any pond, ditches, drains, stagnant water, and any matter likely to be prejudicial to health. We give the Parish Council power to acquire any right of way, casement, or other right within or without the parish, the acquisition of which is beneficial to the parish; power to accept and hold any gift of property for the benefit of the parish, and to execute any works or improvements incidental to such power. I may say in passing that it is, of course, the absolute statutory duty of the District Council, and we hope to make it more binding upon them, to see to the supply of water and to the sanitary requirements of every parish within their area. We do nothing to interfere with that, and these powers of the Parish Council are additional and cumulative. Then we deal with the question of the purchase of land. It is no good giving Parish Councils power to acquire land without giving them the instrumentality of getting the land, and I think the House is pretty well convinced that, so far as allotments are concerned, there is need of at all events some further power in order to make effective that which is believed to be compulsory. As the law at present stands, if the Allotment Authority, which is the District Council, require land for the purposes of allotments, they are enabled to do so on presenting a petition to the County Council, which is the Local Authority, to put into force the compulsory clauses of the Lands Clauses Act. That order has to be confirmed by Parliament in the shape of a Provisional Order. Practically that is a useless and costly power. What we propose is that if a Parish Council cannot acquire land by agreement, for any purpose for which they are authorised to acquire it, they may represent the case to the District Council, and the District 692 Council shall inquire into the representation. If the District Council are satisfied that suitable land for the purpose of the Parish Council or for the purpose of allotments, as the case may be, cannot be acquired on reasonable terms by voluntary agreement, and that the circumstances-are such as to justify the District Council in proceeding, they shall petition the Local Government Board for an order for the compulsory purchase of the land, and after the order is made by the Local Government Board it is not to require any confirmation by Parliament. We shall not have the machinery of two arbitrators and an umpire, but the price; will be settled by one arbitrator, and we insert what I frankly admit is a novel proposal, though there is Irish sanction for it—we insert words enacting that in determining the amount to be paid as compensation the arbitrator shall not make any additional allowance in respect of the purchase being compulsory. We go a little further. We give compulsory machinery not only to purchase, but to hire. Where land is proposed to be taken for allotments we are going to authorise the Parish Council to hire compulsorily any part of the land for a period not less than seven years. We protect—Section 3 of the Allotments Act of 1887 amply protects—the owners in respect of the compensation to be paid to them on the determination of the tenancy. If a District Council refuse to make the application to the Local Government Board for which the Parish Council ask them, then the Parish Council shall have a right to-appeal to the County Council for that purpose. I have now arrived at that portion of the Bill when I shall be fairly asked, How are you going to meet the cost of all this? We propose that the Parish Council shall be subject to certain limits. They are not to have boundless power of expenditure. It is to their advantage that they should have those limits, because the area over which their rating powers extend will be necessarily limited, and because we propose that the larger expenditure for these local purposes shall continue in the future to be as it has been in the past, although I hope under very changed conditions, vested in the District Council. We restrict the Parish Council from in- 693 curring any loan or any expenditure which involves an annual rate exceeding 1d. in the £1, unless these two conditions are complied with. First, they must have the consent of their constituency, the parish meeting; and, secondly, they must have the consent of the District Council, which represents for that purpose what we may call the central or larger authority—the district area of which they form part. Somebody may ask how are we to deal with a future year. The Parish Council may incur an expense which will bring the rate up to 1d. in the £1. Are they to be precluded from further expense? Certainly not. The Bill provides that any expense so consented to shall, unless the consent otherwise directs, be excluded from future consideration. I think the combined effect of these clauses will be to insure a wise economy, without unduly or unnecessarily interfering with the perfect freedom of the Local Authority. We restrict the Parish Councils from selling parish property without the consent of the Central Authority. We allow them to borrow with the consent of the Local Government Board for the purchase of land for buildings and for other permanent works, and we allow them to borrow either from the County or from the District Council.
MR. JESSE COLLLNGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
May I ask whether the Parish Councils will be empowered to purchase land for small holdings as well as for allotments?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The only part of the Bill which deals with the machinery of the Small Holdings Act is a provision relating to the allotment managers referred to in Section 16 of that Act. For them we substitute two members of the Parish Council, but we give the Parish Council no power to acquire or sell land for the purpose of small holdings. The remarks I have made in regard to allotments are confined exclusively to proceedings under the Allotments Acts. We propose to give the Parish Council power to apply to the District Councils to protect roads the closing of which is threatened. Coming to the holding of property, the Parish Council replaces the Churchwardens and Overseers as the legal holders of parish property, and it may also take over the trusteeship of parochial charities with the ap- 694 proval of the Charity Commissioners. We propose that the District Council may delegate to the Parish Council any powers it may delegate to a Parochial Committee under the Public Health Acts; and where the District Council appoints a Parochial Committee, consisting partly of its own members and partly of other members, the other members must be members of the Parish Council. If the District, Council does not do its duty and does not provide sufficient sewerage or water supply, then the Parish Council may complain to the County Council, and that Body may do the work at the cost of the locality. There is great need for that power, because Rural Sanitary Authorities—though I hope some change may take place—have not been quite so vigorous in the prosecution of sanitary reform as the Urban Authorities have been. The Parish Council may appoint one of their number to be clerk without pay, and if no one is willing so to act the Assistant Overseer is to be appointed, and the performance of these duties is to be taken into account in determining his salary. Where a parish is so large as to make a parish meeting impracticable, we give power to the County Council to divide the parish into wards, and there shall be a separate election in. each ward. In the case of small parishes with a population of less than 300 we provide that they are to be grouped with other parishes. The group must have a population of at least 300, and will elect for itself a Parish Council; but each parish, no matter how small its population, is to be entitled to have a parish meeting. The parish meeting will annually choose a Chairman for the ensuing year, and all the powers exercisable by the Vestry, except those relating to the affairs of the Church, will be exercisable by the parish meeting. The provisions of the Bill with respect to the stopping of a public right of way are also to rest with the parish meeting. These parish meetings are to be in the evening. I think, on the whole, these are very ample powers we propose to give to the Parish Council. It may be said, Is there a necessity for them? We have had the poet's picture and we have had the politician's picture of rural life in this country. After we have allowed for the exaggeration and colouring with which the imagination of 695 the one and the partisanship of the other have invested these pictures, I think we are bound to admit that the one tells us what might be and what ought to be but what is not, and the other tells us what ought to be and what can be. The Reports of my own Department with regard to the sanitary condition of stores of the rural parishes of this country disclose a state of things which is a discredit to our civilisation. And yet a Rural Authority has facilities which an Urban Authority has not. There are a variety of conditions, such as crowded populations and unhealthy trades, attaching to a town involving an enormous expense to deal with them. None of these conditions are present in a rural district. What are the conditions of local government in a rural district? Yon want the localities to be supplied with pure water; you want the houses and roads properly drained; you want the air uncontaminated and the dwellings fit for human habitation. For these purposes I venture to submit there is no authority better than the authority of the people who themselves reside in the localities. You cannot make these improvements by the exercise of mere authority. You have made the change in the great towns not by the act of the Central Government, but by the act of the Local Authorities, working on local lines and spending local money. No man can point to a single instance in which our municipal system has broken down. Look at our great towns what they were half a century ago and what they are to-day. What strides they have made forward! No man can look at the things going on in the towns without desiring that the same benefits should be conferred on all parts of the country. I know there is an idea abroad that the rural labourer is inferior to the artisan of the towns. [Cries of "No!"] I am glad to hear hon. Members deny that. I do not believe a word of it myself. You say sometimes that appeals are made by us to their baser instincts in order to obtain their votes; but you, at any rate, appeal to their nobler instincts. You tell them that they are citizens of a great Empire, and you ask them by their votes to prevent the disintegration of that Empire. Surely, if the rural labourer is capable of pronouncing an opinion on Imperial questions, he is 696 capable of pronouncing an opinion on rural questions. I do not suppose that these Parish Councils will not make mistakes. Many of us here heard of the aphorism of the late American Minister, that if a man never made a mistake he never made anything. Town Councils have made mistakes, County Councils have made mistakes, and there is another assembly I know of that has made mistakes. Parish Councils will make mistakes, Parish Councils will be extravagant, Parish Councils will possibly do foolish things—all that is inevitable to any system of popular government. But I am ready to run the risk of my rural friends making mistakes. I believe that, on the whole, they will do a great service not only to the locality in which they live, but the country of which they form a part. We may be asked, Are there any precedents for this delegation of large powers to Local Authorities? Now, Sir, I will take precedents from two great countries only, both closely associated with ourselves, the one characterised by its complete centralisation, and the other, I may say, by its complete decentralisation. I take, in the first instance, France. France, for purposes of local government, is divided into 86 departments; the departments are sub-divided into arrondissements, and the arrondissements, again, are sub-divided into communes. The total number of communes is 35,989—that is to say, rather more than double the number of English parishes, and three times the number of parishes on which we propose to confer the right of electing Parish Councils. The commune has a Corporate Body, with a maire and a Council; the members of the Council are elected for three years. The duties of the Body consist in assisting and to some extent controlling the maire, and in the management of the communal property and affairs. Among the functions allotted to the commune are the making and repair of roads, the enclosure and maintenance of burial grounds, elementary education, &c. The maire appoints most of the communal officials, and is empowered to make bye-laws on such subjects as the abatement of nuisances, and other matters relating to public health, the sale of provisions, the regulation of street traffic, the preservation of order in public places, and the control of theatres. The communes vary 697 immensely in size, but the only difference in constitution between a small and a large commune consists in the number of the members in the Council. This number varies from 10 to 36, according to the population. When the number of inhabitants is less than 500 the Council consists of 10, and when the number exceeds 60,000 the Council consists of 36. But a nearer illustration to us is the illustration of America. You have three types of local government in America—(1) the first, characterised by its unit the town or the township, exists in the six New England States; (2) the county is the unit in the Southern States; and (3) the mixed system, conbining features of the first and second, prevails in the Middle and North-Western States. The township of America is what in England would be called a hamlet. The population in the New England States, excluding cities, varies from 500 to 700. In some cases it falls below 200. It is governed by an assembly or towns meeting of qualified voters resident in the township, who meet at least once in the year. It chooses the select men, who are equivalent to our Overseers, the School Committee, and executive officers. It enacts bye-laws for the regulation of local affairs; it passes accounts, votes, expenditure and taxation, deals with the schools and the aid to the poor, controls the highways, appoints supervisors, clerks assessors, collectors, Commissioners of Highways. The voting is by ballot. The constituency consists of every male citizen over 21 who has resided in the State one year, in the county three months, and in the township one month. A year's residence, however, in the township is necessary for eligibility for office. In the Western States the same institutions prevail. The average population of a township in Ohio is about 1,000—a few as low as 500, and a very few as high as 1,400. In Illinois the average is about 900; in Minnesota 450, and in Iowa about 500. "These townships meetings," as Jefferson said, "are the vital principles of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exorcise of self-government and for its preservation." So far as our own country is concerned, there is one other authority I should like to quote—a living authority, a clergyman 698 who has had great experience of the Poor Law in this country, and is familiar with local life—I mean the well-known rector of Islip, Mr. Fowle. In a letter to The Times, on August 21, 1891, he says—I am absolutely certain that what the country labourers, and. indeed, country people generally, desire is restoration of that self-government of the villages of which by mere historic accidents they have been deprived. For, beyond doubt, there is a grievance, felt to be such, that seriously oppresses country life. Why, of all the people in the world, should the inhabitants of English villages be deprived of municipal life? So far as I know, the like condition of things exists nowhere in any civilized country. In France the communes—twice as numerous, by the way, as English parishes—enjoy municipal privileges. In the United States, where so many of the best traditions of old English life still survive, the system of townships is, by common consent, one of the most valuable and successful of their institutions.These, Sir, are the grounds on which we venture to recommend to the House the adoption of the principle and machinery of Parish Councils. I would now ask the House to consider for a moment the question of District Councils. Under our present system every part of the Kingdom is either under an Urban or a Rural Sanitary Authority. The Urban Authority, as the House knows, consists of Town Councils or of Improvement Commissioners or of Local Boards, and every part of a union not included in an urban district constitutes a rural sanitary district, with the Guardians acting as the Rural Sanitary Authority for the remainder of the population. There are 574 Rural Sanitary Authorities; but before I come to the question of Sanitary Authorities, I have to say a word or two about the unions. So far as the towns are concerned, the course is very simple. We shall convert the Improvement Commissioners and Local Boards into Urban District Councils; we shall abolish all plural voting; we shall propose to abolish all qualifications, for we think the only qualification a man ought to possess is the confidence of his constituents; and we propose to make women capable of serving on these District Councils. Then as regards rural districts, the union is the administrative area with which we have to deal. Except in 25 cases, in which, if I may use the expression, the union consists of a single parish, the union is an aggregation of 699 parishes. There are 648 unions altogether. There are 137 in two counties and 32 in three counties. The Guardians by whom the union is administered are elected or ex officio. The Local Government Board fixes the number of elected Guardians, but there is required to be one Guardian for every constituent parish. There is a property qualification and plural voting, and voting by proxy. We could not ask the House to continue the existing powers in, much less to confer new powers upon, an authority so constituted and so irresponsible. We therefore venture to submit that the safest and wisest way is, before we proceed to constitute the authorities in rural districts, and to define their duties, to grapple with the question of the Guardians at once if we are in any way to utilise the area of the union. We therefore propose to abolish, firstly, all ex officio or non-elective Guardians. We propose to abolish all qualifications for Guardians, and we propose that the electors of the Guardians shall be the same constituency as that I have mentioned for the Parish Council—namely, the county electors and the Parliamentary electors. We propose that there shall be no plural voting, no proxy voting, and no voting papers, but voting by Ballot and One Man One Vote. The Body so elected will hold office for three years, one-third of the members retiring every year, thus securing a continuity of administration, and at the same time bring to bear on the Body at short intervals the judgment of public opinion. Having made the Guardians a popularly elected body, we do not propose to disturb the existing machinery. We take the Rural Sanitary Authority as it now exists, but elected and qualified under new conditions, and we continue that as the Rural District Council. Therefore, the Rural District Council will be the old Rural Sanitary Authority altered, and, I think, very much improved.
§ SIR J. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that Body will have the administration of the Poor Law?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Certainly. The Poor Law administration will remain as it is with the Board of Guardians, but the Board of Guardians 700 elected on a new franchise and under new conditions and circumstances.
MR. J. COLLLNGS
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the same method of election will be applied in the case of cities?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Certainly, we apply the same principle to the election of Guardians in London and every other urban district. Then we propose to abolish all separate Highway Authorities in rural districts and to transfer the whole powers of the Highway Board or the highway parish to the Rural District Council. We give the District Councils powers with regard to rights of way, roadside wastes, licences of gangmasters; licences of dealers in game, and other matters which are vested by various Acts of Parliament injustices. We propose that the Chairman of the District Council shall be put in the same position as the Mayor of a borough, by virtue of his office, and become a Justice of the Peace for the county. I come now to the areas and boundaries. At present we have rural sanitary districts, partly within and partly without the county, and we have parishes partly within and partly without rural sanitary districts. We have 174 rural sanitary districts and some 800 parishes so situate. We propose that every parish is to be within one county, that the district of every District Council is to be within one county, and that the County Councils shall have the duty of readjusting the existing overlapping areas and divisions. We think the County Council far the best tribunal to undertake this duty. They understand the localities, and how the districts can best be divided. They are to have 12 mouths in which to discharge their duty; and if at the end of that period they have not made this readjustment, it will devolve upon the Local Government Board to interfere and carry the matter out. Thus I hope we may before long arrive at some uniformity in respect to areas. There are various other powers in the Bill, some of a transitory, some of a supplementary nature, and also a schedule detailing the course of procedure both of 701 parish meetings and of Parish Councils with which I need not trouble the House on the present occasion. When the Third Reading of the Local Government Bill of 1888 was agreed to, I ventured to say that it was the first volume of the great work of Local Government. We now ask the House to write the second volume. But you cannot complete the work, for there is a large subject still outside, and no scheme of Local Government in this country could ever be considered complete until it is grappled with—and that is the Local Government of the Metropolis. We have to deal with the unification of London, and the conflicting jurisdictions of London, and the creation in London of powerful and popular district, authorities. With the experience of the last five years it is easily to be seen that some necessary amendments should also be made in respect of the working of the County Councils, and I think we shall have to adjust also some of the bearings on the various matters which I have mentioned to-day, so far as District Councils are concerned. Perhaps I may be allowed to call that the third and last volume. I am satisfied that the system of Local Government will not be complete until you have delegated to the County Councils the disposition of a vast number of matters which may appear to some as trifling importance, but which are of great importance to the localities themselves, and which sadly interfere with the time which in this House we ought to devote to matters of greater moment. I ask the House to look at our scheme as a whole. We contemplate a three-fold authority—first, the Local Authority, the Parish Council, in the locality, a small locality it may be, but where local interests will be fully considered, carefully guarded, and as, I think, wisely promoted. Next we have a larger area, that of the District Council, which will deal not only with local sanitary administration, but also with the administration of the Poor Law. Then next we have the County Council, representing to some extent a Central Authority, and it is in the union of these three institutions under the control of the supreme legislative authority that we conceive that the local government of this country can be best administered. We believe that these 702 institutions are not only good for the purposes for which they are devised, but good for the State. I venture to quote from two great authorities a sentence or two enforcing this argument. John Stuart Mill said—I have dwelt in strong language on the importance of that portion of the operation of free institutions which may be called the public education of the citizens. Now of this education local administrative institutions are the chief instruments.De Tocqueville said—Local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations. Towns' meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science—they bring it within the people's reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.With these motives we ask the House to give fair consideration to our proposals. We ask it to regard them not as a Party measure. Parties come, and Parties go; they triumph, and are defeated in almost regular succession. But side by side with these Party conflicts the education of the English people in their duties and in their powers is always progressing. We want to deal with this question, apart from politics, as a question in which all the citizens of the State are interested. We want to establish a local system under which all shall have free play and all shall have fair play, and in which the advantage of all shall be the desire of each. Perhaps the House will allow me to say, in conclusion, that I have the hope and the belief that this new authority which we are now creating for the first time, purely local in its character, will be successful—that the Parish Council cooperating with the District Council and the Town Council and the County Council, and with the Great Council of the realm assembled in Parliament, will, by harmonious co-operation, by wise administration, by constantly advancing efficiency, display to successive generations of Englishmen the truest and noblest types of those representative institutions which are the surest foundation and the strongest bulwark of individual freedom and national prosperity.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for Local Government in England and Wales."—(Mr. Henry H. Fowler.)
§ MR. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, he was sure the House would expect that, before he offered a few remarks on behalf of some of the hon. Members who sat on the Opposition Benches, in reference to the District Councils Bill, he should say how much he regretted how much hon. Gentlemen who sat behind him regretted, and he ventured to say how much hon. Members in all parts of the House regretted, the absence from the House of his late chief in the Local Government Board, Mr. Ritchie, who, as all Parties in the House would admit, had done good and excellent service in the cause of Local Government, and who would have filled—how much better it was not for him, Mr. Long, to say—the position he now occupied as a critic of the Bill. Mr. Ritchie would also have derived great satisfaction—as he had himself done—from the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, and he wished to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman alike upon the eloquence and ability, and the clearness with which he had placed the proposals of the Government before the House. The right hon. Gentleman talked about this being the second volume of the work of Local Government. He was not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman had got so far as the publication of the second volume of Local Government. They had already had proposals by the Government which led some to fancy that there was more than sufficient occupation for Parliament during this Session, and, undoubtedly, this very wide and farreaching measure, involving very considerable changes, some of which were of a highly-technical and peculiar character, must have ample time for its discussion. He, therefore, did not know whether he ought to congratulate the supporters of the Government upon the fact that the supreme moment of their existence had at last arrived, when they heard from the lips of a responsible Gladstonian Minister a proposal agreeable to themselves; or to condole with them that they were already committed to so large a figure of legislation that they could only look on and gaze at this proposal without any hope of being able to taste it. He thought the House would admit that all Parties were pledged by votes and speeches to do their best to complete 704 the work of Local Government, and at that stage he would offer no unfriendly criticism, accepting entirely the concluding hope of the right hon. Gentleman that the subject would have fair play. But, if not now, then on the Second Reading of the Bill, criticisms on some portions of the Bill would have to be made; and he was afraid that when Conservative Members pointed out dangers and difficulties that might possibly be incurred, they would render themselves liable to the charge—at any rate it would be made outside of the House—that they were afraid to trust the people. If such a charge were made it would be an unworthy charge. After all, if it came to confidence in the people, he was not altogether sure that the right hon. Gentleman in the details of this measure displayed such an absolute confidence in the people. For instance, he gathered that the Parish Councils were not to be allowed to hold their meetings earlier than 6 o'clock or latter than 8. One would have thought that, with full confidence in the people, such a detail would have been left to the discretion of the Council. But passing from this, it was clear that full and careful criticism of the measure would be necessary, and he could only repeat the hope that both sides would give each other credit for dealing with it in a fair and candid spirit. The Bill proposed to completely reform parish government in the country, and it proposed, though in a lesser degree, to reform the administration of government by the District Councils. As to Parish Councils, he took it that nobody in that Democratic House of Commons would desire to adversely criticise their Constitution. They were to be popularly elected—to be elected by ballot, and on the principle of one man one vote—and the maximum number of the Council was to be 15, and the minimum number 5. He heard with very great satisfaction the limitation as to smaller parishes, but thought the minimum population of a parish which was to have powers to elect a Council might have been fixed at a little higher than 300. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to reconsider this proposal, for it was desirable that the area called upon to elect a Council should be large enough to offer some prospect of providing capable men to discharge the duty, and to 705 develop sufficient interest in parochial work to surround the Parish Council with the importance which it ought to possess. As to the powers of these Councils, he was not sure there would be found so much general agreement as would be found in regard to other parts of the measure. He understood that the provision of allotments, for example, would be transferred to the new District Councils, but that the machinery for dealing with the allotments, and for the management of the allotments, would be in the hands of the Parish Councils.
§ MR. LONG
said, there was nothing very serious in giving the new Bodies power to provide plots of land; but, taken in conjunction with the power to obtain land compulsorily, it was a very large and a very important power, and one which the House would do well to consider very carefully before assenting to it. As he understood, those new authorities would be enabled to acquire land compulsorily by simply obtaining an Order from the Local Government Board, which would not require confirmation by Parliament. He admitted there were many difficulties in obtaining land by the exercise of compulsory powers which required confirmation by a Provisional Order. No doubt in the great majority of cases where Provisional Orders were required they were obtained at the smallest possible cost. But where compulsory powers had to be exercised in the acquisition of land, Provisional Orders involved delay, and, in some cases, considerable expense. He did not wonder, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman had turned his attention to this subject; but he ventured to point out that it was a grave thing to place the power proposed in the hands of a great Public Department. He would be the last man to say one word in depreciation of a Department with which he had been connected, but he thought that to place in the hands of a particular Department the decision whether land should be taken compulsorily or not involved a very serious responsibility. That Department could exercise its control only by means of public inquiries held on the spot by one of its Inspectors. That was the course he supposed the right hon. Gentleman would adopt. He knew very well how careful the Inspectors were, 706 and how their Reports were subjected to close examination by the Parliamentary Chiefs of the Department. But it must be remembered that the conclusion at which the Local Government Board would arrive would be founded on the Reports of the Inspectors, and it was laying on the shoulders of these gentlemen very great responsibility by calling upon them to make Reports to the Department, and for the Department, on those Reports, absolutely to decide whether the land should be taken from the owner under the conditions of purchase mentioned in the Bill. He thought it might be necessary, if this principle was adopted by the House, to give power of appeal to some other Authority, or to provide some other procedure which would remove from the shoulders of the Local Government Board and of their Inspectors the very great responsibility which would otherwise be thrown upon them. He could not admit that it was an altogether fair proposal that the arbitrators, in fixing the price of land compulsorily acquired, should allow nothing for compulsory acquisition. He had no sympathy with those who declined to realise and act up to the responsibilities attendant on the ownership of laud; but there were, and must be, occasions upon which it must be absolutely necessary, through no fault of any owner, for land to be compulsorily acquired, and it did seem a harsh and unjust proceeding for the House to say that if a Local Authority wanted land, and the Local Government Board said they wore to have it, the owner was not to have one penny in consideration of the compulsory acquisition. He thought those were proposals which would have to be opposed, and he respectfully submitted to the House that they involved a very serious and a very important change. They deserved, and must receive, the careful attention of the House, and if they were affirmed in principle he hoped it would be found possible to amend them in detail later on when the Bill got into Committee. They next came to the financial clauses of the Bill. They found that the power of the Parish Council was limited to the imposition of a rate of a penny in the pound unless the consent of the Parish Council and District Council was obtained. The right hon. Gentleman said that this pro- 707 vided a very efficient check. He did not think it any check at all. He was bound to say that he could not see in the provisions mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman any check worthy of the name. The consent of a parish meeting was what the right hon. Gentleman regarded as a sufficient check upon expenditure beyond the limits of a penny in the pound, but he was afraid that if the Parish Councils decided to spend this money, it was not very probable that a meeting of the parish would object to the proceeding, or that the District Council, whose consent to the proposed expenditure was also to be obtained, would see any objection to the action of the Parish Council. It was all very well to talk about "trusting the people" and "fearing the people;" but it must be remembered that whether it was right or wrong, the fact was undoubted that they were going to give one body of men the power to make proposals in their own interest, while another body of men would be called upon to provide the money by which those objects would be carried into effect. It was desirable there should be a limit upon the possible expenditure of these Parish Councils, and in his opinion this supposed check of the consent of a parish meeting, or of the District Council, was not one which would have any real effect if the Parish Council proposed to be lavish or unwise in its expenditure. That House had been very careful in all its legislation with respect to expenditure by the Local Authority. When the proposals of the late Government with regard to the borrowing powers to be given to the Councils about to be created was under discussion, although there was no reason to believe they would be extravagant or make an improper use of the funds at their disposal, it was pointed out from all parts of the House that Parliament ought to check and limit those powers. It must be borne in mind that there would be to many of these Councils, if they were inclined to spend money, great temptations to do so; therefore the House, before it placed in the hands of a newly-elected authority the right to spend money, should take care that there existed an adequate control, and he questioned very much whether the control proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would be at all real or effective. He 708 hoped this point would receive the careful attention of Members on both sides of the House who were acquainted with local government and who would realise that there was a practical difficulty to be considered in relation to it. The right hon. Gentleman at the end of his remarks upon Parish Councils said that what those who agreed with him wanted was that people should be given pure water, good drains, and good houses, and he referred to the fact that under our municipal system very good work of that kind had been done in the great towns. He quite admitted it, and he would be very glad to see in our rural parishes the same thing done. He should be very glad indeed if a tithe of the good things which the right hon. Gentleman expected to flow from this measure did result from it, but here, again, he came to a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. There could be no doubt, and he imagined no one, however enthusiastic he might be in this work of local government, would deny that when a man had to bear some portion of the burden, however small it might be, he was apt to be a little more careful as to what he did. In this case, owing to the fact that they had the compound householder in their rural districts, they would have, he was afraid, practically the whole, or certainly a vast majority, of those who exercised the control not bearing even the smallest portion of the cost which they might incur. Everybody who knew anything about their villages agreed that there was much to be done in the direction of providing a good water supply, good and efficient drains, and clean and comfortable houses. That could not be done without great expenditure, and the question was on what area were they going to lay this charge. It must be borne in mind that in the matter of water, houses, and drains, those districts which were worse off were the poorest and the least able to bear additional burdens. The places where the land had to be cultivated by the owner were the places which were absolutely unable to bear any additional burden which might be laid upon them. He questioned whether, in this respect, the working of the Act would be effective, because these additional burdens would stand in the way of good parochial work being done. The question of the 709 provision of pure water, good houses, and good drains was of the highest importance, and though a great deal had been done already in our country districts, particularly during the last 25 years, an immense amount of work still remained to be done. There wore villages in this country which were in a scandalous condition, and which certainly ought in the interests of humanity to be put into a sanitary condition immediately. He believed that in dealing with that important and great question they would have to give some larger and more effective powers than were given to a mere parish committee, and he was not prepared to admit the accuracy of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, that in questions of that kind the parish authority would be the best to deal with them. Their capability would be commensurate with their rateable power, and their power of raising funds would be very small unless they overburdened the district with rates by a very heavy expenditure, and his own opinion was that there should be a larger area and a larger authority if they were going to remove a crying evil, and to provide good water, good houses, and good drains where neither one nor the other existed at present.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I should like to make it clear that we do not propose to take from the sanitary authority the rating power they already possess with regard to sanitary matters. The powers conferred on the parochial Councils are additional. They have certain powers, over a limited area, of rating, but the District Council will remain the rural sanitary authority.
§ MR. LONG
said, he had rather gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that he proposed to transfer those powers, but he now understood that what was done by the Bill was to create now powers, and to leave to the existing local authority the powers they already possessed. That, of course, disposed of some portion of what he had said, but that did not, however, dispose of the whole of the difficulty, and he hoped that when Local Government reform in our country districts had gone a little farther than at present they would see some enlargement of the areas for those purposes. He was convinced that, 710 whether it were for sanitary or Poor Law administration, they would get bettor administration and larger benefits for the people who lived in the rural districts in proportion as they had larger areas represented. The House was agreed that it was absolutely necessary and essential that something should be done to improve the condition of things in the rural districts, but he did not feel sure that the proposals of the Government altogether held out the promise of success that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think. Then he came to what he thought the House would admit was the most serious change involved in the Bill—the proposal to set up District. Councils. So far as the urban District Councils went, they did not call for any comment from him at this stage of the Bill, but with reference to the rural District Councils there was a word or two to be said. The right hon. Gentleman, he was glad to find, proposed to leave the area of the Poor Law Union the same as he found it, but he proposed to change the mode of election of members of Boards of Guardians and to abolish the ex officio element. Hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House must have smiled when they listened to the one hearty cheer from the opposite side on the mention of that change; it was acceptable to them, as they believed it got rid of one of the privileges of that much-abused individual, the country landowner, who was looked upon as fair game for attack on all occasions. He did not attach the slightest importance to the proposed abolition, and with regard to qualification, and seeing that the President of the Local Government Board had reduced, and he thought properly reduced, the qualifications of Guardians to £5, he did not see the object of keeping it. But when it came to the change involved in the transference of the Poor Law within existing areas, he felt bound to point out that it involved a very serious change indeed. He would not weary the House now by dwelling at length upon it, as he hoped to do so upon a subsequent occasion, but the same objections which they urged in the Debate upon the introduction of a Bill dealing with Poor Law Guardians earlier in the Session were to be urged in reference to this proposed change. They 711 might say it was the right thing to do if they thought so; but merely to say that these men who might be trusted to elect Members of Parliament ought also to be trusted to elect members of Boards of Guardians was not worthy the right hon. Gentleman; the one did not follow the other at all. He ventured to point out that these men who would be called upon to elect Boards of Guardians would be subjected to very great temptation, and the change in this respect was a much more serious and a greater one than any other involved in the Bill, and was one the House would do well to pay careful attention to when it came to a later stage. He gathered the chairman of the District Council was to be made a Justice of the Peace. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon conferring that honour upon the chairman of the District Council and he had no doubt it would be much appreciated. They had been told in the House and in the country that the Bill before the House was a measure that was going to revivify village life and was going to make agricultural depression vanish. ["Oh, oh!"] That had been stated times out of number. They had been told that the cause of agricultural depression was that the labourers were leaving the villages, and that they were going to be kept in the villages by giving them Parish Councils and enabling them to look after their own affairs. He ventured to say, however, that the creation of Parish Councils and District Councils, even including making the chairman a Magistrate, would not affect by a jot or tittle the agricultural difficulty they had to deal with, or the depopulation of the country districts. As for the measure seriously dealing with the difficulties that had to be contended with in the agricultural districts, anybody who knew anything about the matter would say that such a proposition was absolutely untenable. With regard to the area, he thought that the right lion. Gentleman had done well to leave the matter to the County Councils for a year, and he should recommend him in his own interest, if he looked forward to enjoying the position he now filled at the end of 12 months, to make the period two years instead of one before the Local Government Board was brought in. Unless he did that, he ventured to say the right hon. Gentleman would find out 712 what was the fate accorded to those who rushed in where wiser people declined to tread. The right hon. Gentleman would find this question of areas a much more thorny one than he probably conceived at the present moment, and would take greater settlement than many hon. Members imagined. They owed their thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the ability, clearness, and courtesy he had shown in introducing the measure. The Opposition might find some fault with the proposal, and be unable to accept it in full, but they wished the Government to go on with domestic legislation and leave out their proposals for dealing with Ireland, which the Opposition considered to be bad, and a waste of the time for the House to discuss. The Bill contained much good, and they were prepared to give it the most careful and the fullest consideration. They were anxious to see reforms carried which would be wise, and have good effects, and if the Government would make use of their opportunities the Opposition would help them. He hoped tie measure when it became law would be productive of good results, and that it and similar measures would increase the interest felt by our country districts in what went on around them, that it would improve the surroundings and brighten the lives of the people, and that it would make our country districts better and happier than they were at present. If they were successful in doing that, they on that side of the House would be proud to bear their share in passing such measures through the House.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. Long) in the Second Reading portions of his speech, because I cannot help thinking that the Debate on the First Reading should be confined to making clear that which is not made clear already, and to that point I shall direct my observations. The hon. Member seemed to think this Bill was brought in to be seen, and, having been seen, we should hear little more of it. Whatever may happen to other Bills, I hope this is one that is likely to pass both Houses, and if the hon. Member will produce his forces to work on the side of the Bill, I am sure this Bill will pass through both Houses in the course of the present year. We shall all feel the speech of the right 713 hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill is worthy of the Bill he had to explain to the House. Those of us who have some knowledge of the difficulties of drafting Bills upon the subject of Local Government will be the first to appreciate the success with which the right hon. Gentleman has grappled with many of those difficulties, and it seems to me he has gone as near to overcoming many of them as it is possible for human skill to do. There are several hon. Members who hear me who know that the overlapping of areas creates difficulties that are immense, and whatever criticism one may offer upon the obvious difficulties that still remain, we must all feel that no scheme can be perfect, and that it is only a question of greater or less difficulties, and success in dealing with them. The right hon. Gentleman in the first part of his speech almost frightened us by speaking of the completion of Local Government Reform. Surely the words he used in the latter part of his speech were more apposite to this Bill; it is rather one to enlarge and develop the system than to complete it. The great omission from this Bill is one I congratulate the Government upon; they have done right in excluding one great topic that was dealt with in some of the previous Bills; I mean the question of Licensing Reform, though no Bill that does not deal with that system can be said to complete Local Government Reform; but as this lays the foundation for dealing with licensing it has done all that can be expected at this moment from any Government. One great difficulty about this Bill, although it is not important in its consequences, is a certain marring of the completeness of the Bill—is, so far as I can understand, the complete leaving alone of the urban parish. There are very considerable powers, not powers of immense importance, but numerous powers, such as the election of overseers for example, which are in the same position in urban as in rural parishes. As I understand, this Bill leaves urban parishes alone, and if so the duties of the overseers will continue to be exercised. There is a certain want of completeness in this proposal, and I cannot but think it might be possible to include the overseers of urban parishes within the scope of the Bill. The first point in which this Bill seems to me to be superior to its predecessors 714 is in moving with the times, in putting Parish Councils first. The first portion of the Bill follows very closely, as it was intended it should, the lines of the Bill commonly known by the name of the hon. Member for the Rugby Division of Warwickshire (Mr. Henry P. Cobb), but there are a few points in which it differs; for instance, it substitutes 300 for 200 as the limit below which there should not be a Parish Council; it does not make the Chairman of the Parish Council a magistrate, but still it does pretty closely follow the lines of that Bill. There is one point I should like to ask a question upon. I understand the separation of the ecclesiastical and the local government functions of the churchwardens, but I should like to know how the election of the people's warden remains under the Bill, because; there are considerable duties that fall upon him that are not of an ecclesiastical nature, therefore would it not be better to transfer the people's warden to the Parish Council and get rid of the separate election? There was one omission from the speech of my right hon. Friend as regards the Parish Councils. I have no doubt we may assume the Parish Councils will follow the lines of the District Councils, but he did not say whether women were to be eligible to sit on Parish Councils, though they were eligible to sit on District Councils. He used the phrase "any person," and I understand he establishes for the Parish and District Councils the same absence of qualification as in the case of the School Board. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having had the courage to take that step. All those who have served on Boards of Guardians and School Boards with women know that the getting rid of the ratepaying qualification has been a vast service to the State. By excluding London from the scope of this Bill one curious circumstance will remain. The qualification for London vestrymen and that for county magistrates and Commissioners of Land Tax will be the only qualifications existing in this country after this Bill has passed. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the powers he proposes to give to County Councils, but I cannot quite gather whether they will have power to divide parishes.
§ SIR C. DILKE
I am glad to hear that, because, as my right hon. Friend well knows, there are many villages that have grown up on the margins of parishes and far away from their centres, and there are some villages which are in four different parishes, but yet are complete villages, which ought to have a Parish Council and their Village Meeting, and unless such power is given there would be difficulty in dealing with cases of that kind. Now I come to the District Councils portion of the scheme, and the House will feel that the District Councils portion is less revolutionary than the Parish Councils portion. The District Councils portion of this scheme is, perhaps, a little timid, though I am bound to say my right hon. Friend has followed the line of least resistance, and done that which he has a right to do in a Bill intended to pass through both Houses. There are great difficulties connected with this scheme of areas of District Councils such as you cannot deal with by more alteration of boundaries. In the North of England, and especially in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the country is almost covered with a network of Local Board districts with a lace-work of little rural districts around them, and the government of a district consisting of mere lacework is a difficult thing, and if you are going to give them any new powers greater than they possess, districts such as these in the West Riding of Yorkshire will present difficulties that are almost insuperable. The difficulty has been caused by giving the County a great number of powers that ought to have been reserved for the District or Parish Councils. There is another difficulty which is also great, and it is the case of parishes which are technically urban parishes, but which, as a matter of fact, are more rural than the average of the county in which they exist, and there ought to be some power to enable the County Council easily to assimilate rural parishes of that kind to others in their neighbourhood. In Mr. Ritchie's Bill there was a power given to abolish Local Boards, but that has never been made use of. One word more only before I sit down. I hope that, whatever may be the difficulties of this Session, there may be no idea of dropping the District Councils portion of the Bill. There has been some idea got about, from 716 the admirable nature of the Parish Councils portion of the Bill, that, just as the District Councils part of Mr. Ritchie's Bill was dropped, so the District Councils portion of this Bill might be dropped. Unless you get rid of qualifications and plural voting in all portions of the country, you will be doing a great injustice to the miners and others who live in Local Board districts, and no scheme can have the least pretence of being a complete scheme unless it abolishes qualifications and plural voting.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I wish to interpose but for a very few minutes in this Debate. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have been Members of Parliament during the last 25 years may possibly remember that I was associated in 1871 with a Local Government Bill of a similar kind. The right hon. Gentleman who with such eloquence introduced this Bill to-day referred to some of the observations I made upon the occasion when I submitted that proposal to the House. I wish to associate myself fully and in the most ample manner with that portion of this Bill which desires to establish rural life as far as it possibly can be done. I and my colleagues of that day selected the parish as the unit, and I am glad to be present to-day at the exhumation of that idea. It was derided at the time. It was said, "Are you going to set up again the most antiquated portion of our local institutions? Are you going once more to attempt to put life into the overseers or into the vestries?" And for years it seemed as if the Union was going to triumph over the parish as the future unit of local government. I should have regretted that extremely, because I held then, and I hold now, that it is of great importance for local life that every area which is practically a unit, should have someone to represent it, and to be responsible; for a certain portion of the administration. The overseers are not officers filling any real responsible position; if there were any abuses or any needs in the parish, no single person could come forward and say he was responsible; therefore it seemed to me and my colleagues when we introduced our Bill that it was most important to have a single person to represent a parish, as well as a body who would represent the parishioners. We proposed to establish 717 what we called a Parochial Board, which is much the same as the Parochial Council. The present Government propose that there shall he a Chairman of the Parochial Council; we proposed that there should be a Chairman of the Parochial Board, and that he should represent the parishes in all those things where parishes would have to act together—that he should be an ex officio representative of the parish. We proposed at that time that the minimum number of councillors should he three and the maximum 20. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the minimum should be five and the maximum 15. I presume these figures are capable of alteration. I myself incline to think five a better number than three, but I am not certain it may not be wiser in very large parishes to extend the Council from 15 to 20. But there is one feature in this proposal which is, I think, a great improvement upon the Bill with which I was connected, and that is the importance that is given to the Parish Meeting side by side with the Parish Council. I hope that will be a matter on which there will be very general agreement in this House. It seems to mo to be a wise provision in a double respect. It will act as a valuable check upon the proceedings of the Parochial Council, and at the same time it will stimulate the interest which the parishioners will take in the affairs of the parish. If their business was confined to merely electing the Council we should not secure that to which I have always attached very much importance—namely, accustoming them to take an interest in their own affairs, which in the case of boroughs the citizens generally have been accustomed to take. The House will sec that, so far as that part of this Bill is concerned which would give considerable power and considerable interest to the parishioners in the affairs of the parish, I associate myself most heartily both with the spirit and, so far as I can judge, with the provisions of the Bill. I have been charged with distrust of the agricultural labourer. It has been brought against me over and over again by my political adversaries, but if I may in all humility put this point before the House, what I desired to see was the education of the agricultural labourers in parish life, teaching them to take an 718 interest in their own affairs, so that they might be educated for the exercise of the Imperial franchise, as in the towns the people had been educated up to the exercise of that franchise from their experience of municipal life. Though I have been so often denounced as wanting in sympathy with the agricultural labourer because I could not associate myself with giving him the Parliamentary vote before he had what I may call the local vote, if the House considers the attitude I took at that time with reference to my desire that the agricultural labourer should have opportunities of public life, I trust they will see that neither then nor now was there any distrust in my mind as regards the agricultural labourer. The House has thought best to give the Parliamentary franchise first; now the labourer is to have the local franchise. I believe it will improve his grasp of public questions, just as in our towns a grasp of public questions has been given to the populations from their experience of their own local affairs. With regard to the powers given by this Bill, I will not on this occasion make any comments. They are large powers. Many of them are powers which, I think, would have been transferred under any Bill to a Parochial Council, but there are some of the powers which seem new powers, and those new powers, of course, will have to be examined very closely. It will also be necessary to watch carefully those limits as regards expenditure which have been put into the Bill. I understand there is a cumulative power at first of a penny in the £1, which struck me as a moderate limit; but a penny may be added every year, and there is no limit to the aggregate amount, therefore I presume it would be a matter of Committee as to whether at any point it would be necessary to introduce a limit. With regard to the appeals, it struck me that there was some cumbrousness in the arrangement that sometimes the appeal is to the District Council, sometimes to the County Council, and in one instance to the Local Government Board. In the case of allotments the appeal is to the Local Government Board.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The District Council will be asked to apply to the Local Government Board for an Order under the Allotments Act. If the District Council refuses to apply, then the 719 Parish Council may ask the County Council to apply.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
There are successive channels through which the Local Government Board is to be approached in any case?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
On one point only will I detain the House any further, and that is to say that, so far as regards the areas and simplification of voting, I think it is most important that the vote should be given in a clearer manner than it is now. I mean that the parishioners should be better able to understand the duties they have to perform than is possible when every vote, as now, is given on a different system. We proposed in 1872 that there should be an immense simplification in the voting. It is a pity that it was not carried out at the time. I heartily agree with and endorse the general views of the right hon. Gentleman as to simplifying the various franchises and qualifications. Now, Sir, several Members have spoken as to the chances of a big Bill passing. The right hon. Gentleman seems to me to have fallen into the same danger that Local Government reformers have before fallen into—that is, in endeavouring to complete the scheme, to almost overload it and thus make it more difficult to pass. There have been suggestions that certain portions of the Bill should be dropped. I do not suggest that any particluar portion of the Bill should be dropped; but it struck me, as the right hon. Gentleman was unfolding his proposal, that there were such cumulative demands that it would not be possible to pass such a Bill as this in the proportions the right hon. Gentleman suggests. For instance, he is not content with giving the power with respect to allotments to the Parish Councils, but he must change the manner in which laud is to be leased, and in that way he brings into the Bill what may be necessary in his opinion, but at the same time raises a controversial point unconnected with the structural parts of the Bill, and will make it more difficult for him to pass the Bill into law. I think the proper mode of proceeding is not to ask for more than is absolutely necessary to construct the general machinery in the first place; but at the same time to attempt not only to give new powers, but 720 new powers in a new shape and under new conditions, overloads a Bill of this kind to such an extent that you are obliged ultimately to give up the Bill. I think I have spoken in a sufficiently friendly tone to show the right hon. Gentleman that it is in no captious spirit that I have made these remarks as to controversial matters, and I now reiterate the words of my hon. Friend near me, that we shall be disposed to look at the Bill in an impartial spirit. There is much in it we shall be able to approve of, though there is much in it we shall be bound to criticise and possibly to oppose; but on its main lines I shall, personally, be glad if we can add to the Statute Book a law which, I believe, will greatly improve the conditions under which our villages are governed.
§ MR. J. COLLINGS
was glad the Government had undertaken one of its earliest duties—namely, the completion of the system of county government begun by the late Administration, and they had also followed the lines laid down by Mr. Ritchie, in the Debate of 1891, in establishing District Councils and the reform of parochial government. He did not think there would be much divergence as to the principles contained in the Bill as laid down by his right hon. Friend. But there was one thing he was very anxious about, and that was to see the Bill become law. His right hon. Friend was a little hard on the late Government for what he called breaches of their promises in not completing the measure shadowed forth in the Act of 1888; but he would remind his right hon. Friend that, although they did not deal with this question in subsequent Sessions, they were engaged in good, sound work for the rural districts, such as the Small Holdings Act, free education, and so on. If the present Government, instead of using every effort to pass the Bill into law, gave their attention to some great constitutional measure in which the country districts had no interest whatever, he did not think the rural electors or the country generally would be very well satisfied. As far as District Councils were concerned his right hon. Friend seemed to have adopted almost bodily the proposals of the Government of 1882, except as to the all important part that dealt with the election of Guardians. It appeared that 721 smaller parishes were to be grouped, but there were some parishes of enormous size, and he would like, to know whether the very big parishes would be divided.
§ MR. J. COLLINGS
was glad to hear that. He did not understand from the right hon. Gentleman what the Parish Councils were to do with respect to allotments than to manage them, or whether they would have the power of rating for the purpose of buying land for allotments. If it was simply a power to manage allotments, that power already existed in the most excellent and efficient manner under the Allotments Act of 1887. if it, was the intention of the Government to confine the supply of allotments to those to be procured out of the resources of the parish, he hoped the Government would reconsider that in some parishes there would not be more than £25 a year available for the purpose, so that there would be very little chance of the rural population getting anything in the form of allotments for a parish so circumstanced. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the advisability of including amongst the parishes small agricultural towns which existed throughout the country, such as Devizes, Salisbury, and Shaffesbury—whose prosperity depended on agriculture—so that they might assist in the provision for allotments. He urged the right hon. Gentleman to make the area as large as possible for the supply of allotments, so that the more wealthy districts—the small agricultural towns—might be brought in for the purpose of helping the smaller and poorer parishes, otherwise the Bill would not be an improvement on the Act which at present existed, but quite the contrary. He was glad to find the Government had dealt with this great question. It was a mistake to call the measure a Parish Councils Bill. It was a Bill for the completion of the system of county government inaugurated by the late Government, which he hoped and trusted would not be prevented from being passed by any great question which would place the Government in the position of the late Government—namely, of not having time to pass the Bill. He thought the Opposition would give all 722 the help they could, probably indulging in less delay than the Opposition of 1888 indulged in its treatment of the Bill of that year.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
asked the House to agree now to the Bill being brought in, as there were other important matters to be disposed of before the Sitting was suspended. He appreciated the manner in which the Bill had been met; but it would be impossible for him to answer all the points that had been raised without making a long speech. The true answer, however, was the print of the Bill, and if the House would allow him to bring in the Bill at once he would undertake that it should be printed and circulated without delay, and then hon. Members would be better able to criticise its provisions, and point out those features which they thought deserved alteration and improvement.
§ SIR R. PAGET
The Chancellor of the Exchequer rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Henry H. Fowler, Mr. Secretary Asquith, Mr. Arthur Dyke Acland, Mr. Shaw Lefevre, and Sir Walter Foster.
§ Bill presented and read the first time. [Bill 274.]