§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
Mr. Speaker, when I had the honour of introducing this Bill to the House, I made a very long and, I think, exhaustive statement as to its various provisions, and therefore, on proposing the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not think I shall be justified, nor is there any necessity for me to make any lengthened remarks. A long period has elapsed since this Bill was introduced. I think it was introduced in March; we are now in November. During the interval the Bill has undergone a very full, and, upon the whole, a very fair criticism. I think pretty nearly all its defects have been discovered, and most of the Amendments which are likely to be considered in Committee have already been suggested; but there have been two or three questions of considerable importance on which public opinion has been roused, and it will probably save the time of the House if, with respect to these, I at once make some explanation, which will, I think, facilitate the discussion of the Bill, both on the Second Reading and on the Committee stage. I shall not attempt to discuss all the objections to the Bill, nor any of the details of the Bill, but there are three points of great public interest on which I wish to say a few words before the Debate commences. 4 The first point is with reference to the grouping of the small parishes. The Government proposed that the limit of population which should divide the parishes which are to have what may be called full local organisation from those which will be grouped, was a population of 300. In this Kingdom there are something like 13,000 rural parishes, and when I introduced the Bill I told the House that 6,000 of these have a population of less than 300, and would, therefore, require to be grouped under the Bill. I am free to admit that there is in many quarters a very great objection to this grouping. There are those who say that the parish, as a unit, will lose a good deal of its importance if it is grouped unnecessarily. There are those who think that the advantages of Local Government will be excluded from a great many areas which ought to possess them; and there are also those who think that the proposed mode of grouping is not altogether satisfactory. There is, of course, no magic in the population limit of 300. That limit was taken as a matter of common sense rather than on any other ground, and no doubt the precedent for it was the grouping of parishes by the Local Government Board for the purpose of election of Guardians. The only object of the Government was to have an area sufficiently large to justify an organisation. They had no other motive, and I will submit to the House two or three considerations they must bear in mind with reference to this area. The first, of course, is the question of population. I have had the Census Returns carefully examined, and the House may take it to be correct that the proportion of males over 20 years of age is 25 per cent, of the population. Population is one aspect; the other aspect is the number of electors. We proposed that the parochial register should consist not only of the ordinary Local Government registered electors, but also of the Parliamentary electors in the administrative counties, excluding the county boroughs. The percentage of Parliamentary electors to population is 18.6 per cent., and of county electors 17.7 per cent. There is, therefore, very little difference between the figures of the two classes; but, making the most liberal allowance, it may be taken for granted that 20 per cent, of the population will 5 represent, the electors. We may take it for granted that the number of rural parishes, the population of which is under 300, is 6,000, while upwards of 4,000 are under the 200 limit; so that, if the House were to say that the limit should be 200 instead of 300, it would add about 2,000 more parishes to the operation of the Bill as far as Parish Councils are concerned. We propose that the remaining parishes should be grouped by the County Council. Even if the 300 limit be left untouched, I should propose, in the first place, that there should be a parish meeting in every parish, no matter what the population. In the Bill as introduced no parish was to have a parish meeting until the parish was grouped, but I should propose that every parish should have a parish meeting; that where grouping takes place each parish shall form a ward of the parish, and that all the powers which belong to the parish meeting in reference to giving assent or dissent to various Acts, and more especially with reference to the control of taxation, shall go to the parish meeting of each constituent parish. I would suggest that the County Council should have much greater elasticity than the Bill at present gives with reference to grouping. Those on the spot are better able to decide this question than we are here, and it would be undesirable to tie the County Council down to any limit of population at all. I should be disposed to allow the County Council discretion to give a Parish Council to a parish which desired it, and, with the consent of the parishes, to group parishes. I would also suggest the insertion of words to provide that parishes grouped shall be neighbouring parishes. There must not be an interval which would inconvenience the parishes. The Government will not stand by the population limit of 300, but will listen to any suggestion or amendments which may be made with reference to that figure. The House, therefore, will understand that, so far as grouping is concerned, we propose to give the County Council much larger elasticity than the Bill at present invests that body with; and we propose, also, that the question of the number of population should be a question to be discussed in the House, and whatever the judgment of the House is upon that point we shall be prepared to defer to it. 6 Now I come to another and, perhaps, a more important question than grouping. There has been a very general alarm created throughout the country as to the effect that this Bill would have upon the Church of England. When I made my speech upon the introduction of the Bill I said—The Mouse 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.Then, with reference to the transference of property, I said that we excluded Church affairs; in transferring the powers and duties of Churchwardens we excepted those powers and those duties which respected Church or ecclesiastical charities. I find no fault—and I should not be entitled to find fault—with the feeling that has been raised upon this question. Where a Bill will have a wide-reaching effect on a variety of institutions, every institution, whether it be Established or Nonconforming, has a right to see that its interests are safeguarded, and I find no fault with the spirit of inquiry and the spirit of criticism which have been displayed. I find some fault with the Bill being described as a Bill for the spoliation of the Church of England, and I was exceedingly astonished to find the effect of the Bill stated, and responsibly stated, to be—A Bill under which the Church would be disendowed of her charities, robbed of her parish rooms, and ousted from her schools.If that statement be correct, of course I should have been guilty of a very gross breach of faith. It would lie impossible to reconcile my statement, that we drew a broad dividing line between ecclesiastical and other business with that view of the effect of the measure. I think the House has a right to expect—and the House has never yet been disappointed, no matter from what side Ministers have been taken—when a Minister introduces a Bill to Parliament that he should make a plain, unmistakable, and honourable statement as to the meaning and effect of that Bill. I, therefore, feel it due both to myself and to the two distinguished Civil servants—men who serve both Parties with absolute 7 impartiality and with great ability—who are responsible for the drafting of Government measures, to trouble the House with these remarks in order to show that the statement to which I have referred is not correct, and that the Bill does not do what it is alleged it does. I understand that I ho controversy rages around three questions—schools, parish rooms, and charities or doles. I would look at the question of schools first, because it is, perhaps, the most important of the three. The clauses which are assumed to affect schools, and which would, of course, affect to some extent other matters, are Clauses 5, 6, and 13. Clause 5 deals simply and exclusively with the legal ownership of property—what I believe lawyers would call bare trusteeship—and it does not in any way affect the trust under which property is held. Under Clause 5 the legal ownership of property which is vested in the Overseers or in the Churchwardens and Overseers—excluding property connected with the affairs of the Church—is transferred to the Parish Council; but the ownership so transferred is vested in the Parish Council, subject to all trusts and liabilities affecting the same. No property which the Churchwardens or Overseers hold jointly with anybody else is touched by the clause. Suppose property was held by the Rector and the Churchwardens, or by any body of Trustees, whether they be lay or clerical, together with the Churchwardens or Overseers, that is not touched by the Bill. In fact, this clause is to carry out an Act which was passed in 1819. In 1819 a law was passed which, after authorising Church-wardens and Overseers to acquire land for certain purposes connected with the relief of the poor, enacted that all buildings, lands, or here-ditaments purchased, hired, or leased for any of the purposes of the Act, should be conveyed to the Churchwardens and Overseers. In fact, the Churchwardens and Overseers were created a sort of quasi Corporation for the purpose of holding parish property; and the clause with which I am now dealing has reference to the legal interest in that property, excluding property that is connected with the affairs of the Church. I say, dealing with the clause as it stands, there is no breach of faith in that. Property that is 8 not ecclesiastical property, that does not relate to the affairs of the Church, that is vested in the Overseers and Churchwardens as representing the parish, ought now to be vested in the Parish Council as representing the parish. I do not think this clause will in any way touch schools. Under the Schools Sites Act of1841—which, after all, is the foundation Act under which the great bulk of the sites of national schools have been taken—the property is authorised to be conveyed to the minister of the parish and the Churchwarden and Overseer. There is a provision in that Act that that conveyance shall not affect the trusts, which shall be subject to the provisions for the management of the schools. In 1844 it was found impracticable constantly to introduce the Overseer, and, therefore, another Act was passed enabling school sites to be conveyed exclusively to the minister and Churchwardens. From the best information we have been able to obtain we believe that in the case of the bulk of the national schools in this country the sites were conveyed to the minister and Churchwardens as a quasi Corporation for the purposes of the schools. But suppose the property is not conveyed in that way, it may have been conveyed to Trustees for the benefit of the school, and that, again, is outside the clause. I think the only possible case—I do not deny that there may be a case—the only possible case in which school property would be affected would be where schools had been conveyed exclusively to Overseers or to Churchwardens and Overseers. But surely such a case would come under the words "property connected with the affairs of the Church." The schools of the National Society are schools attached to a system which is declared to be for the promotion of the education of the poor in the principles of the Established Church of England. Under the foundation children in these schools are obliged to be instructed in the Liturgy and Catechism, are subject to the superintendence of the clergy, and are bound to attend Divine Service at the parish church or some other church; the master and mistress are obliged to be members of the Church of England; and the final court of appeal in the event of any dispute as to the religious teaching is the Bishop of the diocese. I venture to 9 submit that a school so founded, so managed, and so restricted is emphatically an affair of the Church. This, however, is a small part of the argument, affecting only the ownership and not the management of the schools. I say that no Church school comes within the purview of Clause 5. Then we come to Clause 6, which I admit is a wider clause. Clause 6 transfers to the Parish Council the powers, duties, and liabilities of the Churchwardens, except so far as they relate to the affairs of the Church or to ecclesiastical charities; and the question arises as to the management of the national schools coming within these powers, duties, and liabilities. I am advised on very high authority that this clause deals only with the Common Law and statutory powers, duties, and liabilities of Churchwardens, and that it does not in the slightest degree deal with them in their capacity of Trustees, which is subsequently dealt with in Clause 13; and those gentlemen who have looked at the clause critically will see, if it did affect them in that capacity, it would be a reductio ad absurdum, because it would then associate in the joint management of schools the whole body of the Parish Council. I do not know how a, Corporation could discharge, in company with anybody else, the duty of Trustees. That would be a question for lawyers to decide if there be any necessity for such a decision. Clause 13, no doubt, is the clause in which the main difficulty has been found. Clause 13, in the first place, affects Trustees, and, in the Interpretation Clauses, "Trustees" means "Managers." Therefore, any remark I may make now applies not only to the Trustees, but also to the Managers of a charity. The first part of that clause is optional. It says the Trustees of certain charities—public recreation grounds, public meeting-rooms, allotments for the benefit of the poor, or any like public purpose connected with a rural parish—may, with the approval of the Charity Commissioners, transfer the property to the Parish Council; and if they transfer the property, it must be subject to the existing trusts. They have no power to alter these trusts; and, even if a new scheme is proposed on the occasion of the transfer, the old Trustees must be a party to it. I take it that nobody will apprehend that 10 there is any danger lurking in that clause. The 2nd sub-section of the clause says that—Where the Overseers of a rural parish, or some of them, are, either alone or jointly with any other persons, Trustees of any parochial charity, such number of the Councillors of the parish, not exceeding the number of the Overseer-Trustees, as the Council may appoint, shall be trustees in their place, and when the charity is not an ecclesiastical charity, this enactment shall apply as if the Churchwardens were specified therein as well as the Overseers.The general effect of the sub-section is this—it removes Overseer-Trustees and puts in their place Trustees elected by the Parish Council. I shall be told, perhaps, that a great many Churchwardens are, as Churchwardens, Trustees and Managers of national schools; and that if this clause remains as it is, it will be in the power of the Parish Council to remove Churchwardens from the trusteeship and management of such schools, and to substitute persons elected by the Council who may not be in sympathy with the schools. But are Churchwardens, as Churchwardens, ever Managers of national schools? The National Society only makes a Churchwarden a Trustee or Manager if he is a member of the Church of England. Only upon that condition is he appointed Manager of one of these schools. He is appointed as a Churchwarden, who is also a Churchman. Many efficient Churchwardens are, however, not Churchmen; and I notice that quite recently the Archbishop of Canterbury deprecated the idea that Churchwardenship should be confined to members of the Church of England. Possibly, there may be cases where Churchwardens are national school Trustees, although they do not fulfil the condition of Church membership; but I do not know of any. The intention of the Government is clear upon the point with which I am now concerned. My own opinion has never been concealed in this House. When the Free Education Bill was before us I proposed an Amendment advocating the introduction of representative control in all public elementary schools in places where there is no choice, of schools for the parent. The Government, however, are not attempting to introduce indirectly by means of this Bill the views supported by them in 1890. Their intention has been not to interfere with the 11 management of Church of England schools or Nonconformist schools. But doubts have been expressed upon this subject by the critics of the Bill; and as a point of this magnitude ought cot to be left open to any doubt, the Government are prepared to introduce words into the measure for the purpose of setting this question completely and finally at rest. I submit that this Bill does not affect elementary schools, no matter to what denomination they belong. The next matter to which I have to refer is the subject of parish rooms. We have been charged with attempting to rob the Church of its parish rooms. There is not, however, anything in the Bill which empowers the Parish Council to interfere with the trust of any charity whatever. They must take the charity as it is, and administer it according to the law. Thus, though they will have the power of electing representatives on the Boards concerned, they will have no power to alter the trust of parish rooms. A parish room must be erected on somebody's land. If it is erected upon glebe belonging to the Church, the freehold and control over it is in the Rector, and no one can interfere. Then the parish room is in many cases erected on property bought with money collected by the clergyman or minister, and is vested in him without any declaration of trust, and the building, viewed in the aspect of an ecclesiastical charity, will not come within the purview of the Bill. But where a room is vested in Trustees for user as a reading-room or library, or for an educational purpose, it is not a case of an ecclesiastical charity. It is a general public purpose; and if anybody has been put upon that trust in a representative capacity, it is right that the Parish Council should be represented upon it. But if you ask me about what is called a mission-room, erected and held for the benefit of the Church or any denomination that has found the funds for it—a room held for Divine Service or Sunday schools—then I think that that is a charity which should be outside this Bill, and which, I believe, is outside the Bill. I quite admit that perhaps we shall have to expand in some respects the definition of an ecclesiastical charity. This is a difficult question, and we must endeavour in Committee, on the one hand, to protect the rights of the Church and 12 of every Religious Body with respect to their property; and, on the other, to protect the rights of the public where the property is of a public character. The remaining topic to which I must allude is that of doles or parochial charities. In my speech on the First Beading, I said I did not propose to interfere with ecclesiastical charities, and to that I adhere. Now, these parochial charities may be divided into four groups. They are charities for the benefit of some particular class—poor widows, or orphans, for example; or they are charities for the benefit of the poor of a parish, to be distributed in some particular mode—in providing coal, or clothing, or food, let us say; or they are charities for the benefit of the poor generally; or, fourthly, they are charities for purely ecclesiastical purposes. A large number of gentlemen have maintained on public platforms, and in the Press, that if the Trustees of any charity belonging to one of the first three categories which I have named are ecclesiastical persons, the charity is thereby made an ecclesiastical charity. That is not the law of the land. I must trouble the House for a minute or two with a statement of the law on this point, a statement delivered by one of our most eminent Judges.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The date is 1857. In 1857 the Master of the Rolls said—If the charity be founded to support some religious establishment, or if it seek to promote religious education—as in the case of Lady Hewley's Charity—and if, in addition to this, the intentions of the founder are not clearly expressed, or if the instrument of foundation be lost, or even had never any existence, the opinions and religious tenets of the founder have a most material bearing on the question—Who are the objects of the charity and in what manner the trusts of it are to be performed for the purpose of carrying into effect the general purpose, which is known to be the support of religion?… But when the charity in question is one of a purely eleemosynary character, a wholly different class of consideration arises. No doctrine of law, no precept of religion, establishes that the act of relieving a fellow-creature from the privations or calamities which have befallen him ought to be preceded by ascertaining that he holds opinions in accordance with the true doctrine of Christ, as promulgated in the Gospel, or with those which the donor believes to be such. The duty of relieving his fellow-creature in distress is imposed on the Christian irrespective of religious 13 doctrines and tenets, and not with standing that the object of charity may worship God in an erroneous manner, but in that which he believes to be most acceptable to his Creator. In these charities, therefore, I consider that the presumption, that all classes were intended to participate in the bounty bestowed, is so strong, that it requires a clear and distinct expression of unequivocal import to exclude any class of Dissenters from the benefits of the original foundation; where such clear expressions are used the Court must follow them, because the rule of this Court is, as I have already stated, to carry the will of the founder into effect, when it violates no rule of law or morality; but in such a case it requires strict proof that such was the will of the founder, and all evidence as to the peculiar tenets and opinions of the founder are inadmissible as evidence of his intention. His intentions must be found to be expressed in the instrument itself, the burden of proof being thrown on those who seek to exclude.… In eleemosynary charities, the religious opinions and tenets of the founder are wholly to be disregarded, and are to be treated as forming no indication of his intention on which this Court can act. The presumption is that he included all, and the burden of proof lies on those who seek to exclude.… The observations I have made respecting the principles which govern charities of this description plainly show that I attribute no moment to the circumstance, that the persons appointed to superintend and administer this charity are the Rector and Churchwardens of the parish. It is a charity founded for the purpose of relieving fellow-men from want, and the Rector and Churchwardens, from their position, were the persons most likely to know and judge best who were the persons standing most in need of such relief. These observations of mine will also dispose of the eases of all the other charities where the argument, that they were intended for the benefit of members of the Established Church, rests on the fact that the persons appointed to distribute the bounty or to select the objects of it are the Rector and Churchwardens for the time being of the parish. In like manner, it follows from what I have said, that the fact that the recipients are required to rehearse a particular prayer in church, and also the fact that they are required to attend at the church, and sit in a particular pew, or that they must attend at the church porch, or in the church itself, to receive the bounty awarded, does not, in my opinion, justify the exclusion from participating in this charity of persons who do not conform to the doctrines and rites of the Church of England.Therefore, I take it that whether hon. Gentlemen may approve the doctrine or not, it is the law of this country that an eleemosynary charity administered by the officers of the Church is not on that account a Church charity. Therefore, we are prepared to contend that these doles, which are for a general charitable purpose, and not exclusively for ecclesiastical purposes, are parochial charities, and, although we do not for a moment pro- 14 pose that the Rector or any Trustee properly appointed should be removed or dispossessed or interfered with in his trusteeship, we claim that the Parish Council shall have the right to elect, instead of the Vestry, Trustees in those cases. That is the general view we take in reference to these dole charities. I am not going to argue the question now; but I may tell the House that there is a very great difference of opinion as to the desirability of these charities, and as to whether they are a beneficial mode of relieving the poor. So far as my own correspondence is concerned, I can assure the House that the communications I have received from the clergy urge the Government to stand firm on this portion of the Bill, seek to imply that the Bill goes a great deal further than it does, and express complete dissatisfaction with the present mode of administering dole charities. There is one other point in connection with this Church question on which I wish to say a word, and that is with reference to closed churchyards. This clause has been described as a grave interference with the rights of the Church. As a matter of fact, it is a most innocent clause, put in for what I may call a purely sanitary purpose. Under the Act by which churchyards are closed, the Churchwardens of the parish are directed to maintain the churchyard in decent order and do the necessary repairs to the walls and fences and to pay the expenses out of the poor rate. That power we propose to transfer to the Parish Council, for this simple reason: that it is a power of expenditure out of the poor or public rate, and that, therefore, the elected representative body of the parish should spend the money. The idea that there would be any interference with the user of the churchyard is a mistaken one. There is no power to do anything of the sort. That power is vested in the Incumbent of the Church, and all the power that is given is to repair the walls and fences, and to keep the place in decent order for the public benefit. We have no other motive in introducing the clause, and I should be glad to hear what reasonable objection can be urged against it in Committee. The churchyard remains vested in the Rector or Incumbent of the parish. That is all I have got to say upon the various criticisms made with reference to the 15 ecclesiastical aspect of the Bill. There is one other class of objection as to which I have to say a word, and that is the objection raised to the second part of the Bill, which deals with the creation of District Councils. The Government have been urged to abandon this part of the Bill, and to confine the measure exclusively to Parish Councils. The Government are not prepared to take any such course. The Government regard that part of the Bill which deals with District Councils as of quite as great importance as that relating to Parish Councils. Parish Councils are the special organisations for special purposes and with special advantages. Now we have created a system of County Councils, it is impossible to carry out a proper scheme of Local Government if District Councils—which were a part of the scheme of the late Government—are not formed. We regard that portion of the Bill as vital, and we are not prepared to cut it out of the Bill. Objections are also raised to the Bill on the ground not so much of its sanitary and general Local Government aspect, but on account of its interfering with the administration of the Poor Law. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen cheer as if they endorse that view. I went at great length, on the introduction of the Bill, into the reasons why the Government thought that the Poor Law administration should be associated with District Councils. At present the Poor Law Guardians are, in effect, the District Council. They are the Rural Sanitary Authority for the greater part of this Kingdom, and we consider that there is no necessity or justification for creating another Local Authority and another Local Body. We consider that a popularly-elected Body in the rural districts is quite capable of administering the Poor Law and the local affairs of those districts. I have seen it stated that we are proposing to intrust the expenditure of the rates to persons who are not ratepayers. What do yon do in the case of School Boards, Town Councils, and County Councils? I hear the hon. Baronet the Member for the Kingston Division laugh, but I would ask him who form the constituency of the London School Board? Is it not the house holders? There is no question of the direct payment of rates in connection 16 with any County Council or Town Council election in England nor in connection with the election of Members of Parliament, and I submit that a constituency that is good enough for this House, School Boards, Town Councils, and County Councils, is good enough for the District Councils. It would be introducing a very dangerous doctrine if we were now to attempt to stereotype that system of plural voting which was established in 1834 and was in harmony with the notions then prevailing as to the electoral franchise, but was swept away with the consent of both Parties many years ago. I do not admit that a man who is not directly rated pays no rates. I am prepared to contend that a man who pays rent pays rates, and that is a doctrine which Parliament consented to when it abolished the compound householder, and from that principle we see no reason to recede. The Poor Law expenditure is not now defrayed out of the rates entirely as it used to be. Only 72 per cent. is defrayed out of the rates. Owing to the large subventions made by this House for Poor Law purposes in addition to other purposes, at the present time 22 per cent, is paid out of the Imperial Exchequer, and, therefore, to that 22 per cent, all classes contribute, whether they pay rates or not. So far as that point is concerned, we are not prepared in any way to recede from the principles we have laid down in the Bill. Then there is 6 per cent. which arises from other sources—contributions from relatives and the like. I thought it would suit the convenience of the House if they knew the views of the Government on some of these vexed questions. It is impossible on the Second Reading to go into all the details of such a measure as this. There is no desire on the part of the Government to stand upon the exact wording of every line in the Bill. It will need a good deal of amendment. It will need amendment from both sides of the House. There are provisions in it which some of my friends on the Government side of the House think doubtful. I have not thought it desirable to dwell on these to-night, but we shall have to make clear some points of the Bill to which those Members attach considerable importance. So with regard to the other side of the House the Government will 17 be ready to consider objections, and we desire to do all we can to make the Bill perfectly intelligible. We desire to be perfectly fair to all Parties, and to have the assistance of both sides of the House. The Government will assume, so far as the details of the Bill are concerned, no non possumus attitude. I have told the House what the Government consider the vital principles of the Bill. We must have the Parish Council in all its fulness and efficiency undisturbed, and we must have our Local Government completed. We must get rid of what we consider to be the objectionable franchise under which the Guardians are elected. We must popularise that Body in the administration of the Poor Law. That will be a decided improvement not in the Poor Law itself, although I think that in certain matters there is room for considerable improvement there, and we believe that with the assistance of the Representatives of the great mass of the people we may not only give those who administer the Poor Law a stronger claim on popular confidence, hut may make that administration more effective, more successful, and more conducive to the real results which the original legislators who passed the Poor Law contemplated. These are the conditions on which I ask the House to read the Bill a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)
§ * MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
I am quite sure that everybody will agree that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has adopted a course at once convenient and helpful to the House. He has been good enough to take the House into the confidence of the Government as to the changes they propose to make in the Bill, and I have no doubt that what he has told us will have the effect if not of shortening the discussion, at all events of clearing up some matters that have caused doubt, and of enabling us to confine our attention to certain points in the Bill which—whether we are for or against them—we think of the greatest interest. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to two or three different questions, and, if the House will allow me, I will also allude to them, varying a little the order in 18 which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with them. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of Church property in a manner which must have been satisfactory to everybody in the House, no matter whether he agrees with him or disagrees with him. He told us what I understood from the beginning—namely, that it was his intention to act loyally and honourably by the plain declaration he made when he introduced the Bill. I do not know who he was quoting when he referred to the language which had been made use of in regard to the Bill; but I am confident that no one intended to charge him with bad faith or want of honourable compliance with the declarations he originally made. There was an impression in the minds of those concerned in safeguarding the property in which they were interested that perhaps the words of the measure went further than the right hon. Gentleman believed them to go, but I am sure there was no intention on the part of anyone sitting on this side of the House to bring against the right hon. Gentleman so serious a charge as he seems to think was conveyed in the language to which he has referred. Whatever language may have been used in or outside the House, it is now plain that if the wording of the Bill is not clear it will be made so. We may take it from what he has told us that it is not the intention of the Bill to interfere with Church schools or with schools of any kind, or with that which can be properly described as "Church property." I understand him to say that if there remains any doubt in the minds of hon. Members after what he has said, he is prepared in the Committee stage to introduce words to make the language of the Bill clear and distinct, so as to prevent the possibility of a doubt. If the right hon. Gentleman will do that, it is, I am satisfied, all that can properly be asked or expected of him. For my own part, I have always remembered the emphatic character of the language the right hon. Gentleman used on the introduction of the Bill, and I have always felt that if, there were any reason to doubt what his meaning was he would do as he has done to-day—namely, tell us that his words were misunderstood, and put the matter right. Then, as to the change the right hon. Gentleman has announced in regard 19 to the grouping of small parishes, he will remember that when the measure was introduced some of us ventured to express the opinion that dealing with some small parishes would not be so easy as he anticipated. We who have had some experience of dealing with these local areas and of altering them know how unpopular it is; and I am not sure that the change which the right hon. Gentleman has announced to-day is one which materially improves the Bill. The suggestion, as I understand it, is that he will do away altogether with the fixing of the population at 300. He does not adhere to 300 as the population below which a parish must be grouped. He suggests that a parish below 300 shall have a parish meeting, but shall not elect a Parish Council——
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
What I said was that I left it open to the House to determine the number of the population. I said every parish would have a meeting, and that every parish below the line the House finally fixed would be grouped.
§ MR. W. LONG
That is what I said. They will be grouped, and will not have a Parish Council. That is hardly a correct description of what this process will be. They will have a share of a Parish Council. In other words, they will become a ward of the Parish Council in which they are grouped. What is the objection to grouping? Why, that by grouping you destroy the individuality and identity of the small parishes altogether. If a parish is a small one, and has to be joined to a neighbouring parish, it will lose its individuality, and I venture to say that that will be no bettor appreciated by the inhabitants of the small parishes than the original proposal of the Bill. If hon. Gentlemen will consider the cases which come under their own experience, they will see that if this grouping is to be carried out it means the extinction of the small parishes altogether—the disappearance of their separate existence for all purposes for which the Parish Councils are to be created. Experience shows that in many cases the joining of parishes does not mean identity of 20 interest or community of thought on parish matters. I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has left this matter entirely to the House to decide. He has left it to the House to say what the number shall be. He has left the matter, to a great extent, an open question; and I hope that before the Bill leaves the Committee it will be so altered as to leave these small parishes their own individuality, and allow them—unless they are willing to be grouped—to have their own parish meeting, and to look after their own affairs without merging them in an adjoining parish. Then the right hon. Gentleman dealt—in a similar tone to that which he employed with reference to the Church question—with parish rooms and property. He told us that he had no intention that Parish Councils should become possessed of parish rooms erected as parish property or by subscription, and that the fears which had been raised as to this part of the Bill were groundless. And here, again, he told us that if any words could be introduced to make this clear they should be adopted; and, knowing as I do that he will, if it be necessary, introduce words to make the language of the Bill perfectly clear I am satisfied. I heartily join with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said as to the draftsmen who have worked with him in preparing the Bill; but, still, the draftsmen, able as they are, and loyal and industrious as they are, are, after all, only human beings like even the right hon. Gentleman himself, and, as such, they are occasionally liable, I suppose, to error and mistake; and I think it will be found, when the Bill comes to be examined in Committee, that some of the language, even in the two Clauses 5 and 13, is rather vague, and not quite so distinct as it should be. But we shall, I am quite sure, find that he will meet us in making the language perfectly distinct, and in removing doubts which might arise in our minds when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. As to what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to Part II. of the Bill, I will postpone what I have to say until I have dealt with the first part. I do not suppose any one of us wishes to be brought up to the House of Commons at this time of the year away from his own 21 occupation. I have no doubt some hon. Gentlemen will assure us that they are greedy of the opportunity of Parliamentary work, and would much rather be here than attending to their own affairs. I confess, frankly, I am not one of those. I would rather look after my own affairs; but, as the House is to sit, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fact that we are met to consider a Bill on which I do not suppose we are all agreed by any means, on which there will be found to be considerable diversity of opinion in many quarters, but, at all events, we can congratulate ourselves—especially after the remarks we have just heard from the author of the Bill—on the fact that we shall do our work without quite so much temper, and I do not know whether I shall be wrong in using the words "political abuse," which is sometimes heard from one side of the House or the other in the Debates that take place here. Some persons have accused the great Party I have the honour to be associated with of being in reality opposed to the Bill, and yet afraid to say so. It is said that they do not believe in the measure, but declare they do because they are afraid of their constituents. I do not believe there is any foundation for a charge of that kind. I do not believe that hon. Gentlemen, because they make strong criticisms upon this Bill, do so for the reason that they are afraid of the further extension of the liberty of the people. The most casual observer of the Constitution of this country must recognise that, whether for good or for evil, we have deliberately adopted democratic institutions and forms of government. Every change that has been made in Imperial or local administration of the affairs of this country by Parliament has been in the direction of widening the basis on which popular power rests. It would be impossible to alter the current of political opinion; but I think the Members of this House, and both Parties of this House, are entitled to ask when they are called on to consider a measure of this kind—which, though some people may describe it as dealing with trumpery parochial matters, is really a measure of great importance, that will affect the happiness and comfort of the people living in our towns and villages—that public opinion shall wisely 22 guide the operations of this House. We must remember, when dealing with a Bill of this kind, that we are taking on ourselves great responsibility with regard to the future of the people who live in the rural districts. It is true this Bill affects the population of towns as well as of countries; but the House will agree with me that it affects, both in Parts I. and II., rural districts more than urban districts. It is true that in dealing with Local Boards and Boards of Guardians you will be interfering with existing methods. You will be altering the constitution of these bodies; but the change will not be so great or far-reaching as will be the change effected in rural districts. Therefore, I say we are entitled to ask that every provision of this measure shall be most carefully examined, and I think we ought not to be blamed if we criticise where we think criticism is necessary, and if we ask that the provisions of the Bill shall be considered deliberately—not from the point of view of winning votes by passing popular legislation, but from the point of view of conferring on the districts affected a form of government which will be beneficial and helpful to them. That is the spirit which animates gentlemen in criticising the Bill from this side of the House. There are some provisions of the Bill on which I will ask leave to say a few words. I should like to call the attention of the House and of the President of the Local Government Board to one or two details of the measure which seem to require their special consideration. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt completely with some of these subjects upon which he rightly anticipated we on this side of the House would have something to say—including Clauses 5 and 6—in the manner in which they affect the duties of Churchwardens in controlling schools and charities and Church property. But there are in Clause 7 certain new powers conferred by the Bill on Parish Councils. They are thereby enabled to adopt certain Acts which can at present be adopted by the Vestry under certain conditions, and I note that the right hon. Gentleman has in the Bill swept away all the special precautious or provisions which attach to these Acts. I note that whereas under the law as it at present stands, before the Lighting and 23 Watching Act and the Baths and Wash-houses Acts can be adopted, it is necessary to have a two-thirds majority of the ratepayers, and before the Recreation Grounds and Public Walks Act can be adopted the population of the parish must exceed 500. Under the Bill these Acts can be adopted by a bare majority. I do not know whether that is the intention of the Bill, or whether it is a mistake in the construction of the phraseology. If it is intended, I say there is good reason why there should be some precaution taken as to the numbers by whom these powers are to be adopted. These limitations were deliberately placed in the Acts of Parliament specified in the clause to protect the inhabitants. Whether these precautions should be swept away, and whether the right hon. Gentleman when we get into Committee should not be prepared to give some good, reason for sweeping away precautions which it seems to some of us should be retained, will be for the Committee to say. I am unwilling to say a word which would seem to cast a reflection on the gentlemen responsible for the drafting of the Bill; but I am bound to say that in Clause 8, which casts on the Parish Councils certain additional powers, there is language decidedly vague, and language which I think will have to be made clearer when we get into Committee. For instance, we find in that clause that the Parish Council is to be entitled—To utilise any supply of water within their parish.It is most desirable, undoubtedly, that the Parish Council, when a water supply is required, should have power to deal with a want of that kind, but I do not believe that they should be given power to enable them to lay violent hands on any water supply that may be in their village, even though it may be private property and may have been acquired by a private individual at considerable expense for his own personal use. Then the Parish Council is to be given the power of acquiring any right of way, easement, or any other right "whether within or without" their parish. I venture to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to these words "within or without." It seems to me to be hardly possible that the Government intend to 24 give the Parish Council the right not merely to acquire rights of way within their own parish, but to go outside the area which they represent, and acquire rights of way in other areas. If, however, that is the intention, we shall not allow powers of that kind to pass in Committee—at all events, without some protest. Then I come to the powers which are given to the Parish Council for the acquisition of land. It does not seem to me that the change which is proposed to be made in the law respecting land has received at the hands of the author of the Bill (Mr. H. H. Fowler), in either of the speeches he has made, as much attention as it deserves. I ventured on the introduction of the Bill, as one who has had the privilege of being connected with the great Department over which the right hon. Gentleman now presides, to deprecate very strongly the provision by which the Local Government Board is to be the only authority which is to decide whether land is to be taken compulsorily or not. Hitherto, where laud has been taken for public purposes, it has been taken only with the permission of this House. It may be possible to devise some machinery more effective than that which Parliament provides; but I am bound to say that, great as is my admiration for the Local Government Board, I do not think that the duty of deciding a question which is such a serious one in certain localities should be thrown on their shoulders. If land is to be taken compulsorily, this House should retain the right of saying whether the interests of the individual should be sacrificed or not. When this question of taking land compulsorily is discussed, it is too often dealt with as if it were the question of forcing the hand of some recalcitrant landowner who will not part with any of his land unless he is compelled. In many of the cases that arise such circumstances do not exist. In many instances the land wanted extends into more than one farm, and I am bound to say that if Parliament declares that if land is wanted the owner shall surrender it compulsorily, the owner has a right to ask that it shall not be taken without reference to Parliament. The provision of the Bill on this point is one which ought not to pass, and I hope it is one 25 on which the Government will see their way to make a concession. One word about the financial aspect of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has limited the expenditure in which a Parish Council may indulge to a rate of 1d. in the £1 per annum. That expenditure, certainly in many cases, will not be of an excessive character. I have worked out what 1d. in the £1 will amount to in a good many rural parishes, and it is clear to me that with such an expenditure a Parish Council will not be able to indulge in luxuries like Village Halls. But the House must remember that while the rate of 1d. in the £1 sounds very moderate, and while it appears at first sight that there has been that check placed upon extravagance which this House has always insisted upon where new authorities have been set up, there is always this saving clause: that the Parish Council, with the consent of the District Council, may incur a further expenditure either by means of a loan or out of the rates. This is a point on which I hope the President of the Local Government Board will consider carefully whether he cannot see his way to make a change. There is a tendency on the part of those whose experience is of a purely theoretical character to lay down the law with reference to Bills which affect the rural parts of the country; but I venture to say that all hon. Gentlemen, in whatever quarter of the House they sit, who have a practical experience of the affairs of villages, and of those areas which will become District Council areas under this Bill, know perfectly well, though they may blind themselves to the fact for the time being, that no District Council which is likely to be elected in any rural area in this country will ever say "No" to a parish which wants to spend money. The District Council will not have to bear the burden of the expenditure, and it seems to, me that it is the very worst authority in whose hands this power can be placed. This is the place, I think, for the Local Government Board; this is a function which the Local Government Board is, above all others, well able to perform. No one would, I imagine, conceive for one instant that if a Parish Council wished to embark upon reasonable expenditure for the purpose of doing good in its parish the Local 26 Government Board would say nay. The Board would be only too ready to help the Parish Council to do its duty by its constituents. What reason can there be for not putting over the Parish Council the authority which acts in all similar cases with reference to other Local Authorities? If the Local Government Board is the authority to whom a great Corporation and to whom a Local Board has to come in the case of a loan, why should it not be the authority to decide whether there should be increased expenditure on the part of a Parish Council? The check would in that case be a more real one than it will be under this Bill. The Local Government Board is already equipped with the authority that will be needed for making inquiries of the necessary character, and it has the staff which could say whether the expenditure was wise or not. You may talk about centralisation, and repeat cries about "red tape," and interference by Government Departments; but this House knows perfectly well that if it wants a check upon extravagance, and if it wants at the same time to have even and regular control, it is more likely to secure it by employing a great Public Department well manned by experienced officials than by resorting to a body of this kind whose authority would be of a most limited character.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The Local Government Board has no control over the expenditure out of the rates in a Municipality.
§ * MR. W. LONG
I know that; but surely the right hon. Gentleman does not, in his enthusiasm for Parish Councils, ask us to believe that comparisons can be made between those small Councils and great Municipalities. What I am anxious for is that one Local Authority should not act as a check in this matter over another Local Authority. I think we had better adopt the check that has been employed before. If you mean to have no check at all, let the Bill remain as it is, and we shall know what to expect. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) said something about Part II. of the Bill with reference 27 to Poor Law administration, and told us it had been suggested, in some of the comments made on the Bill, that Part II. should be left out altogether, but that the Government intended to stand by it. I imagine that anyone who listened to his speech on the introduction of the Bill must have come to the conclusion that that would have been his attitude to-day. The right hon. Gentleman became eloquent over the ridiculous character of the attack made upon him by those who say that in this Bill representation has been divorced from taxation. He reminded us that in the cases of School Boards, County Councils, and Municipal Corporations those who elect them do not have to bear the burden of the expenditure. I am not afraid to say that, in my judgment, there is all the difference in the world between the expenditure which will fall upon these new authorities under the administrative powers of the Poor Law and the other expenditure they will have to indulge in. Further than that, I say you cannot compare the power to elect Members of this House with the right to elect those who are to administer the Poor Law. The sanitary work which is to be thrown on these District Councils is no doubt of a very serious character, and the change is to be of a very important kind. You have those well-abused men, the ex officio members, upon your Boards of Guardians. We are told that these ex officios are to be abolished, and that there is not to be a word said for them. Everybody will admit that the ex officio element in a Governing Body in these days is an anachronism which it is difficult to defend. But what do we know about ex officio Guardians? In many parts of the country where they have attended to their duties they have proved themselves the most efficient and the most useful members of the Board. I do not think anyone in this House will deny that ex officio Guardians have been most useful. I know that in many places they have not attended to their duties or taken advantage of their right to sit on Boards of Guardians. Where, however, they have done so, you will find that the most regular attendants have been the ex officios, and that they have made the best Chairmen and the best members. You are going to get rid of them 28 at one stroke, and the change you are going to make is a very serious one, which may have a very serious effect upon those who depend upon the Boards of Guardians for the administration of the Poor Law. It is a very different thing to call upon a man to elect a member of a Board of Guardians and to call upon him to elect a Member of Parliament. Where he is brought face to face with the knowledge that the result of his vote will be for or against any system of relief which he believes in, he will probably take more interest in the vote he gives than where he has to vote for or against Home Rule for Ireland or in some other great controversy of the moment. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has during the last few weeks had some very striking lessons in the difficulties which surround the work of Boards of Guardians. We know what pressure has been put upon them to step out of the beaten track they have followed for so many years, and to become what they were never intended to become—employers of labour instead of relievers of the destitute. Now that Boards of Guardians are being continually pressed to provide work for those who are out of work, the temptations which are placed before those who have to elect them are very great. It is very easy to look upon those temptations with contempt, and to say that they are unreal, and that the electors will rise above them. I hope and believe that they will rise above them. I hope and believe that the working men of England recognise that their best interests lie in a wise, a firm, and an efficient administration of the Poor Laws, and that indiscriminate relief would be a curse to their class; but, at the same time, I know that the temptations which are placed on those who have to vote for members of Boards of Guardians are considerable, and will place Guardians in a very difficult position in many cases. It is, no doubt, easy to say that what is good enough for County Councils and School Boards is good enough for Boards of Guardians. I have watched with interest the different attitudes assumed by some of the Members of the Government during the Recess. The Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) gave us a considerable number of speeches, and let us into a great number of secrets which were not 29 always apparently the same. The President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) also spoke, but was more careful in his utterances. He told us a great deal about Home Rule, but not much about the Local Government Bill. The reputation of the Home Secretary, great as it now is, will not be associated with responsibility for this measure, but that of the President of the Local Government Board will depend largely upon his success in engineering this Bill through the House and upon the future working of the measure. We may believe in popularising local institutions; but the success or failure of them must depend upon their being wisely used by the people. The President of the Local Government Board himself, in introducing the Bill, has shown how conscious he is of the great responsibility which this measure will devolve upon the people affected by it. There is hardly anyone concerned in the administration or the reform of the Poor Law who would not like to see the provisions relating to that administration eliminated from this Bill; and it would be a wise and statesmanlike proceeding to drop them. I do not say this because there are grounds for fearing that laxity may be introduced into the administration of the Poor Law; for, as I have stated before, I think that the time will come when the system under which the Poor Law is administered may be wisely reformed. A visit to some of the great Unions of the country, like that of West Derby, will show that the system under which the Poor Law is administered is as admirable as it is possible for the ingenuity and humanity of man to devise. There is thorough classification in splendid buildings, special provision for old couples to live together in absolute comfort, and absolutely magnificent internal arrangements. You find these things in large Unions with large areas and large rate able values, and it is only in large areas that you are able to make such provision for the sick and poor of the country. But you are going to alter this; you are proposing to alter the system by which Poor Law Guardians are elected, and to change their powers, and if the effect is to give them smaller areas to administer and smaller funds to deal with yon will not be able to achieve the same splendid results that 30 are attained in many instances at the present time. I maintain it is absolutely useless to popularise these bodies, and to place in their hands new powers, unless you also insure to them the means of using the powers in the way you desire them to be exercised. If their operations are restricted, they may not be able to carry out reforms which may be attempted in future legislation, and you will get a return to the state of things now existing in the smaller Unions. The question is whether, if the changes proposed by the Bill are effected, it will be more easy or more difficult to carry out the reforms that are contemplated in the future? The conflicting interests of different localities and the indebtedness existing as between one and another are great difficulties in the way of popularising any measure of Local Government Reform. If the whole country could be swept clean of existing authorities, and we could start afresh, the problem would be a much easier one; but we have existing areas governed by authorities with responsibilities and debts, and all those must be considered in carrying out any great reform. It may be the ease that the alterations now proposed in the constitution of Boards of Guardians will not in any way make it more difficult to carry out reforms in the future; but I believe the teaching of experience to be that it would be better not to run the risk at this time of stereotyping old difficulties or creating new ones. I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman should not consent for the present to drop this part of the Bill. ["No, no!"] I make the suggestion in all friendliness. Why should not the right hon. Gentleman leave this part of the Bill to next Session? As the Government are going to be in Office for many years to come, they will have abundant time for dealing with this and other questions. I do not make the suggestion with any idea that the successors of the Government, whoever they may be, will have the opportunity of finishing the work and getting credit for it; but I make it in absolute good faith as one taking a very great interest in local administration as a means of promoting the happiness of the working classes of this country, and as one who believes that on the good administration of the Poor Law rests, to a large extent 31 the future happiness of the poorer classes. An important duty of Boards of Guardians to which no reference has been made is that of acting as the Union Assessment Authority. I confess I am a little disappointed that in the Bill no attempt has been made, while casting this difficult duty upon the newly-elected authorities, to introduce new machinery which would secure, at all events, if nothing else, that there should be uniformity in the assessments. Although there are upon Boards of Guardians men intimately acquainted with the local circumstances of their districts, there are very great differences in the assessment of one district as compared with another. At different times attempts at legislation on this subject have been made without success; and, if the right hon. Gentleman will be content to pass a portion of his Bill in this short portion of the Session, he may be able in the future to deal more vigorously with the parts that are postponed, and to include powers relating to assessment, and that without in any way detracting from the dignity of his position, while at the same time increasing the chance of passing this and other measures. I thoroughly accept, in the spirit in which they are offered, the assurances of the right hon. Gentleman, which dispose to some extent of the difficulties that have existed; but with regard to Poor Law administration and the second part of the Bill, I have spoken strongly, because I am convinced that if the Government are actuated by the desire to pass a big Bill which will enable them to say, "We have done something after all." they will run the risk of doing grave injury to the rural districts for political purposes; whereas, if they will take the time they ought to take for the passing of the Bill, they may deal in a perfectly satisfactory manner with all the questions that are involved. The only appeal I will make is that the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman be responded to, and the Bill be discussed in an impartial spirit and with a real desire to make it a practical measure. I hope that during the Debate we shall hear nothing of the unworthy and contemptible charges that have been made, thoughtlessly made, elsewhere against owners of land and the clergy—charges that have been made without any evidence of their truth, and apparently 32 without realising how offensive they may be to those against whom they are made. It may be necessary to alter the system of Local Government, but at least it must be admitted that those who have hitherto administered local affairs have done so honestly and honourably, with the one single object of doing the best they can for those among whom they live. There is, I assert, not one atom of foundation for the charges of dishonesty and tyranny which have been so cruelly and so unjustly made against them. I appeal to the House to deal with the Bill as the right hon. Member for Halifax asked the House to deal with an earlier measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax said, in 1888, that the Bill then before the House was not one which could be forced or hurried through, nor one to which the Closure could be properly applied; that the Government could not hope to pass such a measure without addressing themselves to the understanding of the House; and that ample time must be allowed to the Members of the House to become masters of the subject. As the right hon. Gentleman then spoke in 1888, and as the President of the Local Government Board has spoken to-day, I will now venture to express a hope that ample time may be given for the discussion of the present measure, and that, in doing our best to make the Bill a practical and useful measure, we shall not be accused of wasting time or of want of confidence in the people.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I wish to join my hon. Friend opposite in congratulating the President of the Local Government Board on the wise and conciliatory tone he has adopted and on taking the House into his confidence. I also desire to congratulate him on another ground. If we may judge by his remarks, he adheres distinctly to the statement he made when introducing the measure that he desires this subject shall be dealt with as a nonparty question. We have had some doubts lately as to whether that was the intention, because the Home Secretary, in some speeches which he made in Scotland, rather claimed in advance for his Party credit for this Bill. Still, that evidently is not the spirit in which the Minister in charge of the Bill intends to ask us to deal with the question—he still 33 adheres to the words he used on a former occasion, which wore—We want to deal with this question apart from politics, as a question in which all the citizens of the State are interested.In that view I entirely concur. I intend on this occasion to deal with one only of the points raised by my right hon. Friend. This is supposed to be a measure for the completion of the great piece of legislation which Mr. Ritchie carried through this House in 1888, and I am sure we all regret that he is not now a Member of this House. What has been done with regard to Local Government Reform in recent years? Previous to Mr. Ritchie's comprehensive measure, including as it did both County and District Councils, reform was practically limited to the Municipal Corporations Acts and the Public Health Acts; all other legislation had only increased the chaos which before existed by creating special districts and special authorities. It is true that the Bill of 1888 did not include Parish Councils or the transfer of Poor Law powers, neither did it provide for a uniform assessment, but it did create County Councils and make them corporate for certain purposes, especially in regard to the issue of County Stock and loans. The present Bill, therefore, can only be considered as a development of, and supplemental to, the Bill of 1888. I complain, however, that it is essentially a Parish Councils Bill, and only to a very small extent a District Councils Bill. I regret that both in the introductory speech and in the Bill the very important question of the continuation of the Bill of 1888 and the constitution of the District Councils as well as the alteration of Poor Law administration should have boon so thoroughly subordinated to the unnecessary glorification of Parish Councils and their duties. There cannot be any comparison between them, even if the Poor Law question were not raised, however important Parish Councils may be. I should have thought it would have been more reasonable if the 1st clause of the Bill had set up District Councils in continuation of the Bill of 1888 with large powers of delegation by County Councils of administrative work now performed by Committees of the County Council, and if that had boon followed by a clause transferring 34 the administrative powers of Boards of Guardians to District Councils, while reserving certain financial and other powers to County Councils. Under the Bill as at present drafted you have the anomaly that you first set up Parish Councils, and in the clauses dealing with them you constantly refer to District Councils which you have neither set up nor explained. In the 19th clause you deal with the whole question of the Poor Law, and in that one clause you practically continue Boards of Guardians with an altered electorate and without ex officio Guardians. In Clause 23 the Government set up District Councils for rural sanitary areas, and having set them up you admit, after all, that they are only Boards of Guardians under another name. Throughout you have the District Councils alluded to in two capacities. Surely it would have been much simpler to have abolished altogether the Boards of Guardians, and to have transferred their powers either to the County Councils or the District Councils, or to have divided their work between those two bodies. That would have simplified the Bill amazingly. I find in this Bill the same fault as was complained of by the Front Opposition Bench in reference to the Bill of 1888—namely, that it fails to deal with many important questions, such, for example, as the question of uniform assessment and valuation. But if that was necessary in 1888, as stated at the time by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, it is still more necessary now, when we are going to have three rating powers dealing with the rates. The right hon. Gentleman complained that Union assessment was left untouched in the Bill of 1888. He said—MR. Ritchie created a County Council and gave it the power of levying rates for the county at large. He did nothing to insure that the county and Union assessment should be identical.Surely, if it was urgent then, it is ten times more urgent now, when Local Government is being completed, the Poor Law dealt with, and new Rating Authorities created, with three different Councils drawing on the rates independently. I should like to recall to the recollection of the House some words used in another speech delivered at a time when the Poor Law question was being discussed. Lord Play fair, in 1888, approved, as I 35 now approve, of the Poor Law administration being handed over to District Councils. I do not believe that District Councils and Boards of Guardians could be kept side by side for two reasons. The first is, the difficulty that would be experienced in getting men to become Guardians for parishes a long way off, while the second is that you would have two different Boards and two different assessments, both involving great cost to the ratepayers, while each body would only be doing half the work now performed by the Boards of Guardians. I hope that the Government will pay serious attention to the words used by Lord Play fair on that occasion. He said—The County Councils ought to have been made little Local Government Boards, with supervision of the work of the District Boards, and with professional advice at their command, so that they might be assured that the sanitary work was being done in an efficient way throughout all the urban and rural districts comprised in the country.He further said—That the change which he would propose was that all Medical Officers of Health should be made officers of the County Councils, and not of District Councils.After discussing the whole question at great length, Lord Play fair continued—He did not propose to make compulsory consolidation of districts, though he would convert all Medical Officers of Health into officers of the County Council, and make them report to that body, and through it to the Local Government Board. The consolidation of areas and the organisation of public health would soon follow when the County Councils felt immediate responsibility for the health of the whole district.I certainly agree with and desire to reecho Lord Play fair's words, and hope that hon. Members will study his practical speech themselves. I have no doubt, as he had no doubt, there would be far more efficient sanitation if the present 1,200 Medical Officers of Health were reduced to 200 or 250, with larger areas and salaries. Such a change would also lead to greater economy. I now pass to the Parish Councils Clauses. Of course, the Government must conduct their Bill in the manner they think most convenient; but I certainly hold it would have been a far better plan to have dealt with the question of District Councils before introducing the Parish Councils Clauses. The right hon. Gen- 36 tleman has stated that he adheres to the Bill as a whole, and will not consent to one portion being separated from the other part; therefore, there need not be any difficulty in dealing first with the District Councils. I believe the Parish Councils will be of advantage, but I do not desire to delude the rural labourers into the impression, which has been widely spread amongst them, that the Parish Councils will make them all "healthy, wealthy, and wise" by its magical power; or that under this Bill the owners of land, and the occupiers of land, and the clergy will be got rid of, their property confiscated and handed over to the agricultural labourers. But this Bill will have one certain result, and that is, that the power of taxing the parish will pass from those who pay the rates, and from the old parishioners, into the hands of the migratory portion of the population, who work on the farms, who constantly change, who live in cottages for which they do not pay rent, who do not directly pay any rates, and who, therefore, have no real interest in the parish. Those men, I say, will have the power of outvoting the old parishioners. It is useless for us to try to shut our eyes to this change. If it is to take place, let it be openly avowed. The second point to which I wish to refer is the point which my hon. Friend opposite so ably dealt with—I mean the proposal to group parishes with a population under 300. I am against grouping parishes, of any size whatever, against the consent of the parishes. Those who have lived in the country for any number of years know the great jealousy and rivalry that exist between even neighbouring parishes. I believe that in the great majority of cases the parishes would far rather be without a Parish Council than to be grouped with another parish and have a partnership in its Council. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board has said that he will not adhere to the limit of the 300 population. If he did so, I believe this would be the most unpopular, unfair, and unpractical proposal in the whole Bilk If yon go through the parishes, you will find that a large number of those which are under 300 population, and even down to 250 and 200, are parishes everyone should like to see with Parish Councils, for they are the most capable of managing 37 their own affairs. In some parishes the question of population depends not on the number of occupiers, but depends on whether the families are large or small. For instance, I know one parish which, when the Census was taken on the 5th of April, was below the number: but if the Census were taken the next night, it would have, owing to an influx of labourers, the number to qualify it For a Parish Council under this Bill. The population of a large number of parishes constantly changes, and ranges from 275 to 320. In one year the population may he under 300; but the next year it may he over 300, and, therefore, to adhere steadfastly to the 300 limit would be perfectly absurd. I have carefully analysed the parishes of the three Unions in Lincolnshire with which I have been connected as Guardian—the Unions of Louth, Caistor, and Grimsby—and I will quote some figures which I am sure my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board will find interesting and instructive. Louth Union comprise 90 parishes, including Louth. In 1891 the parishes over 800 population were 25, of which nine were over 500 population, leaving 65 to be grouped, of which 11 are over 250 and seven over 200 and under 250. Caistor Union has 51 parishes, including Caistor and Rasen. In 1891 there were 16 parishes over 300 population, of which nine were over 500 population, leaving 35 parishes to be grouped, of which six were over 250, and six over 200 and under 250. In Grimsby Union there are 36 parishes, including Grimsby, Clee, and Cleethorpes. There are seven parishes over 300, of which five have over 700 population, leaving 18 parishes to be grouped, of which two are over 250, and three over 200 population. The general result of the Bill on these three Unions is that out of 159 rural agricultural parishes, exclusive of Louth, Caistor, Rasen, Grimsby, Clee, and Cleethorpes, 42 parishes only will have a, separate existence, and 117 will be grouped together or submerged in larger parishes. Out of these, 19 have over 250 population, and 16 over 200 and under 250, and many are very important centres of districts. I say it is monstrous that these important parishes, which are perfectly capable of managing their own affairs, should be deprived of that individual and 38 parochial existence which they now enjoy, because the population of each is under 300; and, again, I say that whatever be the limit of population which Parliament may agree upon—I think myself that 200 would be a fair figure—I hope no parish will be grouped without its consent. I should desire, in relation to the question of grouping, as well as to other important principles in this Pill, to call attention to the resolutions passed by the County Council Association, presided over by my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury. No Local Government reformer can deny the right or authority with which the Association speaks as the annually elected representatives of the popularly elected County Councillors, which have managed county business since 1885, whilst their popular Chairman has a perhaps unique experience in all rural and local administration as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, Chairman of County Council, with his official experience at the Local Government Office. I am sure that if my right hon. friend will give the House the benefit of his advice and opinion it will be a great advantage; but I cannot believe that he considers this Bill, in its present shape, practicable and workable. The County Councils, at any rate, are very clearly and distinctly opposed to compulsory grouping. Like the speakers who have preceded me, I have no desire to go into the details of this measure. That will be done in Committee. But I may say that I hope the same control or power of supervision over expenditure will he given to County Councils. As my right hon. Friend knows very well, in boroughs every Committee and Local Authority has to submit any new expenditure to the Borough Council before it can lay out any money on that expenditure. It would prevent the District Councils and the Parish Councils from running into debt if the County Council had some controlling power over every new expenditure that may be proposed. Common sense will show that that is absolutely necessary. Could anyone conduct their own private business if every partner in a firm could draw cheques upon it without someone having a knowledge of those cheques, and the books made out every night? Here we are going to allow three distinct authorities, without communication with each other, to draw 39 upon the public rates. That, I say, is wrong. There should be some Central Authority to know what the various rates for each authority are before any new expenditure for new works is sanctioned. Take next year, for instance. In all probability the rates will be nearly doubled next year, if we may accept the Returns issued by the Treasury. The amount to go to the relief of local taxation under the Act of 1888 will be much smaller than the amount that Local Authorities have received in past years. If a Parish Council or a District Council decide to proceed with new works, they will have no knowledge that they are going to have a double rate laid on them by the County Council; and, therefore, I say there ought to be some controlling Central Authority over the Parish Councils and District Councils in the matter of new expenditure, in the same way that the Treasury is the controlling authority in all Imperial matters. I think, also, that greater powers of devolution should be given either by the Bill, or by delegation, in regard to powers now exercised—namely, by the Local Government Board to County Councils; from County Councils to District Councils, and from District Councils to Parish Councils, when it is found that certain duties would be much better discharged by one authority than by another. The President of the Local Government Board asks for fair consideration for this Bill; we ask for fair play and free discussion of our views and Amendments. There must be concessions and consideration on the part of the Government, as well as the House, if a workable and practical measure is to be passed. If the President of the Local Government Board proceeds in that spirit, and a voids the cock-sure, infallible style of the Home Secretary's electioneering speeches in Scotland, he will have no reason to complain. But if the Bill is sought to be carried through as too perfect and sublime to be even debated by the voting powers of the Government or by other devices not unknown this Session, then we shall be prepared to assert ourselves and to maintain for ourselves and our constituents the right of freedom of discussion and debate on a question in which, according to the Minister in charge of this Bill, every citizen of England and Wales, and every ratepayer of 40 this country, is deeply interested. Let the House, as a whole, pass this measure for the benefit of local government, and let it go down to posterity as an Act in which all Parties in the House joined in the good work of passing it.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
The speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board has been satisfactory to those who are interested in the success of the Bill. I will deal later in the course of my remarks with what he has said of charities. His declaration with regard to the reform of Boards of Guardians has been wholly pleasing to us, and one cannot but feel surprised that, after the former declarations of Poor Law Conferences upon the subject, and the manner in which it had long been assumed by all (and those mainly Conservative) concerned in Poor Law work that the change would be made, those declarations have been suddenly forgotten and resolutions passed against a change which has in recent years been thought to be desired equally by both Parties in the State. The provisions sketched out as to grouping of parishes appeared, on the whole, to be wise ones, though it must not be forgotten that in some cases the County Councils are under territorial influence, and that they may avoid grouping in eases where there is a predominant landowner interested, although the wish of the parish itself might be, by means of grouping, to throw open its affairs. I regret that my right hon. Friend has not thoroughly cleared up the drafting of the Bill with regard to the eligibility under it of women in the sense desired by those who have undertaken to move Amendments to make clear the meaning in the sense of his speech in the Debate on the introduction of the Bill. I should also have been glad to have heard a clearer declaration with regard to the compulsory taking of land by parishes on lease for the hiring out of allotments, and also that some of the reforms of Part I. should have been extended to urban parishes. Some of them, though technically "urban," are really more rural than the rural parishes. For example, my right hon. Friend has not promised that which we were led to hope he would promise, that we shall not be in a worse position in the urban than are 41 the fortunate inhabitants of the rural parishes in the matter of being able to choose our own Overseers and Assistant Overseers for ourselves. This is our irreducible minimum, and we shall have further to press him upon the point until he yields. My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), as if he did not cover enough ground in the Amendment which he placed upon the Paper, has raised other matter in his speech. The outcry against allowing compound householders to vote at elections has had some echo there, as well as in the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. W. Long). Yet compound householders vote for all the Borough Members in this House. They have a voice in peace or war, though many of them, if they do not smoke or drink, cannot be said to contribute largely towards War Revenue. They are good enough to vote in local affairs in London and great cities. Why should they not vote in the country? In a single ward in the parish in which I live in London the rates of between 23,000 and 24,000 people are paid for them in a single cheque; yet they are not specially extravagant in parochial affairs. The opinion of the City of Birmingham will have weight with my right hon. Friend as a Liberal Unionist, and in Birmingham there is an overwhelming proportion of compounders. The fact is, that all those people well know that they pay rates indirectly, and that the effect of extravagance will fall upon them. With regard to the three propositions contained in the Resolution which my right hon. Friend placed on the Paper, I have to traverse his contention upon all three. The first is, that the Poor Law ought to go to the county with a power of delegation. But what if the county does not delegate? There are some who are in favour of the county exercising those powers. How could the county deal with out-relief? It is said that it could deal with it by making rules—strict and rigid rules. But no rules can be enforced, any more than the Rules of the Local Government Board are enforced at the present time. I have sat as Chairman of a Relief Committee when I was President of the Local Government Board and heard our own Rules broken, and any one must do so who occupies that position. The 42 whole difficulty arises upon the individual circumstances of the particular case; and a coach-and-four can be driven in this way through any Rules. Does my right hon. Friend carry with him one who sits beside him, and who has a long and honourable acquaintance in connection with this subject? My right hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham has always asked that the administration of the Poor Law, so far from being taken further from the poor man's door (as it would be if you give it to the county), should be brought nearer to him. And at this time of day it is to enter upon an academic discussion to propose to us to give the County Council, which has already quite enough to do, the control of the Poor Law, as either this must mean that the incidence of rating should be altered throughout the country, or else it means nothing. The announcements of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board with regard to the Poor Law have been satisfactory. Committees of this House have long reported in favour of that change in the system of election which is proposed by this Bill. Poor Law Conferences in the past, acting very differently from the way in which they have acted in the last few weeks, have endorsed the proposal for change; and it is idle to pretend that either Party can now support the continuance for Poor Law elections of the plural vote, or can take up the suggestions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby for transferring the Poor Law to the county. The second proposal of my right hon. Friend is directed against the grouping of parishes, and in this he takes the view which has been put forward by the County Councils Association. That view is not tenable. There are many parishes so small that it is impossible to set up a Parish Council. I myself have never been keen about Parish Councils except in the larger parishes. I prefer the reformed Vestry or parish meeting of the original Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for the Rugby Division. But I am a practical person. I admit the popularity of the Parish Council, and, although I think that the reformed parish meeting would often in rural districts have been Radical, and that the Parish Council will almost invariably be 43 Conservative, I accept what I believe to be the general opinion upon the subject. But how would my right hon. Friend deal with the small parishes, of which there are many in existence? In the Division which I represent there is one which has considerable area and a parish church, but the village of which is gone, which, by the Census, has a population of four souls. There were till lately three Parliamentary voters and no Local Government voter in the parish; three non-resident freeholders. At a recent revision they proved not to be entitled, and their names were struck off; and the one householder proved to be entitled, and his name was put on. So that there is now one Parliamentary and Local Government elector. As matters stood, according to the view of my right hon. Friend, the three voters would have decided not to be grouped, and would then have ruled the parish. As matters stand now, the one voter would decide not to be grouped, and would rule the parish, electing himself to every office. When such cases are put to the County Councils Association they reply that they are exceptional, and that in the Amendment which they are going to move they have a clause admitting "special reasons" for grouping. But if population is to form a special reason, surely it would be better to put that population in the Bill, and if the figure of 300 is too high, to reduce it as has been proposed. The third proposition of my right hon. Friend is that many of the powers given by the Bill to the parish ought to be given to the district. Which powers? The powers now exercised in Vestry or the new powers? It surely would be monstrous that one who objects to the grouping of old parishes and the extinction of their local life should desire to give the present powers of the Parish Vestry to the District. But if he means, as I suppose, the new powers, I reply that those new powers are, unfortunately, as I think, few, and that they are all parochial in their nature. Now consider the practical working of this suggestion. All the districts of the Bill, which are the existing Rural Sanitary Authorities, are not simple districts like the Horncastle District in which my right hon. Friend lives, or the Caistor District in which his constituency is situated. Let him 44 take, as an example, the district which adjoins his constituency—that of Clan-ford Brigg—which consists of two large lobes united by a narrow neck, such that it is hardly possible to travel from one part to another part without going altogether outside the district. Let him take in the same county Spalding or Holbeach, both of them divided by long strips, which cut them almost exactly in half. Would these be convenient districts to exercise for the parish powers essentially parochial? His scheme would send two Lancashire parishes a distance of 50 miles to the town of Lancaster for purely local purposes, and I cannot imagine that it can be his object in rural districts to send the parishes to the district of the Bill. Of course, if he were to limit himself to urban districts, I should agree with him that the time has come when the parochial powers might with advantage be given to the Urban Authority. But in rural districts their shape makes them impossible as Local Government areas for more than the small powers they already possess as Rural Sanitary Authorities, or for appeal powers. But then there is the other suggestion that possibly he may desire not the districts of the Bill, but other and new districts, and he gave us no indication in his speech of how those districts should be formed. The district of the Bill alone is possible. There was a plan—for which the credit has been given to myself, who did not deserve it, for the idea was that of Sir Hugh Owen, or of Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, or of both—a plan of Joint Committees for practically altering districts for many purposes without affecting the incidence of rates; but it does not meet this case. On the other hand, the shape of the existing districts makes it out of the question to resort to them as my right hon. Friend proposes for powers in parochial matters. Now, to what extent does this difficulty of shape exist? There is one of the districts in five pieces. There are two in four pieces. There are seven in three pieces. There are 38 in two pieces, and there are 13 of monstrous shape. That is 61 very awkward ones in all. Now these are not districts on to which it is possible to heap work. Yet it is practically impossible to alter them; because it would affect the incidence of 45 rates over the whole country; and no one who is acquainted with the subject can pretend that, you can avoid taking for the district the district of the Rural Sanitary Authority without incurring far greater evils. Yon cannot make new districts. Many of us objected to Mr. Ritchie's Bill that it gave too much to the counties; but, after all, the county is of decent shape and had an ancient history, and was well-known. The mistake lay in beginning at the top instead of revivifying the parish and working up. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby would aggravate the error of Mr. Ritchie by giving the Poor Law to the county at this top, and the rest to the middle; but what a middle! The principle upon which my hon. Friend the Member for the Rugby Division, and the right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, have long since wisely taught us to go is, that the small area nearest to the man is that to which the poor man without leisure can alone give his work, and in which he would take his pride. The error of the Bill is not that which my right hon. Friend has pointed out, but of a contrary description, and it is capable in some degree of remedy by amendment. It does not give the parish too much, nor yet indeed too little; for if we create the authorities wisely, the powers can be given later, and, except the extension of the power for hiring land for allotments, they can wait. The error of the Bill is, not extending the reform of the parochial machinery in Part I. to all parishes. Part I. is limited by the word "rural," and it follows that in districts technically urban, some of which are more rural than the rural districts which adjoin them, and more rural than the rural average, the Overseers will still be chosen by the Magistrates; there will still be the plural vote in parish polls, and the charities will not be affected by Clause 13. There ought to have been a short real Part I., general in its nature, as easy to carry as the clauses as they stand, and as little likely to meet with Party opposition. It would have been best had this applied to the whole of the United Kingdom; but as that would have caused Irish opposition, possibly limited, but still general in all the districts to which the Bill applies at all, clauses sweeping away all plural vote 46 and all qualification, like the clauses in two short Bills which are before the House—the Local Authorities(Voting and Qualification) (No. 2) and (No. 3) Bills. In some form almost everything would have been done that we want. Now, of course, the Bill docs abolish qualification for the Local Boards, which rule vast numbers even of the rural population; which also rule nearly all the miners (except those in the Division which I represent, who happen to live almost exclusively in districts technically as well as actually rural), which include nearly all the cotton and woollen workers, but which include also vast numbers of the rural population; but although qualification is abolished for the Local Boards, the Ballot introduced, and One Man One Vote given, as regards each district at least, yet the charities are not affected as they are in parishes technically rural, and the Overseers are left to the choice of the Bench. No ground can be given for the distinction drawn in favour of the parish technically rural, as against the parish technically urban. In this country, such is our want of system, all the various groups are mixed up. There is one municipal borough which is almost the most absolutely rural part of England, having nine acres to a soul. There are great numbers of parishes technically urban, and included in Local Board Districts, which are more rural than their rural neighbours, than the their county, and than the average of England. Lynton in Devonshire may be taken as an example, and four parishes in the Penzance Union, near the Laud's End, as another. Lynton has 7,203 acres to 1,547 souls, and is technically "urban." Four acres to a soul is, indeed, common in these urban districts. There is one with 23,000 acres to 3,000 people. These Local Board Districts are not only important in the industrial districts, but in all parts of the country. For example, in the district in which there are fewest of them—in the (South-Western Division of the Census—excluding municipal boroughs, there are 290,000 people living in Local Board Districts, nearly all rural. In Wales there are 435,000 people in Local Board Districts, and these districts are of all sorts; some of them are purely rural; some of them are wholly industrial or mining. There is one such district, that 47 of Ystrdyfodwg, which has 88,000 people. There is Merthyr with 58,000 people; others with 34,000 people. Several, like Todmordeu, with 24,000, Shipley with 23,000, Swindon, and so forth. The word "rural" shuts the whole of these out of the first part, although there are many of them indistinguishable from rural parishes which adjoin them, and it creates a different system for the choice of Overseers and Assistant Overseers, and for the regulation of charities in the two. It intensifies this distinction by dividing one and the same parish. Take, for example, Henley-on-Thames, the Local Board of which rules a part of the parish of Henley and a part of the parish of Rotherfield Greys. Henley urban will be subject to the Magistrates in the choice of Overseers, as well as Rotherfield Greys urban; whereas the new parishes of Henley and of Rotherfield Greys will be free from this control because technically rural. Broadstairs consists of part of the parish of St. Peter's, Thanet; the new parish of Broadstairs will be under the control of the Magistrates, while St. Peter's, Thanet, will be free from it. The new parish of Herne Bay will be under control, and Herne free in the choice of its Overseers. To meet these cases I have prepared Amendments, which represent a minimum as to which we shall have to press for satisfaction The right plan would have been to extend all the reforms to all parishes—as easy to carry, I am certain, as the proposal for the parishes technically rural; but our minimum must be my very simple Amendments, to obtain only those of these powers which are really needed and important. The only other Amendments with which I shall have to trouble my light hon. Friend will be such as may clear up the difficulty with regard to the eligibility of women, which has been introduced by the form of the drafting of the Bill, so as to carry out the intention expressed in the speech of my right hon. Friend on the introduction of the measure. There is only one other subject which it is necessary to name. There has been a good deal of outside Conservative attack on the provision with regard to charities. Some incumbents of parishes and some old-fashioned Conservatives appear to have misread the Bill, and to suppose that Clause 13 is a 48 very important instead of a very mild clause. It is not a House of Commons attack, because the Conservatives in the House of Commons know that the probability is that the Parish Councils of this Bill in rural districts, and especially in the old parishes possessing considerable charities, will be Conservative Bodies. My right hon. Friend has fully satisfied to-night all reasonable difficulties likely to be found within the House of Commons, for I am convinced that upon this subject all here wish and mean that same thing. It is, however, unfortunate, from the reform point of view, that Clause 13, being in this Part I., is confined to districts technically rural. We want it in Loudon. We want it in the boroughs. We want it in the Local Board Districts, and although Loudon is to be dealt with in a future Bill, that is not the case with boroughs, and certainly not the case with Local Board Districts, which are actually but otherwise dealt with in the present Bill. Moreover, by the provision of the Bill for the division of parishes which I have already named, the charities of St. Peter's, Thanet, will be subject to Clause 13, but the charities of the new parish of Broadstairs (with the majority of the inhabitants) not; and the charities of Henley rural subject to the Bill, and those of Henley-on-Thames (with the majority of the people) not; and yet the Bill does not provide how they are to be divided between the two new parishes. There are hundreds of such cases.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE
I am aware of that, but it is not satisfactory. Again, the Bill does not provide for the charities of grouped parishes, or meet the case of a rich charity in a small parish, but purely parochial in its history and its nature, to be grouped with a large parish—and does not tell us if the charity is to be swamped or to be reserved, and, if the latter, by what means.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I intended to have stated that it would have to be made clear in regard to charities which were eleemosynary and which were ecclesiastical. The case will be dealt with.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE
Then there is the point first raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Harborough Division 49 as to charities in part ecclesiastic. I doubt whether any here will be found to object to the division which is proposed, and which is reasonable. It is a very common case. A large sum is left for doles, with a small sum for a sermon, or, in an equal number of cases, for the repair of the donor's tomb. I have gone through the charities of my own division, and I would recommend every Member to take that same course, and to look to the three Returns, because they are not all to be found in any one or in any two— Lord Brougham's Return, the Return of 1868, and the new Return. There are in my own division, which I give as an example, 126 non-ecclesiastical charities, besides those which are "lost" or produce "no accounts," of which 14 are in small part ecclesiastical. Of the 112 which are wholly non-ecclesiastical I may add that over 100 are dole charities, and that the difficult case of schools and rooms appears in practice seldom to arise except in the case of a few Nonconformist charities. As regards Trustees, the commonest case is that the Churchwardens are Trustees. The next ease is that of the Rector or Minister and Churchwardens; the next that of special Trustees, who are not touched by the Bill; the next (hat of official Trustees equally not touched; and then in order come Rector, Churchwardens, and Overseers; Rector only; Churchwardens and Overseers; Rector and Overseers; Overseers only. Not only is Clause 13, when carefully read, less drastic than has been supposed, but it must be remembered that the Council in all they do will be bound by the instrument that creates the Trust, and that the minority have the right of appeal. In rural parishes the chief evil has been in the loss of charities—enormous in the past; and one reason why I should have been glad to have had the reforms of Clause 13 applied to the whole country is because it is not in rural districts that the greatest evil has occurred, which has been the virtual exclusion in practice of Roman Catholics from the charities to which the Courts have held that they are entitled, but for which in practice in many parishes they have no chance. I am not alluding to the case of my own constituency, for it so happens that there is within it absolutely no Roman Catholic population; but there are many parishes in which there 50 are large dole charities, where there is a large Roman Catholic population born in the parish, descended from the Irish emigrants of the famine time, and where in practice they are absolutely shut out. The contention has been set up on behalf of the Church that doles which are left to the Rector and Churchwardens, which is the common form, are specially Church charities. But there are Acts of Parliament giving fuel allotments to the poor of a parish which name these very Trustees, although, undoubtedly, Parliament intended all the poor. The Court of Chancery has always held that all are entitled in such cases without reference to religious belief; but by the Bill the Rector is not ousted as a Trustee, and he can use his great influence in a parish and can also appeal to the Charity Commission. The Bill constitutes a real effort to deal with the whole subject, marred in some degree by its construction and the limitation of Part I. by the use of the word "rural," an evil, however, which can be mitigated by applying generally some of its reforms, and at least those which relate to the Overseers of the poor.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he desired to make a few remarks on account of the reference made by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) to the action that had been taken with reference to charities in regard to the Bill. The feeling of the Church authorities in connection with this Bill was not to be regarded as hostile to the measure; on the contrary, resolutions passed at the Diocesan Conferences were generally in favour of it. He had a number of resolutions in his hand that were passed at these Conferences, but he would not take up the time of the House by reading them. Those who agreed with him would receive the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman with much satisfaction. The great anxiety that was felt was with respect to their schools, and relief would be felt at the distinct determination expressed to put upon the Paper Amendments reserving their schools to the Church authorities. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would allow him to express a wish that the Amendments which he intended to propose with regard to the schools would be placed 51 on the Paper at au early date, in order that they might have full opportunity of considering and, as he hoped, accepting them. The next point he wished to draw attention to was that of the charities. He believed the definition in the Bill was not satisfactory; it was taken from the London Parochial Charities Act passed a few years since, and was not satisfactory. They should wait with great interest for the new definition, though he felt sure the Government would do justice to them as regarded charities, just as the right hon. Gentleman promised to do with reference to their schools. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would pardon him while he drew attention to one remark made by him. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of some charities known in common parlance as parish rooms, which were devoted to the use of religious meetings and Sunday schools. The right hon. Gentleman said they were Church charities, and must be saved from transfer to the Local Authority. But what he (Sir F. S. Powell) had in his mind was where these buildings were used for purposes of a mixed character; in which there might be a service one day, a lecture the next, a concert the next, and a parochial discussion by a club on the following day. These buildings had been erected distinctly for purposes of Church organisation in varied forms, and it would be felt to be a great hardship if these buildings should be taken from the Church authorities and used for other purposes. But he did not think he need deal further with this subject; ho rested on the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman, and was sure that his word would be well and faithfully fulfilled. He might, however, refer to the question of doles. He believed the amount of money wasted on these doles was beyond comprehension; and the real description of them was demoralisation and waste. He believed there were many of these charities, which, though they included doles, were, nevertheless, more or less mixed up with their ecclesiastical organisation. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had made some reference to Clause 13, Sub-section 2. It had been found by many very difficult of interpretation, and he hoped some Amendment would be introduced in Committee to make the language more clear; because he was told 52 there were so many interpretations that no one could be confident which was the correct one. Then he wished to know from the Government whether Section 47 of the Bill, as to the election of Guardians, applied to urban districts? He did not venture to make any remarks on the Bill so far as rural parishes were concerned, not being acquainted with rural life, but he hoped the Government would consider Clause 47 carefully when they were in Committee. He thought the proposal to divide parishes or groups of parishes into three divisions for purposes of Guardian elections was singularly inconvenient. It seemed to him they would have the inconvenience of annual elections of Guardians, which was an evil from which they desired to save the parish; and that they would not have the advantage of collecting opinions from the area as a whole, which ho believed was the best mode of obtaining an expression of the public judgment. He sincerely sympathised with what was said by the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. W. Long) regarding the cessation of the office of the ex officio Guardians. Ho could not but feel that they had not attended to their duties as they ought to have done in many cases, hut he believed their presence had had a salutary influence, and he was told by an hon. Friend behind him that in many instances the Board of Guardians was presided over by an ex officio Guardian. He wished to draw attention to the clause which dealt with adoptive Acts. It would be the best mode to have the adoption of those Acts carried out by the Parish Councils, and not by the parish meeting. To go back to the parish meeting instead of to the Local Authority was a reactionary proceeding, and would dissatisfy the people. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the County Councils electing the medical officers. In the whole of Scotland, by the Scottish Local Government Act, every county must appoint the medical officer for the county. In England that was optional, but he believed most counties were now adopting that system. In Lancashire they had medical officers who received Reports from all the districts throughout the country. Those Reports wore carefully considered, and they had led to great reforms in regard to 53 the public health. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded him (Sir C. W. Dilke) made some reference to the exclusion from the urban district of some part of the parishes, and referred to the case where the rural district was great whilst the urban district was small. He (Sir F. S. Powell) had in his mind cases of a converse character, and he desired to bring before the House the case where they had a parish, or, as it was termed in Yorkshire, a township, most of which was in the urban district, but part of it remained in the rural sanitary district. In many cases the rural district was excluded, not because it was rural, but because it was so urban that the rate belonging to it was thought burdensome to the rest of the parish. He hoped that by some better administration under the Bill provision would be made for the inclusion of the whole of those districts in the urban district. He had himself seen, in many cases where there had been an extension of area, such a distinct improvement through being brought under the higher organisation of the urban district that the outlying district was glad to have been included; they received greater advantages and their conditions were greatly improved. He quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet as to the non-forwarding of accounts, and he believed the Treasury was to blame for that omission. But there was one very serious charge made by the right hon. Gentleman. He said the Roman Catholics were excluded from participation in certain charities. It was really a grave indictment against an authority which administered a charity, and such a statement ought to be proved, and not thrown down upon the Table of the House to create a prejudice, as had been done. He rejoiced to hear that the Government would not prevent discussion, but, on the contrary, would welcome and encourage suggestions from those who wished to make this a perfect measure.
§ * MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
said, as he knew the great importance of not protracting this Debate, he should make very few remarks from one point, and one point only. He thought everyone would admit that there was no part of the system of Parish Councils which had caused more interest in the country than the expectations among the labourers 54 that the Parish Councils would have a very large share in providing allotments for labourers. The allotments question had been before the House a good many times, and they (the Liberals) hoped that when the present Bill finally passed the allotment question would be settled in accordance with the views they had so often expressed when they were sitting on the other side of the House. He agreed that it was very desirable to avoid controversy so far as they could; therefore he was not going to raise the old controversy, as to whether the Allotments Acts which were passed by the late Government had been successful or not. But he thought it would be admitted that the great drawback in the working of these Acts had been that the labourers had not been able to get possession of the actual laud as soon as they desired. This delay in getting allotments had been especially marked in cases where compulsory powers had had to be exercised, and in many cases where it had been proposed to apply the compulsory powers under the Acts of 1887 and 1890 such a long time had elapsed before these operations had been completed that the labourers had got perfectly tired of waiting. He had the misfortune to be a lawyer, and he knew what the Lauds Clauses Consolidation Act meant. It meant a great deal of delay. He knew also what giving notices under the Public Health Act, and what the obtaining of a Provisional Order meant. Even when they got a Provisional Order there was a further delay occasioned by its being necessary to have that Order confirmed by Act of Parliament. The hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. W. Long) emphasised the desirability of continuing the Act confirming the Provisional Order, whereas one of the strong points in the present Bill was that it did away with such necessity. It seemed to them on that (the Liberal) side of the House that the labourers had a right to have applied to legislation with regard to allotments some simple and ready plan by which they should not have to wait for the land which they wanted to get for years, as in many cases they had. They desired to be able to get it in the course of a few months. The question was, what would effect this? During the whole of the last Parliament he and his friends had contended 55 that the only practical way by which the labourer could get land quickly was by giving the Local Authorities, the Small Area Authorities, the Parish Councils, power to acquire land, either by agreement or compulsorily, on hire rather than by purchase. It was very desirable that this allotment question should be settled, and a man in a village should be able to get the land he was looking for, instead of being compelled to hang about for years while all this red tape and law were going on. He believed that if by this Bill they could give to the Parish Councils—without any reference whatever to the District Councils or Parish Councils—the power, either by agreement or compulsorily, to hire land for allotments and to sub-let the laud so that the Parish Councils themselves might be the landlords and the labourers might be their tenants instead of the tenants of an individual landlord, and could also, at the same time, remove the one acre limit which existed under the present Act, and give the labourers as much land as they could usefully and properly cultivate, the allotment question would be permanently settled. If this were done, he did not think it would matter in the least what powers of purchase they gave to the Local Authorities, nor did he think it mattered in the least whether the Small Holdings Act was carried out or not. If they could have a simple and ready process of hiring land and letting it out to labourers, in his opinion no Local Authority would want to purchase any more for the purpose of allotments, and, indeed, it was a very great question whether it was desirable they should purchase land, and thus spend large sums of money or borrow large sums on the rates when by the process of hiring they could obtain the land. The Small Holdings Act proposed that the labourers should be the owners of the land. Speaking from great experience on this subject, he did not believe there was one labourer in a hundred, or anything like it, who cared to own the laud at all. All he wished was to have such quantity of land as he could properly cultivate at a fair rent, and that he should not be turned out unless he did not pay his rent or cultivate his land properly. As a proof of the truth of his statement that the labourers did not wish to become the 56 owners of the land, he observed that Mr. Dugdale, the Chairman of the Warwickshire County Council, recently conducted an inquiry in a number of villages in that county under the Small Holdings Act to ascertain whether the labourers wanted small holdings or not, and, if they did, to advise the County Council what course they should take in order to supply them. The effect of Mr. Dugdale's Report was that the men did not want to be the owners of the laud, but that they only wanted to rent it, and he found that in every village he went to that the limit of one acre was not sufficient, and he stated that they ought to have more, recommending in one instance that five acres should be granted. The great advantage of hiring land by a Parish Council over purchasing it was that there was comparatively little or no risk to the rates. That was a very important point. They on his side of the House had often been accused of trying to give the labourers land and forgetting the ratepayers. He did not think that had been a just accusation at all. It was obvious that if a Local Authority was willing to purchase laud to supply a number of labourers with allotments, they must buy a considerable extent of laud, and that must be more or less a speculation in land. But that did not apply to hiring the laud. All they had got to do in the latter case was to find a piece of laud and hire it at a certain rent, pay the rent to the person from whom they hired the laud, and receive rents from the sub-tenants to whom they let it. Of course, as the rates were liable, it might be desirable, in order that that should be done by the Parish Council, that a parish meeting should approve of it, and should be satisfied that there was a considerable and quite sufficient margin between the rents which the Parish Council paid the landowner and the rents which the Parish Council was to receive for the allotments. The labourers did not expect to get allotments, where every inch of land was cultivatable, at the same rent which the farmer paid for a big farm, and experience showed that the labourer could afford to pay a much larger rent than the farmer, and make a good profit from his allotment. If the labourers could get land under the system he had indicated, they would be 57 willing to pay such a rent as to leave a good margin for contingencies and other expenses over and above the rent which the Parish Council paid the landowner. First of all, the Parish Council should have the power to hire land by agreement; and if they could hire it by agreement, it was much better than hiring it compulsorily. But experience had shown that when compulsory powers were put at the back of voluntary powers, the landlords were much more alert in coming to an agreement with those who wanted to hire the land; therefore, if the Parish Council could not hire the laud by agreement, they must have compulsory powers to take it. If these compulsory powers were given, it was obvious that the owners of the land, the tenants of the land, and every single person interested in it must have his rights protected and be properly represented before any tribunal which had to decide what the rent was to be and what the terms of the tenancy. Unless, however, the procedure for effecting this were simple and ready, it would be perfectly useless. He would briefly outline what the procedure might be. Supposing a Parish Council applied to the Local Government Board for an Order to take laud compulsorily on hire. The Local Government Board held an inquiry, and they also appointed, under the powers which were already given in the Allotments Act of 1887, a valuer and arbitrator to value the land and decide not only what rent should be paid, but also the terms of the tenancy. Then, it seemed to him that without any advertisement, without any of the Lands Consolidation Act or the Public Health Act, the Local Government Board were justified in making an Order that the tenancy should be carried out compulsorily. If that could be done, the land might be obtained by the labourer probably within three mouths from his application for it. He asked what was there unfair in that? As to the removal of the one acre limit, that, could very easily be effected, and ho could not imagine that anyone in that House would object to its removal. Experience showed that there were numbers of cases where labourers required more than one acre. The Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool took up the line which his late chief of the Local Government 58 Board (Mr. Ritchie) always advocated in that House—namely, that there should be no compulsory powers of hiring land, and he insisted that the Provisional Order should always be confirmed by Act of Parliament. These were the two things—jointly, of course, with the Lands Clauses Act and the Public Health Act—which had really stood in the way of the labourers getting the laud at all, and the labourers owed their thanks to the President of the Local Government Board for seeking to abolish them. Ho thanked his right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler), more than anything else, for the pledge which he gave when he introduced this Bill, that this power of compulsory hiring was not to be vested in the District Council or the County Council, but in the Parish Council. He did not see how it could be done otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman was in favour of that view, and every Member of the Government in distinct terms had advocated this power being given to the Parish Council, and he knew perfectly well they would never go back from the position they had taken up on the matter. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in Manchester in December, 1889, said—Depend upon it you will never have an Allotment Bill good for anything until you have it in the hands of the people who want the allotments themselves, until you have it in the bauds of the Parish Councils of which Mr. Gladstone spoke last night.The Prime Minister had the night before spoken in strong terms on the same subject, and he spoke in still stronger terms at a conference of agricultural labourers in London, which he addressed in the Holborn Restaurant. Again, at Guildford, in April, 1890, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—The Parish Council ought to be to them (the labourers) a Co-operative Society, by which they should be able to hold land for themselves, upon which they and their children may find an occupation, in which they will not be dependent upon the caprice of any individual, but upon which they may be their own landlords, and determine the conditions of their own tenanciesWhat the right hon. Gentleman meant by that was that the Parish Council, which the labourers had some voice in electing, should be the landlord, and that the Parish Council should determine the terms of their tenancy. They knew, of course, that, as the President 59 of the Local Government Board promised this in his speech in introducing the Bill, it was intended to carry it out. He had looked carefully through the Bill, and he must say that as it was drawn—he was sure this was through inadvertence—it did not seem to him that Clause 9 conferred this power of taking land compulsorily on hire by the Parish Councils. It was very difficult to frame a Bill upon this question when they had to deal with purchase and hiring, and he thought the best way of dealing with this subject would be to' separate the two matters altogether, to strike out the subsection which alluded to compulsory hiring, and to let that clause deal solely with purchase for the purpose of allotments, and to have a new clause dealing solely with this question of hiring. He hoped before the Debate closed they might have an assurance from some Member of the Government that they would be prepared to adopt the suggestions he had made.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, that whilst they should endeavour to make the Bill as good a measure as possible they ought, at the same time, to be as just as generous. He was sure they were all agreed as to the desirability of giving allotments as freely as possible to the labouring classes, and he was glad to say in his own neighbourhood in Hampshire allotments were given very freely at low rents, and that there had been no complaints on the subject. The hon. Member who had last spoken said he concluded that from Clause 9 of this Bill the labourers would be able to take allotments when they liked and where they liked. He did not understand that from the clause——
§ MR. JEFFREYS
thought those allotments were very necessary, and he was glad they should be given where they could be; but, at the same time, the hon. Gentleman seemed to be desirous of putting a clause into this Bill not only to take laud compulsorily from landowners, but also from the farmers. Surely that would be a most unjust measure. This Parish Council which was to be formed should have the power to acquire land where they could, for the benefit of the parishioners, but 60 should not be able compulsorily to take the best piece of a man's farm in order that some labourers could get allotments. The hon. Gentleman, in effect, said that not only should the labourers have the allotments whore they liked, but that they should be their own landlords and fix their own rents. He thought they might go too far. He did not yield to anybody in the desire to give allotments; but he would be just in every way, not only to the landowners but the farmers, and he would not take away from the farmers the best part of their farms compulsorily. As to the Bill itself, he should like to say a few words with regard to the grouping of parishes. He thought some confusion arose in the minds of some people in regard to parishes and villages, and when the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill said he would now be willing to do away with the limit of 300 and reduce it to 200, and then a small parish would become a ward of a larger, he thought the right hon. Gentleman possibly forgot that some villages in the small parishes were a great many miles away from the villages in the adjoining parishes. He considered that was a mistaken point, because if hon. Gentlemen would reflect for a moment on the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme they would see that if a small parish were grouped to a larger parish and became a ward of it, then all the advantage they would gain under the Parish Councils would certainly be centred in the larger village. If the small parishes became wards of the larger parishes the advantages that would be conferred by the Parish Council, such as recreation grounds and places of meeting, would certainly be concentrated in the larger village. If the small parishes were placed in that position, in his opinion they would derive very small benefit from the Bill. In his opinion, the grouping of parishes was a great mistake, as those who lived in a small parish which was grouped to a large one would derive none, or, at any rate, but a very small part of the benefits of the Bill, while they would have to pay for them all the same. That was unjust. He must also point out that if the President of the Local Government Board intended by his Bill to put new life into the villages it was a very funny way to 61 attempt to do so by at once extinguishing almost half the parishes of England. Then, again, there was the question of rates. With regard to that, he thought the payment of rates ought to be a necessary qualification for membership of the Parish Councils, as a ratepayer would naturally be more careful than another man not to waste the money of the Council, but to spend it to the best advantage of the parish. He expressed the view of the fanners when he urged this view with respect to the question of rates. It might he said that the compound householders paid their rates through their rents, but from personal knowledge he could say that in parts of the country the rents were merely nominal—1s.or 1s.6d.a week—and there was no room for rates. It. would be a great hardship if ratepayers were made to pay for benefits which were enjoyed by many who contributed nothing towards the cost. The matter had attracted the attention of the Farmers' Clubs throughout the country, and they all urged that if these; benefits were to be given to the parishioners the money to be spent should lie spent by the ratepayers. Under the Hill the Parish Council might adopt any of the Acts enumerated in Clause 7. For his part, he did not see anything against these Acts, but their enforcement would cost money. Then, under Clause 8, they could acquire land for building at the expense of the rates. They not only would get the land, but they would be able to erect buildings. The experience of the County Councils showed that large expenditure might be undertaken in this direction. Many of the County Councils had spent vast sums in that way—notably that was the case in Surrey and in Hampshire. Under Clause 9 they might acquire land compulsorily for allotments. Well, if land was taken compulsorily for the public advantage something above the market value should be made on that account. When the land was not in the market that should be done. The compulsory acquisition of land by the Parish Council would be unfair unless it were accompanied by some provision requiring the payment of extra purchase money on account of the compulsory nature of the purpose. If a landowner's laud were taken away for the public advantage 62 surely the owner ought to be paid a little more than the ordinary price on account of the cutting up of his property, and, perhaps, the spoiling of the adjacent land. Then they came to Clause 10. As to the plea that the Parish Councils would not be extravagant because of the restriction on their expenditure, he could only say that the provision in Clause 10 was delusive. It provided that the cost of these special works should not involve a rate exceeding 1d. in the £1 for any financial year. But this provision did not extend to the adoptive Acts. The cost of putting in force the various adoptive Acts would not be included in the 1d. in the £1 rate, but would be placed on the rates in addition; and it appeared to him that the 1d. could be made cumulative, so that in the course of years the rate might become as much as 1s. in the £1.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, that was his opinion, and he would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the terms of the clause in proof of his contention. He contended that the clause was a complete delusion. He wished to say a very few words on another subject. The Bill gave very full powers to the Parish Council to borrow money, with the approval, of course, of a parish meeting and a District Council, and he anticipated that in many instances those powers would be used to a very large extent. In that case, what would the farmers do? They were already rated higher in proportion to their holdings than any other body of men in England, and now they would have to contemplate the raising of these rates under Section 10 of this Bill and the saddling of their parishes with a great debt for borrowed money. In the second part of the Bill there was a matter of very great importance in regard to the administration of the Poor Law. Under this Bill it would be possible for persons to be elected Guardians who had no real interest in the parish, hut might wish, for their own ends, to get elected. This question of the administration of the Poor Law was a very great and a very important question, and he thought that it would have been bettor to have separated it from the present Bill. With regard to ex officio Guardians, his experience was that they did their business exceedingly 63 well—quite as well as elected Guardians. Yet all these gentlemen were to be removed by a stroke of the pen. In one Union in which he was an elected Guardian no less than 16 would be struck off in this way. Could not some clause be inserted in the Bill giving the Parish Council a power somewhat analogous to the power of the County Council to elect Aldermen? Under the Bill a woman might become a member of a Board of Guardians, and if she became Chairman, or rather Chairwoman, she would ex officio be a Justice of the Peace. So that in one clause of the Bill ex officio Guardians were abolished, while in the next ex officio Magistrates were to be created. In these circumstances, he imagined that women Magistrates might be created. He hoped, while they were dealing with this Bill, they would not be generous without being just. The farmers were worthy of every consideration. They had never had such bad times as of late years, and if, in addition to their other troubles, their rates wore increased great misfortune must come upon them. He only hoped they would frame such a Bill as would be not only conducive to the happiness and well-being of the parishioners, but also just to those who had to pay the rates.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
said, he had to congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Bill. He thought the objections which had been urged against it showed very considerable distrust of what the electors in the rural parishes were likely to do. Some hon. Gentlemen had spoken as if the class of Guardians were likely to be lowered by the Bill, but he saw no reason to believe that that would be the result. On the contrary, a higher class of men would seek election to the District Councils, and, though it might not come immediately, he was sure that this popularisation would ultimately follow the passing of the Bill. He was of opinion that the limit of population might have been reduced from 300 to 200. At ail events a reasonable limit might, he thought, be found between these two figures. He desired to endorse what had been said with regard to the system of giving the Parish Councils power of compulsory leasing, independent of the District Councils. It was understood when the Bill was introduced that this power 64 would be given, and if there was any doubt about its being conferred by the Bill as it stood, the question could only be one of draftsmanship, which could be easily settled in Committee. The clause relating to charities might require some alteration. There were a great many non-ecclesiastical charities, the trusteeship of which was vested, not in Churchwardens and Overseers alone, but Churchwardens, and Overseers and Rectors. He had received only that morning a list of 14 or 15 of these charities, every one of which would have to be examined on its own merits; and it seemed to him that if the Charities Clause in the Bill was altered at all, it must be in the direction of widening, rather than limiting, its scope. Some objection had been raised to Part II. of the Bill, but Part I. and Part II., so far as machinery was concerned, were absolutely inseparable. The hon. Member for Liverpool had endeavoured to throw a magic circle round one part of the Bill, but he (Mr. Stevenson) could not make out what was the precise objection of the hon. Member. Ho did not understand whether the opposition arose upon the principle of plural voting, or whether the scheme was too complicated by the reform of Boards of Guardians, but the objectors showed considerable distrust of what the electors in rural districts were likely to do. The present process was a cumbrous one. Voting papers were frequently lost; but, in addition to that, they had the extraordinary system under which, in the same street, they might have A in one house having one vote, and B, a few doors off, with six votes as an occupier and six votes as an owner, and C with 24 votes in connection with private and business premises. Some hon. Members had argued as if the stamp of Boards of Guardians was likely to be lowered by the proposed change. These District Councils in rural places, where the members would be identical with Boards of Guardians, would have so much work to do, that, in his opinion, a higher class of men would be attracted to these Boards, and would devote their whole time and abilities to the work. Men of learning and leisure would be likely to be attracted, and he thought that popularising Boards of Guardians would have the effect in a few years of actually raising 65 the stamp of men oh those Boards, It was to be regretted that some effort had not been made to popularise Hoards of Guardians in urban districts. One or two ways had been suggested by which that omission could be set right. The difficulties in the way wore, no doubt, considerable. One proposal had been that the powers to be conferred on the Parish Councils should also be conferred on Local Boards. If a Local Board district extended over more than one parish that system would be open to objection, but there was no reason why the powers conferred on Parish Councils should not be conferred on Local Boards within the area over which they exercised authority. With respect to the powers to be conferred on the Parish Councils, he wished to ask if Section 18 of the Bill, which set out powers temporarily to be conferred, represented at all the powers to be made permanent, because he thought they ought to be more extensive. Would the Government accept an Amendment extending the powers which the parish meetings temporarily had under Section 18? The more questions were discussed in the smallest areas the better the result would be, so far as the Government were concerned. The President of the Local Government Board and the Government were to be congratulated upon having introduced a Bill which would certainly mark an era in the life of the rural districts, and would for the first time give them an equal voice in the management of those affairs in which they took so keen an interest.
§ MR. L. HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
thought the indulgence of the House would be extended to him for a few moments on this occasion, especially as he had not opened his mouth in it since he took his seat a few months ago. His desire had boon to keep off a subject of such great and dividing lines as the Home Rule Bill, and speak on a measure which he was glad to think did not divide the House by any line drawn across the middle of it. As the speeches which had been made to-night had clearly shown, they were all at one as to the main principle, though, no doubt, they wore very much divided as to particular details. Any remarks he might have to make had 66 been very much simplified by what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in moving the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, because the points on which he had felt most interest were those of the grouping of parishes and of ecclesiastical property. The first of those points was one which affected his Division of Kent materially. In one rural district there were only three parishes that could work above the line laid down in the Bill. All the others would come under the 300 limit, and their interests were very different. The parishes were very much of the same size, and he could hardly imagine a more unsatisfactory position in which to place local government than that two of these parishes should be joined together with no interests in common, each endeavouring, as far as possible, to prevent any reform or sanitary progress being effected in the other, for the reason that they would have to share the expense, and would derive no benefit from it. He was glad the Government had already seen their way to go a considerable length in modifying that undesirable portion of the Bill relating to the grouping of parishes. He would like to have a little further information as to what was to happen to charities when these small parishes were grouped, and he would also like to see an Amendment introduced to secure that each parish should be properly represented when matters affecting any particular parish grouped were dealt with. Care should be taken to provide that matters affecting a particular parish should not be dealt with when that parish, through its representatives, had the misfortune to be absent from a meeting. As to ecclesiastical charities, he was glad to see that they were to be saved from what had seemed to be a very debateable matter. They must all regret that the Government had not clearly explained their intention with regard to ecclesiastical charities before a considerable agitation had taken place on the subject during the Recess. A few words would have set the matter right, and Members would have been saved a good deal of discussion. They on that side of the House, who were all friends of the Church and bound to defend her interests, were attacked for having used rather strong- 67 language in reference to this matter, but it must be remembered that the cue had been given to them by numerous supporters of the Government, who had congratulated them on the introduction of the Bill for the reason that it might be described as "a small measure of Disestablishment." It must also be remembered that two Members of the Government who now backed the Bill, when they were in Opposition only about a year ago, introduced a measure called "The Parish Vestries Bill," under which Parish Councillors would have been ex officio managers of elementary schools receiving State aid, and of all parish concerns, even including the sexton. As to charities, he was afraid he did not quite understand what was to be done in making the definition clearer. There were one or two doles in his own constituency as to which it was clear that the donor desired them to be administered through the Church authorities, through there was no actual declaration as to the enjoyment of the funds being confined to members of the Church of England. He believed it was intended by the donors of those sums of money that the funds should be administered through the Church, even though they were distributed among Churchmen and Dissenters alike. He did not think it justifiable, therefore, especially in recent cases, to take the administration of those funds out of the hands of those to whom the benefactors wished to intrust them. He therefore hoped that when the Definition Clause was amended it would be made more clear on this question, and that the rights of the Church would be protected. He believed these doles, which were practically the endowment of the poor, should be as much defended and fought for by Churchmen as though they were funds for the building and administration of churches. In scattered rural districts of the country it was felt that some measure should now be taken to secure that the electors should be ratepayers. They had not been reminded to-night that there was an Act of Parliament in existence which empowered the Vestry to order that the owners of tenements under £8 rating should be rated instead of the occupiers, and if the powers of the Vestry were transferred to the Parish Council, it would simply mean that the 68 Parish Council would have the power to-direct the owners to be rated, while the occupiers would spend the money. In many small parishes practically the whole of the rates were paid by the owners; and it was essential that they should in some way insure that, as in the old days, representation and ratepaying should go together. With reference to the second part of the Bill, he was surprised at one thing having been suggested. His experience of local government was gained in a populous district in Yorkshire. The Union with which he had been associated had a population of 132,000, and within its limits there were 30 Local Boards at present which would become District Councils. The areas were small. They interlapped and interwoved with each other, and could not individually deal properly with sanitary matters or water works, because they had not sufficient area. He was sorry that the Government in this case did not make the Union a District Council, and the Local Boards Parish Councils. As to the financial part of the Bill, he wished to point out that there was a very strong feeling among the agricultural classes that there were great dangers lurking in the Bill as regarded them. These were not times when further burdens could be imposed on the classes connected with the laud. They were already feeling terribly the pinch of the increased rates placed on them by the County Councils, and they looked with dread upon the danger of any further increase through District and Parish Councils, especially as it was pointed out to them that there was nothing to show where they were to expect a limit to these charges. He trusted that in Committee the Government would see their way to limit the total possible expenditure by the smaller Administrative Bodies, because he believed their usefulness would be greater if they were under the direction of larger bodies in these matters. He would urge the House to consider the Bill fully and carefully in an uncontroversial spirit. He hoped the Government would see their way to eliminate from the measure such matters as would lead to controversy, in order that the House might act unitedly in establishing a new and improved system of Local Government.
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, the Bill required no commendation from either side of the House, and he regarded it as it stood as a large-minded and generous measure, which had been conceived in a happy and well-ordered spirit. He rose for I the purpose of making one or two very short strictures on what was, at present, omitted from the Bill. He was glad that some alteration was proposed in the original proposition with respect to small parishes. Whether or not they now had the matter in its last form remained to be seen, but he was glad it was under the consideration of the Government. One unfortunate omission—which the Government might easily have supplied, if the drafting of the Bill had been different—was that while the Bill established Parish Councils and District Councils for the rural districts, and while it established District Councils for urban sanitary districts, it left the parishes of those urban districts untouched. Many of the parishes which would be untouched required reform quite as much as those which were touched by the Bill. There was another omission, which was entirely on the same lines—namely, the omission from the earlier part of the Bill of all reference to Loudon Government. He was glad to find that Part II. did apply to London, and that the Guardians in London would be, so far as their election and qualification was concerned, placed upon a footing that had long been urged, and that would be observed throughout the country. However, the remainder of the Hill had no application to London. He knew quite well that a Bill for the Better Government of London was in anticipation, but it had not yet made its appearance, and the Representatives of London must endeavour to get what they could out of the present Bill. And it appeared to him that there was something they might get in this direction if the Government would only give their attention to the matter. Of course, it was clear that, whenever a London Government Bill was introduced, they would have to define the relations and powers of the various Governing Bodies in the Metropolis. One thing was certain, and that was that the qualification for being elected to a Vestry would have to he abolished, the electorate being 70 put on all-fours with the electorate of the District Councils. Although it might be difficult to prepare a, scheme to carry out a general reform of London Government, he trusted that they might have one. They hungered and thirsted for it. But it was not a, difficult matter to put the electorate on a, proper footing—to make a proper register of electors for the existing District Government of Loudon and improve the qualification for Vestrymen. Well, that was exactly what was being done by this Bill for other places, and was exactly what must be done by any Bill that was brought in for London. It might lie said they had better wait for this change until they had a general Bill for London. He, however, would rather have a bird in the hand than two in the bush, and he had not yet heard it clearly indicated when the London Bill was to be brought forward. He did not think it would hinder the Government from carrying through this Bill if they were to introduce into it the removal of the qualification for Vestrymen in London, and the placing of the Vestry electors on the same footing as the electors of District Councils under the Bill, because whatever arguments were used in the one case were applicable to the other. There were more places in the Bill than one where the extension of the Bill to London, as far as the qualification was concerned, might be introduced, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) to consider, before the Committee stage, whether he could not see his way to so extend the measure to London. Whatever difficulty was experienced in Guardian elections in London on account of the qualification was felt in respect of the Vestry elections to a much greater extent. The Vestries were much more numerous bodies than the Guardians, and it was extremely difficult in some of the poorer localities to find people to fill the Vestries under present conditions. He appealed to the Government to take this extension of the Bill into consideration, because, unfortunately, London had been very much given the go-by in the present Session of Parliament. The Government had not included in the programme for the Autumn Session the Bill which London Members had expected to have had for the Metropolis. It was unfortu- 71 nate that the drafting of the Bill was not such that the question of its extension to urban parishes and to Loudon Vestries might have been raised more easily than it could be under present circumstances; but, still, that it could be raised he felt sure, and he asked for the co-operation of the Government in the endeavour to raise it.
§ MR. JASPER MORE (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said that, like the hon. Member who spoke last, he had been much struck with the difference of the tone with which this question had been approached in and outside the House. That evening they had not heard one word said against either the Church or the landowner; but recently Mr. Guinness Rogers, who he believed was a well-known supporter of I he Government, came into his county and said that he and his friends regarded this Bill as the first step towards the disestablishment of the Church. He had heard, also, that the Member for West Norfolk, in his part of the country, spoke of this Bill as enabling him and his friends to acquire the laud and capture the charities. They were all much indebted to the President of the Local Government Board for his conciliatory speech. The House of Laymen had met that day to consider how far this Bill would touch ecclesiastical interests; but they very wisely adjourned their discussion until they had read the right hon. Gentleman's speech. When they saw the report of his speech, he felt sure they would gladly elect him an honorary member of their Church Body. He regretted that it was found necessary to introduce such an extensive Bill. He could not agree with the President of the Local Government Board that the measure was well-known throughout the country—at all events, to the agricultural labourers. Owing to the length of the discussion on the Home Rule Bill Members were too busy to lay the Parish Councils Bill before their constituents. He was not aware that any meetings had been held in the country for that purpose, with the exception of one he had held himself. The establishment of Parish Councils was a very simple matter, and such a long measure was not, in his opinion, necessary. One thing he regretted to find in the Bill, and that was 72 that in some parishes no less than three meetings would be held—the Vestry meeting, the parish meeting, and the Parish Councils meeting; throughout the Bill the simplification of authority had been too much lost sight of. At the Diocesan Conference recently held at Hereford a Committee was appointed which sent out extracts from a Return issued at the instance of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean in respect of Parochial Charities; and although those extracts were sent to many parishes in the diocese, they did not induce the inhabitants to hold one meeting, thus showing that without the influence of the squire and the clergyman no action was likely to be taken. Surely this was an argument against doing anything in the direction of disestablishing either the squire or the clergy. Two meetings had recently been held in London for the purpose of considering the Bill, and both joined in making the same comments which, he believed, they proposed laying before the Government by means of a deputation. One point had reference to compounding householders, of whom, no doubt, they would hear a great deal more in Committee. Up to the present he had not heard it suggested what would be the result of introducing a compound householder as an elector of the Parish Council. In his own constituency some of the landlords were determined to adopt the expedient of deducting the rates in future from the rent which the cottager would have to pay for his holding. Thus, for instance, if a man had to pay £4 a year for his cottage and garden—and the rates amounted to 5s., which it was to be feared might be the case—the landlord would only charge the tenant £3 15s. But in small towns, where the landlord was frequently a small shopkeeper, the house would be let at the same rent, whilst the tenant would have to pay, in addition, the whole of the rates. The proposal would, therefore, in his opinion, act unfairly in the case of small towns, however fairly landlords in the country might deal with it. A second question was the grouping of parishes. In his own constituency working men and farmers unanimously passed a resolution that they would prefer going on as at present, for two reasons: In the first place, 73 they objected to the grouping of parishes: and, in the second place, they were afraid of having their rates raised. He supposed if two parishes were joined together they would be called after the style of Slocum-cum-something else. And in the case of three parishes, which parish would give the name to the Parish Council? They remembered what difficulties arose in this respect when counties were divided under the last Reform Bill, and he thought those difficulties would be accentuated in the grouping of parishes. As showing the sensitiveness of farmers on this point, he need only cite the case in which it was proposed to hold an agricultural show for Hereford in an adjoining county, the proposal falling through simply because the promoters could not agree which county should have precedence in the title of the show. Another point the farmers were most anxious about had reference to the compulsory hiring and purchase of laud. The compulsory purchase of laud, of course, affected the farmer even more than it did the laud-owner. In the case of a small farmer, the result of taking from him one of his fields would practically be to destroy the value of the holding altogether. He could not, however, quite help thinking that the compulsory purchase of land was more an election cry for the purpose of exciting ignorant and inexperienced men than a matter which it was expected would be carried out. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking at Oxford in 1874, said—I am content to assume that a man's right to his land depends on the same principle as your right to the coat on your back—namely, that you have paid for it.He simply quoted that in order to bear out his contention as to the object of the cry. Again, they had the Prime Minister saying at Ha warden in July, 1890—I am sometimes suspected—I hope unjustly —of being too ready to promote and recommend changes, but I do not see my way to that change, because I do not understand—from any explanation I have heretofore seen—in what way the State is to be made a good and capable landlord. Undoubtedly it would be a very unfavourable change, I think, for the farmer if the law of this country were to be that all the cultivators of the soil should also own the soil they cultivate, because that soil would not be made a present to them; they would have to pay for it. The farmer ought to 74 make something like a trading profit out of his farming, but the owner of the soil in a country like this never can make a trading profit. A trading profit ought to be something like 10 per cent., and if the farmer does not always get it, he does sometimes. But the owner cannot expect to get more than 3 per cent., and it would not be a satisfying thing for the farmer to have one-fifth of his capital invested in farm stock and returning him 10 per cent., and the other four-fifths invested in the soil and returning him 3 per cent. Upon the whole, I am inclined to believe that the best and the most wholesome system is that which now prevails, the well-working of which depends upon the wisdom and good conduct of the people concerned, where the soil is owned by one set of men and occupied and cultivated by another set of men. I trust that very long, both here and elsewhere, that system may continue to gain strength from an increase and constant growth of intelligence and of good feeling both on the one side and on the other.These quotations surely were sufficient to prove that this was only an election cry, and that compulsory purchase was not likely to be carried out in this country to any appreciable extent. No doubt the sentiment on the subject of land was very different in England and in Ireland; but supposing land was to be taken compulsorily, he should like to ask the hon. Member for the Rugby Division what compensation was to be paid at the end, say, of seven years if the land had become deteriorated and worked out? Was the Agricultural Holdings Act to apply to it or not? They were always hearing great strictures on landlords contracting out of the Agricultural Holdings Act; but there was a possibility of the Parish Councils desiring to contract out of the Act. If they were not to be allowed to do so, he should like to know how it was proposed compensation should be paid? In respect of the second part of the Bill, he regretted that it had not been made a separate measure. It seemed to him there was an equal multiplication of areas, so far as highway administration was concerned. In some districts they might have roads managed by a, Municipal Authority, by a Highway Board, and by the County Council. He thought the same objection applied to this threefold management of the same area as applied, in his opinion, to threefold meetings in the same parish. With regard to the question of ex officio members, he thought they wore universally popular. They were invariably men of great experience, and the last thing dis- 75 tricts desired was to get rid of them. By a clause in the Bill every Chairman of a District Council was to be made a Magistrate; but surely these gentlemen would be sadly disappointed if they found that as soon as they were made Magistrates they were shorn of the privileges which their predecessors enjoyed. He by no means objected to the proposal that Chairmen of District Councils should be made Magistrates, because it would, in his opinion, afford an excellent opportunity of testing whether men anxious for the honour were, in the opinion of their neighbours, suitable for the office. In his part of the country the greatest apprehension was felt that the Bill would lead to a large increase of the rates. The President of the Local Government Board seemed to imply that no more than a 1d. rate could be raised by a parish, whereas others had stated that in 12 years there could be a 1s. rate on each parish. To himself it seemed that under the Bill it would be possible in six years to have the parishes saddled with a 6d. rate. The interpretation of the clause ought to be made clear by the Government. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would consider the propriety of granting a Return he had asked for relating to County Council expenditure; and if the right hon. Gentleman received the proposal with favour, that hon. Members interested in the question would suggest the heads under which it would be best for the Return to be made. Such a Return would operate as a check on the expenditure of County Councils, and would enable the House to judge of the effect of ex officios in keeping down expenditure. He sincerely trusted that the apprehensions which existed in the part of the country which he represented, that the Bill would lead to an increase of rates, would prove unfounded, for that, in the present state of depression, would be most disheartening to the farmer.
§ SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wilts, Chippenham)
said, ho claimed from the House that indulgence which every Member received who addressed the House for the first time. Though the principle of the Bill was agreed upon by all orders of the House, the details would need close scrutiny if the permanent success of the measure were to 76 be assured. A Bill of this kind could not be carried through the House with any undue haste; and, after the statement of the President of the Local Government Board, it was to be hoped that, unlike another of the Government's Bills in the early part of the Session, none of the more important provisions would be sacrificed. From his experience of country life, he believed that the part of the measure which would meet with least approval in the country districts was that dealing with the grouping of parishes. Villages, however small, were very jealous and tenacious of their individuality. Under the Bill a small village might be quite swamped by being grouped with a larger, and in many cases several miles would separate the two, so that the labouring man who wished to attend the Council meetings would have a long walk after a hard day's work, and then would, perhaps, find that he had only to administer the affairs of a village not his own. Again, there were many cases where small villages had charities of their own, and it would be unjust, because they were grouped with other villages, that they should cease to have the exclusive benefit of those charities. With regard to the compulsory clauses for the acquisition of land, it was to be feared that it would lead to a great deal of controversy amongst those interested in land. At any rate, it was only fair that where compulsory purchase of land took place some compensation should be given. In most instances the land acquired would be the best land available, and it would certainly be most unjust to the owner if ho had to give up that land without compensation. The Bill proposed a complete revolution in the Poor Law system. But whatever alteration might be made in the Poor Law, it would be difficult to find any body of men who would administer the law better than, or even as well as, the present Guardians and ex officio Guardians had done. The work they had done deserved the fullest gratitude of all interested in the vast question of the Poor Law. The new system of having men on the Board who had no pecuniary interest at stake would not tend to the curtailment of expenditure, if it did not tend to increase it. But, with the exception of these details, 77 which, it was to be hoped, would be thoroughly threshed out in Committee, there was no doubt that the principle of the Bill was the natural tendency of the age. That the Bill should bring about the millennium foreshadowed by hon. Gentlemen opposite at the last Election was not expected by anyone; but there could be no doubt that a certain amount of good would result from the institution of Parish Councils. These Councils would serve to educate the men who had not hitherto deeply studied the question of local government, and they would cure rural electors of the credulity which they displayed at the last Election when they listened to the promises made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. This Bill would also have the effect of bringing together men of every class, creed, and shade of politics for the purpose of discussing matters of local interest. It had been shown on the County Councils, and he believed it would be shown on the Parish Councils, that bringing men together in this way to discuss business tended to soften and to remove altogether class prejudices. He welcomed the Bill, and he thought the Unionist Party welcomed it, as in principle completing the link in the chain of local government, and he trusted it might be fruitful of beneficial results not only to the rural localities, but also to the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that all who took an interest in local government, and desired its wide extension, must have been gratified by the spirit of the remarks of the President of the Local Government Board in moving the Second Reading of tin; Bill. He thought it was a happy augury, too, that the Department had been represented by the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool, who had reciprocated the remarks of the light hon. Gentleman, for it undoubtedly paved the way for the passing of the Bill. For his part, he welcomed the measure as the necessary completion of the Act of 1888—an Act for which the Conservative Party had no reason to express regret, for it had conduced in a very high degree to the improvement of county administration. Exception had been taken to the inclusion of District Councils in this Bill; but District Councils were included 78 in the Bill of 1888, and they were contemplated then as a necessary part of the scheme of local government. On that point he expressed his approval, and also of the association, of these District Councils with the administration of the Poor Law. The objection to any other course was manifest. One of the evils of our existing local government was the multiplicity of authorities, powers, and areas, which had rendered local administration frequently a matter of great difficulty and complexity, and one that was anything but intelligible to the people. For that reason, the inclusion of the District Councils in the Bill was very desirable. Another point which the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had mentioned was the importance of taking care that they properly secured the enfranchisement of women in relation to this measure. He said that because the future District Councils would form part of the administration of the Poor Law, and anyone acquainted with women's work as Guardians must feel the great importance of retaining them under the new system. Their loss would be indeed an incalculable misfortune, and he hoped the matter would be left without any doubt or difficulty. The District Councils proposals of the Bill were wisely marked by the caution of the Chairmen of those Boards as Justices of the Peace. This honour would stimulate men to take an interest in public affairs, and it would be an honour that would be well deserved for bard work in the interest of the community, for the Chairmanship of these Boards would involve hard work. It would also be the means of adding considerably to the Magistracy those who were intimately identified with, and had an intimate knowledge of, the particular locality. It had been said that this was a new departure. Hon. Members who made that observation must have forgotten that the Mayor of every borough was the Chief Magistrate. They bad, therefore, in that a wise, a proper, and a beneficial precedent, which amply justified this provision of the Bill. He need not enlarge on the value of local government, on the importance of all classes being induced by every possible means 79 to take part in the work of local government. He could conceive nothing more unfortunate to the country and to those counties than the elimination of the services of those who were called ex officio from the public life of the country and from county administration. He was sorry to hear from the Chairman of the Yorkshire County Council, who takes an active and able part in this work, that he had been reproached by his neighbours for taking the trouble thus to identify himself with the administration of the affairs of the county. That such a spirit should exist, and that there should be a want of inducement to those who had the necessary knowledge of their localities and were most able to contribute to its administration to take part in this work, was a very serious mischief. He was glad, therefore, that by giving larger powers to those bodies, and by dignifying local government, additional inducements would be held out to the leisured and cultured classes to take their part in the leadership and administration of local affairs. The performance of public, duties was the chivalry of to-day, and one of their objects should be to induce by every possible way those who were able to render the best services to the community to do it for the sake and benefit of the country. With regard to the Parish Councils provisions of the Bill, he thought they would be the means of materially extending to the village the benefits of municipal life. They had heard a great deal about the want of interest in the villages. It had been said, no doubt on good grounds, that the incentive to the people to migrate from the villages was the greater attractions of the towns. Some of these attractions might not be improving, but he thought there was no doubt that the possession of libraries and the greater and better sanitary measures in towns were an attraction to that migration. But if they were to give similar advantages co the villages; if they were to give to the villagers the great public education of taking part in the administration of their own affairs; if instead of want of power in the individual to better the place in which he lived they were to give him an organisation which would enable him to bring in- 80 fluences for good into the surroundings, they would be doing much to prevent that migration, and certainly they would be doing much to minister to the improvement in every direction of our village life. Then, again, this Bill was a right step in another direction. Those who were acquainted with Parliamentary life knew that a great diminution and devolution of the labours of Parliament were urgently needed, and this Bill was an important step in that direction. If the principle of local government were widely extended they might find in it the solution of some of those vexed political questions which interfered so much with Parliament proceeding to pressing legislation. On these grounds he believed that the Bill in principle should be heartily approved of, and when he passed to details he had to express the same general feeling towards the measure, though he approved of some of the observations which had been made on the Opposition side, not so much in the way of adverse criticism, but with the object of improving a measure which was generally approved of, and which they believed would be a great benefit to local government. He now came to the question of grouping. No one could fail to see that this point was surrounded with great difficulty, and that in this respect some improvements would have to be made in the Bill. The individuality of village life was in many cases as marked as that of the individuality of boroughs. Above all, while hon. Members hoped that in taking the steps that were being taken in this Bill they were improving local government they must be very careful that they did not injure or destroy that which existed at present and which had in it advantages and benefits which might thus be entirely lost. With regard to the clauses dealing with Church property, he had read them most carefully; and though he did not presume to set his opinion against others which had been expressed, he thought that they protected, and fully protected, Church interests. There should, however, be no doubt on that subject, and if there had been doubt in the mind of hon. Members it must nave been effectually removed by the statement made by the light hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) that afternoon. At all events, the House had 81 the assurance that the national schools would not be endangered: and it had also had drawn for it a clear distinction of the difference between ecclesiastical and public property as far as our villages were concerned. He had sonic doubt whether the language of the Bill was as definite as it might be in relation to Church Charities, but he had no doubt that even in connection with those doles, which many Members did not completely approve of, what the right hon. Gentleman had said would be carried out in practice, and that the principle of the measure would be rigidly adhered to. In that case the right hon. Gentleman would carry with him the whole feeling of the House, and that which promised controversy would end in complete unanimity. One of the most interesting points which had been raised in the discussion related to the question of the compulsory acquisition of laud. That was a subject of very great difficulty. There had been a constant contest between, on the one hand, private rights, and, on the other, the necessities of the community. The hon. Member who referred to the custom of awarding 10 per cent, for compulsory purchase said that this Bill, in preventing adherence to that custom, did something which was to be wholly disapproved of, and which was entirely novel. Perhaps some Members of the House were unaware that, there was no legal sanction whatever for this 10 per cent. He believed it was originally 100 per cent., but had eventually come down to 10 per cent. The hon. Member said it was right to award 10 per cent., because the adjoining estate might be injured, and loss would consequently fall on the landlord, but he had overlooked the fact that damages were given for severance in addition to 10 per cent. It was well for the House to bear in mind that great burdens had been cast on many undertakings by additions of this character, and the way in which he viewed the matter was this: that although he always resorted to compulsion unwillingly, after all, if a seller was willing, compulsion would never conic into force; while if, on the other hand, he was unwilling, and the real necessities of the community, as gauged by the Parish Councils, required it it was well that there should be powers 82 to carry out what was a real public interest. One suggestion that was made by the hon. Member for the West Derby Division (Mr. Long) could, he thought, hardly be entertained, and that was that in matters of this kind there should be a resort to Parliament. That it should be necessary to resort to Parliament for Private Bills at all was au anachronism. In the present case he certainly thought that the cost and delay of a resort to Parliament to obtain a Provisional Order was wholly inconsistent with the acquirement of allotments in a country district. As to the administration proposed by the Hill in respect of Parish Councils, he thought that in some respects it might be slightly improved, and he was glad that the President of the Local Government Board had a willing ear in that direction. He doubted whether the provision for the retirement of the whole of the members of the Council at the same time was altogether a wise one. There might be no official members to maintain continuity and experience, and the retirement of the whole body might break that continuity which in local administration was entirely desirable. There was the precedent of the Town Councils, and also of the Aldermen in County Councils. In Town Councils retirement was by thirds, and he thought that the adoption of that principle was worthy of some little consideration. In relation to the qualification of Guardians, great difficulty, many anomalies, and costly litigation had occurred in his own constituency in consequence of the present requirements. The precedent of Town Councils, of the House of Commons, and of many other bodies pointed in favour of the unity of the practice. He trusted that a Bill which had been introduced in the spirit in which this had been, which was approved generally in spirit on the Opposition side of the House, and which had been received with universal willingness, to make it, if possible, worthy of the British Legislature, would result in a great moral and social improvement in the various localities of the country.
* MR. J. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)
remarked that the Bill had at first been denounced by many supporters of the Church of England as a measure of Disestablishment, intended 83 to pave the way for more drastic measures, and also as a measure tending to sap the vital interests of the Church. Wiser counsels had since prevailed, and Bishops and others had admitted the necessity for the passage of the Bill, some of them expressing the opinion that it was one the adoption of which would greatly conduce to the welfare of the village population. This moderate and more hopeful attitude on the part of Churchmen was the more to their credit, because it could not be denied that, to a certain extent, the Bill was a measure of Disestablishment. There had been a series of such partial Disestablishment measures during the present century, including the Poor Laws, the Act for legalising marriages otherwise than in churches, and the Act for opening churchyards to Nonconformist burials. Parliament was now about to take one more step forward. The Incumbent was no longer to be the legal head of the parish; the civil business of the parish was not to be transacted as heretofore in the Vestry, and the Church and its officers were to be ousted from the civil administration of the parish. He did not mention these facts in any spirit of exultation, but simply to call attention to the con-elusions at which the present Bill pointed. The existing parochial arrangements were so anomalous and unsuited to the circumstances of the present times that even staunch Churchmen admitted the necessity for changes. Put while the Government proposed the abolition of the present anomalous Vestry system as far as civil business was concerned, they left the ecclesiastical affairs of the parish in the hands of what was described as a decrepit body. He wished to refer to two points of detail with reference to the Bill, one relating to the living and the other to the dead. A determined effort was to be made to enable Church officials to obtain possession of the administration of all charities, whether ecclesiastical or secular. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had made a most satisfactory declaration that no such principle as that would for a moment be entertained by the Government. Secular charities were to be treated as secular, no matter by whom they might be administered: but, at the same time, the Bill would leave charities, 84 which were partly ecclesiastical and partly secular, in the hands of their present administrators. He saw no reason for that distinction. If Parish Councils were competent to administer any charities they were competent to administer all charities, and the retention of this provision of the Bill would have this unfortunate effect: that if the clergy and Churchwardens continued to administer such charities they would he exposed to the suspicion which unfortunately prevailed in regard to many charities in various parts of the country. The second point he wished to refer to related to the burial of the dead. He found that the clause enumerating certain measures that the Parish Councils might act under did not include the Public Health (Interments) Act, 1879—a measure that was administered by the Local Government Board. Unless there was some technical objection, he hoped it would be possible to allow Parish Councils to have the benefit of that very liberal Act. Then the Bill provided that Parish Councils should have the care of closed churchyards, but not that they should have charge of those which remained open. He thought the time had come to raise the question whether in future all parochial burial places should not be under the control of the Parish Council. He had no doubt that, wide as was the scope of the Bill, most of them would agree that the Government had left undone many things that they would have liked to have done. The President of the Local Government Board in the course of his speech made reference to a statement of his at the time of the passing of the Act of 1888 to the effect that that Act was the first volume of a great work of local government reform. The right hon. Gentleman had said that they were now asking the House of Commons to give its sanction to the second volume of that work. But even this Bill would not complete the work, because there still remained a large subject to be dealt with. He (Mr. Carvell Williams) had listened with some curiosity to know what that further development was to be, and be would not say, as a Londoner, that he was disappointed when he heard that it was the unification of London, but he thought it right to remind the Government that no 85 policy of local government could be complete which did not give to the Local Authorities of every parish the power and duty of educating the children of that parish. Of course, he did not blame the Government for not making their Bill an education Bill as well as a good Local Government Bill, but he thought the Liberal Party, both in and outside the House, would be unfaithful to their traditions if they did not attempt at the earliest possible moment to give to the country a really national system of education, as well as a good system of local government.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
said, he had listened with considerable amusement to the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down; and though he had derived much pleasure from the conciliatory speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, if anything was calculated to stir up the mud and make Churchmen rather nervous as to what would be the effect of the Bill it was the observations of the hon. Member. He did not intend to follow the hon. Member into the discussion of the programme of the Liberation Society; but when the hon. Member said that Churchwardens were moribund—that it was a decrepit institution—and when lie informed them that in future ecclesiastical affairs were to be left to a moribund and decrepit institution, ho could only refer him to his hon. Friend behind him, the Member for Ripon (Mr. Wharton), who was a Churchwarden. The hon. Member desired to see the Bill extend to open as well as to closed churchyards, but the President of the Local Government Board had informed them that the churchyard was the Incumbent's freehold; therefore, it was monstrous to propose that it should be handed over to the Parish Council. He did not think any Government—certainly not the present Government—would assent to such a proposal. He was bound to thank the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for the conciliatory spirit in which he had heard what had been said in defence of Church interests from the Opposition, both in the House and in the country. They did not suppose that it was intended to in- 86 clude schools in the scheme, though Clauses 5 and 6 read very like it, and he hoped such Amendments would be adopted as would place the position of the national schools beyond the shadow of a doubt. But when they came to other parts of the Bill, he must say they were not so well satisfied. On the question of parish rooms the right hon. Gentleman had not been so explicit. It appeared from what he had said that these rooms would be handed over to the Parish Councils unless they were built on the Incumbent's freehold, or on some private freehold, and so not conveyed to any Trustees at all. Seemingly everything depended upon the definition of an "ecclesiastical charity." He could well understand that there were parish rooms which would not fall under the definition of Clause 58—that was to say, which had not been exactly given for an ecclesiastical purpose, but yet which were used as centres of Church administration. It was therefore necessary that the definition should be extended so as to include such rooms in Church property. As to doles, no doubt in many cases the clergyman would be glad to get rid of them, but, at the same time, he did not think that they would be better administered by Parish Councils. A dole which at present was administered by the clergyman and Churchwardens might under the Bill be administered by two members of the Parish Council, neither of whom might be a Churchman.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, there was no power in the Hill to remove clergymen from the trusteeship of any charity. The measure simply dealt with cases where the authority was not ecclesiastical, and would substitute for the present parochial officers persons appointed by Parish Councils.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
said, he would point out that if at present a charity was administered by the clergyman and Churchwardens, it would follow that there was a majority of Churchmen interested. Under the Bill the Trustees would be the clergymen and two members of the Parish Council, neither of whom need be Churchmen. Therefore, the Bill would affect these charities in future. In a certain case at Tunbridge a charity of £1,150 was left in 1847 to the Vicar and Churchwardens to be divided 87 amongst communicants in the alms-houses who were "in attendance on the Established Church;" but in 1867 these words were struck out. The administration of the charity was still left by the Charity Commissioners in the hands of the Vicar and the Churchwardens. The Commissioners had remembered the wishes of the donor of the charity. There was another case of a charity in North Wales which had been considerably augmented by the late Vicar on the strength that it was to be administered by the clergyman and Churchwardens. The idea of the testator undoubtedly was that this charity was to be administered by the Church, and he would not have made the bequest he did if he bad thought that a popularly-elected body like the Parish Council was to have the greater share in the administration of the charity in future. In this case the charity would be handed over from the Vicar to two members of the Parish Council, neither of whom might be Churchmen at all. A case like that, where the charity was distinctly added to on the understanding that its administration was to be in the hands of the Church, was a case which the right hon. Gentleman might reasonably take into consideration on the Committee stage of the Bill. The question of how the charities would be administered when small parishes were grouped would be a very important one, especially in regard to charities which up to date had been administered by the Vicar and Churchwardens. He would like to mention another point which had not been touched upon. The right hon. Gentleman was about to take away from the Vestry all its civil functions. Up to this time it had been treated as a civil body, and all its machinery had been designed for the purpose of carrying out secular purposes. If the right hon. Gentleman was going to make it a purely Ecclesiastical Body he ought, at the same time, so to remodel the Vestry as to make it suitable for ecclesiastical purposes only. Passing to the more civil aspect of the Bill, as representing a county constituency, he wished to say he thoroughly approved of the Bill, which, he thought, would do a great deal of good in the way of the extension of local government. The only part of the measure which he had 88 any objection to, and which, he feared, might have dangerous consequences, was not the Parish Councils, but the District Councils. When they considered that ever since the passing of the Poor Law Act in 1834 they had been steadily trying to diminish outdoor relief and thereby prevent any premium being placed on improvidence in the country, and had done that by means of ex officio Guardians who had property qualifications and a stake in the particular parish in which they were Guardians, it seemed a very dangerous thing now to abolish all that, and allow anybody, whether he lived in the parish or not, to be elected on a purely democratic suffrage when they had not merely to spend the money, but to distribute it among those by whom they were elected. The right hon. Gentleman said this absence of plural voting and property qualification was good enough for County Councils, for Municipalities, and for this House, and that the idea of taxation and representation going together seemed to have disappeared. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER: I did not say that.] He did not profess that those were the words of the right hon. Gentleman, but, at all events, that was what they amounted to. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER: No.] It might be good enough for the County Council and this House. In this House they were called upon to expend large sums of money, but they were not called upon to distribute money amongst those who elected them. In the case of the distribution of outdoor relief, they were placing a tremendous premium upon extravagance and dishonesty, because a democratic suffrage would represent all the people who elected these men; the electors would be men who themselves paid no rates directly, and yet out of the rates would come that outdoor relief which was to be distributed by the men who were elected among the people who to a great extent elected them. Again, it was to his mind a defect in the Bill that anyone might be a member of the District Council whether he lived in the parish or not, or whether be had any property qualification or not. It was, he thought, also a defect in the Bill that anybody might be a member of the Parish Council even if he did not live in that parish. He did not think any man should be entitled 89 to be a member of the Council unless he was a parochial elector in that parish. If this provision were retained there would be nothing to prevent active local politicians from being on several Parish Councils, or, at all events, from being a leading spirit in one parish meeting and Chairman of a neighbouring Parish Council. Anything of that sort would undoubtedly tend to mitigate against the good which this Bill was intended to effect. in conclusion, he expressed the hope that the fair spirit which he cordially acknowledged in the President of the Local Government Hoard would continue to animate him in Committee, and that he would accept Amendments which would place the safety of Church property beyond any doubt whatsoever.
§ * MR. BENSON (Oxfordshire, Woodstock)
said, what appeared to be the main point of attack upon the details id' this Bill seemed, in reality, to aim at a vital part of the measure. He referred to the demand that the franchise for the District Councils and Parish Councils should be limited to those who paid the rates directly. They on his side of the House, in speaking on topics of this kind, had been leading their constituents to hope for a measure of local government which should put the management of rural affairs upon a thoroughly democratic basis, and which would settle them upon a system under which the rich man and the poor man would have an equal voice in the management of the affairs in which they were concerned. Hon. Gentlemen opposite bad generally met them with expressions of agreement upon that point, and with professions—he was sure perfectly sincere—that they trusted the people in these matters no less than they (the Liberals) did. And surely it was impossible at this time of day, when they had adopted, in most of their affairs, the principle of democracy, to retain in this particular branch of our system of government a method which would exclude from the franchise any class of people upon the ground that they did not directly pay rates. The hon. Gentleman opposite entertained great fears of what would happen in the country districts from ratepayers who did not directly pay rates having a voice in the spending of local money. But the same system, after all, obtained in their 90 Municipalities, and no one had yet said, or even thought, that their towns would be in the least better governed if a predominant share in municipal government were given to people of property. What sound reason was there for drawing a distinction between the case of towns and the ease of the election of Guardians? It seemed to him that the only reason there could be was a dread—be thought an unreasonable one—on the part of some gentlemen opposite, as to the real character the popularly-elected bodies in the country districts were likely to possess. He did not believe a bit in the idea current in some quarters that the working men in the country districts, in the matters that they knew about and which concerned them, were any loss cautious or just and level-headed in forming their opinions than any other class of working men in the world, and he was sure, on consideration, it would be seen that to demand that the man who did not directly pay rates should be excluded from voting for the purpose of election to these bodies was really to strike a fatal blow at the whole principle of a Bill with which both sides of the House were in sympathy. He desired to speak chiefly on two points: the effect of the Bill upon the Poor Law and upon the administration of charities. No doubt the Bill effected a great revolution in the constitution of Boards of Guardians, and that revolution was objected to on the ground that it might increase the rates and load to a return of lax methods of relief; and, important as was the consideration of the rates, the latter consideration was even a more important one. It was a rather plausible plea, which bad been put forward in some quarters, that all the provisions of this Bill which affected the Poor Law should be reserved for a separate measure dealing with that law as a whole; but, as far as he could see, the method of electing Boards of Guardians was a question altogether apart from any views as to the proper modes of administration of the Poor Law which were now being considered by a Royal Commission. Whatever opinion they might entertain as to the proper methods and rules of Poor Law administration did not necessarily affect, in the least, the views they should take on the questions affected 91 by tins Bill, and this question of the method by which Guardians should be elected was not a question of detail for Poor Law experts to decide, but a question of policy upon which, without any doubt, the greater part of the electorate of this country had already made up its mind. And when the franchise in their other institutions was democratic it was quite impossible much longer to keep the Poor Law system on a different basis. It was an unwise policy for those who were interested in sound administration to identify their cause with that of what he might call an oligarchical system. He sympathised very much with the objects of hon. Members who entertained the fears to which he had referred. He believed himself that in many ways the administration of the Poor Law was susceptible of improvement, but he would rather that matters remained as they were than that they should return, by one step only, to the old system of indiscriminate administration of relief, by means of which the idle man was often supported at the expense of the industrious. It was entirely a miscalculation, however, to suppose that by giving the working man a greater voice in the administration of the Poor Law they would incur any danger of this kind. After all, it was unreasonable to contend that they ought to keep out of their Boards of Guardians picked men of that class who knew by the experience of their own lives what the life of the poor was. To infuse new blood into their Boards of Guardians and to get some representative working men on them would be a strength and not a weakness to their Poor Law administration. No doubt, some dissatisfaction existed among certain classes of working men in consequence of the harsh administration of the Poor Law—and it was sometimes harshly administered—and many of them supposed that a return to promiscuous outdoor relief would be a more generous way of dealing with the poor. But he was quite sure that if they could get the Boards of Guardians elected on a popular basis and more closely in touch with the working classes they would find these bodies even quicker than the present Boards to discover that relief must be carefully given on sound principles. As an instance of this he 92 would quote a few words from the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners of 1834. There was a passage which struck him very much, in which the Commissioners stated that there was only one class of Poor Law administrators that they came across who were properly and strictly careful in the administration of relief, and that was the class of Poor Law administrators who themselves had been working men. He thought that was rather a striking illustration in support of the contention that this Bill would not weaken but rather strengthen the careful administration of the Poor Law. Passing from that subject for a moment to the question of charities, he doubted whether the action of the Church Congress really reflected the opinions of the country clergy who had themselves to administer the charities. He had talked to many such men on the subject, and the general feeling was that it would be better if the administration of the charities did not fall ex officio into the hands of the clergyman to administer them, and he noticed in the discussions at the Church Congress it was not alleged that under the Bill the charities would be worse administered than at present. The sole ground of opposition to the proposed change with regard to dole charities was that in some mysterious way it was supposed to be a step towards Disestablishment. He could not discover in what way the transfer of a share in the management of these charities to the representatives of the people would weaken the influence or impede the efficiency of the Church of England. Unless they were going to say that it was an advantage to the Church of England to be able to exercise favouritism in the administration of charities—and no one was going to say that—he could not see on what ground there was any practical loss to the Church, because the clergy no longer had an exclusive and predominant influence in the administration of village charities. As to the intentions of the donor, he should have said himself that a man who left dole money in the hands of a Vicar and Churchwardens did so for the simple reason that they were the only ex officio people in the place he could pick out to leave it to. They were the leading public authorities of the parish— the only people whose position was a sort 93 of guarantee that they would be capable administrators of the charities. What else could a man do, as a general rule, unless he left the money to private friends in times past, than leave it to the Churchwardens with, perhaps, the Overseers? It was not at all an uncommon thing for a benefactor to leave a charity for an Incumbent to administer with the injunction that he should take counsel with those he deemed to be the "sufficientest men" of the place—the intention being that they should be the leading men of the parish. But really it was an impossible question to raise what were the intentions of the benefactors when they did not state those intentions. They had one single fact to go upon, and that was that unquestionably the donors of most of these charities intended them for the good of the poor and needy without distinction of sect, and it seemed to him the sole question they were justified in considering regarding the administration of the charities was this: Would they be better administered or not under the proposed system? As to that, he would point out that if, as was often the case, the clergyman was the person most fitted to administer the charity, he would be able to use ail the influence he did at present. But there were at the present time cases in which, through some carelessness or another, charities were misapplied, or the provisions of a trust not properly executed at all. These cases, be they common or rare, were likely to be put an end to by the introduction of some popular management into this matter. Then, again, apart from all cases of maladministration, people sometimes doubted whether dole charities did very much good, and it was often difficult to find a really very useful way of applying a charitable bequest. But there was one constant and prevalent source of harm in connection with charities which they might do away with, and that was the immense amount of ill-feeling, jealousy, and suspicion which the present administration of charities generated. The poorer classes of a village did not know on what method a charity was administered. They looked upon it with the suspicion—very often a most unjust one—that there was either religious or political favouritism in the way in which charities were administered. 94 As a rule there was no justification for such a feeling; still it was held on the part of a large number of people, and so charities created an amount of jealousy and ill-will wholly disproportionate to the amount of relief which they actually produced. Gentlemen who had no experience of life in country villages would be surprised to know of the extent of this suspicion. There was only one way of getting rid of that evil, and that was by putting the management of the charities in the hands of the representatives of the people. Let the people know how the money was spent, and let them feel that they had a check on the administration of what they considered was their money. He was confident that the working classes might be trusted to secure that the money should be expended in a way that would do some good. In conclusion, he wished to say a word as to the way in which this Bill affected the Church generally. In a great many villages the traditional unpopularity that attached to the clergyman was a, very painful and serious matter. It was largely caused by the sort of privileged position the clergyman occupied as Chairman of the Vestry, the principal administrator of charities, and very often as the sole manager of the school. These positions constantly brought him into friction with the labourers, and made him the object of attack. If the clergyman were relieved of that privileged position ho would be relieved, not of a source of strength, but of a source of weakness. He did not believe that this Bill would, as some feared, dispossess the parson or the squire of the position and influence to which they were entitled. On the contrary, he believed that by making the poorer people freer and more influential it would produce better relations between them and the people above them. He did not think they need have the slightest fear for the position of the clergyman, so long as ho was a man of character and energy, and was fit to take his proper position in the parish. But nobody could wish to bolster up in a position of sham authority the clergyman or any other leading man in a parish if he did not fulfil those conditions. He hoped that in this respect the Government would not, in deference to the 95 objections of hon. Gentlemen opposite, weaken or minimise in any way the provisions of the Bill.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
The hon. Member who has just sat down seems to have recommended a Local Government Bill to his constituents on the ground of its being a democratic measure, and he has taken every opportunity in the course of his speech to pick out those portions of the Bill which he regards as democratic, and to recommend them to the House and to the country on that ground. It will, I daresay, surprise the hon. Member to hear that, for my part, I do not want to approach the Bill from a Party point of view at all. I do not want to approach it from a democratic point of view, and I do not want to say anything against it from an opposite point of view. I want to view it solely from the point of view of whether it is of advantage to the best interests of the rural population, and whether it is calculated to enable the government of rural districts to be carried on with greater advantage. I have had the opportunity during the last few years of seeing a good deal of some aspects of local government in the counties. I have been watching carefully the working of the great experiment in local government established by a Conservative Government, and in no respect has that experiment been of greater importance than in the bearing it must inevitably have on the further development of local government. The changes proposed by this Bill are of a very grave character. I do not, for my own part, think that the Bill is likely to cause such important changes in agricultural districts as some seem to think. At the same time, they are great changes which cannot be measured at all by speeches made on the Second Reading: because I am happy to say that, as regards the principle of the measure, both Parties are practically agreed. Therefore, without, any undue delay or protracted discussion on minor points, we should devote ourselves to the consideration in Committee of what are, after all, very grave questions for those of us who live in the country. There is hardly a clause in this Bill which does not raise questions that ought to be carefully examined; 96 and I think the House will agree that not only ought the Bill to be made effective, but it ought to be more or less a permanent settlement of the question. We certainly do not desire to go through the labour of passing the Bill, and to leave any doubt as to the powers to be conferred on Parish Councils. If we pass the Bill in an ambiguous form, the result must be either litigation or friction, which would prevent the proper working of the principles we desire to apply. There may be considerable doubt as to the best branches of local government to take up at the present time. It is clear that no Government could deal at once with all the questions connected with local government that remain to be dealt with. In our County Bill we only dealt with county government; we left a large number of questions to be dealt with; and the present Government only propose to deal with some of those that remain. We may very fairly ask—have they chosen the best subject? For my part, I should have thought that there is no question of greater importance remaining to be dealt with than the question of District Councils in London. I believe the establishment of the County Council in London was only the commencement of what is required, and that it is absolutely necessary, if the scheme is to be successful in the long run, that we should on an early day approach the question of District Councils for London. That would be a small matter supposing the Government had decided to leave Loudon alone. But they have not done so; they have dealt with London in this Bill with respect to Guardians, but District Councils are not proposed. After the question of District Councils for London, the next subject that ought to be taken up is that of Parish Councils. Not that I think there is any enthusiasm for them in the country. I have recently taken pains to make inquiries on the subject in various districts, and not only do I not find any enthusiasm, but, upon the whole, the general feeling is that if Parish Councils do no good they will probably do no harm, and therefore people are ready to acquiesce in the formation of them. For my part, I would not for a moment support the Bill if I did not think Parish Councils were calculated to do good. I 97 believe they are calculated to do good by giving the people in the country districts some education in the duties of citizenship, and they are also calculated to do some good locally, because there are certain questions which undoubtedly a parish can look much bettor after than can any other body, particularly rights of way and the preservation of roadside wastes. Therefore. I am glad the Government have put Parish Councils foremost in-their scheme of Local Government. But the next question I wish to refer to is the question of highways. I want to know whether it is intended to establish compulsory Highway Boards throughout the country? On the subject of Highway Boards opinion is extraordinarily divided. There are counties in which there have not been Highway Boards. In my own county there were two, and they were got rid of; and now we manage the highways without any Highway Board at all. Now the Government practically propose compulsory Highway Boards under the name of District Councils. I think the time is singularly inopportune for any such proposal. County Councils have, within the last two or three years, taken up the question of highways, and they are improving and reforming the highways of every county. These advances are in the first stage of their development, and we ought to wait and see how they work out and what effect they are going to produce; and I deprecate any interference with these operations before we can form a judgment upon them. Yet the Government are going to introduce a new authority, and to introduce confusion into a system which is working well now. As to the Poor Law, I think it would be very undesirable to touch its operation at all, unless you are going to deal with it thoroughly. The Government would be the first to admit that they are only touching the fringe of the Poor Law question. So far as I can judge from some experience of the feelings of the people in the country districts, the question with them is not as to the men who are going to administer the Poor Law, but it is as to the law itself. There is a strong feeling that there are certain questions connected with the actual Poor Law which deserve careful consideration, which are ripe for consideration by Parliament, and with which Parliament 98 ought to deal. The last speaker has said that the Government has dealt with these questions by referring them to a Royal Commission. They have not done so. They have wisely referred to a Commission the question of old-age pensions; but that is only a very small part of the whole question. What the public desire to know is, what steps the Government are going to take with regard to the Poor Law as a whole? They do not care two straws as to any of those questions about the men who are going to administer them. In my opinion, it is not the best way of preparing the ground for the consideration of these vitally important questions to sweep away the bodies that now administer the laws, and to put in their place men who may be absolutely untried. All are agreed that we ought to have the best men to administer the Poor Law, and all are agreed that the present body of Poor Law Guardians have done their work exceedingly well. That cannot be denied, whatever objections we may entertain to the present method of electing the Poor Law Guardians, and I am not now going to defend that method. I am prepared myself for a more popular method of election. The right hon. Gentleman himself bore testimony to the enormous benefits which have resulted from the Poor Law Act of 1834, and that the Guardians deserve our thanks and enormous credit for the way in which they have administered the law. You may be certain that that law would never have been successful if it had not been administered by thoroughly qualified men. We have also the advantage of ex officio Guardians. I am not going to contend for a moment that we ought to preserve the qualifications of Magistrates to sit as ex officio Guardians because they are Magistrates. But I say that when we have got men sufficiently experienced in the Poor Law, and men who have done good work in that direction, it is the gravest possible mistake to sweep them out of the Boards of Guardians and to find new men who have had no experience. The right hon. Gentleman himself recognises the importance of past experience in one particular, for he allows the new Board of Guardians to choose as their Chairman a man who has not been popularly elected. That is 99 quite right. But why stop there? Why exclude other men thoroughly well-qualified to assist the deliberations of the Boards of Guardians? You may ask, Why should they not be elected? I hope parishes would not refuse to elect again the men who have done good work in the past; but I want to be sure that some of the ex officio Guardians would still remain; and that could he done by enabling the Boards to add to their numbers a certain proportion of experienced men. Then, as to the method of election, there comes the question whether you should allow such people to vote in the election of those who spend the poor rate as do not in any way contribute towards the poor rate. I am afraid that the question cannot be disposed of in the light and airy manner in which the President of the Local Government Board attempted to dispose of it. He says—"If a man is good enough to vote for a Representative in Parliament, or on the School Board, he is good enough to vote for a Poor Law Guardian." But I will put it in this way. Because a man is good enough to vote for a Parliamentary Representative, who is going to expend money on Imperial questions which do not greatly interest the voter, is ho good enough to elect a representative on the Board of Guardians who can dole out, in the form of unrestricted outdoor relief, money which the voter or his class would perhaps be glad to have? The right hon. Gentleman must see that a danger exists, though he may believe that there is a way of meeting it. In our opinion, the proper mode of dealing with this matter is to recognise the old principle of taxation and representation going together. I thought it was an old principle of the Liberal Party; but the right hon. Gentleman to-night denounced it as a dangerous doctrine. [Mr. H. H.FOWLER: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman will find that he did so, when he reads his speech in the morning, and the last speaker said that this doctrine was a fatal blow at the principles of local self-government. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that all the money which the Guardians spent did not come from the rates. That was a remarkable statement from the right hon. Gentleman's mouth, because we have been accustomed to hear from him and his colleagues that the 100 assistance given to the rates out of the Imperial Exchequer did not benefit the ratepayer, but only benefited the Tory landlord. As to the payment of the rates in the agricultural districts, can the right hon. Gentleman give us the least approximate idea of the number of districts in which the labourers in cottages pay the rates themselves? The practice is as divergent as possible; and we have not the faintest official information as to in what districts, and to what extent, the rates are paid by the labourers or by the landlords. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean said that the labourers who did not pay the rates themselves knew that they paid them indirectly. If the right hon. Gentleman should go into the country districts, he would find that the labourers do not know that they pay the rates indirectly. For my part, I think this is a matter underlying the whole principle of this Bill; and it is so vital that it will be made the subject of a direct Amendment, in order that the House may decide whether taxation and representation should go together. Before I leave the question of District Councils, I should like to refer to a comparatively small point to which the right hon. Gentleman has made no allusion, and to which I find no reference at all in the Bill. I want to know whether the dispossessed officials are to receive any compensation under this Bill? I think that if the existing officials are to be displaced they will be entitled to some compensation, and I know of no measure that has been introduced into this House under which it has been proposed that existing officials should not receive compensation. I think the position of the officials is a matter deserving consideration, and the Government ought to have suggested some means by which the object to which I refer might have been effected. Now I come to the question of Parish Councils. I have already spoken in the country in very strong terms with regard to the proposed method of grouping. I cannot say that I regard the new proposal as any better than the old one. The fact that the grouped parishes are to be contiguous will be but a poor protection. It may be taken as a fact that grouping a small parish with a large one means that the former will lose everything that gives it separate parochial life. If the pro- 101 posal to group parishes contained in the Bill is carried into effect two-thirds of the parishes in a large part of Lincolnshire will absolutely lose all separate representation whatever. I object to that from two points of view, first of all because they will lose their separate parochial life. All rural parishes are supremely jealous of their separate parochial life, which they desire to retain, and therefore to group them without their consent will be an extremely unpopular act. One of the effects of grouping these small parishes will be to deprive them of their separate Guardians of the Poor. For instance, I attended a Board of Guardians two or three days ago, on which there were several small parishes represented. Well, four or five of these, if grouped, will only have one Guardian of the poor between them. Do you suppose that they are likely to be contented with this arrangement? I dare say these grouped bodies would act fairly, but we want to instil in the minds of these people the idea that they tire being properly treated. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for speaking warmly on this point, because we on this side of the House cannot accept the suggestion that this grouping of parishes will content the rural parishes. I will not detain the House with any observations with regard to the constitution of the Councils, because that is a question which involves a good many details, and which can be more conveniently discussed in Committee. I will now deal with the ecclesiastical question—with the question of whether or not this Hill interferes with the powers or duties which belong to the ecclesiastical side of the parish. I am bound to say I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with great satisfaction. I always believed in his good faith, and it did not require his speech to assure me of it. I confess I did not, think it necessary for him to go into the elaborate argument he did as to whether or not the clauses of the Bill affected schools. I gladly accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that schools will not be affected in any way, but I think it would have been more satisfactory and better for us if he had at once said that he would put a sub-section in the Bill declaring that the sections of the Bill would not affect schools in any way 102 whatever. I think that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to closed churchyards is perfectly satisfactory. It is clear that the Parochial Authorities ought not to have the power to interfere with those closed churchyards except for sanitary purposes. The churchyards ought to remain the freehold of the clergyman. Then I come to the subject of Church doles. I think that the right of administering these charities should lie left in the hands of the clergyman and the Churchwardens of the parish, although I should be glad if some arrangement could be arrived at by which the doles might be put an end to and the funds from which they are derived applied in some better manner. With regard to the question of the compulsory hire of land for the purpose of letting it out in allotments, I do not wish to deal with it at length, as we have so often discussed it. Everyone knows that the power would be open to abuse, and I do not see any provision in the Bill to prevent it. The effect of permitting the Parish Councils to take laud compulsorily would be that the best piece of land would be taken out of a farm, with the result that the general value of the farm would be destroyed, and that when the hiring terminated the land would be returned to the owner in a depreciated state. How does this Bill guard against any such operation as that? Everybody knows that this is not only likely, but certain, to happen in many parishes; and unless we have greater safeguards in this matter than any that have hitherto been proposed, we shall offer strong objection to the proposals for the compulsory hiring of land. As to the purchase of land, there, again, I for my part am not at all prepared to allow compulsory purchase to take place upon the sole approval of the Local Government Board. I do not deny that the system of inquiry by the Local Government Board has, on the whole, been satisfactory. But why has it been such a safeguard to us? Because there has been behind the Local Government Board the right of appeal to Parliament. The existence of this right has, so to speak, kept the Local Government Board in order. They have been bound to exercise the utmost care in their investigations, because they knew that if they decided unfairly—I do not say designedly—those who were affected had 103 the right of appeal to Parliament, and Parliament would set the matter right. Under this Bill we are deprived of that safeguard. I am strongly opposed to doing away with that appeal, and I should like to maintain in its entirety the system which at present exists in our law in regard to compulsory purchase of land—the system under which any proposal of the kind is embodied in a Provisional Order requiring the sanction of Parliament. This is a point, together with others, which will require close investigation on the part of the House. All I wish to say generally is this—that we shall approach the consideration of this Bill with a desire to get rid of the blemishes that now exist in it, and to make it a workable measure. I remember that at an earlier stage of these discussions the right hon. Gentleman said that what ho wanted to secure for the poor of this country was better houses, better drains, and better water. We cordially sympathise with that desire, but I must point out that there is nothing in this Bill to secure better houses. A good deal may be done under it to secure better drains and better water. With that we most cordially sympathise, and the Government may rest assured that we shall do everything in our power to accomplish that object.
§ * MR. H. LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had observed that this was a measure that excited no enthusiasm in the country. That, however, depended very much upon whore he had got his information. If the right hon. Gentleman consulted a few farmers in a market place on the subject he would very likely find that there was but little enthusiasm with regard to it. That, however, was certainly not the information that had reached the County Members of the Ministerial side of the House. He (Mr. Lawson) believed it was generally considered by their constituents that this Bill would do a great deal towards giving country districts some of the municipal and civic vitality which had done so much for the great towns. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down wished to cut out the whole of the second part of the Bill, but he (Mr. Lawson) hardly thought it was necessary to ask the President of the Local Government Board to stick to his 104 guns, for he was certain that the right hon. Gentleman realised that the people in the counties attached as much importance to that part of the Bill which referred to Boards of Guardians as to that which proposed to establish Parish Councils. They had been told that it was almost high treason to say that the Boards of Guardians had administered their powers in any other than the best way. As a matter of fact, the poor in the country districts believed that there had been too little discrimination—or, to put it plainly, that there had been too little humanity—on the part of the Poor Law Authority in many cases. They considered that the line had been drawn too hard and fast. The Poor Law Guardians of the poorer districts were too poor to make the experiments that had been made by the larger Poor Law Authorities, as in Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, or London. Some people believed that the time would come when, so far as the Unions were concerned, the workhouses would be transferred to the larger areas of the counties, which would be able to do more like what had been done in London and other big towns. He did not think, however, there was the least cause for fear that those who under this Bill would be concerned in the administration of the law would be unduly favourable to their own class. Working men were rather inclined to be hard on their fellows, and they would not give way to any undue preference in regard to those who were guilty of shamming or malingering. He believed that they would exercise their powers under the Bill in the same manner as they had conducted the business of their Friendly Societies. It was known that it was only in the case of agricultural land that the owner really paid the rates. In the case of house property, though the landlord was nominally responsible, the burden really fell on the occupier or tenant in the form of rent. He could not see why a distinction should be drawn between them and the tenement occupiers in the large towns. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would not in any way amend the provisions of the second part of the Bill; and, of course, it must be evident to the House that there was no question of altering the Poor Law. The 105 Poor Law was not affected, only the authority which administered it; and if, in consequence of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, changes were made, they would not be impeded, but rather facilitated by the change in the constitution of the authority. As to the first part of the measure—that dealing with Parish Councils—Lord Salisbury repeated the other night that Liberal Members advocated Parish Councils because they would amuse the people. He (Mr. Lawson) did not know any Member who had adopted that line of argument. They supported Parish Councils because they would give a larger interest in life to the agricultural labourer. He did not know that those who engaged in local government work got much amusement out of it. They did not tell the labourer it would give him a new heaven or a new earth, but it only brought local government down to his door and to the small affairs of his daily life. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would make up his mind to give the Parish Councils the power of hiring, where necessary. It was wise to magnify the functions of the Parish Council and the parish meeting. At the present in the Bill the District Council could only do so on the recommendation of the Parish Council, which must know its own wants and resources better than the District Council. He had no fear of gerrymandering on the part of the Parish Councils. In the Cotswold Hills the parishes had a distinct and jealous life of their own, although not large in point of size or population. It had been said that parishes would be grouped against their will, but it would be in the power of the County Council to say whether they should be grouped or not. He wished, however, to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the anomaly and unfairness which would result from giving Parish Councils, in some cases, powers which would be denied to the Local Boards and urban districts out of which they were carved. He did not know whether it would be possible to give to Local Bodies which had been tried the further powers which this Bill proposed to create. It would be agreed that it would be a great gain to rural parishes if, in the distribution of charities, public and representative Trustees could be associated with the 106 Rector. Why should the line be drawn at £500 per year? He understood that whatever the amount of the charity he would follow the lines of the Bill; the amount of the charity had no real significance at all. He knew of a place where there were 90 inhabitants, and there was a charity of £90, and of another place where there were 27,000 people and a charity of £ 1,300. The mere amount of the charity had very little real importance, because it depended upon the proportion to population. He certainly would do all he could—as he was sure his friends would—to facilitate the progress of the Bill, which they believed would make the life of the people and the life of the villages and small towns fuller and more hopeful than it now was.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said, he would like to know what on earth the hon. Member who had just sat down knew about the country? He was reminded of a story about the hon. Member. He was addressing his constituents at Cirencester, and said, "Under this ancient oak." The hon. Member did not know the difference between an elm and an oak.
§ MR. H. LAWSON
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I think the story which he applies to me dates back to the last century, and I assure him that I never heard of its application to me before.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, that one of the things which might help his right hon. Friend in dealing with this subject was the fact that no interest at all was attached to it in the country. His right hon. Friend might therefore follow the bent of his own conscience without feeling that he was doing any harm to his Party. He desired to express the pleasure with which he heard his right hon. Friend re-assert that he had no back-handed intention of striking a blow at the Established Church. The hon. Member for Nottingham, who had also expressed himself in the same sense, had, as Vice Chairman of the Liberation Society, presented a Report, in which he said—In so far as this Bill transfers to Parish Councils the civil business now transacted in the Parish Vestry and takes away from the Incumbent the control of parochial charities it may be described as a small measure of disestablishment.107 In the face of that Report, what did the hon. Member mean when he spoke tonight? He did not like persons who articulated with a double voice. The Church of England had always shown the people how to govern in a popular way. The subject of areas was a very easy question in theory, but a very difficult one in practice. This Bill would destroy the individuality of 6,000 parishes, and if parishes were joined compulsorily a good working Council could not be obtained. All that the right hon. Gentleman had promised was that the County Council should be paramount with regard to the arrangement of areas and the grouping of the different parishes. The matter should be carried out by voluntary grouping, and not by coercive legislation. According to the Bill, a parish was to be grouped with one of the neighbouring parishes in its own county, but was not to be grouped with a part of it. Townships of neighbouring parishes were not to be grouped with an individual parish, but the whole of one parish must be grouped with the whole of another. There were many parishes which were cut in two by urban districts or by boroughs. What was to become of the two portions so cut off from one another? The right hon. Gentleman said that all these matters were to be left to the County Councils for a year. Why could he not give the County Councils, with the assistance of Commissioners, the opportunity of forming their districts this year, and then bring in his Bill this time next year? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have but little idea of the complexity of the charities which existed in this country. There was no list of these charities, and it was impossible to distinguish by a definition between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical charities. The right hon. Gentleman had said some time ago that he could not make out a list of the parochial charities in England, but The Record had published an almost complete list. The right hon. Gentleman now told the House that he would put the matter right by a definition in the Bill, but the definition the right hon. Gentleman had given them at present was not sufficient. The real question was how the parochial charities could best be administered for the benefit of the parishioners. The right hon. Gentleman gave an answer in reading a long 108 decision from the Master of the Rolls, who said that the Rector and Churchwardens were the persons best fitted to decide on whom charities should be bestowed. Yet these were the very persons whom the right hon. Gentleman proposed to sweep away. An annually-elected body was the worst conceivable body for distributing a large sum of money. Such a system meant uncertainty of administration; and it also meant that a share of the dole would be expected by those who gave their votes to the administrators. It would be a dangerous practice, and would lead to much ill-feeling and jealousy. How was a distinction to be made between ecclesiastical, charitable, and educational endowments? Before the Rector and Churchwardens were supplanted somebody should be found who could better fulfil the desires of the original benefactors. Under the Bill the very offertories given in the churches for the poor would be taken out of the hands of the Churchwardens and given over to the Parish Councils. No charge of misappropriation had been brought against those who had hitherto distributed the doles and charities. The right hon. Gentleman took the City Parochial Charities Act as a precedent; but in that case a Committee sat for a year to distinguish between ecclesiastical and non - ecclesiastical charities in the City of London. The right hon. Gentleman refused to follow the precedent as far as that. The question of ecclesiastical Vestries was of considerable interest to Churchmen. He agreed that a large amount of business could be taken away from an ecclesiastical Vestry, but Churchmen should have the power of constituting their Vestries. But there was nothing about that in the Bill, and he did not think the right hon. Gentleman should pass it by as of no interest whatever. As to the control of closed churchyards, some alteration of the Bill was absolutely necessary. It was not possible to hand over the control of the surroundings of the parish church to a purely secular body quite unconnected with the Church.
§ It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at five minutes after Twelve o'clock.