The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
Provincialism Versus Local Government
Provincialism Versus Local Government.
Now, I have to refer to a question to which a great deal of attention has been directed — the local government question,—but I will not at this late period of the evening go into; it at very great length, but I wish to say this : It has been a matter of unceasing thought upon my part for many weeks past, and I have come to the conclusion that the local government question really resolves itself primarily and principally into a financial question. I believe that a large organic alteration is not required. I believe moreover, that what is most essential is to ascertain what are the real feelings and wishes of those who have now the charge of the local government of the colony — I allude to the Chairmen of the County Councils and to the Mayors of the various towns; and so impressed am I in regard to my port on of the subject—the financial portion of the subject—with the necessity of obtaining their views, that I have made up my mind, unless my colleagues disapprove of it—that, at any rate, to satisfy myself upon such questions as come within the cognisance of the various departments which I hold, that it will be a deniable thing to summon a meeting of all the County Chairmen and all the Mayors of the towns in the colony with a view to eliciting from page break them generally their opinions upon what is really required to make more satisfactory the position of local government within the colony — especially in relation to its financial aspects. (Cheers.) I believe we may ascertain from those who are really concerned in the local government of the country such amendments as are required to improve the present system. For my part, I believe that what is principally and primarily required is more certain, larger, and more elastic local revenues, to that local bodies may know what means they have to depend upon, and may fashion their works accordingly, instead of depending, as they have been doing for years past, upon what seems to me has been practically authorised—that is, a system of benefactions distributed by the Government or the House, according to a more or less arbitrary pleasure or caprice. What they want is something certain and well-defined, and I believe we may ascertain that when we are able to obtain their opinion jointly. Moreover, what is very essentially required is to protect the means which already, to some extent, exist, by which for certain purposes, and not beyond those purposes unless desired, there may be a combination between two or more counties, or between counties and towns, for works of joint interest. As regards the question of renewing the provincial system, about which I know a great deal has been said, in my opinion it is utterly impossible to do so The provincial system merely depended upon two things—namely, the land revenue and the power within the provinces of borrowing large sums of money. I do not think that a renewal of the Provincial Government in any sense can possibly be carried out. At the same time I believe we may enlarge the objects find the scope of local government, and relieve the Central Government of some of its functions, and get rid of the objection which has very properly been felt, that the General Government has much too much to do and much too much power, and the local bodies too little. (Cheers.)