HC Deb 15 June 1835 vol 28 cc820-43

The Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Municipal Corporation Bill having, on the Motion of Lord John Russell, been read,

Lord John Russell moved that "the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Second Reading of the Bill, but to protest against its generality. The Bill went by its provisions to affect all Corporations, and in his judgment, though the House possessed the power and the right to punish delinquency when proved, yet he could not think the House had any right to interfere in the destruction of corporate bodies which were unaffected by any charge.

In answer to a question put by Lord Stormont,

The Attorney-General

said, that all Recorders now holding that office, who were Barristers of not less than five years' standing, might under the provisions of this Bill be re-appointed by the several councils to be elected by the rate-payers in those boroughs, but that where the office was not held by Barristers, or by Barristers of less than five years' standing, these individuals could not be re-appointed. When any vacancy in respect to the office of recorder should ensue, on all future occasions the appointment to those offices would be vested in the Crown.

Lord Sandon

had not the least wish to oppose the Motion now under discussion, but he must remind the House that great care and caution ought to be used in providing that in all places which this measure went to affect, the administration of justice and the proper distribution of public charities vested in corporate bodies should not be too lightly interfered with. There was one provision of the Bill, as to the applicability of which to all corporations, no matter what might be the amount of their funds, he entertained great doubts. The provision to which he alluded was the triennial election. The Corporation of the town which he had the honour of representing had the superintendence and disposal of funds to the amount of 100,000l. a-year. They were applicable, in part, to extensive plans of improvement, which must naturally take a considerable time before they could be completed. He did not think the execution of business of this kind could be conducted so beneficially by a Corporation chosen so frequently as once in three years, as it would if they were suffered to continue longer in office. Men who succeeded each other so rapidly could not be so well acquainted with the business as persons of longer experience. Nor did he believe that such a fluctuating body offered equal security to the persons who had lent their money to the Corporation to the present permanent body. Besides this large fund of 100,000l. a-year, there was another peculiarity in the Corporation of Liverpool, which was, that it had a concurrent jurisdiction in other funds to the amount of 200,000l. more, in the disposal of which not only the town of Liverpool, but the country at large was deeply interested. Some of the plans to which he alluded would require five, perhaps more than five, years for their completion. Was it to be expected that they could be satisfactorily managed by a Corporation, the constituent parts of which were changed every three years. He did not intend, however, to enter into details at present, but he wished to mention this much in order to show that many points of the Bill would require very minute and scrupulous consideration. In acquiescing, on principle, to the great change contemplated by this measure, he begged to add that he by no means acceded to any admission of the justice of any charges as against the corporate body with which he was connected. That body, although self-elected, published year by year an account of its expenditure, &c., and he believed the investigation of twenty-four days' duration by the Corporation Commissioners had not discovered any error so bad as to call for any Legislative cure. It was impossible to suppose that a self-elected body could long continue to govern the various municipalities of the empire, however great and important the change which had taken place in the constitution of the Commons' House of Parliament. In conclusion, he begged to add, that he should avail himself of an opportunity of supporting the Motion, for the preservation of the rights of freemen and of those possessing inchoate rights to the freedom of any borough, of which the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Praed) had this evening given notice.

Lord Stanley

was unwilling to interrupt the feeling which had been expressed on all sides of the House, a feeling in which he concurred, in favour of the second reading of the Bill, a Motion which he felt ought to pass, not only without opposition, but also without any discussion of the details of the measure. He was equally unwilling to allow the second reading to pass without expressing his dissent from the opinions expressed by the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford. On the contrary, he was anxious to declare, that in his judgment, Parliament had the right, if circumstances required it, to introduce and carry into effect a measure like the present, with such modifications as might render it adapted to the times in which that Parliament existed. He would in the first place take the liberty of expressing his opinion of the absolute necessity at present of introducing a substantial measure of Corporation Reform, and he felt the highest gratification at finding that those individuals with whom he had so long the satisfaction to act had framed a Bill for this object, to the main principles of which he was ready to give his support. It was a main principle of this Bill to take from the self-elected Corporations the control of the corporate funds, and to vest them in the control of the inhabitants of the borough, with whom, in his judgment, that control ought to rest. He could not have supported the second reading of the Bill had he not been prepared also to accede to that which was in point of fact its chief feature—namely, the franchise which it proposed to give. His own feelings and prejudices would have been in favour of The 10l. franchise, but he admitted that there were strong arguments in favour of creating, in corporate elections, a constituency in some degree different from that which shared in the election of Members of Parliament. Moreover, for corporate purposes, powers might be intrusted in the hands of the rate-payers, which, under the restrictions imposed by the Bill, would not be unsafe, as applied to their local concerns. It was one of the most substantial complaints against the system of self-elected Corporations, that it introduced political feeling into all Questions, and tended to perpetuate in Corporations one set of political opinions, Whig or Tory, as the case might be, without reference to the opinions entertained by the town and neighbourhood with which they were connected. Now, therefore, that they were framing a new system, they ought to be particularly careful that it was not liable to the same objection. He was anxious, therefore, that the possibility should be avoided of considering the election of the corporate officers as a test of the relative strength of political parties. He could conceive nothing more injurious to the welfare and happiness of a town than that the election to every petty office should be made such a test, for not only would it engender local animosities, but would have the practical effect of making the members of the Corporation, when they were elected, just as much the Representatives of one set of political opinions as they were before. At the same time, if the Government persevered, as he thought it had good ground to do, in the proposition for extending the franchise to the rate-payers at large, he trusted it would not be less steady in maintaining the proposition for restricting the franchise to three years' continued residence, and three years' continuance of rate-paying; and also the proposition that the votes should be given openly. It might be said that the three years' restriction would have the effect of striking out some of those who had been admitted to the exercise of the franchise for political purposes under the operation of the Reform Act; but he (Lord Stanley) maintained that the circumstances between the election of Members of Parliament and municipal officers were widely different. When the local interests of a borough only were concerned, it would be seen that the amount of pecuniary interest, which was the ground for the establishment of The 10l. franchise, was not so much required as that the interest of the vote should be fixed and established within the limits of the borough over whose property the Corporation was to act as a trustee. Therefore it appeared to him that the permanency of occupation was infinitely more necessary as the test of local than it was with respect to the Parliamentary franchise, when each individual was supposed to vote not for the exclusive local interest of the town, but for the welfare of the kingdom at large. But there was another thing which they ought not to conceal from themselves; they must all know that of the 10l. voters the inferior class—the least respectable portion—were those who were most constantly changing their residence from one town to another; therefore, by adhering to the restriction of three years, they would not only obtain the advantage of a continued and permanent interest in the voters, but they would also secure that class of the population who had given a certain test of their respectability by continued residence and continued and punctual rate-paying. He would not at present say anything with respect to the open voting, except to call the attention of the noble Lord (Russell) to the provisions of the Bill by which that object was sought to be secured, and which, in its present shape, he thought was hardly sufficient to attain the end for which it was intended. [The Attorney General: The lists will be signed by the names of the voters.] Yes, the lists were to be signed by their names, but the list so signed would only be subject to the inspection of the mayors; unless something more than the handing in of a signed paper subject only to such an inspection were done the voting would not be open, but would, in point of fact, be perfectly close. But if they had all the same object in view with respect to the various details of the Bill, if the object of all was to accomplish a wholesome and sound reform of corporation abuses—he trusted that the Bill would be treated in Committee in the same manner and the same spirit as it had been received, and that all would frankly lend their aid to make the details of it as efficient as possible, not to secure or preserve any party or personal interest, but to make it work practically and essentially for the benefit of all. That was the temper in which he should go into the Committee, and he hoped and believed that the House would be actuated by a similar disposition. He did not wish to trouble the House by going into any details at that moment; but there was one point to which, as he conceived it to be an important one, and one upon which he felt compelled to take some objection, he begged in a very few words to advert. He meant the point which had been referred to by his noble Friend, the Member for Liverpool (Lord Sandon) opposite—namely, the very short period for which it was proposed to appoint the council in every corporate town. He (Lord Stanley) was desirous that the most entire control should be given to the Corporation and to the owners of the property over the persons whom they elected as their trustees; but he could not help saying, that, under the provisions of the Bill as it then stood, they might fall into the opposite evil from that which had distinguished the old corporation system and by making the appointment of the council short, and subject to constant variations and changes, to deprive it of that stability which would be necessary to enable it to carry on the affairs devolved to its charge with benefit or advantage to those whom it represented. He confessed he did not see why, if an efficient and proper control were established over these officers, so extraordinary a jealousy should be manifested as that not only the whole should be elected every three years, but that one-third should go out every year. Only see in what a constant state of agitation and turmoil every corporate town would be kept if elections for these councillors were to take place every three years for the whole, every succeeding year for a part, and at any other time, whenever a vacancy by death or otherwise should occur. Under such a provision, it was most probable that six months would never pass over without an election, which would awake and keep constantly alive all those feelings which everyone knew were as much engendered by local contests us by the most important political struggles. He confessed, therefore, he should very much prefer (he spoke his own opinion only, without concert with others) to see the council elected for a period of six years instead of three, and that the elections, instead of being annual, should be triennial, one-half going out every third year. He thought they might have a triennial election with half the Council going out, or a triennial election with one-third of the Council going out, but he confessed he should prefer the former of the two. He believed they would obtain by that means as complete a control over the Council as was requisite for any practicable purpose, whilst at the same time the towns would be relieved from these constantly recurring contests. There was one other point which he wished his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) to consider. It was this: whether he could not extend further the principle he had adopted in the case of some of the largest towns—the principle of dividing every town, or every considerable town, into wards—giving to each separate ward the separate and independent right of electing a certain number of the Council. If he had rightly read the Bill, he believed there were not above twenty towns in the kingdom in which that principle would be acted upon. All towns containing less than 25,000 inhabitants were to choose their Council by single election. He thought that would have the effect in large towns of enabling the bare majority of one political set of opinions to return the whole of the Council, leaving a large and probably most respectable and most intelligent minority wholly unrepresented in the Corporation. If it were their object to avoid the possibility of such a thing occurring, he wished his noble Friend to consider whether his object would not be more effectually obtained by dividing every considerable town into wards, giving to each ward the right of returning as Councillors those whose opinions should coincide with the views of the majority of its inhabitants. By this means the opinions of all would most probably obtain a fair and equal representation. Besides, another great advantage would result from it, in the case of a vacancy occurring, whether from death or otherwise, the whole town would not be disturbed, the election for the new Councillor would take place only in the ward where a Councillor had died—the excitement, if excitement there were, would be confined to that ward alone, and the rest of the town would be left comparatively quiet and free from commotion. He would not trouble the House by entering into any further details. He was satisfied that his noble Friend, and the Members of his Majesty's Government, would be prepared to receive and to discuss calmly and. fairly such objections as might be taken in the progress of the Bill. On his part, he begged to assure them with the most entire sincerity, that he had nothing in view but an earnest desire to carry into effect that which in principle he believed to be a wise measure, and which in detail he believed to be a beneficial measure, which he rejoiced to see introduced, and for which he only desired a calm and temperate discussion, for the benefit, not of this party or of that, but for the advantage of the community at large, for whose benefit these Corporations were originally instituted.

Mr. Ewart

approved of the Measure introduced by his Majesty's Government, but could not find in the history of our municipal constitutions any instance of a previous residence extended to so long a term as three years being required in the Bill now before the House. Much less could he find any precedent for the suggestion of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire—that the Council should continue in office six years. His noble Friend, the Member for Liverpool, had stated that publicity of accounts was one of the characteristics of that town; but the accounts were never seen by the public, or were only obtained by contraband means through the favour of some one or two of the members. With regard to the administration of the revenues of the town, amounting to 100,000l. a-year, the Liberals and the Tories were both disposed to think they were not administered well. His noble Friend had expressed an apprehension lest the security of the bond-holders at Liverpool would be diminished by this Bill. He was at a meeting held in Liverpool on Friday last, where many thousand persons were assembled, and many bond-holders among the number, when so far from expressing any distrust, they stated that their confidence was increased, and that they were convinced they should derive additional security from the measure.

Mr. Grote

took that opportunity of expressing the high sense which he entertained of the excellence of the principle on which the Bill rested; and he confessed it was a great satisfaction to him to perceive, from the general feeling which had been manifested by the House, that it was a task superfluous and unnecessary to prove that the self-electing corporation system was unfitted to the present times, and therefore ought to be swept away. He confessed he could not read the long report contained in the blue book which had been laid upon the Table of the House, without feeling a sense of shame and humiliation that so corrupt a system should have been allowed to remain so long pervading the whole country without any attempt being made to correct it. Whilst he approved entirely of the main principles upon which the Bill rested, and whilst he rejoiced to find that it was proposed to vest the entire control over the corporate property in the great body of the rate-payers, he was impelled to say a very few words in consequence of the remarks which had fallen from the noble Lord (Stanley) behind him. He should regret if the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department should be induced to adopt, and to incorporate in his Bill any of the suggestions which had been made by the noble Lord (Stanley) the Member for South Lancashire. So far from agreeing with that noble Lord that three years' residence was absolutely necessary to secure a respectable constituency, he could not but think that such a provision was likely to interfere most essentially with one of the great objects which the noble Lord, the Home Secretary, had in view, namely, the giving the franchise to the great body of the rate-payers in every large town. He trusted, therefore, that if, in the course of the discussion in Committee it could be shown to the noble Lord that a number of respectable and unexceptionable rate-payers would lose their franchise in consequence of the introduction of such a provision into the Bill, he hoped the noble Lord would not object to cut down the qualification to one year's residence instead of three. The noble Lord (Stanley) seemed to be greatly afraid lest, under what were called the voting clauses of the Bill, they should glide insensibly into a system of secret voting. If that were really to be the case, he (Mr. Grote) should not regard it as one of the defects of the Bill; and greatly should he rejoice if he could induce the House to agree with him in so constructing that part of the Bill as to make the voting necessarily and invariably secret. There were one or two points upon which he thought the Bill might he materially improved without, in any respect, interfering with its principle or essential provisions. It appeared to him that the number of members provided for the municipal council was unnecessarily large. When he saw the number of ninety for Liverpool and seventy-two for Leeds, he confessed he thought it would lead to a lessening of the average of the talent and respectability for which the Members of the Council should be distinguished. He thought, therefore, it would in every case be a great improvement to reduce the number of Councillors proposed in the Bill by one half. He wholly approved of the step which would be made by this Bill towards the severance of judicial from municipal functions. That was a step which could not be too highly commended. There was, however, another point which he must take the liberty of pressing upon the attention of the noble Lord (Russell). It appeared to him that whilst the noble Lord provided for the election of charitable trustees, he made no provision for their proper behaviour after they had been elected. According to the Bill as it then stood, the trustees for charitable purposes were irresponsible and irremoveable. He would also impress upon the noble Lord the necessity of providing some means whereby a recorder, if he did not give satisfaction, should be removed from his office. He was sure it must strike the noble Lord that if a recorder failed to give satisfaction in the community in which he was called upon to administer justice, he ought to be removed, and placed elsewhere. At present no provision seemed to be made for the removal of a recorder, under any circumstances; and he could not but look upon that as a considerable defect in the Bill. He confessed he saw no mischief that could arise from making a recorder removable upon a petition signed either by a majority of the council or a majority of the ratepayers. He had no wish to detain the House at greater length. In the principle of the Bill he wholly agreed, believing, as he did, that it would work great and material improvement in all the corporate bodies in the kingdom. He conceived it would be a most fatal blow to the integrity and well-working of the Bill, if the proposition of the hon. Member for Yarmouth were acceded to, and the franchise of the freemen preserved. On that point he trusted the Government would be found impregnable.

Mr. Wallace

approved of the principle of the Bill, and in opposition to the view taken by the noble Lord (Stanley), thought it would be better that the members of the council should in every instance be elected by the whole town, and not separately in different wards. He was also strongly opposed to the same noble Lord's proposition that the council should be elected for six years.

Mr. Ireland Blackburne

felt bound in duty to his constituents not to allow this opportunity to pass by without expressing his opinion in favour of the principle of the Bill. Having read a great deal of the evidence given before the Commissioners, and having, for the last two years devoted a great deal of attention to the subject, he was decidedly of opinion, that the system of self-election in Corporations ought to be removed—that Corporations should be well governed—that corporate property should be well administered, and that those persons who had the deepest interest in the municipal government should, at least, have a voice in the choice of those who were to govern them. The only mode by which this system of self-election could be removed, was to give the inhabitants at large (under certain restrictions, he admitted), the right of choosing the persons who were to administer their funds, and to rule over their borough. He asked the question, who ought to be the persons so to choose their municipal representatives?—the persons who paid their proportion of the fund to be administered by those who represented them. If there were nothing else but the mere administration of the corporate funds, upon principle it would be absolutely necessary that every person who contributed a part of them should have a voice in the election of municipal officers. But inasmuch as there were other duties to perform, it became necessary that some other qualification should be imposed upon the electors beyond the mere paying the rate. It was necessary that they should be permanent householders, having a permanent interest in the borough. He thought, however, that to establish that permanent interest, it was not necessary that a person should be three years resident in any particular borough before he acquired the right of voting. He thought that one year's residence, and one year's rate-paying would be amply sufficient. In all the rest of the details of the Bill, as well as in the principle he cordially concurred.

Sir Robert Peel

,—The same motives which induced me to listen favourably to the introduction of this Bill, will lead me to give my assent to its second reading. We are told of party interest opposing obstacles in the way of the measure; but the great party with which I have the honour to be connected, feels, I have no doubt, the greatest interest in the establishment of a system of good municipal government in the large towns and cities of this kingdom—an interest far superior to that of mere party, or a desire to that the proceedings of the Government—assuming the object of this Bill to be, the establishment of a good system of municipal government, and the correction, as far as human caution can provide, of all abuses attendant upon the exercise of corporate privileges. Our interest being concurrent with the maintenance of order, of laws, and of the established rights of property, will induce us to support whatever may be proved to be conducive to such objects. We are not inclined to oppose any private or special interest against that which may be necessary for the public good. Upon the same principle upon which the heritable jurisdictions of Scotland were abolished, and other reforms in the public policy have been made—upon that same principle, if, in any case corporate privileges are found to be an obstacle either to the pure administration of justice, or to the establishment of a good system of police and general government, we are willing to admit, that regard for the special privileges ought not to bar the consideration of whatever may conduce to the authority of the law, and to the maintenance of public order. We, therefore, shall offer no opposition to the second reading of this Bill. Sir, I cannot contemplate the condition of some of the great towns of this country, and witness the frequent necessity of calling in the military in order to maintain tranquillity, without feeling desirous that the inhabitants of such towns should be habituated to obedience and order through the instrumentality of an efficient civil power, and a regular and systematic enforcement of the law. I believe that you could not establish a system of good government in the populous towns and cities of this country, retaining at the same time every existing privilege and practice of the corporate bodies as at present constituted; and I think it much better to place those towns under the exclusive control of a corporate authority, invigorated and adapted to their present state of society, than to leave the ancient Corporation precisely where we find it—devolving at the same time all real power, and almost all the functions of administrative authority upon some new body constituted on a different and more popular principal. This would be a virtual supercession of the ancient Corporation—a virtual extinction of the power for the exercise of which it was originally intended; and its permitted co-existence with another body really exercising the authority of municipal government, would be of no possible advantage either private or public. On the details of this Bill, I, of course, reserve to myself the right of voting in such a manner as, after mature deliberation, shall appear to me to be the best calculated to effect that object which the Bill professes to have in view. If I shall deem it necessary to propose any important Amendment in such of the provisions of the Bill as involve its general principle, I shall give notice of the nature of such Amendment; and I think it would be a great convenience if hon. Gentlemen were to do the same. Sir, I apprehend the three most important details connected with the Bill are, the qualification of the constituent body, the qualification of the governing body, and the frequency of their election. With respect to the qualification of the constituent body, having given due consideration to that subject since this measure was brought forward by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), my present impression is, that it will be advantageous to establish a qualification different from that which is required for the constituent body under the Reform Act. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and relied on his experience in respect to Scotch burghs, omitted to state, that the qualification for an elector in the burghs of Scotland is identical with that of an elector of a Member of Parliament. In each case in Scotland, the 10l. householder is the elector. As to the policy of following that precedent, and taking the same qualification in each case in this country, I feel the full force of the objection urged by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley), that we run the risk of creating a corporate body influenced by all those political feelings and interests which sway that body in its other capacity of returning Members to serve in Parliament; and that every vacancy in the office of councillor, whether arising by death, by absence, or by the triennial retirement of a third of the council, would become a trial of political strength, having a great tendency to paralyze the exertions of the local Magistracy, by giving them the character of political partizans—by throwing upon their magisterial acts the character, or at least, the imputation of partiality. There may, therefore, be an advantage in the establishment of a separate qualification for the elective body; and in that case the only question will be, what is the proper qualification? The suggestion of a three years' continuous residence and payment of rates is a point which appears to me to require mature consideration. I am inclined to think it not a bad qualification, provided it be a bonâ fide one, and that effectual precautions be taken against the abuse of it—against the creation of a fictitious franchise. Three years' residence is a fair primâ facie test of good character; and three years' payment of rate—that is, a continuous payment of rate—by the occupier himself, is such a test of property and interest in good municipal government, as qualifies a man for the exercise of this franchise. At the same time it will be absolutely necessary to guard against many possible cases, in which there may be an usurpation of this franchise, and an evasion of the intention of the law. In many towns there are pauper residents, who, without having any parochial settlement in them, would, without such precautions, be entitled to vote for the council; they are paupers belonging to other parishes, who live under the constant threat of the overseers, that if they do not pay their rates regularly, they will be removed; and in many cases, the parishes to which they belong are the payers of the rates. Now, I apprehend that such persons as these are much less interested in the well-being of the town in which they reside, than persons possessing the elective franchise ought to be. They may have been residents for three years, and the rates due from them may have been paid; yet if they are, in point of fact, paupers belonging to another parish, they surely ought not to have a voice in the government of the town in which they are casual residents. I trust, therefore, that an effectual provision will be made, by which the qualification established in this Bill shall be bonâ fide adhered to. I do not agree with those hon. Gentlemen win maintain, that every man who contribute to the rates, ought to have a vote in the government of a borough. You did no act on that principle in the Reform Bill—you did not, in that Bill, enact, that every man who contributes to the public exigencies shall vote for Members of Parliament. The main point to be considered is—not the abstract theoretical right of each particular man, but what is the class of electors which will be likely to choose, permanently, the best governing body?—and you have a perfect right to act upon the same principle in the government of a town, as of a kingdom. If you believe that three years' payment of rates, and three years' residency, are the best qualification, and will secure a sufficient control over the acts of the governing body, it is a much more material object to establish that qualification, than to act upon the mere theory, that every man who contributes to the rates, has a right to the franchise. With respect to the frequency of elections, I am inclined to think there is much reason in the proposition of the noble Lord, (Lord Stanley). I think we should study to give more permanency to the governing body, and to avoid the perpetual recurrence of those conflicts which poison the harmony of society. There are other advantages in life, besides the elective franchise and popular elections; and, if you sacrifice the concord and peace of these great societies for which you are now providing a system of government, to speculative improvements in the mode of that government, you will defeat your own ends, by discouraging the truly qualified and respectable inhabitants from voting on municipal affairs, and will provide little security against the abuse of power. With respect to the qualification of the members of the governing body, I believe the prevalent opinion in the country to be, that there ought to be some qualification—an opinion which has been acted upon by one of high authority on this subject (Lord Brougham). In the Bill which he introduced for the government of certain towns, at present incorporate, he established a 10l. qualification for the electors, and a qualification of 1,000l., of real and personal property, for each member of the governing body. Considering in all cases, that, by this Bill, the Mayor is to be a county Magistrate, virtute officii, to take his seat as a Magistrate, with those from whom a qualification is now required, there ought surely to be some test of his respect, ability in point of station in life, and competency. In most of the Local Acts which have been established with the concurrence of the inhabitants of the towns to which they refer, there has been a qualification required in persons who are to be trusted with authority. I dare say the noble Lord has looked into the Act for the government of Stroud, the town he represents. I am not very well versed in the history of that Local Act; but I have no reason to doubt that it was passed with the general concurrence of the respectable and intelligent inhabitants of the town. In that Act, a high qualification is required on the part of the persons who have to perform functions analogous to those which are intrusted to the governing body of a borough under this Bill. The points to which I have thus referred are those, I apprehend, which involve the chief considerations connected with this measure, that are of a political character. There are several other details of the Bill which are of great importance, and which require the most serious consideration. They are matters in which all persons who hear me have a common interest, and in respect to which they need not have, necessarily, on account of different party connexions, different views. If I now allude to them, it will be with a view rather to promote than to defeat the professed object of the Bill. It may be thought that it would be better to reserve the discussion of them for the Committee; but there are advantages in taking a general view of the details of a measure of this nature,—thus permitting the mature consideration of any suggestions that may he offered. One of the points to which I will call the attention of the noble Lord is the great power which is given to the Mayor, under this Act. The Mayor is to be the returning-officer of the borough; that is, he is to be an officer of a political character, having political functions to perform, and the power you intrust to him of singly deciding upon the validity of the votes tendered in municipal elections is extremely great. He is to receive the lists of votes, to examine that list, to revise it, and to proclaim the result. Here is no doubt a great opportunity of abusing power, without any efficient check or control over it. Then, as to the council, the more precaution you take in defining its powers, the more you can separate municipal from mere political objects, the better. So far am I from wishing to see one party gain any undue influence by the measure, that I think the test of its. perfection will be the separating of interests which are political, from those which are strictly municipal, but you constitute the Mayor the returning-officer, and give him an almost irresponsible power—you give him the power to hold a Court at which objections are to be made to the votes—he is charged with determining which party have the majority; you ought to establish such a check upon him, that there may be no abuse, and that you may even prevent any suspicion from attaching itself to the integrity and impartiality of the chief officer. What possible objection can there be to provide that scrutineers shall be appointed? It is clear that there ought to be some check of the kind, and that the decision upon matters of this nature ought not to rest upon the simple declaration of any one man, who, after receiving the lists, and examining them, and declaring the result, may, if he so think fit, afterwards destroy them, and preclude the possibility of detection, in cases, even, of wilful error. The Bill makes no provision for the application of any surplus there may be of corporate property. Now, there are many boroughs which are extremely wealthy; and, after providing for the public purposes named in the Bill, it is clear that there may be, in some instances, a considerable surplus. My noble Friend, the Member for Liverpool, states, that in that town there is one of 35,000l. The Bill provides, that the new corporate body shall have all the powers which the existing body has; and, as those powers over the property of the corporation are very considerable, there ought to be some provision controlling the appropriation of any surplus that may remain after providing for the special objects named in the Bill. It ought to be known, that in many boroughs, considerable expense is about to be incurred. The Bill provides, that, after the termination of existing interests, there shall be no application of corporate property to individual uses, but the existing individual interests are to be protected; and thus, even in the cases wherein there are no corporate estates, some time will elapse before there will be a fund sufficient to provide for municipal purposes. In these cases, the new governing body will have to levy a new rate, and that rate will be the only source from which the municipal charges can be defrayed in the case of those towns which are now incorporate. This rate—its connexion with the Poor-rate—the mode of levying it—the appeal against it, are all matters of deep interest to the societies to which this Bill applies, and require much more mature consideration, than I fear they are likely to receive at this period of the Session. The provision of this Bill, with respect to County-rates are very important. Many districts will be hereafter exempt from direct contribution to the County-rates. In all those for instance, which are to have a separate Quarter-Sessions, the County-rate will have to be levied upon a new principle. A calculation is to be made of the expenses of the prosecutions arising from those boroughs, and the treasurer of the county is to certify to each borough, what portion of the County-rate it ought to pay, and to demand payment accordingly. I am afraid the borough will not consider the Treasurer of the County, a very impartial Judge upon that head. Then there is another enactment of a similar nature, and of equal importance in Clause 97, relating to the more general expenses of the county, such as building bridges and public buildings. Here, too, the treasurer of the county is to make a calculation as to the portion of the County-rate which should fall upon the district included within a borough; and in case any difference shall arise, it shall be lawful for either party to appeal to the Privy Council, who shall thereupon make such order as to them shall seem expedient, and such order shall be binding upon all parties. Now, I am afraid the Privy Council will not be well qualified to decide in these cases. There is no apparent principle to guide them in their determination. In the case of the expenses of prosecutions, there is a principle, because the expenses can be regulated and defined; but in the case of the general expenses of the county, the degree of benefit derived by a particular district is very indefinite. There will frequently be an appeal to the Privy Council against the demand of the County Treasurer which appeal will, I fear, be attended with considerable expense. It will, therefore, be for those who are intrusted with the administration of the County-rates, to watch this part of the Bill with great attention. In the case of some boroughs, the new corporate district may not be conterminous with the parishes of which it is partly composed. In these cases, how will the County-rate operate?—part of a parish will be within the county, and part within the borough. Is the part within the county to contribute to the County-rate upon the old, and that within the borough upon the new, principle? These are minor considerations, as affecting the principle of the measure, but they are important, with the view of preventing, as far as possible, litigation and expense. I come now to a more important point. The noble Lord provides, that twenty of the larger boroughs are to be divided into wards—these wards are to be determined by the Privy Council upon the Report of certain Commissioners. Surely Parliament ought to have some control over this. I agree with the noble Lord (Stanley), that it would be an immense advantage, and might be the means of ensuring a much fairer representation of property, if the principle of division into wards were extended far beyond the limits proposed in the Bill—and I reserve to myself the power of moving an Amendment to that effect—but I take the Bill as it now stands: it provides, that twenty towns shall be divided into wards, and that the Privy Council shall not only have the power of determining how many wards there shall be, but also the number of Representatives each ward is to return. Now, that I hold to be a power too important to be exercised by any authority short of that of Parliament. In a town like Liverpool, as it will be possible for the Privy Council to assign twenty Representatives to one ward, and two to another, they may constitute the Council either a democratic or aristocratic body, at their mere will. This is a power the Crown ought not to exercise without the control of Parliament; it is a power which was denied to the Crown in the Reform Bill, even in the case of the mere territorial boundaries of boroughs, and was expressly, after discussion, reserved to Parliament. This Bill provides, that twenty large towns, named in the Bill, may be divided into wards, but no obligation is imposed upon the Crown as to the period at which its discretionary authority is to be exercised. The Crown is not bound to make the division before the first election for the Council; and if it do not, the elections will be made, as in the case of other towns, by the voters indiscriminately. In this respect, there ought to be some alteration in the Bill. It should be reserved to Parliament to determine in what cases the division into wards shall take place—what shall be the number of wards—what the number of councillors to be alloted to each ward. An indefinite power is given to the Council with regard to the amount of the new Borough-rate. No maximum is established; and while a power is given to the Council—or rather, an obligation is imposed to separate the charge of watching from that of lighting, nothing is defined (even in cases wherein a maximum on the whole rate now exists) in respect to the amount of the separate charges. When these points shall come to be looked at practically by the different societies to which this Bill applies, they will be found to affect their interests in a very material degree. The Bill, in fact, attempts to include in one Act, one hundred private Bills,—to apply uniformly the same provisions to towns very differently circumstanced; and I am satisfied that unless there be the fullest opportunity of considering very maturely the details of the measure, the result will be disappointment and failure. Then, with respect to the operation of the Bill in individual instances, there are cases in which it will confer no benefit. In the town with which I am connected, the corporate body is a self-elected one; but that body has elected its members without reference to any political feeling; it has selected its members from among parties opposed to each other in political sentiment; the people are content, and there is neither abuse nor any allegation of it. In such a case as this, I should see the application of this Bill with considerable regret, for I fear it would have a tendency to introduce party feelings into the constitution of the Corporation, and considerably diminish the satisfaction which is now felt. Therefore I think it will be a matter of consideration for the noble Lord, whether, in all cases where the communities at large are satisfied with the existing Corporations, it will not be advisable to let them remain as they are. Sir, I have now given my opinions upon this subject, the details of which will, as I have observed, require much consideration In the Committee; and the little disposition which has been shown to oppose the general principle of the Bill, ought to make the noble Lord doubly anxious to give all parties concerned the opportunity of considering and canvassing a measure which so intimately affects their interests, and the peace and good order of the societies to which they belong.

Mr. Brotherton

had had some experience In the framing and working of two local Bills, similar in principle to the one now under discussion; and he agreed with what had fallen from the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, as to the division of boroughs, into wards, but he differed from that noble Lord as to the election of councilmen for six years. If either property or population were taken as the basis, the representation might be unequal; it was, therefore, necessary that these two elements should be combined to give the proper proportion. Suppose that a ward, according to the number of Rate-payers, should return twenty councilmen, but ac- cording to the value of the property assessed only ten, the medium number would be fifteen. It was of great importance that elections should be conducted in a peaceable manner, and the dividing of populous boroughs into wards would contribute much to that end. In the curtailment of the number of councilmen, as suggested by the hon. Member for the city of London, he did not concur. It was necessary to divide the Councilmen into Committees; and as in large towns there was a good deal of business to be transacted, he, therefore, thought it necessary that the number should not be very limited. The vesting of charitable funds in the Corporation would be a great saving of expense, which was of some importance when the charities are of small amount. With regard to the qualification of Councilmen, in Local Bills, that was required. Perhaps, as respected the Mayor, a property qualification might be desirable. He thought the measure would give satisfaction to the country, and it should have his cordial support.

Mr. Jervis

rose, not for the purpose of answering the objections of the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down, but he apprehended that the principle on which Corporations were formed was for the mutual convenience of the inhabitants of the towns; and he considered that one year's occupation and rating was for all purposes sufficient to entitle an inhabitant to enjoy the privilege of voting in the election of the corporate body. The right hon. Baronet had said, that he considered the annual going out of one-third of the town council would be inexpedient; but then that right hon. Baronet must have forgotten that two-thirds always remained in office to instruct those newly elected. Besides, as was the case with the guardians of the poor, if they behaved well when in office they were generally pretty sure of re-election. As regarded the qualification, he considered that the persons who would be elected would be of such character and station in life as to render any qualification unnecessary. Because a noble and learned Lord (Brougham) had chosen to introduce a Bill into the other House with qualifications, he apprehended that that House was not bound to adopt the same principle. To enlarge the division of great towns into wards he considered beneficial, and he should advise that a revising barrister should go to each town, and examine into the list of voters, to prevent any undue influence of the Mayor, who was to be the returning officer under this Bill. It was not necessary for him to observe any further on the principle of this Bill, with which he most cordially agreed; but he hoped that its progress might not be delayed beyond that time which was absolutely necessary for a measure of so much importance.

Lord John Russell

was happy to find that there prevailed so general a concurrence in the House with respect to the principle of the Bill, not only because that circumstance was an augury of the success of the measure, but also because it would make the perfection of the details a matter of more easy attainment. He was much gratified at hearing his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) express his approbation of the principle of the Bill; but this was nothing more than he expected; for, having been engaged with his noble Friend in forwarding through Parliament the measure for the reform of the representation, he felt convinced that the noble Lord would not withhold his support from a Bill having for its object the reform of the Municipal Corporations. The observations, too, which had fallen from the right hon. Baronet opposite, were, in his opinion, extremely fair and candid. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the time had come when it was necessary to deal with Municipal Corporations, and he also declared his opinion to be, that it was expedient to deal with them on enlarged general principles. The right hon. Gentleman had directed the attention of the House to the three main Questions, the franchise of the constituent body, the frequency of the elections, and the absence of all qualification. With respect to the franchise of the constituent body, the observations which had fallen both from the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) tended to confirm him in the opinion he had before expressed on this subject. He believed that that species of franchise had been selected which was likely to give content in the incorporated towns, and to produce good municipal government. He was not, therefore, disposed to make any alteration on this head in the Bill. It had been suggested by one hon. Gentleman at the head of the Commission, that it would be expedient to make the period of residence requisite to constitute a right to vote shorter than the term proposed, but though in former times the residence of one year might have been considered a sufficient test of permanent residence in a town; yet, in the present day, so great a fluctuation took place in the population of different places, and so many persons lived in them, and paid the rates only for a short period, that in endeavouring to discover who were the permanent inhabitants of a town, and able to pay the rates, it became necessary to judge by a residence of a longer term than one year. With respect to the frequency of the elections, he considered the Bill as it stood at present preferable to the alterations which had been suggested. He believed that it would tend to the satisfaction of the inhabitants of the different towns, and give them a due control over the governing bodies of the boroughs, that they should have the power at intervals—and of not long intervals—of re-electing those persons whose conduct they approved of, and of changing those with whose conduct they were not pleased. He really believed that frequency of elections would lead to less change in the elected body than would be the case if the elections were made for a longer period. The right hon. Baronet opposite seemed disposed to propose some qualification. He would of course pay the greatest attention to any suggestion which the right hon. Baronet might make; but after giving the best consideration to the subject, he had not been able to find that any peculiar benefit would be obtained by requiring a qualification. In some places, in consequence of the taking a high rating and qualification, a man whose only recommendation was that he lived in showy premises would be elected, while another person, perhaps more wealthy, and more fit to conduct the general affairs of his town, would, in consequence of living in a smaller house, and paying a smaller rating, be excluded from the choice of the inhabitants. Still he should be happy, he repeated, to listen to any proposition on this subject which the right hon. Baronet might make in Committee. With respect to the other points touched upon—the power of the Mayor in elections, the division of the larger boroughs into wards, and the clauses respecting County-rates—these were matters which would be considered in Committee, and which he did not think it necessary to notice at the present moment. In conclusion, the noble Lord stated, that he should move that the Bill be committed on Monday next, and that the House should continue to sit in Committee on the Bill from day to day until the considera- tion of its details should be completed. He proposed this course, because he was anxious that no unnecessary delay should impede the progress of a measure which he believed to be of great importance to the future welfare of the country. The Bill was read a second time.