§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(11.40.) MR. MATTINSON (Liverpool, Walton)
I had hoped that the good sense and fairness of principle upon which the Bill is founded would have enabled the Second Reading to pass without any opposition. But I find notices of opposition have been given from more than one quarter, and therefore I must say a few words as to the object of the measure and the necessity for it. The object is to amend the Municipal Corporations Act in the direction of removing a difficulty—a serious difficulty I allow, but a senseless difficulty, and one founded on no principle in the way of the re-adjustment of municipal boundaries in cases where such re-adjustment is found to be necessary. I do not know what will be admitted in this Debate; but I think I may assume that it is vital to the principle of popular representation that there should be some approach to equality of voting power in the constituencies, whether in relation to Parliamentary or municipal representation. It follows that there ought to be some practical provision by which the inequalities in the voting power of constituencies which may from time to time arise may be cheaply and expeditiously remedied. It is matter of common knowledge that the centres of population are continually shifting, growing here and declining there; and it is obvious that arrangements for the division of representation which may 598 be perfectly fair in a town to-day may become unfair in ten years' time and may, indeed, become a scandal, a mockery of popular institutions twenty years later. The House will scarcely credit how imperfect the provision in the present state of the law is in regard to the correction of the difficulties and anomalies that arise. I believe I am right in saying that the original Act of 1835 made no provision at all for dealing with the matter. It provided for the definition of the limits of a borough, and of the wards within the borough, but there it stopped, making no provision for the future revision; and for a considerable period after 1835, in cases where there was necessity for revision, there was no course open to a municipality but to come to Parliament with proposals for private legislation. In 1859, for the first time, Parliament proposed to apply a corrective, and in that year an Act was passed, which I think was substantially re-enacted in the Act of 1882, and constitutes the law which prevails at the present time. The legislation of 1859 and 1882 provides that upon petition the Queen in Council may make an order with regard to the re-arrangement of municipal wards, and subsequently, after local inquiry, issue an Order re-defining the wards. Unfortunately, and as I think probably by inadvertence, a difficulty has been created by the wording of this legislation, and two limitations imposed on the exercise of this power have combined to render the power given to the Queen in Council practically a dead letter. We propose in the Bill to deal with these limitations. Parliament enacted that no petition should be sent to the Queen in Council, unless and until it was signed by two-thirds of the members of the Town Council. That has been construed to mean not two-thirds of the members present on the occasion of passing a resolution for the petition. That meant a considerable clog on the action of a municipality. Worse than that, the view acted upon has been that in order to set the machinery of the Privy Council in motion it is necessary that the petition presented should be subscribed by two-thirds of the total 599 number of persons elected to the Town Council. Now, I think it goes without saying that the effect of such a provision has been to place a great power, a most unreasonable power, in the hands of a minority to prevent the question of a re-adjustment of wards being considered. It is not necessary for those who are determined, rightly or wrongly, to stick to some inequality in the division to take any active steps or incur the odium of public opinion; they have only to remain quiescent and refuse their assent to a petition. That is one and the main difficulties we propose to deal with in this Bill. But there is another difficulty which has grown out of, as I conceive, the unhappy wording of the Acts of 1859 and 1882. As the law stands, it is necessary, if there is any petition to the Privy Council at all, to petition for a change in the number of wards as well as in the boundaries of wards. Now, it often happens that there is local necessity for a change in the limits of a ward; but it rarely happens that there is necessity for changing the number of wards. This is a further difficulty put in the way of those who may desire reform. These are the two limitations which at the present time exist to the power vested in the Privy Council for the correction of anomalies, and I think the mere statement of these limitations should command sympathy with the desire for their removal. But I should like further to point out that not only is legislation in this matter theoretically defective—that appears on the face of it—but this legislation has practically worked in a way most detrimental to free play and free action being given to popular representation in municipal administration. I have here a number of facts compiled and founded on Returns made by Town Clerks indifferent boroughs. I will not weary the House by going through them all, but I will call attention to a few which I think will satisfy the House that throughout the municipal boroughs of England and Wales there is a vast mass of anomalies and irregularities which call for legislative attention. I find in Birkenhead there is one ward with 423 electors, and another ward quite close to it with 3,456 electors, the voting power in one ward being eight times 600 that of the other. In Brighton there is one ward, the Pavilion Ward, with 849 electors, and the St. Peter's Ward with 4,620; at Manchester a ward with 1,183 as against another with 5,993; and in Newcastle a ward with 869 electors, and another with 3,952, a proportion of five to one. In Sheffield I find there is one ward, Upper Hallam, with 503 electors, and another, Attercliffe, with 5,785—a proportion of ten to one. There is another case at Sheffield, St. Phillips, with 2,794 and Eccleshall with 11,961, each being represented in the Town Council by six members. Leaving these places, I should like to mention to the House the cases of three municipal boroughs, and in regard to which my connections give me some actual knowledge. Take the case of Carlisle. In that city there is one ward called St. Mary's Ward with about 270 electors, while there are two great working-class wards each of which has within a trifle of 3,000, the relation being ten to one. That is one case. Then there is the case of the town of Blackburn. I find here there is one ward, St. Mary's, with 713 voters, and there is the Park Ward with 5,218—a proportion of seven to one. And now I come finally to the case of Liverpool, which does not differ in principle from any one of the cases I have previously mentioned. So far as the principle of the inequality and injustice is concerned, the case of Liverpool is precisely the case of the other towns; but as regards the incidence of the injustice, the case of Liverpool is incomparably stronger. Will the House credit that in the City of Liverpool you have at the present moment this state of things. There is one ward, called Pitt Street, with about 710 electors, which returns three Councillors to the City Council, and you have another ward, Everton Ward, with an electorate of 23,145, which has only exactly the same representation and the same influence in regard to municipal government as the 710 electors of the minute ward of Pitt Street. But that is not all, because the gross and palpable injustice to which I have called the attention of the House runs all through the representation of the city; and it has this broad and general 601 result: In Liverpool there are 74,000 municipal electors, who are divided more or less unequally among 16 wards. Now, there are three wards—Everton, West Derby, and Toxteth—which among them have 44,000 out of the 74,000 electors, and yet those three wards, with that preponderating proportion of electors, only return to the City Councils nine members, while the remaining 30,000 burgesses, divided among 13 wards, return to the City Council 39 Councillors. Submitted in another way the result is this: that four-sevenths of the total electorate of Liverpool do not return one-fifth of the representatives, while three-sevenths return more than four-fifths. That is the case of Liverpool, and I make bold to say that if it stood alone it would constitute a sufficient case for the intervention of this House to correct such a travesty upon the system of popular representation. Let me say before I sit down what we propose in this Bill. We do not propose in any way to interfere with the authority which has finally to determine the question whether there ought to be any re-adjustment of municipal boundaries and what that re-adjustment ought to be; and I hope that fact will be a sufficient answer to the suggestion which has been made, that there is any desire on the part of any of us to jerrymander the representation of Liverpool. The responsibility of determining whether, in the first place, a case is made out for the change; and, in the second place, the determination of what change—that responsibility we leave where it was before. But the defect of the present system is this: that the authority which has power in the matter has no initiative of its own. The authority can only be set in motion as the result of local intervention, and all that we propose to do by this Bill is to remove the difficulty in the way of that local intervention. We propose to do that in two ways; we propose to apply in this case the sound and wholesome principle which Parliament has generally applied—that the vote of the majority of the elected Town Council shall be sufficient, at any rate, to start the machinery which will enable this matter to be considered by the authority. We propose that a bare 602 majority of the Town Council shall take the place of the existing fantastic suggestion that two-thirds of the whole Council shall be necessary; and, in order to meet the possible case of the failure of a Town Council to do its duty, we propose as an alternative that a certain number of the burgesses in any ward shall themselves have the initiative of sending to the Privy Council a petition to start the proceedings. We propose further, while we are legislating, to get rid of the other difficulty which exists—namely, that if you petition for the re-adjustment of the limit of the municipal boundaries, you must also petition for a change in the number of wards. The law in future, if this Bill obtains sanction, will be that you can either petition for a change in the number of wards, or for a change in the boundaries of the wards, or for both. That is our Bill, and I suggest that its justice and equity are as clear as the extent of the evil it is designed to meet. I notice that there is opposition to this Bill, but I am not going to anticipate anything that may be said in support of that opposition. I have some difficulty, however, in thinking that the opposition can be persistent, because it is the opposition of Radical Members, gentlemen who pose as the champions of popular principles and popular ideas. Therefore, I have difficulty in believing that hon. Gentlemen who, on the platforms of the country pose in that character, are on this May afternoon going to turn reactionaries by doing all in their power to oppose the passage of a Bill founded upon popular principles, and the object of which is to give fair play to the majority in the municipal administration in this country. I do not wish, so far as this opposition may be of a local character, to say more than one word about it, because this Bill is general in its character, and I do not wish to entangle its discussion with the details of any local controversy. I trust, however, the House will note the character of the local opposition to the Bill, and I suggest that the measure of that opposition is the measure of the necessity of this Bill. If the representatives of the minority in a certain city oppose the Bill this afternoon, the House and 603 the country will form its own judgment as to what justice the majority of the ratepayers in that city will receive at their hands. I only wish now to say this final word. I do not believe Parliament will depart from the principle which it has always pursued of refusing to allow special interests to stand in the way of general interests; I do not believe the House will recognise in the case of Liverpool a vested right in injustice and inequality; believe, on the contrary, that this House will accept the Bill on the broad ground that it is a measure the scope of which is general, that it is a measure founded upon the principles which now prevail, and, further, that it is a practical mode of dealing with a practical grievance. This Bill is one which most municipal corporations desire to-day, and which every municipal corporation will want shortly. I beg to move its Second Reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Mattinson.)
§ MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)
I oppose this Bill in spite of the way in which it has been introduced into this House by my hon. and learned Friend opposite, and in spite, too, of what he has said. I do not hesitate to say that the Bill would be better described by the title: "A Bill to Gerrymander the Wards of the Municipality of Liverpool," than by the title which it holds, and which is innocent enough on the face of it. But the devices of my hon. and learned Friend are not sufficient to conceal the identity of the right hon. Gentleman who sits in front of him, and who stands behind him in regard to this Bill. One thing those with experience of Liverpool are almost certain to recognise is that when there is going forward any political manipulation in the city the right hon. Gentleman will not be far off. With regard to the devices to which my hon. Friend has resorted on the present occasion, the right hon. Gentleman has apparently considered it wise not to identify himself with the measure, probably deeming the other course inconsistent with the dignity of a position in the Privy Council and membership in Her Majesty's Government. 604 But, Sir, notwithstanding that, I think we recognise the master mind behind, for I do say, in the right hon. Gentleman's favour, that he is a past-master in the art of so arranging electoral divisions as to give an undue preponderance of Tory votes to Liverpool. For my part, I trust he will not have an opportunity to exercise his undoubted abilities in that direction with regard to the present division of the Municipality. My first objection to this measure is founded upon the fact that it is a local measure and nothing else; and if the House desires to be convinced upon that point, I do not think I need go further than to point out the names upon the back of this. Bill. Without one exception they are those of the Tory Members for the Port of Liverpool, and I think my hon. and learned Friend must have been laughing in his sleeve at us when he disavowed any local intention in regard to this Bill, and suggested that there was a very burning desire for it elsewhere.
§ MR. MATTINSON
I did not disavow any local intention. This Bill will correct injustice in Liverpool; but it will go far beyond that, and correct injustice all over the country.
§ MR. NEVILLE
I am glad there is no difference of opinion between us on, that ground. It is a Bill the object of which is to deal with alleged injustice in Liverpool.
§ MR. NEVILLE
It may have the effect of removing injustice outside Liverpool, but that has nothing to do with the origin and support of the Bill. Now it seems to me that it would be setting up a very bad precedent to introduce a measure altering the general law of the country in order to meet an alleged injustice in one particular case, and to enforce that argument I think I need not do more than point to the state of the Benches opposite on this occasion. Here is a Bill which, as I think I shall be able to show, proposes an alteration of a very serious nature in the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, by which the Municipalities throughout the country are regulated. It is supported, in the first instance at all events, by the representative of a 605 particular borough, but little or no interest is taken in it throughout the country. I do not believe half-a-dozen Municipalities are aware of its existence, and I therefore ask the House to pause and consider very carefully the nature of the proposed change before voting for the Second Reading of this Bill. I feel sure that hon. Members on both sides will admit that the general principle I have stated—namely, that there should not be an alteration of the general law of the land in order to meet a particular case of injustice—is a right principle, and ought not to be departed from except where a very strong case of injustice is made out. Well, I propose to show that there is nothing in the case of Liverpool which can justify hon. Members opposite in asking for an alteration in the general law to meet it. In the course of my remarks on that city I shall have to speak of the conflicting interests between Liberal and Tory there. No doubt some persons will say that Party politics ought not to obtain at all in municipal government. (Hear, hear.) I am surprised that a Member of this House should commit himself to such an opinion, because I think anyone who has only a superficial acquaintance with municipal government in large cities must recognise that there is no other reasonable system upon which it can be carried on. So long as Party Government is conducted on the principle of division into two broad lines, whether you call them Liberal or Tory, Progressive or Moderate, I do not care—but so long as that method obtains, I believe you have the most satisfactory system human ingenuity has yet devised for carrying on the government of a free country or city. Therefore, Sir, I do not think I owe any apology to the House for speaking of the Liberal or Tory cause in connection with the municipal affairs of a city like Liverpool. Undoubtedly there is practically the same line of cleavage between Tory and Liberal in municipal matters as in Imperial affairs, and politics generally. I have no doubt that in 99 cases out of every 100 the habit of mind which leads a man to declare himself Liberal or Radical in regard to Imperial affairs will place him on the same side in municipal affairs. With that preface, 606 let me call the attention of the House to the municipal history of Liverpool, extending over nearly 50 years. During the whole of that period that city has been under the absolute domination of the Tory Party. At the present time, however, very strong indications are apparent of a weariness of this Tory domination, and Tory seats have been lost year after year in the municipal elections. It is not unreasonable that there should be these strong indications of a desire for a change on the part of the citizens of Liverpool, because, despite a magnificent corporate estate, they find themselves burdened with heavy taxation and the town swarming with public-houses, a state of things for which they have to thank those who have had the regulation of their city for the past 50 years. At all events, whether they are right or wrong, the people of Liverpool are evincing a desire to see if the other side cannot do something better for them, and I do not hesitate to say, Hence this Bill. What is the present position of municipal affairs in that city? Of the elected Councillors there are 28 on the Liberal side, and 20 on the Tory side; but then there are 16 Aldermen, every one of whom is a Tory. Upon the termination of the present Council eight of these Aldermen will have to retire, and of course eight will have to be elected in their place. Should the Liberals gain at the next municipal election one seat, they will then have an actual majority in the Council, as they now have a majority of elected Councillors. It is obvious if that programme is carried out, as the Tories in Liverpool fear, there will be at all events a temporary end to their long ascendency, and it is with the view of meeting that difficulty by what they call a re-arrangement of the wards that this Bill is introduced. For my own part I do not think it is a fair device for the purposes they have in view. I do not object to a good fight, and I hope when I get a defeat I can bear it well. But I like to fight fairly, and I think in this case the Tories have not kept to the rules of the game. And, Sir, I am fortified in this view by this reason—the anomalies which my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out have existed for a considerable 607 number of years, and are anomalies which exist in a greater or less degree all over the country, both in Parliamentary Divisions and in the wards of Municipalities, because at the present time the principle of equal electoral divisions has never been accepted in this House. This is a question which when it is dealt with should be dealt with as a whole, and not as it affects one particular locality. Curiously enough, just twelve years ago the Tories in Liverpool found themselves in a position almost identical with that which they occupy to-day. They discovered that if they lost one more seat at the municipal elections, the Liberals would have an absolute majority and have the management of the city in their hands. Thereupon the injustice of the distribution of the wards immediately struck the Tory mind. It had existed before, but it had suited their purposes, and it was only on the memorable occasion I have referred to that the injustice of the existing state of things flashed upon them. An agitation was begun, and steps were taken to introduce a Bill on the same lines as the present one. Well, Sir, that scheme never took final and definite shape, because in the interim a better device occurred to the Tory mind, which had the desired result without putting that Party to the inconvenience and danger of an alteration of a system which, on the whole, had worked so much in their favour. I think I am not wrong in saying that the Gentleman who discovered the device is the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forwood). At all events, he always obtained the credit for it, and it was considered another evidence of his astuteness in municipal matters. Now, the device was this. There were a great many Tory voters who had duplicate and triplicate qualifications, giving them the right to vote in different wards in the borough. Of course, such a course was contrary to the whole spirit of the Municipal Corporation's Act, but that was immaterial. The brilliant idea was to send a circular round to these persons, inviting them to poll early and often. This invitation was readily accepted, with the result that the dreaded catastrophe was averted. Instead of losing 608 a seat, the Tories gained several. Well, it may be said, "What advantage; could accrue from that? Obviously, it was a flagrant breach of the law, and could not pass unnoticed, and upon a petition being presented the matter could be set right." Yes, but observe the extraordinary astuteness of the scheme. You cannot petition in a moment, and owing to the faulty condition of the law, as soon as Councillors are elected they are entitled to vote for the election, of Aldermen. Consequently those gentlemen who had obtained their seats by the exercise of the duplicate and triplicate franchise on the part of their Tory supporters turned up on the 9th of November and enabled the Tory Party to select eight Aldermen of their own political colour. A petition was in due course presented, and a Commissioner was sent down to try the case, and I am sorry to say he had to describe this Tory device as a fraudulent one, and several of those elected Councillors were unseated. But that did not matter, because eight Tory Aldermen had been elected who could not be turned out, and so the Tories were left in possession of their ascendency for another 12 years. Now, I am sure hon. Members will not be surprised when I tell them that with the success of this device the anxiety of the Tories for a re-arrangement of the wards began to cool and gradually faded away, and it was not until the same position of affairs again began to stare them in the face that they bethought themselves of bringing in this Bill. In answer to my hon. Friend who suggested that I should find a difficulty in opposing this Bill, because, in effect, it provides for the right of popular representation, I would point out that its great defect is that it takes away from popular representation that power which is intended to be given, and is given, by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882. My hon. Friend spoke of the extraordinary provision of a two-thirds majority. I wonder, in reading that Act, it did not strike him why that two-thirds majority is required. It is tolerably easy to seethe reason. The Municipal Corporations Act provides that one-third of the Corporation shall consist of Aldermen, and consequently the effect of the two-thirds regulation is this—that you can petitions 609 for a re-constitution of the wards when—and only when—you get a majority of the elected Councillors; and it was with the very object of giving the wards themselves a voice in saying whether there should be a re-constitution of them that this provision as to a two-thirds majority was inserted. The effect of my hon. Friend's Bill will be to transfer the power from the hands of the elected Councillors to the hands of the Aldermen, and on that ground I say that every man who believes in Local Government being conducted by the representation of the people themselves ought to support me, and resist the Second Reading of this Bill. Now, my hon. Friends opposite know quite well that the Liberals in Liverpool have from time to time suggested an alteration in the size and distribution of the wards. But it is not on the question of whether it may be right or wrong to re-arrange the wards that I base my present opposition to this Bill. This is only part of a larger question, and cannot be fairly touched without entering upon other matters germane to it, including the present incidence of the rates and the power of the Aldermen to vote for their own election. I say this is part of a larger question, and you cannot enter upon it without entering upon those that are germane to it; and while we are perfectly ready to have taken into consideration at one and the same time the incidence of the rates, the power of the Aldermen, and the distribution of the wards, hon. Gentlemen on the other side wish to deal only with the re-distribution of the wards when it serves their purpose, and to relegate to the future or to perpetual limbo the other questions. I will refer to a Report which was made by a Sub-Committee of the Council appointed for the purpose of considering the redistribution of the wards at the time the Tories were in power and Tory Members formed a large part of the Committee. The Report says—Inasmuch as no re-arrangement of the wards can, in the opinion of this Committee, be accomplished without manifest injustice to the ratepayers in the absence of spec al provision for securing an equitable adjustment of the rates, having regard to the rateable value, indebtedness, and other incidents in the parish wards and on the townships respectively, it be reported to the 610 Council that no re-arrangement can be satisfactory without securing adequate protection of the rating interests in the parish wards and on the townships respectively.So that here you have in the year 1883 a declaration by a Sub-Committee of the Council that the proposal which my hon. Friend places before the House today is one which cannot justly be carried out without reference to the incidence of rating in the borough. I ask the hon. Member how he proposes to deal with this question? Why is there in this Bill no provision for the re-distribution of the incidence of rating in the borough of Liverpool when a Committee of his own Council, whose Report I have read, say that one proposal without the other would be unjust and unsatisfactory? How is it that what was unjust and unsatisfactory to the Tory mind in 1883 is now in 1892 just and satisfactory? I think I have sufficiently indicated what is the ground of the support of the present Bill. Let it be remembered that this is not a mere struggle between two Parties in Liverpool. That the existence of that struggle was the occasion of the Bill nobody can deny, but it is a Bill which proposes to deal with every Municipality in the country; and I ask, are hon. Members prepared, having regard to the tendency of popular opinion, to transfer the power from the elected Councillors of a Municipality to-the Aldermen? That is what this Bill does in fact. It takes away from the elected Councillors the right to say aye or no whether some such petition as is referred to shall be presented, and vests it in the Aldermen, so that the Aldermen, backed by a very small proportion of elected Councillors, can present a petition and embark on an attempt to jerrymander the wards wherever they think it would be to their advantage. It is perfectly idle to suppose that an inquiry of this kind does not open the door to jerrymandering, and it is impossible to suppose that astute politicians would not take advantage of it. Can we have a clearer example than in the re-distribution of seats at Liverpool, with respect to which the hon. Member is entitled to full credit for the service he did his Party? The borough of Liverpool used to return two Tories and one Liberal, 611 the Tory representation being in the proportion of two to one. The majority was not a large one, and so near, indeed, were the Parties in strength, that I believe I am right in saying that on a poll of something like 40,000 the majority would be 2,000 or 3,000. I dare say also the House remembers that at the last bye-election, before the redistribution, Liverpool showed an actual Liberal majority and returned a Liberal Member. This shows at least that the Tory majority was very small. Now, under the re-distribution, the Tories get seven of the seats and the Liberals two. That is not a fair re-arrangement; and the Liberals fear that if the re-arrangement of the wards is left in the same skilful hands, the same disastrous results will follow if the present Bill finds favour with the House and existing Corporations are empowered to re-distribute the wards to suit their own purposes. The whole object of this Bill is that it should become law before the next 9th of November; because if it does not it will fall to the ground. Is it a right thing to give to every existing Corporation in the country the power to try before the next 9th of November, if they can so gerrymander their wards as to give them a majority which they would not otherwise have? Such a course would be most unjust. This matter was not before the ratepayers last 9th of November, and the present Corporations have not been returned with a view to the re-distribution of the wards in any way, and consequently you will have a Corporation who are moribund, who are in the last phase of their existence, attempting to secure their return to power by a rearrangement of the wards which has not been submitted to the people to whom they are responsible, and upon which they would have no possible opportunity of consulting the people. I think it would be a monstrous thing, and the effect of this Bill would be that every expiring Corporation would be in a position to jerrymander. That seems to me to be an argument of very great weight against the Second Reading of this Bill. We ought to know more about the views of the Municipalities themselves. If this were not unjust with regard to Liverpool, as I think it is, it 612 might well be unjust in the case of other Corporations, and yet we are asked to blindly rush in and alter what has been the law of the land for the last ten years without knowing the view of a large number of the Municipalities. It is quite true there are anomalies, but I would ask the House to bear in mind that this question is of much larger import than is suggested by the present Bill. In Liverpool the question of redistribution cannot be attempted alone without the danger of doing injustice in respect to the incidence of rating, and yet there is no provision for anything of the kind in the Bill, and I hope the House will consider what they are asked to do in reading this Bill a second time. It has been suggested in the newspapers that my hon. Friend is to have the support and assistance of the Government in this matter. I do not pretend myself to know the views of the Government, and I hope, in common with others, before many weeks are over I shall have an opportunity of giving my views with regard to the action of the Government during the last six years. But I do not think so badly of the Government as all that, and I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Mattinson) must be reckoning without his host when he says he is going to have their assistance in this matter. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forwood) and the Liverpool members will go into the same lobby, but that is a very different thing from obtaining the support of the Government. I venture to think the Government must know their ground in the country very little if they give their support to such a practice as this, for in spite of the sobriety with which my hon. Friend introduced this measure, and in spite of his appeals to us to remedy this injustice of which no one complains, and in spite of the wonderful case which has been dug out and which has been supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite to the best of their ability, I say it is perfectly obvious to the House that this is a proposal that excites very little interest in the country outside the particular borough of Liverpool. I feel sure that the Government will never lend themselves to an alteration of the law in a case of this kind, I almost think from 613 a Parliamentary point of view I should be glad if I were to discover that I have formed too good an opinion of the Government, and that they supported my hon. Friend and took up this measure, because I think that, so far as Liverpool is concerned, they could not do anything which would render them more unpopular. We shall very soon know what the views of Liverpool are, and I am ready to consult my constituents to-morrow, if right hon. Gentlemen opposite will give me the opportunity. If hon. Gentlemen opposite imagine that the Government is going to weaken its popularity by going out of the proper course to interfere in a local dispute, and to allow the general law to be altered to deal with a particular case which their supporters declare is adverse to them, I believe they are mistaken; but if they are not mistaken, then I say that not only in Liverpool but throughout the country there will be a very strong feeling that to serve a party end they have taken a course which is unworthy of Her Majesty's Government, and have embarked upon a scheme to which they ought not to have lent themselves. I move, Sir, that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ (1.45.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)
As one who takes a deep interest in municipal prosperity, I desire to say a few words in seconding the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Neville). We were told by the Mover about the sacred rights of majorities, and we were told something about the majority of the ratepayers of Liverpool; but now we have learned from my hon. Friend, who knows all about it, that the majority is on the other side. Here are the plain facts. We are told that there is a majority of eight amongst the Councillors on the Liberal side, and out of 75,890 burgesses there voted last November for the Tories 24,097 and on the other side 22,796, which gave a majority of 1,301. In 1890 the Liberals polled a majority against the Tories. Of the twelve wards within the old city boundary, eleven return Liberals, and in eight of these wards all the Councillors are Liberals, and the majority of the Council is Liberal. This proposal goes to the root of popular rights 614 and proposes to set up the rule of Aldermen, which has been found to be an intolerable yoke. This Bill is intended to fasten that yoke in a still more painful manner, not only upon Liverpool, but upon every other town in the country, whose voices we have not heard. This is really more in the nature of a Private Bill. Not only do the names on the back show that it refers to Liverpool alone; but look at the present condition of this House—the Members for Liverpool are about one-quarter of the Members present. Where are the representatives of Birmingham, Manchester, and the great towns of the country? The fact is those gentlemen have not given the slightest attention to this matter. They do not look upon it as Public Business; they regard it simply as a Party measure for gerrymandering the Liverpool wards. The hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division (Mr. Mattinson) alluded to a considerable number of towns in which the wards are very unevenly arranged and with some very unequal numbers of voters, and he referred amongst others to Birkenhead. What is to hinder Birkenhead at the present time applying to have the wards re-arranged? They say it requires a two-thirds majority. At Birkenhead the Tories have a two-thirds majority. I do not know whether the majority is not even larger than that. If they want the wards re-arranged they can have it done by presenting a petition, and so it is in the case of Liverpool. They have rejoiced in years past in a two-thirds majority on the Council, with the Aldermen; but they never thought of proceeding with the re-arrangement of the wards, and it is only when their majority is in danger that the idea occurs to them. It is drawing too largely upon the credulity of this House to represent this as a great public measure for the emancipation of majorities and the assertion of their rights. I do not think I need add any facts to those that have been advanced by my hon. Friend (Mr. Neville) I rather wish to say a word or two from my own experience in support of the view that if any city in the country ought to have such a Bill Liverpool is the last city which ought to have it. 615 Although I spoke about jerrymandering, I am far from imputing any such design to the citizens of Liverpool, or desiring to cast a slur on a city which I honour and admire so much. But in Liverpool it is a fact that Party spirit in municipal contests runs higher, perhaps, than anywhere else. The hon. Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. Neville) may be right in saying that it is impossible to dissociate Party politics from these municipal contests; but, at any rate, it is not necessary to carry such Party spirit to the extent of bitterness that is manifested in Liverpool. I represent a city on the Council of which there is an overwhelming Radical majority, and there Party spirit is not carried to the exent of never electing a Tory Mayor or Tory Alderman. At the present moment a gentleman of Unionist opinions presides over the Council, and he was unanimously elected to the office. In Liverpool such a thing is absolutely impossible. However distinguished a man may be, however substantial a citizen's services may be, the idea of making him a Mayor or an Alderman is scouted as absurd. The citizens are generous in their appreciation of public services outside the immediate area of municipal contests; but in that arena the bitter intolerance of Party spirit scarcely scruples to make excuses for continuing the unjustifiable reign of the minority. The introduction of the Bill reminds one of the certainly not creditable tactics pursued in 1880. A Bill like this should be considered with other proposals for reform, and we should consider whether we should not do away with the nuisance of Aldermen or the abuses which arise out of their existence. What would the promoters of the Bill say to providing that the Aldermen should have no vote in the alteration of the wards, but that only the popularly-elected representatives of the wards should have a voice in the matter? If the hon. and learned Member is so fond of appeals to the popular voice—as in the case of the administration of the borough funds—why did he not put in the Bill a power of direct appeal to the ratepayers on this question? That would make a great difference. But in face of the fact that this is really a Private Bill which has 616 been promoted by one political faction in Liverpool, and that the Representatives of other great towns are absent from the House, I think it is rather too much, notwithstanding the powerful influence which is being brought to bear, that the House should be asked to give a Second Reading to the Bill. If it should be read a second time, I hope means will be taken to have a searching inquiry into it before it becomes law, so that if one mistake in the law is remedied, means may also be taken for remedying other abuses which the present measure would only make tenfold worse than before. I second the Amendment that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Neville.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(2.13.) THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. FORWOOD,) Lancashire, Ormskirk
I regret very much that the excellent tone adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool, who introduced this question, has not been followed by those who have opposed his Motion. My hon. Friend placed this matter before the House in the sense that it was a matter dealing with, and affecting largely, many places and many constituencies throughout the country. But the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill has, I regret, endeavoured to bring down the consideration of the subject to one of a local squabble, or even to a personal matter. Now, Sir, this matter is one which affects the municipal organisation of our towns. The work of our municipal institutions is not second to that which is done in this House for the regulation of great Imperial questions. The everyday interest, the everyday work, the welfare, and the health and comfort of millions of our people depend upon the attention given to their wants and their interests by the great municipalities of the country. I therefore wish, and I hope to have time, to allude to that which I believe to be the question, and the paramount question, in connection 617 with the Bill now presented to the House. At the outset, let me say that I speak for myself only as a resident of Liverpool, and as an ordinary Member of this House. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department will, no doubt, before the Debate has concluded, have something to say expressing what may be the views of the Government upon the matter. I should have wished to have kept away altogether from any question of a local or personal character. But I am bound, having been attacked in the way in which I have been by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, to refer to some of the remarks he has made. I can understand the vehemence of his language and the line he took, seeing that there are included within the division he represents five of the smallest wards of Liverpool, which monopolise 15 representatives in the Council of Liverpool, with an electoral roll of something like 8,000; and I do not wonder at his coming into this House and endeavouring to prevent justice being done to 25,000 ratepayers in another ward, with only three representatives, which has a different political complexion from that which he represents himself. The hon. and learned Member, in alluding to those who endeavoured to gerrymander the wards, talked about political manipulation, and he went on to say that I was an expert master in so arranging the divisions of Liverpool as to insure a Tory domination in the city. Now, Sir, before any hon. Gentleman attempts to make a personal attack, I think he ought to be sure of the facts in support of the attack. The hon. Member has in his statement really and truly not made an attack upon myself; he has made an attack upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian for his appointment of the Boundary Commission, which had to adjust the divisions under the Reform Act of 1885. Sir, that Boundary Commission was the body that determined what should be the boundaries of the various divisions into which Liverpool was divided for Parliamentary purposes. And, so far from my having anything to do with that matter, it so happened 618 that when that Commission was in Liverpool—before and after it—I was absent for some considerable time on the other side of the Atlantic.
§ MR. NEVILLE
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to withdraw what I said, as I thought he was there. I did not intend any personal offence, because I said that he had shown an honourable disposition in taking an interest in his own Party. But I beg to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for having made the statement under a misapprehension that the result was owing to his astuteness.
§ *MR. FORWOOD
Then there was another point in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. The other division, in Liverpool, he said, that had been dealt with was the ward division. Well, I am not quite sure whether I was born in the year when these ward divisions, were made. But the use of exaggerated language in this matter by the hon. and learned Member is rather on a piece with the whole of the so-called facts with which he has endeavoured to impress the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman endeavoured to bring this matter down to the low level of a local squabble; and one of his arguments in support of that contention is that there is a change going on in the political complexion of Liverpool. He illustrated his remarks by referring to the result of certain municipal elections last November. I only wish to say that the same aspect of political matters was developed throughout the country generally as was developed in Liverpool at the last November election. He said that there were a certain number of Liberal members—I do not remember the exact figures he gave—returned at the last municipal election of Liverpool and so many Conservatives. That is true; but there were a majority of Liberal members returned against Conservatives, because of this unfair arrangement—this unjust division of the town into wards. As a matter of fact, in November last the electors in wards which contained 55,000 electors returned seven members to the Municipal Council; while 19,000 electors in other wards had the privilege 619 of returning nine members to the City Council. If wards containing 55,000 electors return seven members—Tory members—while 19,000 electors were able to return nine Radical members, is it to be wondered at that the hon. and learned Member wants to continue this unjust system, wants to build up a nominal Radical majority in that Council Chamber by retaining the jerrymandering of the wards as they stand to-day? The hon. and learned Gentleman, no doubt, could not be expected to have had in his own personal knowledge the information which he has vouchsafed to the House; and he has had to rely upon others. I strongly advise him not to rely upon the same informants at any future time he wishes to address the House, if he desires to adhere to the facts of the case. He went into the history of this matter as regards Liverpool. He said the Tory members of the Council of Liverpool saw their position twelve years ago, and then, with a subtle argument worthy of the Court in which he practises, he associated this with a certain circular that was issued by the Conservative Party, as to the advice to be given to the duplicate voters. But he went on to say that although the Conservative Council saw this twelve years ago, they had taken no action in the meantime. He said nothing was done for twelve years, for the Tories had no wish to change. But in the following sentence the hon. and learned Gentleman said the question had been considered again and again. So it has. Almost year in and year out has this matter been brought before the Council of Liverpool; but the Liberal members of the Council, as a minority, have prevented justice being done to the large districts having their due measure of representation—the Liberals of the town, acting under a peculiar clause at present in the Act, obstruct and prevent anything being done to remedy this injustice. In passing, I may say that the hon. and learned Member brought forward the question of the so-called fraudulent advice of the circular issued to the duplicate voters, and which said—"Vote early, and vote often." He characterised this—and as a lawyer, no doubt, he thought it just 620 and right to do so—as a flagrant breach of the law, which was as well known to the Liberals as to the Tories. Well, it may be a surprise to the House to know that if it was a flagrant breach of the law, which was as well known to the Liberals as to the Tories, that they issued a very similar circular to this six months before the circular was issued by the Conservatives. And they did not issue it in a tentative form, but they issued it in an absolute form, because it told the duplicate voters to vote in every ward in which they were qualified. It is a fact that the first of these circulars, which the hon. and learned Gentleman says the Liberals knew to be a breach of the law, came from the friends of the hon. and learned Member who has just moved the rejection of this Bill.
§ *MR. FORWOOD
The hon. and learned Member says he never heard of it before. I do not wonder at that. I think it was a little before he had the honour of representing a division of Liverpool; and I can well understand that his friends in Liverpool would not be likely to call his attention to that appeal. But if he wishes I can, at an early date, furnish him with a copy of the circular.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Will the right hon. Gentleman furnish me with a copy of the other circular? ("Order, order!")
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Will the right hon. Gentleman furnish me with a copy of the other circular issued at the same time by the Conservative Association which contained a demand by a number of Conservative candidates with a note that unless the electors voted as described in that paper the votes would be lost?
§ *MR. FORWOOD
Certainly I will furnish the hon. Member with a copy of the circular issued by the Conservatives which the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division said contained fraudulent advice, and also with a copy of the circular previously issued by the Liberals to which I have referred.
§ MR. NEVILLE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon—I did not call the advice contained in the circular fraudulent advice. I said that the Commission had called it fraudulent advice.
§ *MR. FORWOOD
Another reason which the hon. Member, speaking on this Bill, urged was that Liverpool had been misgoverned for the last fifty years under Tory administration. Well, if the prosperity, the growth, and the progress of Liverpool in its trade, in its commerce, in the health and welfare of the inhabitants—if the happy change that has occurred in these fifty years is to be called misgovernment, I hope we may have the same misgovernment in every town in the country. He went on in his argument to say that Liverpool is full of public-houses, and that it was indebted for that to Tory municipal management. Again he has been misinstructed. The Radical brother of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, 20 or 25 years ago, using the great and just influence which he possessed on the Bench of Liverpool, instituted what I may call the free trade in licences. That is, that every responsible man who had a house that was fit for licensing should have a licence, irrespective of the number of those adjacent, or irrespective of the wants of the neighbourhood. In consequence of the Radical magisterial influence—and not of the influence of the Town Council—Liverpool was afflicted with something like 2,800 public-houses; and although the population has increased 30 per cent. since that time, the houses have been materially reduced by the action of the Tory majority on the Bench, till I think they to-day have fallen to 2,000. Another instruction of the hon. and learned Gentleman was evidently wrong. He suggested to the House that this attempt to alter the arrangement of the wards of Liverpool was being done without any regard having been paid to the incidence of taxation—in other words, that a majority of the ratepayers, if they were duly represented, on the Municipal Council, might perform the operation of practically robbing, or making other ratepayers not liable pay a proportion of their burdens. Now, under the constitution 622 of the Liverpool Corporation that is impossible. Under the Act 16 Victoria, chapter 127, the Corporation of Liverpool are distinctly and clearly directed as to how the rates of the town are to be collected. Liverpool is divided into four or five separate rating districts. That Act of Victoria, chapter 127, enacts that the work done in these several rating districts must continue to be levied upon each of the several rating districts until the work is completed; and it would not be in the power of the Corporation, however constituted, to affect the question of the rates to be levied in any ward or district one iota.
§ MR. NEVILLE
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent the argument that I addressed to the House. I did not suggest that one section of the Council would endeavour to override the law; but I referred to the Report of the Committee appointed to consider the question of the redistribution of the wards, and it declared that no such redistribution would be just unless there was a readjustment of rating.
§ *MR. FORWOOD
Yes, the Report of the Committee to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers was carried by a Radical majority, and it is not a Tory Report.
§ MR. NEVILLE
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that there were eight Liberals and eight Tories on the Committee.
§ *MR. FORWOOD
But not eight Tories when the Report was agreed to. I will, however, come to much more modern history. As late as November, 1891, a special meeting of the Council of Liverpool was called for the purpose of endeavouring to get the necessary 42 signatures to a Petition to Her Majesty in Council to re-arrange the wards of the city. That Petition was opposed by the hon. Member's friends, the Liberal and Home Rule Party in the Liverpool Council. But there was not a word as to the incidence of the rates. What they said was this—thatWhilst recognising the inequalities now existing in the wards and in the city, and the desirability of a juster representation, we resolve"—not that the rates are unfairly levied, but—"that the consideration of the 623 subject be postponed until the Aldermen of the city are prohibited by law from voting in the election of Aldermen.And yet he comes here and says that the Liberal Party oppose this because of something which has to do with the incidence of the rates. Nothing of the sort. They endeavour to continue in the hands of the minority of the town the practical majority of the Council. Another argument of the hon. and learned Member was that this Bill would transfer the power as regards the alteration of the boundaries of the wards from the elective Council to the Aldermen. The Bill will give to the majority of the Council elected and Aldermen, whoever they may be, the right to petition to remedy this wrong. The hon. and learned Member has endeavoured to prove to the House that next November the Party whom he represents will be in a majority in the Council Chamber of Liverpool, and that, being in the majority, they will be able to elect a certain proportion of Aldermen. Very well, if he is right in his assumption, the Aldermen who will have the power—as at present—to take part in the question of any petition will be those whom the majority, or Liberals, may choose; but it is not in the power of the Aldermen or in the power of the Councillors of Liverpool to make this alteration. It would not have been in the power of this House, had the small pocket boroughs of this country five years ago been in a majority of the House, to proceed with the re-distribution of the seats in this country. It is not natural that a member for a small ward or small district should fly in the face of his constituents, and vote for its practical extinction or absorption in any neighbouring constituency. That is the point which is raised in the Bill proposed by my hon. and learned Friend. The present Act requires two-thirds of the Council to concur. To get that two-thirds of the Council you will require some of those who represent the small wards of the town to do what the Japanese know as the "happy dispatch"—to do away with themselves, to extinguish their wards, or to amalgamate and to create a new state of things in their place. It is not at all 624 likely—human nature being what it is—that gentlemen representing these small constituencies will concur in a vote that will extinguish themselves and their constituencies. Then another argument used to make this a local instead of an Imperial question is, that the basis and purport of this Bill is that action may be taken under it before the 9th November, and a re-arrangement of the wards carried out so that the elections in November next may take place under the new condition of things. Now, I venture to say that if the hon. Member had reflected for one moment upon what he said, from his legal knowledge he would have known that it was perfectly impossible for that to take place. He must know that the date for fixing those who are in residence and entitled to vote is the 20th June, and that it is physically and practically impossible for this Bill to become law and for a Commissioner to be sent down by the Home Office to inquire into the existing state of things before the 20th June, so that the elections that take in November, whatever may be the result of this Bill, must be taken upon the present register and upon the present division of the wards. If his friends are to have a majority of Aldermen they will obtain that majority whether this Bill is passed or not. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) alluded to what he called the party bitterness and intolerance existing in Liverpool, and said there was now the unjustifiable rule of the minority. Yes, Sir, that is so, and the object of the Bill is to give the majority their just rights. I will give in a moment or two some figures showing the position in which the minority is placed; but I have already stated that 55,000 people in Liverpool last November had to succumb to the votes of 20,000. Now, the hon. Member talked about intolerance in Liverpool as regards the election of Aldermen, and about the large spirit evinced by the Radicals of Leicester, holding Liverpool up to scorn compared with the town which he represents. I am informed—the hon. Member will correct me if I am wrong—that all the Aldermen in Leicester, where there is a majority of Liberals, 625 are Radicals. I am told that the same prevails at Leeds, at Nottingham, and in other towns of the country. I am not here to justify that condition of matters. If you ask my own opinion, I think the county principle is the right one—that Aldermen should not vote for Aldermen; and I have proposed that in the Liverpool Council. That Council has unanimously petitioned this House to assimilate the law with regard to boroughs and counties in that respect. I believe Liverpool is the one town in the country that has a monopoly of Tory Aldermen. All other towns in the country have a monopoly of Liberal Aldermen; and before hon. Members support such a proposal as that Aldermen shall not vote for Aldermen in boroughs I recommend them to communicate with their friends in the number of boroughs who apply the principle of electing none but Liberal Aldermen. My hon. and learned Friend who introduced this Bill gave the House some interesting and startling figures. He did not give all that he could have done, and I hope the House will bear with me while I place one or two other facts before them. The position of Liverpool is not an isolated case. It is to be found in other parts of the country than those named by my hon. Friend. Blackburn has one ward with only 713 electors, and in another ward it has 5,218 electors, and I may say that that state of things continues, although I think all the Aldermen are Radicals. Bristol has in one ward 1,900 electors with six members, whilst it only allots three members to 3,700 electors in another ward. Huddersfield gives six members to 1,500 electors in one ward, and only allows the same number of members to another ward with 2,200 electors. Leicester—and I regret that my hon. Friend who represents that constituency is not in the House—has one ward with 585 electors and another with 6,500 electors. But they are promoting a Private Bill in this House to alter their boundaries and to re-arrange their wards. The conclusion I draw from that is that they have not found the present Act as regards the alteration of the wards satisfactory, and so they have proceeded by this Private Bill. If that Bill becomes 626 law it may assist them in Leicester to remove such a great inequality. I am told by an hon. Friend who sits behind me (Mr. Hornby) that I am wrongly informed with regard to the Aldermen in Blackburn, and I want at once to correct that. I express my regret for having given the House any wrong information; but I ought to have said the town of Burnley has ten Radical Aldermen and two Conservative Aldermen. Northampton is in a similar state to Leicester. Norwich is even more remarkable, with one ward of 400 electors and another with 6,500 electors. Salford has six members for 2,500 electors, and it has only three members in another ward with 4,200 electors. The place which my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department so worthily represents gives six members to 2,800 electors, while it only grants three members to 5,875 electors. I say that that is an altogether wrong, improper and unjust representation of the people, and that it prevails so generally as to justify the introduction of a Bill which will enable it to be considerably modified. I would like, with the permission of the House, just to follow my hon. Friend into one or two other figures as regards Liverpool. He has told the House that in one ward there are 23,000 electors. Its rateable value is £598,000; it contains 82 miles of streets, and yet has only three Councillors. On the other hand, the smallest ward contains only 700 electors. Its rateable value is only £98,000, and it has only an area of 400 acres, and yet it has the same number of representatives as the enormously large district of Everton, with 1,300 acres. When the Municipal Bill of 1835 was passed, what was the state of these two places? The electorate was then 500, whilst it is now 23,000, whereas the small ward of which I have spoken had then 500 electors, and it has now only 700. These may be extreme cases. I will now refer to the five wards which have between them no less than 55,500 electors, but which return only 15 members to the Town Council. The remaining eleven wards have only 17,000 electors, and yet they have the privilege of returning 33 members to the Corporation. The object of dividing 627 the town into wards is to create a personal interest in the districts represented on the Council. If a body of 48 gentlemen were got together indiscriminately to rule a town, and to look after its welfare, the ratepayers would not have the same opportunity of approaching the Council, and of getting their special interests attended to as well as if they had their own district representatives, to whom they could go with their grievances. The five wards I refer to, which have only 15 Councillors, cover an area of 3,900 acres, whilst the eleven wards which have the advantage of being represented by 33 Councillors cover the comparatively small area of 1,350 acres. The five wards include no less than 200 miles of streets, whilst the eleven wards include only about 75. If there was ever a question which distinctly affected the interests of the working classes it is this question. It is said frequently, I know, that you must have regard to rateable value as well as to population in the division of wards, and that the Act of Parliament requires the Commissioners who may be sent to the town to have regard to rateable value. I am not sure it is the right principle, but it is in the Act, and it is to be carried out. In our large provincial towns, the rich, prosperous people fly to the suburbs as soon as their day's work is over. They remain for as few hours as they possibly can in their shops or their counting-houses, and they take comparatively little interest in the condition of the people. But it is far different with the working classes. They must remain near their work the whole day, and sleep there. They can never see the green fields or the country, and it is for such that you should have regard. The heaviest death rate is not to be found among the shopkeepers and traders, but in the homes of the poorer classes, and it is, therefore, most essential that the latter should have proper and just representation on the Town Council. In the five wards I have referred to, the average assessment of each elector is only equal to £26 a year, whilst in the eleven aristocratic wards in which the bankers and the shipowners live, the average is £94 per annum. The hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division and the hon. Member for 628 Leicester have come down to the House to-day and said, "Perpetuate this gross injustice; take away the just rights of the working classes, and continue to favour the rich men who do not live in the district." In the eleven wards which I have mentioned the number of electors is decreasing. In the last 20 years the population of those wards has decreased not less than 20 per cent. whilst in the five wards it has almost doubled in the same period. The growth of the population in Liverpool can only go on in the large wards, which are practically disfranchised. We have heard a good deal in this House about "One Man, One Vote," but when we coma to put it to the test we see what the meaning of it is. When the same power is given to one Radical voter in one district in Liverpool which is given to 32 voters in another district there is a desire to perpetuate it, because it is in the interests of that Party. This is the practical manner in which this question is being dealt with; but I am satisfied that the House will not stultify itself by saying to the great working classes who are compelled to live within the district in which they work, "We will continue to give you this inadequate and unfair and unjust representation." I hope the House will deal with this question as it was intended it should be dealt with—that is, as a great National and Imperial question—and that it will give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ (3.1.) MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I was very much interested in the observations of the hon. and learned Member who moved this Bill. I have always had great respect for his abilities, but I must say that he astonished me by his speech to-day, and the manner in which he was able to keep his countenance. He actually claimed that he and the Party to which he belonged were the Party of Reformers, and that we on this side are the Party of Reactionaries. He also put himself forward as a champion, above all things in the world, of popular rights and respect for the will of the majority of the people. But the speech of the hon. and learned Member was even surpassed by the right hon. Gentleman 629 who has just sat down. In the cities of America they have an institution which is known as the "boss." The boss is a person who by various means is able to get control over a large number of votes, and with the aid of these votes he becomes patron of the city which they control. The "boss," I am sorry to say, has in this case just left the House, but he will no doubt return. One of the chief directions in which this control in America is used is for the utilisation of the patronage of the city for political purposes. Now I charge it against the Tory Party in Liverpool that they have abused their municipal patronage for nearly half a century for political purposes; and I charge it against the right hon. Gentleman who is really sponsor for this Bill—for the four Gentlemen whose names are on the back of it are merely puppets put in motion by the experienced wire-pullers behind—I charge it against the right hon. Gentleman that he has been the pillar and the mainstay of the utilisation of municipal patronage for political purposes in Liverpool. Well, the people of Liverpool have borne this state of things for nearly half a century. They have had bad government—and I should have been very glad if the whole question of the government of Liverpool could have been brought before the attention of the country as an object lesson of what Tory domination means. Under the specious pretext of defending the rights of the people of Liverpool, an attempt is being made to keep up the system of corrupt jobbery which has been in existence for the last half of a century. What has been the history of this question? The people of Liverpool have allowed their property to be used or misused for political purposes; but there is going to be a majority—there is now already a majority of Liberal members. If the Liberals act half as badly as the Tories they will make Liverpool a name of reproach all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that there are anomalies in many other parts of the country. He has given a formidable list of cases, but why are not those Municipalities represented on the back of this Bill? This Bill will make a change not only in respect to Liverpool, but it will make a revolutionary change with regard to the Municipal 630 laws in the whole of the Municipalities of the country, and yet it is backed by the Representatives of only one Municipality, and of them by only four out of nine. Two of the Members are also in direct and violent opposition to the Bill—a hostility which will continue to the end. I am astonished we should be asked to make such a vast and universal change throughout the country on the demand of only four Representatives of one Municipality. There is another thing to which I wish to call attention. This is a general proposal, and yet it is a particular one. It is general because it applies to all England. It is particular because it excludes Ireland. I ask why the Municipalities of Ireland are excluded?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
It would have been easy to have put a clause into the Bill which would have brought the Municipalities of Ireland under its control. Of course I know that the hon. Member is bound by the title, but he could have given it any title he pleased. Then why exclude Ireland from it? Only this very year we endeavoured to get a clause introduced into a Bill which would have given 70,000 people in Belfast some right to representation, but the whole of the Party opposite voted against it, and the citizens of Belfast were, by a system of chicanery and jerrymandering, deprived of it. Yet those are the gentlemen who are now setting up as the advocates of popular rights, as reformers, and as the opponents of the miserable reactionists on this side of the House. They are not thinking of reform, or of the rights of the people, but of preserving the buttresses of Tory corruption and Tory domination. I say that if we were to take our political tactics from the right hon. Gentleman we should give no fair play to our political opponents at all. There would be very few devices from which we should shrink. The right hon. Gentleman has had the courage to refer to the fraudulent device of a body to which he belongs, and of which he was Chairman at the time, and in his resentment he endeavours to fasten its application on the hon. Member for the Exchange Division. Now the right hon. Gentleman knew that the term 631 was not originated by my hon. and learned Friend, but that it was applied to the action of the organisation of which he (Mr. Forwood) was Chairman by the Royal Commissioner, who, I believe, is, or was, also a member of the same political persuasion as the right hon. Gentleman. By a fraudulent device a number of men were elected to the Council in Liverpool; by a fraudulent device a majority was created, and the majority so created fraudulently utilised the occasion for the election of Tory officers. The majority by which those Aldermen were elected was proved to be fraudulent, but did a single Tory Alderman resign his seat? Not one! Some of them, I believe, retain their seats to this day. These are the Gentlemen who now come forward to speak in respect to the will and wishes of the people. We are all aware of the object of this Bill. The Tories have now a majority of Aldermen on the City Council, and they suspect that when the next election has decided in favour of a Liberal majority, that majority may take advantage—as it has a right to do—of its position and alter the proportion. And the hon. and learned Gentleman talks about respecting the will of the people. That will be declared next November. ("No!") Well, I have never heard any record of Members of the Party opposite holding the City Council to be unrepresentative of the people of Liverpool so long as the majority was Tory; but the moment the majority ceases to be Tory the representative character of the Council disappears, and it becomes a miserable body, not reflecting public opinion. I make an offer to the right hon. Gentleman. If he will allow the Aldermen to be excluded from this question, then we will be willing to consider the question of the re-distribution of the wards. When the next election comes what will be the position? This—that the Tories by the Aldermen will be able to vote down the elected Representatives of the Municipality. They want to pass a Bill which will enable them to cheat the people of their rights. Why do they want to do it now? This Parliament is moribund, the Municipal Council in Liverpool is in the same state, and they come forward at this period in order that the interval between 632 this date and November may be utilised in jerrymandering the City of Liverpool in the Tory interest. The right hon. Gentleman made one point creditable to his astuteness. He said it is not the Aldermen or the City Council who will have the right to fix the boundaries of these wards, but he must deem us very simple if he thinks we accept that. We are acquainted with the right hon. Gentleman, and we know his devices and machinery for carrying out political purposes. The boundaries, of course, would be fixed by the Commissioner, but who would appoint the Commissioner? The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty. Nominally, I know the Commissioner would appear to obtain the appointment from the Queen, who acts on the advice of her responsible Minister, and her responsible Minister acts upon the advice of the Member of the Government who is most familiar with the local circumstances, and who in this case, is also most deeply interested in the political condition of his Party at the place in question. It is to the right hon. Member the Secretary to the Admiralty the Minister will have to go; but behind the whole proceedings will be the hand of the Tory "boss," who, in the interests of his own persuasion, would be ready to do the kind of work he is now intending. I know plain speaking of this, kind is always deprecated, and somebody will say, "Fancy a Commissioner appointed by sign manual of the Queen descending to partisan purposes." I daresay this Division will take place on a straight Party vote, and I am sorry to think that hon. Members opposite should believe it their duty to support the right hon. Member the Secretary to the Admiralty on this question. I admire many things in the Government of America, but nobody who has ever been there can admire the municipal government of some of its cities. There are cities in America whose municipal government is a shame and a disgrace. I wonder if hon. Members opposite when denouncing that form of municipal government in America have ever asked themselves what is the cause of it. If they do, they will find it is the use of municipal patronage for party political purposes, and the institution of the "boss" 633 system. The City of Liverpool has some of the worst vices of the worst American cities. It has municipal patronage used for political purposes, and it has its "boss" in the shape of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty. I implore Conservative Members for the sake of pure municipal government in this country not to lend their assistance to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty in his present effort.
§ *MR. WILLOX (Liverpool, Everton)
I am afraid the House will almost have become weary of statistics and the iniquities of the Tory Party; therefore, in touching upon this question, I do not propose to go further than to correct one or two references to local history which have been given in the course of this Debate. It has been assumed throughout that the only Party which has been guilty of these acts is the Tory Party; but if we go back one step further in the municipal records of Liverpool we find this state of things—that when the Reform Act of 1835 came into operation the Liberal Party of the day secured a distinct and preponderating majority of the elected members of the Council. That power was exercised in precisely the same way as is now condemned in their political successors. They elected none but Liberals as Aldermen The organisation of the Council at that time was as distinctly political as at the very worst imputed period of the present régime. But the Tory Party to-day has been accused of corrupt administration. That is a charge which is now made for the first time in the House of Commons as against the municipal administration of Liverpool—("No!")—because it has been the subject of an inquiry before a Royal Commission, and it was also the subject of discussion during the Debates on the Municipal Reform Bill; but in no single instance was there any imputation of malversation of office made against the earlier Corporation of Liverpool, nor was there, in the course of the whole Debate, the slightest imputation of that kind against them. But when the Liberal Party attained the ascendency in the Corporation of Liverpool in 1835, their first act was to do one of the grossest pieces of corruption and jobbery that was 634 ever attempted by a municipal body. The Town Clerk of that day was obnoxious to them solely on the ground of his politics. He was driven out of office by the Liberal majority and the taxpayers of Liverpool were rated in a large sum to compensate that gentleman for the deprivation of his office, and in order that one of the political allies of the Liberal Party might be substituted in his place. It may be suggested that this is ancient history, and that the Liberal Party has reformed its ways and changed its principles in municipal affairs, as it has recently done in Imperial affairs. But it is not so, because even within the last few weeks the Liberal Party, which now professes such great anxiety for purity and propriety in public affairs, introduced as a candidate for a vacant office in Liverpool—that of the Coronership—a gentleman of good parts and abilities no doubt, but one who had no other claim to public recognition except his political service to the Party which now claims to be the party of purity and independence. Then another allegation against the Conservative Party of Liverpool has been made by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division, and it was this, that Liverpool has been dotted—I think that was the word he used—all over with public-houses in every street and even on every side of every street. But who is responsible for that state of things? Not the Tories of Liverpool—certainly not the Tory Town Council, for they have nothing whatever to do with it. It was the Liberal Magistrates of the borough of Liverpool who granted licences indiscriminately in every part of the town, and who placed no restriction upon the issue of those licences except that the man who applied should be of good character. The leading spirit in that social revolution, which has since been universally condemned, was no other than the brother of the present leader of the Party to which the Member for the Exchange Division belongs. And so if we go through the whole history of Liverpool in its municipal administration it will be found that in whatever charges are imputed to the Conservatives of this generation they have simply been imitating, and I am afraid not improving upon, the bad 635 example of their predecessors. There has been frequent reference to "gerrymandering"—an Americanism which I am sorry to find introduced into the serious Debates of this House. I think the charge is still more serious when it is imputed to the Commissioners that they, at any rate, were subject to any extraneous influence, and did their duty otherwise than with impartiality and independence. Certainly it is a new revelation to Liverpool men to hear that the distribution of the Divisions of Liverpool was other than thoroughly impartial, independent, and judicious. It has been more than once said that the Liberal Councillors at the present time are in the majority in the Town Council, and therefore that the object of the Bill is to alter that state of things by which the majority may be maintained. But the Liberal Party are in a majority in that Council by reason of, and through the very means of, those inequalities which we are desiring to correct by this new legislation. But I am afraid it would be very un-informing to deal in detail with all these objections and these mere tu quoque arguments with reference to those various political parties, and I should like if possible to bring back the House to a more serious and general view of this problem. The first point, I think, to be ascertained is, what was the object and the principle in the mind of Parliament at the time when the Municipal Reform Act was passed? We have, then, to see how this principle was applied in the legislation of that period, and to consider, in the last place, how far this principle is now in force in the municipal administration, not only of Liverpool, but in other parts of the Kingdom. I think, if we go back to the Debates of 1835, we shall find a good deal of information, not only with reference to the principles upon which that legislation was based, but also as to the objects that were in view in dividing municipalities into wards, and that seems to me to be the primary object of the discussion to-day. Now, Lord John Russell, who had charge of the Bill, laid it down as a guiding principle that it was to bring the municipal system into harmony with the Parliamentary system which had been just before reformed. He said— 636The measure we propose, in my opinion, is in strict accordance with the spirit and intention of the Reform Act.That is the Reform Act of 1832. If that was the object of the framer of the Municipal Reform Act, we have to consider how far that harmony is now maintained. Well, the Legislature has twice altered the principles, and in some cases the divisions, of Parliamentary constituencies in different parts of the country. In Liverpool, for instance, in the interval from 1832 to the present time, we have had an increase of Parliamentary representation from, in the first place, two to three Members. That must have been with the object of doing justice to the increased population of the city. We have since had that number augmented to nine, and we have had the city portioned out into nine different constituencies, the guiding principle in the arrangement being to secure as far as possible an approximately equal number of electors in each division. Now, while Liverpool has had this adaptation of local requirements in Parliamentary affairs it has remained absolutely stagnant and unreformed in municipal affairs. That stagnation is due to the fact that it is impossible under the present law to secure a sufficient majority to set a good law in motion. As I have said, we have had the Parliamentary representation adapted to the modified conditions of the town, and to the increased number of people, and to the altered incidence of taxation. But we have had no such adaptation of municipal affairs to the same end, and yet the changes that have occurred in the municipal administration of a growing and developing city like Liverpool are rather in municipal than in Parliamentary affairs. When we go back to the portioning of the municipal wards in 1835 we find that the principle then adopted was precisely that which Lord John Russell laid down during the Debate on the Bill. Lord John Russell, in reply to Lord Stanley on that occasion, said—His hon. Friend asked what was the principle which Her Majesty's Government intended to adopt with reference to dividing boroughs into wards. In the first instance, it would depend upon the wealth and population of the place. Undoubtedly they would, to a considerable extent, adopt the principle of 637 population in making the wards. That is, they would not do so unless they contained a certain extent of population. He should be sorry to divide a borough into wards where the number of votes were so few that they were likely to be influenced. In that case it would produce a jealousy which would be most pernicious.Lord John Russell laid down a sound principle, and he applied it at that time in a sound way in Liverpool by equalising the population and taxation in the various wards of the town. But the whole position of the town has changed since then. The population was almost entirely centred in the middle of the town, called the parish. The surrounding townships were little more than gardens and agricultural land. The population has decreased in the centre, and enormously multiplied in the outskirts; and yet there has been no attempt to adapt the representative system to the altered conditions of the town. That, I think, is a very flagrant injustice, and no accusations or charges between political parties can overcome the fact that great political injustice is done to the popular element in the constituencies, because we have a population in one ward of about 3,000 inhabitants enjoying a representation equal to a population of 176,000 in another ward. So that, while the Party on the opposite Benches are claiming impartiality and justice all round, they propose to perpetuate a state of things which is entirely indefensible They themselves, in local affairs, have never attempted to justify the principle or the inequalities of the present system of representation. They have always evaded it by some pretence that an accompanying reform was also needed, or that it was inopportune for their political exigencies; but in every case where the constituency consists of tens or twenties of thousands, the Party which has been reproached for dominating Liverpool commands the representation. It is only in the effete and small central wards that the Liberal Party, by means of their restricted constituencies, are able to secure their majority of elected members on the Council. Challenges have been made by the opposite side, and I have no hesitation in accepting one of them—namely, that if all political parties will concur in apportioning the representation of Liverpool 638 into anything like equal electoral districts, the Conservative Party, at any rate, will not shrink from the issue of such a trial. But they cannot maintain any fair representation, either of their Party or of justice to the masses of people whom they represent, while the present unfair system obtains. There have been numerous detailed references to Liverpool which I think need not be entered upon further, because the special criticisms that were directed against the town by the hon. Member for Leicester were, by anticipation, met by his venerated father, a citizen of Liverpool. He was himself a moderate man who desired to calm political partisanship, and he always did a great deal in that direction; but while he was moderate in his politics, he was no less a partisan in municipal matters than the Party who are now reproached for that as an offence. But the claim I desire to make on behalf of the constituency of which I am the Parliamentary Representative, but which constitutes only one-third of the muncipal division, is that this number of 176,000 people who constitute the municipal constituency of Everton shall not be overborne, as they are now, by the vote of a small and decaying municipal division in the centre of the city; and I am quite sure that this principle, actively applied in Liverpool, will be no less beneficial in other parts of the country.
§ *(3.43.) MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)
As an old member of the Liverpool Town Council and a former Representative of Liverpool, I may be allowed to offer one or two observations upon this Bill. I think the House now perfectly well understands that this is a Liverpool Bill. There is very little attempt made now on the other side of the House to disguise the fact that this Bill is introduced chiefly to affect Liverpool. ("No, no!") The hon. Gentleman says "No, no!" Can he point out any case where petitions have been made by other municipalities in favour of a Bill of this kind? The state of the House this afternoon shows that it is a Liverpool Bill. So thoroughly is it local that this might be supposed to be a debate going on in the Liverpool Town Council. Now, Mr. Speaker, I am not going to deny for one moment 639 that there are anomalies in the wards of Liverpool. I freely admit that they are unequally divided. It is quite true we have several wards with a small population, and others with a large population. I also admit that the small wards return mostly Liberals, and the large wards mostly Tories. These are undoubted facts. If the object of this Bill had been to remove all anomalies in the representation of Liverpool, it would have met with a cordial reception on this side. The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that Liverpool is in a peculiar position. I do not know any town in the Kingdom that resembles it exactly. One class of anomalies in Liverpool are balanced by another class. The Tory Party for fifty years have elected all the Aldermen. They have, by means of their majority, pitch-forked the defeated Tory candidates at the municipal elections into Aldermanic Chairs, and we hold that that is a most unjust proceeding. The Liberals have availed themselves of the advantage of the present division of the wards not to overbear the opposite Party; they are not enabled to do that, but to have a fair representation on the Town Council. If you redress one set of anomalies and leave the other set untouched you make the position worse. If you adopt the principle of this Bill and leave the aldermanic system unchanged, the result will be not merely a Tory majority, but absolute Tory supremacy. Now, we on this side of the House are perfectly prepared to adopt a system which will redress all anomalies alike, and make the representation of Liverpool exactly correspond with the wishes of the people, but if this is to be carried out the Bill must be of larger scope. It must not merely deal with the re-distribution of the wards, but it must deal with the present system of electing Aldermen. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Willox) alleges, I understand, that the present aldermanic system in the towns is the result of the action of the Liberal Party. So far from that being the fact, it was introduced in the House of Lords with the view of curbing the Liberal Party.
§ MR. WILLOX
I should like to correct my hon. Friend. I made no reference 640 at all to the introduction of Aldermen into Town Councils by law.
§ *MR. SAMUEL SMITH
I accept the correction. But, as I understood him, the hon. Member let it be supposed that we are opposing the action of the Liberal Party in 1835. Well, we are not doing so, but we are opposing the action of the House of Lords, which marred the Bill of the Liberal Party by injecting into it the present iniquitous system of electing Aldermen.
§ MR. MATTINSON
The election of Aldermen is regulated by the Act of 1882, and that was passed at the time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian was in power.
§ *MR. SAMUEL SMITH
I much doubt the thorough correctness of the statement just made. The present method was devised in 1835, and has not been altered since. Now, we on this side of the House would hail with pleasure anything like a just and honest method of dealing with these anomalies. We are prepared to support a Bill which will re-distribute the wards according to population, and place the election of Municipal Aldermen in exactly the same position as that of County Aldermen. That is a fair proposal. I do not see how anyone can charge us with opposing popular rights. While we are asking for the most full and complete regard for popular rights and representation, our opponents are asking us to remove an anomaly on one side which helps to balance an anomaly on the other side. We wish to remove both. Now, Mr. Speaker, allusion has been made to the character of the Tory government in Liverpool during the last fifty years, and a good deal has been said on both sides as to the merits and demerits of their methods of government. Now, I, for one, am willing to allow that in respect of those municipal matters mentioned by the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood), such as sewage works, paving, and sanitary matters, great and good work has been done. And no man has taken more pains or devoted more labour to municipal matters than the right hon. Gentleman himself. Liverpool owes very much to the right hon. Gentleman if you exclude all that relates to party questions. But he has been a most expert 641 Tory wire-puller, as all the world knows. The ascendency of the Tory Party in Liverpool has been in the main caused by its alliance with the drink interest. The most powerful supporters of the Tory Party in Liverpool have been the publicans, and I venture to state that no town in England has been so cursed by the drink traffic as Liverpool; and if you were to search the United Kingdom through, you could not find a town that contains more squalor and misery. Many causes have contributed to produce this result, but the one cause which stands out above all others is the frightful intemperance which curses large sections of the population. And, moreover, the fact remains that so long as the Tory Party had undisputed control of the city it was literally impossible to get any practical reforms in the methods of dealing with the drink traffic. It is a painful thing to have to state, but it is my duty to tell the House that during the time the Tory Party held undisputed predominance the position of Chairman of the Watch Committee was held by a gentleman who was solicitor to two of the largest drink sellers in Liverpool, drink sellers who between them owned 130 or 150 public-houses in the city.
§ MR. FORWOOD
If the hon. Member will allow me to put one word in, I will say that the gentleman to whom he refers has denied the statement.
§ *MR. SAMUEL SMITH
Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that Mr. John Hughes was solicitor for Sir Andrew Walker & Sons?
§ *MR. SAMUEL SMITH
That is the first time I have ever heard it denied; and I am unaware that the gentleman himself has ever denied it. I shall not retract my statements, without much better evidence than the denial of the right hon. Gentleman, for it is a matter of common repute in Liverpool that there has been the closest possible connection between the former Chairman of the Watch Committee, whose business was to direct the police and to supervise the public-bouses—between that gentleman and the largest brewers and publicans in the city. There may be some petty quibble by which the right hon. Gentleman is able to attack my statement, 642 but as to the substantial truth of it I have no doubt, and I have never heard it denied. Since the Liberals have gained increased power in the government of the city we have had a great change for the better. There have been reforms in the management of the police and in connection with the Watch Committee, and I venture to say that the moral reform which has taken place in Liverpool during the last two or three years is almost unequalled. I do not believe so great a reform has taken place in any other town, and that reform has been contemporaneous with the growth of the Liberal Party (Ministerial cheers.) I understand those cheers to have reference to the action of the Liberal Party in the matter of free licensing 25 or 30 years ago. I do not defend that action—I have dissented from it all my life. It was, I think, a deplorable blunder on the part of the Liberal Party of that time, and I believe they disgraced themselves by identifying themselves with this system of free licensing. But the Liberal Party of to-day repudiate that policy. They are identified now with a policy of temperance and moral reform, and during the last few years have been able to achieve very satisfactory results. It is on this ground that I object to the passing of this Bill, the effect of which would be not merely to give simply a Tory majority—to which, perhaps, they are entitled—but which would give them an undisputed and complete supremacy for the whole of this generation. Therefore we make our protest against it, and we cannot withdraw our protest. But if the Gentlemen whose names are on the back of this Bill will withdraw it and present another Bill dealing with both sides of the anomaly, they will find us ready to give them our hearty support. But I trust the House will not allow itself to be made the tool of the Tory Party in one town, and pass the Second Reading of a Bill for which, outside Liverpool, there is absolutely no demand.
§ *(3.58.) MR. WILLIAM H. CROSS (Liverpool, West Derby)
I think we are indebted to the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. S. Smith) for the admirable speech he has made in favour of the Bill. He admitted that nothing 643 could be better than the government of Liverpool for fifty years past, and, as I understood him, he had no complaint to make of the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood) for his conduct of the affairs of the city. He further said that there is no doubt there is at the present moment a very great anomaly in the distribution of the wards of Liverpool, and the only palliation I understood him to offer was that there was another anomaly in the fact that Aldermen are allowed to vote for Aldermen, which he said to some extent corrected the other. The hon. Gentleman further told us that the Conservative Party are, no doubt, entitled to a small majority in the City Council. When we are told that the government of Liverpool is good, that the Tory Party is entitled to a small majority, and that there is a great anomaly in the present distribution of the wards, and when these admissions are made by an hon. Member who has himself been a member of the City Council and has been a Representative of the city in this House, the case against this Bill is once and for ever demolished. I should not, however, have risen but for a remark of the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), who said there was no bona fides in this Bill, because if we had really intended to remedy an injustice in the distribution of the wards, we should have taken up the case of Belfast. I do not think I am betraying any confidence when I say that, after the Debate on the Private Belfast Bill, when the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) had appealed to the Government on this very point of the power to petition for the redistribution of the wards, I went to the hon. Member and asked him whether a clause in our Bill to the effect that the ratepayers might petition would meet his views. It is not for us to propose legislation to meet the case of Belfast; but I suggested that our Bill would be a move, at all events, in the direction desired by the hon. Member, and he said he quite approved of my suggestion.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I did not realise that the Bill was to be confined to Great Britain, and still less did I realise that it was intended for the use of Liverpool alone. And I 644 may say, also, that I think the form of the proposed alteration would have been found inconvenient.
§ *MR. WILLIAM H. CROSS
If the hon. Gentleman chooses to suggest a form, it is open to him to do so; but we cannot undertake to graft upon our Bill the many complicated clauses required to alter the Irish Act of 1840. We did not wish to close the door against Belfast, and we considered that if we inserted the clause to which the hon. Member agreed at the time, we should, at all events, make a step in the direction of his wishes. There is one other point. The hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) said we had introduced this Bill practically without giving notice to any of the people most interested; that no petitions had been presented from municipalities in favour of it, and that it was solely a Liverpool Bill, and ignored and disregarded every other municipality. The representative association of the municipalities, the Association of Municipal Corporations, have been consulted with respect to this Bill at every step. They had the original draft of the Bill; they had copies of every alteration. We have been in correspondence with them, and no doubt every borough throughout England knows the position of this. Bill. And when the hon. Member says that no borough has petitioned, I say that is again another strong argument in favour of the Bill, because if these boroughs had objected to the Bill, they are represented by gentlemen who are capable of making their views known. And as there has been no petition from any quarter except the Radical minority of the Liverpool Town Council—for every name amongst those hon. Members in opposition to this Bill is the name of some one connected more or less with the Radical minority in Liverpool—I think we may claim that the hon. Gentleman has supplied us with most cogent and powerful arguments in favour of our Bill. Once for all, I do not think hon. Members opposite will have persuaded the majority of this. House that a state of things ought to exist in any town, whether it be Liberal or whether it be Tory, in which one single ward with one-third of the whole electors returns only one-sixteenth of the whole number of representatives. 645 I hope, on the contrary, that hon. Gentlemen having heard the arguments advanced, the House will make one step forward in the direction of removing from the municipal administration one of the most crying anomalies that exists in this country.
§ (4.8.) MR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
It has been said that this Bill was introduced not in the interests of one Municipality, but of all. How has that interest been shown? Not a single borough has petitioned in its favour, not a single Member for any of the large boroughs has spoken in favour of the Bill, and not a single one is now in his place watching its progress. They know very well that this measure does not concern them, and they take no notice of it. It is a measure that is introduced for the benefit or otherwise of Liverpool, and for the benefit or otherwise of a political party in Liverpool. The hon. Member who introduced this measure seemed to deprecate opposition to it in the same way that the nurse in "Midshipman Easy" deprecated any criticism of the baby on the ground that it was a very little one. But I do not think this is a very little measure. It will introduce an element of disunion, dissension, and turmoil into the Municipal Corporation, and will encourage the political element which many think ought to be excluded. The Bill actually proposes that at any time fifty members of a ward may bring about a re-distribution. And why? For a political purpose; no other reason is suggested. If one Political Party is dissatisfied with the result of an election fifteen Members can be got to sign a petition to Her Majesty in Council for a re-distribution. Such a state of things is not part of the law or Constitution of this country, and the present system does not cause anything unfair to the minority. In Liverpool the Liberals and Conservatives are about equally divided; there may be in the whole constituency four per cent. more Conservatives than Liberals, but several elections have negatived that; as a matter of fact, nobody can tell on which side the majority lies. But there is no pretence for saying the member for Pitt Street Ward does not represent the public opinion in the ward. Whether the ward has 1,000 inhabitants like Pitt Street, or 100,000 646 like Crickdale, the Councillor will be representative of the public opinion which elects him. The grievance is altogether imaginary. How is it that the Corporation of Liverpool has not petitioned in favour of the Bill? The Conservatives have a majority on the Corporation. Why did they not get up a petition in favour of it? Why did they not get up a petition in favour of abolishing the Aldermen or of putting their election on the same footing as that of the Councillors? Why did they not get up a petition in favour of equalising the wards? They recently got up a petition in favour of local option; why did they not put redistribution of the wards in that? It was simply because the electorate and their representatives on the Council are utterly indifferent on the question; and if the present state of things constitutes a grievance, they will not take the slightest trouble to alter it. There is another reason behind it. There are four different rating districts in the City of Liverpool, and each is rated according to its own expenditure, and the outside wards—the ones which complain—pay a considerably higher rate than the inside ones. The difference is as much as 30 per cent. These rates are levied under an Act of Parliament, and cannot be changed by the Corporation, but re-distribution would alter the machinery for levying these rates, and render the working of the measure almost impossible till there was equalisation of rating by which these large outside wards would be able to shift part of their rates on to the shoulders of the inside wards. I quite understand why no allusion has been made to that, for there would have to be a supplementary Bill to equalise the rates and saddle the inner wards with 30 per cent. of the rating now borne by the outside wards. There is no suggestion that the present rating is unjust; it is according to the expenditure; but the re-arrangement of rating would be unjust to the inner wards, in which are the great shops, the great manufactures, the great warehouses, on which the shipping of Liverpool so much depends, and the business places of the great commercial men on whom depends the wealth, enterprise, and prosperity of Liverpool. They are the people interested in the smaller 647 inner wards, and they are more interested in the rating than are the inhabitants of the outside wards. The latter consist of third, fourth, and fifth-rate streets, of cottage houses, rated at £25 a year, whereas the average rating in the inside wards is £94. These inside wards are interested in seeing that this measure is not passed, as it would do them great injustice and impose on them rates for the benefit of the outside wards. If, however, there were equalisation all round that would deal with several anomalies — the question of the Aldermen as well as that of rating. If they were settled much of the objection to the re-distribution of wards would disappear. I have been in the Council for 20 years, and I remember when there were only 17 Liberal members on it, which left the Tories with more than a two-thirds majority. Why did they not then carry out the re-distribution? It must have been because they did not choose to do so. For the last 50 years the Tories have had a distinct majority of the elective members to which they added the 16 Tory Aldermen, but they never attempted the change. Now that they feel their majority is diminishing they attempt it. They did attempt it in 1890, when they promoted a Private Bill for the re-arrangement of wards and boundaries; but they were not able to prove their case before the Committee upstairs, and the Bill was lost. That is not the only Private Bill in which they might have had the question settled. During the last 20 years they have promoted almost as many Private Bills, at great cost; but they have never introduced into them provisions for a re-distribtution of wards as they might have done. They do it now to make a cry to go to the country with at the approaching General Election. They want to say that they are the friends of the working man; that they want to extend the rights of popular suffrage, to show that one vote is as good as another. Why, if they are such friends of the popular vote, have they no provision in the Bill dealing with the Aldermen, and putting a stop to their election by Aldermen? Let there be some semblance of popular election in their case. I promise them that if this Bill goes any further there will be a provision for that purpose 648 introduced. The hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) has spoken of the activity, energy, and earnestness which the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood) has shown on the Council. No man has been more efficient or has contributed more, in my time, by his energy and ability to the improvement of sanitary and other local matters than he has done. But that is no reason why he should now, indirectly and under cover, be able to foist upon us sham reforms which have only one object, and that is now an undisguised object—to get if possible a lease for 50 years more the power which they have abused in the grossest way during the 50 years that they have already possessed it. They have never during that time elected a single Liberal Alderman. It is true that Birmingham has excluded Tory Aldermen, but two blacks do not make a white, and I say that state of things in Liverpool is disgraceful. The father of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) served on the Liverpool Council with ability and energy for nearly a lifetime, and his name is associated with whatever is worthy of notice in Liverpool, yet, though he was proposed again and again as Mayor and Alderman, they could not even elect him as an Alderman. I think, therefore, the Tory monopoly of electing Aldermen would be sufficient reason, without any other, for opposing the Bill.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The Debate is being conducted in a fair and legitimate manner, and as there is an evident desire to continue the discussion I cannot accept the Motion of the hon. Member.
§ MR. ROYDEN (Liverpool, West Toxteth)
Hon. Members have spoken of the Bill as if it were a Private Bill, and I regret that, because Liverpool, instead of bringing in a Private Bill, and merely consulting its own interests, promoted this Bill, having in view a larger area, and desiring that the same justice should be done to other towns in a similar position. The last speaker said that these other boroughs have shown no interest in the question. On the contrary, I have had letters from various places rejoicing that Liverpool 649 had taken a stand, and was endeavouring to put this matter straight. If we want further proof we have only to look what hon. Members have expressed their opinion against the Bill, for I think we may accept it that all those who have anything to say against it have been careful to do so. I have been astonished at what the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) and the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. Commins) have said with regard to the Council. I have had the honour of being a member of the Council for some years, and I am bound to say that the conclusions at which those hon. Gentlemen have arrived are not such as commend themselves to my judgment. We have heard a great deal about the corrupt management of Liverpool. But it is a most extraordinary thing that when the City Council came before the Commission for an extension of boundaries, it was a subject of congratulation by the members of the Commission that the revenues of the city had been so well administered and the wants of the city so well attended to. If Liverpool with its great prosperity, its fine buildings, the spirit of enterprise among its people, and its wonderful advance in regard to health, is a specimen of mismanagement by the Tory or any other Party, my only regret is that there is not much more such mismanagement in regard to other towns. The fact that Liverpool has been dominated for fifty years by the Tory Party is a great triumph for that Party. But will it be believed that there is not a single committee of that City Council on which there are not a good many of the Liberal members of the Town Council sitting? They have a share in all these things. I do not grudge it to them. They have a right to their share. In 1835, when the city was portioned out for municipal purposes, the manner in which the wards were laid out, having regard to the number of the electors, of course the central wards of the city were more or less covered with houses, and were a small area, whereas the outlying districts were, by reason of the sparseness of the population, a very large area. In the 50 years that have elapsed the city has grown, and the vacant spaces have become covered with houses, which are 650 almost entirely occupied by the working population. There has, consequently, been a great increase in the number of the electors in these outlying districts. If hon. Gentlemen opposite believe in the doctrine which they are constantly putting forward in this House and upon public platforms, that the interests of the working men must and ought to be considered, they should join with us in giving the working classes in those districts an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the government of the city. My hon. Friend opposite the Member for Flintshire has pointed out that it is due to the Liberal magistrates that many public-houses were thrust upon the city, and he, as well as I, greatly regret it. But I would recall to his memory that when the Conservative magistrates were predominant on the Bench, their study was to diminish the number of public-houses in the city. I look forward, however, to a better state of things in this respect being brought about by a better feeling on the part both of the Liberal and Conservative magistrates on the Bench. We were taunted by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) that we had used our power arbitrarily, and had refused to elect Liberal Aldermen; and yet he confessed that in most of the English towns the Liberals had always elected Liberal Aldermen.
§ MR. PICTON
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. On the contrary, I gave an instance of a Radical Council electing a Tory Mayor.
§ MR. ROYDEN
But certainly, so far as my experience goes, where there is a Liberal majority in a Council Liberal Aldermen are elected by them. I venture to say that where any prominent citizen has rendered distinguished service to the city we have always recognised and acknowledged it. But, as I have said, I prefer to treat the Bill on general principles. I feel that a great injustice is being done to the working classes, especially in Liverpool, by the way in which the wards are gerrymandered. They were not originally; it is only the present system that causes it. The hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. Commins) says he believes 651 it would make very little difference. If that is his opinion of this Bill, if he really believes in the truth of his sentiments, why does he not leave it to the vote of the whole people of Liverpool, and allow them to test it? We are quite willing to accept that test. We have simply the good of the city in view. I think it was one of the doctrines of the Liberal Party that in the same town equal electoral districts should exist; but it appears that that is only a principle, to be adopted when it is supposed to be in favour of the Liberal Party. We, on the other hand, are ready to act for the whole country. Therefore, we have included the boroughs of England and Wales within the scope of this Bill. We believe in doing justice to the people of Liverpool, as well as to the people of the rest of the country.
§ (4.41.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
I have listened to this Debate with considerable and increasing surprise. The Bill which has been introduced to us to-day affects and purports to be a Bill, and is a Bill, which proposes to deal with the law as it concerns and affects every Municipal Corporation in the country. But the names on the back of the Bill are local names—Liverpool names; the whole Debate has been carried on and the speaking has been done by Liverpool men, or by men interested in Liverpool. It seems that it was originally intended to limit the Bill to Liverpool; but, as it was found that that would not do, it was then extended to the whole country. I say, therefore—and it cannot be denied—that this is a Bill of Liverpool origin; its origin, so far as I can judge, is a Liverpool Party squabble. But it may be said that whatever may be the origin of the Bill, and whatever may be the motive of those who have introduced the Bill, the question for the House is—is it a good Bill? I will address myself to that question, and I have no objection to deal with that question. I look upon this Bill with some suspicion, because it is a local Bill; but I have no objection to it because it is a Party Bill. I am not sure whether I am correct, but I am under the impression that a Bill of a somewhat similar kind with regard to Bristol was introduced some 20 years ago. It was certainly opposed 652 by many leading Conservatives of that day, but it passed through this House. When, however, it got to another place and came under the keen, scrutinising eye of Lord Cairns that Bill was heard of no longer. Well, I think that is a good precedent, at any rate, for the Tory Government and the Tory Party. They have no need to go to another place; they have the power in this House, and I hope they will not pass a Bill of this kind, for they could not get a worse method in the shape of a Bill for dealing with the subject itself. This is a subject of considerable public interest; it concerns a serious alteration which it is proposed should be made in the Municipal Corporations Act. And my first proposition is that this is not a Bill which ought to be brought in by private Members, and that the Government should not give any show of support to a Bill for which they will not take the direct and original responsibility. I say distinctly that, according to Parliamentary precedent and the right notion of legislation, this is a subject, the dealing with, I will not say the tinkering with the Municipal Corporations Act is a subject which ought to be taken up by the Government of the day, and not by any number of private parties, more or less supported by the Government. I object to this Bill, because it is only a proposition. It proposes to allow a bare majority, instead of a two-thirds majority, of the County Council to petition Her Majesty for a new division and re-division of a borough into wards. The Municipal Corporations Act not only provided that there should be elected. Councillors, but also that there should be Aldermen who were not directly elected, being about one-third of the number of Councillors. Under these circumstances, it was very intelligible and highly reasonable, it appears to me, that there should be this two-thirds, because that would render it practically impossible that a proposal of this kind should be carried against the will of the majority of the elected members of that Council. A number of suggestions have been made, but no response has been given. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty has expressed his own individual opinion that Aldermen should 653 not vote on a question of this kind; but I did not understand him to say that he proposed to insert an Amendment to that effect in this Bill, if the Bill passed the Second Reading and came into Committee.
§ MR. FORWOOD
I intended merely to express my own view on the subject, and I said that I would give my own assent to the proposal that the principle adopted in the case of Aldermen in counties should also be adopted in the case of municipal boroughs, and that, if it could be agreed to insert a clause to carry out that object, such a proposal would have my sympathy.
§ MR. STANSFELD
But I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he does not pretend to speak on behalf of any other Member of the House. He merely expresses his own opinion; and hence he must allow me to say that such an expression of individual opinion is not a guarantee that the Amendment or clause, which would have his assent, would be certain of being adopted. But the view I take of it is this. This Bill raises the question again of the existence of Aldermen as part of the Municipal Corporations of this country. I would remind the House that the Liberal Party was not in the past responsible for the creation of Aldermen; and I say that the position of the Liberal Party now with reference to this question is that we believe—it certainly is my own personal opinion—that no change of this kind ought to be made or attempted with regard to the Municipal Corporations Act, unless, at the same time, Parliament addresses itself to the question of the position of Aldermen on these Councils, and either renders them directly elective or abolishes them as Aldermen and makes them elected Councillors like the other representatives of that body, or, at all events, introduces a clause which shall prevent them from voting on questions upon which they ought not to interfere with the wish of the majority of the elected members of that Council. The Government, I presume, are about to speak. I understand the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department proposes to address the House. I hope he will tell us distinctly the views of the Government; I hope he will tell us how far the Government intend to make itself responsible 654 for the proposals of this measure. I say, so far as our view is concerned, it would be in accordance with precedent and the best usage of this House if the Government would either leave this Bill to its fate, in the hands of those who have brought it forward, or take it bodily in charge, and deal with it on their own responsibility. I hope the hon. Gentleman will enlighten us on that point.
§ *(4.49.) THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. STUART WORTLEY,) Sheffield, Hallam
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that it would be far better if Bills of such far-reaching scope as the Bill now before the House were taken in hand by the responsible Government of the day. But we have to deal with the Bill as it has been brought before us. In speaking of the Bill in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I must be understood to express, on the part of the Government as a whole, no collective, corporate opinion, except that they wish this Bill, which has not been undertaken by themselves, to be left to the free judgment of the House, and do not desire to put any pressure upon their own supporters. That is the only collective opinion which the Government wish to express upon the Bill; but it is necessary that I should explain to the best of my ability the way in which this Bill strikes me, and the effect it appears to me to be likely to have. This Bill appears to me to have started on a branch line, and never to have got into any main current of Parliamentary thought until the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; and it comes with but very poor recommendations to this House when we see that it has on its back the names of Members representing one borough and one borough alone. I do not say that Liverpool is the only borough in which there is an injustice. I believe in the borough which I represent a similar measure might be demanded, and if demanded successfully would be hailed with much satisfaction by members of the Party opposite. Therefore, we cannot on the sole ground that this Bill comes from Liverpool reject it as being a 655 purely local measure. My own view is that it recognises the existence of an imperfection in our law, which is undoubtedly a substantial imperfection. We must go back to 1859, to see what was the mischief which Parliament was seeking to remove, what were the remedies which Parliament sought to adopt, and what were the methods by which Parliament sought to carry out those remedies. The mischief aimed at was that the constitution and composition of a municipal Council should not be manipulated by a mere Party vote. It was against that possible abuse that security was sought to be taken, and the method by which that was to be carried into effect was by requiring a two-thirds vote of the Council that had been constituted under the Act of 1835. But unfortunately I do not believe that in adopting that peculiar modus operandi the House really took the security which it was seeking to take. What I believe it ought to have done was to have secured that petitions should be framed by two-thirds or some other substantial and preponderating majority, not of the Council but of the electorate from which the Council derives its power. I believe that was their object, and I believe that Parliament at that time failed to foresee that this one-third of the Council which might stop the way of the redivision of the wards of the borough might possibly consist solely and entirely of the representatives of what we may call the over-represented wards—resisting the claim of the under-represented wards. That is the situation which my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool complain of, and I must say they come before this House entitled to much sympathy in respect of the remarkable anomalies which they present to our attention. Now, I observe on the part of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and other Gentlemen who have preceded him, a disposition to proceed to a sort of barter in this matter. It is suggested that against this two-thirds majority might be exchanged some more or less substantial part of the powers of the members of the Council called Aldermen. That offer is based upon this consideration: that to a certain extent, and in some rough and imperfect way, the institution of Aldermen serves as a counterpoise 656 to the possible inequalities in representation such as exist in the case of Liverpool. In the case of Liverpool, there are over-represented wards which are represented by members of one political colour. It is contended to-day that this monopoly is roughly counter balanced by the fact that all the Aldermen are of an opposite political character. It seems to me that the two-thirds majority and the existence of the Aldermen have no real connection with one another for this reason, that if it came to a question whether the Council should present a petition for re-arrangement of wards, it does not follow as a matter of necessity that all the Aldermen would be on one side in that debate. And again, we can quite conceive the situation — it may even happen in Liverpool—in which all the small and over-represented wards may be upon the same side as the Aldermen, and an absolutely insignificant minority of the citizens might thereby obtain not merely supremacy, but almost permanent supremacy over the majority of the ratepayers. Therefore I must enter here a necessary caveat against allowing that there is any connection between the question of the existence of the Aldermen and the question of the modus operandi of presenting petitions to the Queen in Council. I must reserve myself by saying I am not authorised to give any pledge with regard to any scheme to modify or get rid of the institution of Aldermen, which it may be hereafter sought to tie round the neck of this Bill. I am going to vote for the Second Reading, though I think there is much to be said upon the particular methods by which the proposal is to be carried out. This Bill makes it possible, by a mere party vote, to set going the machinery for the redistribution of the wards. Is that right, or is it not? We are told that there lies behind this power of the Council as a security the responsibility of the Secretary of State of the day, and, further, the impartiality of the Commissioner whom he would send down for the purpose of local inquiries. I do not feel quite satisfied that these are sufficient securities. I suppose that this House will not be less disposed than I am to admit 657 that even Secretaries of State may have their frailties and leanings, and I can quite conceive a situation in which the majority of a Town Council of a particular political colour may take advantage of political relations with a sympathetic Secretary of State, who may be only too ready to forward their political views. I come next to the question of the position of the Commissioner appointed by the Secretary of State; but before doing so let me remind the House what is the nature of the question which is most frequently at issue in these disputes of Town Councils as to the arrangements of the wards and the proportion that each should have in the representation. If hon. Members will turn to the section in the Municipal Corporations Act with which we are now concerned, they will see the Commissioner is obliged to have regard in re-dividing the wards "as well the number of persons represented in the ward as to the aggregate rating of the ward." In other words, in the result there are to be two factors—numbers and rateable value. Now let hon. Gentlemen opposite conceive a state of things in which the composition of a Town Council was fair and equitable under a reasonable construction of that Statute, that numbers and rateable value each in proportion had fair representation—but let us suppose that the existing party majority of the Town Council were what you may call rateable value men as distinct from population men, and let us suppose that a Secretary of State were to take their petition, sent up upon the vote of a bare majority, so far as to proceed to the appointment of a Commissioner. Well, Sir, it is not necessary to impute anything that would not be strict impartiality or anything that would be a reproach, but the Commissioner would be more than human if he did not feel he was bound to do something, to make some alteration in the state of things, and yet that something must be something which—in the circumstances I have imagined to exist—would be an alteration of that which was fair and equitable and in conformity with the intentions of the existing Statute. I have stated what is the position of the Government with regard to this Bill, and I have ventured to indicate my own 658 opinion that though the objects of the Bill are good its proposed methods are faulty, and I think it is right that I should put a suggestion before my hon. and learned Friend in charge of the Bill. I have said that an absolute majority of a Council does not appear to be a satisfactory kind of way of deciding the question whether a re-division of wards should be embarked upon. It is admitted that a two-thirds majority of the Council does not act in many cases when there ought certainly to be a re-division. It would not, however, be correct to say that this requirement of a two-thirds majority has stood in the way to a very great extent in the presentation of these petitions, because I find that since the year 1879 there have been no fewer than 41 petitions, granted. I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend that the true solution of this matter would be some provision that the petition should not be adopted except upon a two-thirds or, at all events, some substantial majority, not of the Council but of the ratepayer's themselves either by a direct vote—which of course would be extremely difficult, and would require many clauses—or by a vote of the members of the Town Council actually representing two-thirds of the population. I offer that suggestion for the consideration of my hon. Friends; and while I promise my support for what it is worth to the Second Reading of this Bill, I must reserve the fullest liberty, both on my own part and on the part of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this Bench with whom I usually act, to see that the methods of this Bill are most closely scrutinised when we get into Committee and to take any course which may seem proper to us to render it more equitable and less unsatisfactory than it at present appears to be.
§ *(5.4.) MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
I desire to offer a few words of explanation of the reason why I withdrew the Amendment to the Second Reading of this Bill, which has stood in my name for a few days past. That Amendment was to the effect that no amendment of the law would be satisfactory which did not include a provison that Aldermen should not be allowed to vote in the election of Aldermen. 659 If that Amendment had stood upon the Paper to-day I understand the House would have voted upon it before it would have given a vote to the Second Reading of this Bill—it would have been necessary in order to arrive at a vote upon the Second Reading that that Amendment should have been decided first. Now, Sir, as I expected, we have heard from a representative of the Government—though he was careful to say he had no right to pledge his colleagues—that he will vote for the Second Reading. That would have put it out of the power of the House to consider at any later period of this Session the question of whether Aldermen should vote in the election of Aldermen. I am of opinion that the probability is that the House will hereafter consent to this Amendment, and abolish the vote of Aldermen in the election of Aldermen in Town Councils, as it has, by a unanimous vote, in the case of County Councils. For that reason, and that reason alone, I withdrew this Amendment of mine. The hon. Gentleman who has spoken for the Government—I beg pardon, the hon. Member who has just spoken from the Treasury Bench—has described the existing method of the law as an imperfect solution of the difficulties of this question of the re-distribution of wards in the boroughs. It is an imperfect settlement of the question, but for a reason which has not been mentioned in the course of the Debate. The reason is this, that whenever there is a large Party majority in a borough, that Party is perfectly content with the distribution of the wards. A large Party majority always wishes to preserve those conditions, and therefore will never alter the boundaries of the borough for fear of diminishing their Party majority. It is for this reason, and it appears to me a perfectly clear one, that the provisions of the law as they exist would be better altered. I have to make, in addition to what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stuart Wortley), for the consideration of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Mattinson) representing the backers of this Bill, a suggestion or two, which to my mind will test the bona fides of the proposal as it has come from these four 660 Members for Liverpool. Will he consent that an instruction shall be moved, on going into Committee, that Aldermen shall not vote in the election of Aldermen, and that it shall be accepted by him and his colleagues? Will he consent to strike out of the Bill that very remarkable provision that fifty ratepayers shall be empowered to present a petition to Her Majesty for the redistribution of the wards, and then will he also consent that this Bill—I want the House to understand that this is a perfectly accurate test of the bona fides of this Bill—shall not come into operation until the 1st January next. The position of political affairs in Liverpool has been aptly and fully described to the House. For the last three municipal elections, I will not say the Liberal Party, but the Party of Purity and Order, in Liverpool, has been gaining seats. I am very glad to acknowledge what has fallen from the hon. Member for one of the Toxteths that the Conservative members of the Town Council, equally with the Conservative Magistrates, have been at one on this question, but it is obvious to both political parties in Liverpool that on the 1st November next the Party of Purity in Liverpool will gain one more seat. The party then will be able to elect one-half the Aldermen. Then there will only remain the majority of elected representatives, the Aldermen being equal on both sides. I would further suggest that the Bill should not come into operation until the 1st January next.
§ MR. MATTINSON
I should be quite content that the Bill should not come into operation till the 1st January next.
§ *MR. BRUNNER
I am glad to have drawn that concession from the hon. Member, but I desire to have the Bill amended in another particular.
§ (5.12.) MR. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)
It has been said that the Bill has been too much dealt with as applying only to Liverpool; but I would point out that Liverpool has been merely selected as an instance of what exists in other places, although there the grievances are more serious than elsewhere. Now, the Everton Ward which has been referred to, is practically the home of the 661 Welsh in Liverpool, and yet the Welsh voters have only one-twenty-fourth part of the weight of representation that the Irishman who reside in the Pitt Street Ward have. That is surely a great anomaly, and one which ought to be redressed. In the discussion which has taken place, it has been admitted that this is an endeavour to remedy an injustice, but it has been urged that it ought not be redressed unless another injustice is removed at the same time. I desire the redress of this and other anomalies, and it is new to me as an old Liberal to find the Liberal Party opposing the removal of this grievance, on the ground that they cannot at the same time redress another grievance. Supposing they applied that doctrine to the carrying out of the Newcastle programme by attaching to it this condition: that they will redress none of the grievances referred to in it unless they can redress them all at once. I think that is a fair argument to use in the discussion of this question. I always thought that the Liberal doctrine was, "If you have a grievance redress it when you can." Here is, then, this great inequality which exists not only in Liverpool, but in various other places throughout the country. It has been brought before the House in the shape of a Bill, therefore let us deal with it and pass it into law. If also by any Amendment or Instruction it is possible to remedy the grievance in Belfast, I, for one, should be glad to see it done.
§ Question put.
§ (5.20.) The House divided:—Ayes 209; Noes 172.—(Div. List, No. 122.)
§ Main Question proposed.
§ It being after half-past Five of the Clock, Mr. Speaker proceeded to interrupt the Business:—
§ Whereupon Mr. MATTINSON rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Main Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Main Question be now put."
§ (5.35.) The House divided:—Ayes 215; Noes 147.—(Div. List, No. 123.)662
§ Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—(Mr. Mattinson.)
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Committee of the Whole House," in order to add the words "Select Committee,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'Committee of the Whole House' stand part of the Question."
§ Objection being taken to Further Proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.