§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF LIVERPOOL
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to state briefly what it enacts. The Bill was introduced in another place on behalf of the Local Government Board, and it has passed that House without any amendment at all. Its object is to assimilate in two very small particulars the procedure in municipal boroughs to the kind of procedure now in vogue in the case of county councils and metropolitan borough councils. The councils of municipal boroughs, as your Lordships well know, consist of a mayor, aldermen and councillors; the number of aldermen being one— 368 third of the number of councillors; the aldermen hold office for six years, one half of their number retiring every three years, when their places are filled again by election. At these triennial elections of aldermen in municipal boroughs the aldermen, other than the outgoing aldermen, have been allowed up to now to vote; but in the case of county councils and metropolitan borough councils the sitting aldermen have not been allowed to vote in the election of new aldermen, the object being to secure that the aldermen should be chosen only by the elected representatives —namely, by the new councillors. This Bill extends this principle to municipal boroughs.
The second portion of the Bill is as regards outgoing aldermen. It provides that an outgoing alderman shall not, as alderman, vote in the election of mayor. As your Lordships are well aware, as soon as a new council comes together the first duty is to elect a mayor, who presides over the deliberations of the councillors during the corning year, and it seems only reasonable that the outgoing aldermen, who will not, unless they are re-elected, form part of the council, should not vote in this election. As I have already said, this is the rule which prevails in the case of county councils and the metropolitan borough councils, and it seems only right to extend it to municipal councils. The second subsection of Clause 1 merely makes the necessary amendment to the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, to carry into effect the object of the Bill. In other words, this Bill is simply an amending Bill to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Liverpool.)
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I do not rise to oppose the passage of this Bill, the objects of which, indeed, I entirely approve, but to suggest to your Lordships the expediency of making certain additions to it in Committee which will make it even more useful than it is as presented to your Lordships now. Let me, in the first place, call attention to the fact that we. are put in rather an inconvenient position in respect of this Bill, because, although it was brought up here some time since, it has not been circulated, and it was not until this after- 369 noon when I came down to the House that I was able to procure a copy. I do not know where the delay has arisen, but I think that as it his occurred we ought not to suffer for what has happened.
The object of the Bill, as the noble Earl has said, is to extend to the election of aldermen of municipal councils the rule which now applies to the election of aldermen on county councils and the metropolitan borough councils. As your Lordships will remember, the introduction of aldermen on county councils and municipal councils was long resented by the advocates of pure democracy as an inroad on the principle of confining the composition of these councils entirely to those elected by the people. But we have had less and less objection of late years to this principle, and it now seems coming to be well admitted that, owing to the defects in representation as we have it at present, it is necessary that elected councillors should be supplemented by co-opted persons if you desire to obtain a body which shall be competent on all sides to undertake the affairs of the community, whether from the point of view of knowledge or experience or even of judgment and practical action. So that now the question is how we can best secure these aldermen, how we can bring into the composition of municipal councils aldermen who shall satisfy the conditions to which I have referred.
Formerly, under the Municipal Corporations Act, on all these councils aldermen were admitted to equal rights with the elected councillors, and therefore had a share in the election of the aldermen and were not distinguishable in their powers from other members of the corporation. That gave rise to much criticism, and the unfairness of the operation in the election of aldermen was long made the subject of complaint. There used to be in the other House a Bill annually brought in providing for the election of aldermen by a different method so that they should represent as nearly as possible the different elements in the composition of the original council. It did not, however, pass, but when Mr. Ritchie brought in his County Councils Bill he conceded the objection to the system which then prevailed by providing that in the election of aldermen to county councils the aldermen themselves should have no voice in the election, but 370 that the election should be entirely confined to the elected councillors. But he did not provide that the elected councillors should themselves elect the aldermen by methods which would secure a fair apportionment of aldermen among the different parties represented by the elected councillors, and he may not have done that for many reasons. Up till quite recently in the election of aldermen on the London County Council care was taken to apportion the aldermen among the two main parties on the council so that they should represent a fair proportion of the original elected elements, not disturbing the balance but bringing into the composition of the council elements corresponding to the original elements in the council. I am sorry to say that that method, so honourably initiated and pursued in the London County Council, has recently been flagrantly abandoned, and the election of aldermen has been employed, not for the purpose of adding to the council elements of experience and judgment and weight from persons belonging to both parties, but simply employed in order to add to the voting power of the majority; and I desire that your Lordships may seize this opportunity by means of this Bill to add to the proposal of His Majesty's Government, which provides that in the election of aldermen on municipal councils only councillors should take part and that the aldermen themselves should not vote—to add to that a provision that the councillors themselves shall elect according to a method which shall secure an addition to the council of aldermen representing the different elements in the original composition of the council; in other words, that the aldermen should remain as valuable an addition to the council as it is possible to secure.
It has been said by the noble Earl that this Bill passed through the other House without amendment, and it may be asked whether it is prudent to raise this question here. The conduct of a Bill through Parliament has become, owing to various circumstances, largely a series of manœuvres. You introduce your Bill and construct it so as to prevent as far as possible any discussion or any amendment, and this Bill was brought into the other House in a manner which effectually prevented the mooting of the question I am submitting to your Lordships. The Motion was made to bring in a Bill to deal with the election of aldermen 371 by alderman, and inasmuch as the Resolution admitting the Bill governs the subsequent dealing with it, it was impossible to introduce into the Bill the Amendments which I now suggest to your Lordships it would be advisable to bring into it. Here we are free to deal with the matter as we may think desirable in the public interest, and it will be in the power of your Lordships, if you are so disposed, to secure that the councilors engaged in the election of aldermen shall vote in such a fashion that the aldermen they elect shall correspond to the divisions of opinion among the councilors themselves. Amendment can be made to the Bill to secure that result, and it would be competent for your Lordships to alter the title of the Bill so as to cover the additions you make to it; and I have reason to believe that they were totally unable to make owing to the very ingenious way the Local Government Board presented the Bill to their notice.
As I have said, this Bill was brought in without your Lordships having had an opportunity of seeing it, and it will be obvious that the Amendments which I have hinted at, and which I propose to put on the Table, require some little care and attention in their construction. I think, therefore, I may appeal with confidence to the noble Earl in charge of the Bill to allow the Committee stage to be postponed for a sufficient time to enable your Lordships not only to become acquainted with the scheme of the Bill as it stands but to consider the Amendments which will be put down to it.
THE EARL OF LIVERPOOL
My Lords, we propose to take the Committee stage of this Bill on Tuesday next, if that meets the view of my noble friend. We are most anxious to get the Bill through before the end of this portion of the session. There is, therefore, not a great deal of time, and if that meets my noble friend's view, we could put down the Committee stage for Tuesday.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.