HC Deb 01 July 1835 vol 29 cc154-68

On the Motion of Lord John Russell, the House went into Committee on the above Bill.

Clause 22 was agreed to with verbal Amendments.

Clause 23, providing that one-third part of the council should go out of office annually, having been read,

Mr. Charles Buller

rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice. He said, that there was no one more inclined than he was to aid the progress of the Bill. He wished to place no obstruction in its way, nor did he wish to place the Government in an unpopular predicament. After the discussion that had taken place last night, he must briefly offer his objections to the mode of election of the Town-Council as proposed by the Bill. He objected to the partial renewal annually of the Council. Partial elections, whether for Parliamentary or Municipal purposes, were bad in practice, and contrary to the rights of the people. He was much pleased with the liberal observations that had fallen on the preceding evening from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Nottingham, who was for giving the people full power over elections. He hoped that that power would not be permitted to be neutralized by the present Clause, and he was of opinion that frequent elections would not lead to any dangerous excitement. By the present plan of election, the people would, after all, have only a triennial control over their representatives in the Council, and there would be an additional disadvantage, namely, the annual excitement that would follow a partial election of the Council. The system of partial election had been tried by the Act for parochial government, of which the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Hobhouse) was the author. From accounts he had received, that Act caused a worse effect than even he had anticipated from it. It caused greater excitement every year than if the whole body of the vestry were elected at once. It took three years to turn them all out, and during that time all the excitement prevailed that might be disposed of in one year. A person belonging to the parish of St. Pancras had furnished him with highly valuable information as to the working of the plan of partial annual election. That person stated that the first objection to such a plan was, that it placed too much power in the hands of those who were already elected. With respect to the vestry alluded to, there was a house-list always handed about, and the weight of the two-thirds of the members that remained in was always sufficient to secure the re-election of the one-third that annually were obliged to go out. Another objection of the party alluded to was, that in his parish persons had got into the vestry who were designated by the uncourteous appellation of "rats," from the fact that they were elected as Reformers, but as soon as they got into the vestry, they forgot their promises and disappointed those who voted for them. The effect of this was, that for two years the parish was kept in constant agitation from the efforts to turn them out. A three years' canvass was carried on to produce what an annual election would bring about. Even a bonâd fide three years' election would be preferable to this partial annual one, since it would save all the excitement that prevailed during the whole interval of the three years. But why have recourse to the proposed alteration in the mode of election at all? Why not return to the old system, namely, that of annual elections? It would be found that the practice was, where officers were not appointed for life, that the elections were annual; and this system had hitherto worked well. The Report of the Municipal Commissioners gave as an instance in favour of annual elections those of the Common Council of the city of London. That mode was approved of by the Commissioners, and they stated that the result was, that the same persons were annually re-elected, with very few exceptions or changes. The same Report spoke of another Corporation, and stated that it governed with the greatest impartiality, and that its revenues were managed with the greatest economy and integrity. The Report also stated, that the Corporation in question was an exceedingly popular one, and that it administered the funds of the different charities of which it had the management with the strictest fairness. The Corporation alluded to in the Report was that of Wisbeach, and the period of electing its officers was annual, and the mode of election by ballot. When such was the fact, he thought that Gentlemen need not be alarmed at the excitement annual elections would produce. They produced no inconvenient excitement in London, and very few changes in the persons elected, though the people had the power of making changes. He was of opinion that the people ought to have this power continued to them. They would use it discreetly, and for their own benefit, and when they made changes in the persons elected, it would be on account of misconduct on the part of those persons. The proposed duration of Municipal Councils would be just as objectionable as that of Parliament. It would lead to the introduction of pledges, and the consequence would be, that in a short time the Councillors of the different boroughs would be so fettered with pledges as to be incapable of exercising their discretion. Another objection was, that continuing the services of those Councillors for a period of three years was likely to have the effect of bringing the penal clauses of the Bill into operation; and for this, and the other reasons which he had stated, he now begged leave to submit to the consideration of the Committee the Motion of which he had given notice. He must add, that he wished some one period to be fixed for the general election of Municipal Officers; and although he would not object to the time appointed for this purpose, he still was of opinion that annual elections were the means by which the least risk would be incurred to the peace and tranquillity of those towns. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, that the words "one-third part of" be left out of the Clause.

Lord John Russell

said, that the objections of the hon. Member for Liskeard to the Clause as it stood were inconsistent with each other. One of his objections was, that as the Clause stood, there would be great agitation and excitement to get the office of Town-Councilman; whilst another was, that its duties would be so onerous, that it was a hardship upon individuals to be obliged to serve for three years against their will. Another objection of the hon. Member was, that the two-thirds who remained in office would elect the one-third to be elected by a kind of house-list; but this objection was also answered by the assumption of the hon. Member, that there would be great anxiety out of doors to become members of the Council. He had not heard any thing, therefore, to make him doubt that the system proposed to be established by the Bill would work well in practice.

Mr. Grote

said, that the periods during which the Common Councilmen of London held their seats afforded a striking refutation of the argument against annual elections, founded on the inconvenience of having every year a large number of new and unpractised members. The Common Council of London consisted of 140 members, and the average length of time which the present members had held their seats was nine years and three-quarters. Assuming that the average expectancy of continuance in office of the present Common Council was another nine years and three-quarters, it would give an average, length of service to each member of nineteen years and a-half. This was a complete refutation of the supposition that annual elections would produce a continual influx of new and inexperienced men. With respect to the argument that by annual elections, a particular man would be displaced by a temporary excitement; although that might happen in one year, the member would be re-chosen the next, when the excitement subsided. That the members, however, who would fall victims even to temporary excitements would be small, might be judged of from the fact that there were only nine members in the Common Council of London who had so suffered. They must not forget that a body chosen annually was much more likely to have their attention constantly directed to their duty to their constituents than one elected at longer intervals. The feeling of constant accountability to their constituents, which, after all, must be the great source from which the disposition to do their duty must emanate, could not be too deeply rooted in the minds of representatives, as was proved in the cases both of London and Wisbeach.

The Attorney-General

allowed that if the elections were annual, there was every probability the old members would be re-elected; but still there was a possibility for which they must legislate, he meant sudden convulsions in the political world, that might cause the whole body of the Common Council to be changed. This would not be a trifling evil, when it was recollected how much more severe their labours would be under the new than they had been under the old system. They would have to manage all the local affairs of their respective towns, they would have to administer their property, to direct the paving, lighting, watering, and watching of their streets, all of them functions of a complicated and onerous nature, requiring experience in those who discharged them. The proposition contained in the Bill, on the other hand, was not a speculative experiment; for it had been tried in Scotland, and, as far as it had been tried, had succeeded to admiration.

Mr. Williams (Coventry)

mentioned the case of the Common Council of the city of London, as an illustration that no possible inconvenience or practical objection could arise from the adoption of the proposed Amendment. That body was elected annually, and had the management of funds to the amount of 400,000l. a-year, and yet no consequences had resulted from it prejudicial to the interests of the citizens of London.

Amendment negatived without a division.

Colonel Sibthorp

moved an Amendment, the object of which was to give the burgesses the power of choosing what Councilmen should retire, and to prevent those who retired from being re-elected for three years.

Lord John Russell

opposed the Amendment, and it was negatived without a division.

The Clause to stand part of the Bill.

The 24th Clause; "Elections to be held before mayor. Mode of voting."

Mr. Barlow Hoy

moved, as an Amendment, "That the votes at elections for the Council be taken openly, in the manner now usual at elections for Members to serve in Parliament."

The Amendment eventually negatived.

Mr. Grote

rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, and in doing so, he assured the noble Lord that he was ready to do him ample justice for many of the provisions, and for what he anticipated would be the admirable effect, of this Bill. He could not, however, but express his sincere regret that the principle of the Vote by Ballot was not recognised by the Bill. Considering, as he did, that secret suffrage was the only way to ensure entire freedom from coercion to the honest elector, and as the best method also of debarring the dishonest voter from getting so high a price for his vote as he otherwise might do, he much regretted that it was not introduced into this Bill. He said this, however, more in the way of regret than in the way of complaint. The Amendment which he now proposed to lay upon the Table, did not in the least touch or infringe upon the general principle of the Bill. If his Amendment were adopted, the method of voting which the House had lately sanctioned by its decision would be still open to these Municipal Corporations. There would, however be an option given to the Town Council of those Corporations, if they thought the adoption of the Vote by Ballot to be preferable, to adopt that mode. He was fortified in making this proposition by the course pursued by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Nottingham (Sir John C. Hobhouse), on the Bill introduced by him respecting Select Vestries. Indeed he had copied the greater part of his Amendment from that Bill, and had taken no greater precaution for securing secrecy than that Bill prescribed. There was but one difference of any importance to notice between that Bill and his Amendment. The right hon. Baronet's Bill enacted that every parish, containing 800 rate-payers and above, should be entitled to declare its option to adopt, by a majority of the ratepayers, that mode of voting for the representatives of the vestry which he proposed should be adopted (at the option of the Town Council) for the election of the Municipal (or Town) Council of the Boroughs. He only differed from the right hon. Baronet in this respect, that instead of lodging the option in a majority of the rate-payers he (Mr. Grote) proposed to lodge it in the absolute majority of the Town Council. There were some minor differences as to the appointment of inspectors which he would not more particularly advert to. To lay a ground for this proposition, it was not necessary for gentlemen to agree with him on the subject of the Vote by Ballot. It was sufficient for them to admit that in some of these two hundred Municipal Corporations there might be political and acrimonious feelings, which majority of the Town Council might think it best to avoid by adopting the mode of election for which he was now contending. The adoption of the Ballotwas infinitely more necessary in Municipal elections than even in the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise; for as a lower class of persons were entitled to vote at the former, it was but reasonable to suppose that they were more open to undue influence. He begged to move that there be added at the end of Clause 24 the following proviso:—"Provided always, that it shall be competent to the Council of any borough, if an absolute majority of the whole number thereof shall so think fit, to direct that at elections for members of the Council or of auditors for the said borough, the votes of the burgesses shall be taken in the following manner: that is to say, that the poll shall be taken by Ballot, each burgess delivering to the mayor as aforesaid, or to such clerk as may be appointed to take the poll, and in manner hereinafter mentioned, a folded paper, containing the names of the persons for whom such burgess may vote, as fit and proper to be councillors or auditors; and that the said Mayor or Clerk shall deposit the said folded paper, without previously opening the same, in a balloting glass or box, which shall be closed and sealed up at the time fixed for the termination of the voting, as hereinafter declared:—That after the close of the said Ballot, the Mayor as aforesaid, with four or more inspectors appointed by the said Council, and in the presence of such number of the Council as shall think fit to attend, shall proceed to unseal the box or glass and examine the voting papers so delivered as aforesaid, for the purpose of ascertaining which of the several persons voted for are elected; and so many of such persons being equal to the number of the Councillors then to be chosen, as shall have the greatest number of votes, shall be deemed to be elected; and in case of an equality in the number of votes for any two or more persons, the Mayor shall name from amongst those persons for whom the number of votes shall be equal, so many as shall be necessary to complete the requisite number of Councillors to be chosen: and the Mayor shall publish a list of the names of the persons so elected Councillors within three days (exclusive of Sunday) from the closing of the poll."

Mr. Barlow Hoy

expressed his surprise that any proposition should be made for the introduction of a secret mode of voting into a Bill the professed object of which was to do away with secret and close practices.

Lord Francis Egerton

thought that the adoption of the Ballot in Municipal Elections would occasion considerable turbulence and confusion. He preferred trusting to the prophecies of his Majesty's Ministers relative to the peaceable and admirable manner in which they would be conducted under the arrangement proposed by them. He feared the persons elected to the Council would be required to pledge themselves to the adoption of the Ballot.

Mr. Warburton

wondered the noble Lord could entertain any such fear when they were told that the system was un-English and opposed to the habits of the people. The fact, however, was, that the Ballot had been adopted with great success in many parishes.

Sir John Hobhouse

believed that it had not been adopted in any one instance.

Mr. Warburton

repeated that if he had been correctly informed, it had been adopted with great success in several metropolitan parishes. He would propose that if any voter should subscribe his name to the list as having voted for a particular party, his vote should be void.

Sir John Hobhouse

again stated, that no one parish had availed itself of the provision in his Bill which gave them the power of adopting the Ballot.

An Hon. Member

said, that he himself had been elected to a parochial office by Ballot.

Sir John Hobhouse

said, that in preparing a great measure like the present, and in endeavouring to attain the best mode of carrying it into execution, it was perfectly impossible that they could fall in with all the modes proposed by every individual Member. He entreated the cordial co-operation of the House, and he made no complaint of the reception the Bill had received, because it certainly had met with a very fair share of support; but if Gentlemen whom they had the pleasure of seeing on those (the Ministerial) benches really meant well to the Bill, he implored them to merge their own minor differences of opinion, to stand by the Government, and support the great principles of the Bill.

Mr. Ward

meant to impute no dereliction of principle to the Government when he said that if the Amendment were pressed to a division he should support it. After the observations of the right hon. Baronet, however, he hoped the hon. Member for London would consent to withdraw his Motion.

Mr. Aglionby

made the same suggestion, and observed that the mere fact of the metropolitan parishes not having adopted the Ballot proved how safely the alternative might be left to them.

Mr. Grote

under existing circumstances would consent, though with considerable reluctance, to withdraw his Motion. He hoped he had done his duty to a principle which he considered of paramount importance. With regard to the adoption of the Ballot in parochial elections, he could state, on the authority of one of the Churchwardens, that it was adopted in Mary-le-bonne.

The Amendment was withdrawn, and the Clause was agreed to.

On Clause 27 being read,

An Hon. Member

moved as an Amendment, that in case of an equality of votes between any two or more of the candidates for the office of Councillor, the Mayor shall draw by lot the requisite number, instead of nominating the successful candidate.

The Committee divided.

Ayes 142; Noes 190; Majority 48.

On the question, that the Clause stand part of the Bill,

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, that he had given notice of his intention to move alterations in this Clause, to the effect that the Mayor should appoint scrutineers for each parish in the Borough to assist him in examining the voting papers, for the purpose of ascertaining which of the several persons voted for were elected. He had been restrained from so doing by the introduction into the Clause of two Assessors to assist the Mayor. He could not however, suffer the Clause to pass the Committee without suggesting to the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that the time allowed for examining the voting papers and declaring the numbers was far too limited. By way of illustrating this point, he would state that in Oxford the number of electors under the Bill was estimated at 3,000, so that, even if the number of thirty-three Councillors allotted to that City in the schedule should not be increased, no fewer than 99,000 votes might be recorded. Every one of the 3,000 electors would have it in his power to put upon his voting paper the names of any thirty-three persons whom he pleased to select, whether candidates for the office or not, and therefore 200 or 300 different names would very probably appear on the voting papers. Now he would put it to the noble Lord whether, taking these circumstances into consideration, and that the poll, under a former Clause, was not to close till four o'clock on the day of Election, the declaration of the numbers should be required to be made so soon as two o'clock on the next day. It would be next to impossible to classify the names and cast up the votes, so as to make the declaration of the result with accuracy at two o'clock of the succeeding day, even though the Mayor and his two Assessors should sit up for the purpose the whole of the intervening night. But he had not by any means put an extreme case. The inconvenience would operate still more forcibly in larger towns, where both the number of the Electors and of the Councillors to be chosen was much greater than in Oxford. He did not make this suggestion in any vexatious manner, but merely threw it out for the consideration of the noble Lord.

Lord John Russell

observed that the hon. Member had put an extreme case when he talked of 200 or 300 names appearing in the voting papers. He thought that less than 100 names would probably be inserted, but, admitting that some practical inconvenience might arise, he promised that the point should receive his attention.

Mr. Goulburn

thought the difficulty started by his hon. Friend was very likely to occur, and would recommend the subject to the serious consideration of the noble Lord.

The Clause agreed to.

On Clause 29,

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that he had an Amendment to propose, to the effect that all persons now holding offices in Corporations should continue to hold them until persons were elected under the provisions of this Act to succeed them. He did not think that provision had been made in the Bill for this purpose.

Lord John Russell

observed that he had a proviso to propose at the end of this Clause, which he thought would meet the objection of his hon. Friend.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that he had prepared a Clause on the subject, but was willing to leave the matter in the hands of his noble Friend and his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who no doubt would frame a Clause much better than he could do.

The Clause agreed to.

On Clause 30 being put (certain boroughs to be divided into wards),

Lord Stanley

said, that he intended to call the attention of the Committee to a most important point, namely, the principle on which the Government intended to act in proposing that his Majesty in Council should have the power of dividing a borough into wards. This point involved three important principles—first, whether it was intended to propose that any borough should be divided into any number of wards which his Majesty in Council thought proper; secondly, on what principles his Majesty's advisers intended to propose to fix the boundaries of these wards; and thirdly, whether it was intended for the future to give his Majesty, or rather his advisers, the power of fixing the number of constituents in each individual ward. If the first point was conceded, it would be almost unnecessary for him to submit to the Committee the Amendment which he intended to propose. He trusted, however, with reference to the last two points, his noble Friend would give to the House some explanation, and would state what course he and his colleagues intended to advise the Crown to pursue with respect to the limits of these wards. Did his noble Friend intend to propose that the number of wards should be governed by the local circumstances of the place, or by the boundaries of the parishes in a borough? He did not believe that they intended to propose, that a borough should be divided into wards solely with reference to the population. Surely his noble Friend did not mean to say, that because a ward contained a certain population, that it should return a certain number of Councilmen, without reference to the wealth of the different wards, or the portion each contributed to the common burthens of the place. If his hon. Friend did so he would depart from the principle he had laid down in the Reform Bill, and would give more power and influence to the mere population of certain wards than to those in other wards who might contribute mainly towards defraying the exigent expenses of the borough. If this point was to be acted upon, it was only right and proper that Parliament should be made acquainted with it. His Amendment, however, only went to the extent that certain towns, not divided into wards by the Bill, should be divided into them. To a certain degree his Majesty's Government agreed with him, but did not go to the extent which he proposed. If his Amendment, or something founded on the same principle, was not carried, he was satisfied that in several comparatively large towns, an important minority would not be represented in the Council, and a combination of a certain portion of persons might exclude a great portion of the wealth of the place from the, slightest influence or control. Another, and a stronger objection was, that in those towns not proposed to be divided into wards, the number of Councillors would be so large, that the electors would not exercise their choice from a knowledge of the parties, but would be guided by popular prejudices. There would be one or two lists, for instance the Yellow and the Blue-lists; the electors would not be guided by their opinion or knowledge of the persons they had to elect, but by political prejudices. If they divided a borough into wards, he thought that there was the best chance of the voters of a town only electing such persons as they were well acquainted with, and whom they thought best able to represent them. He thought that the mode proposed in the Bill of dividing boroughs into wards was too arbitrary. The Amendment he intended to propose was, that it should be left to the Crown to fix certain bounds to the wards, but that some rule should be laid down as to the principle by which they should be guided in dividing a place into wards. His Majesty's Government proposed, that only towns containing 25,000 inhabitants should be divided into wards—it appeared that they took this as the basis of the population and wealth of a place; but places also might be divided into any number of wards at the pleasure of the Crown. Now there were several places of great importance, which it was desirable to divide into wards, which contained a population of less than 25,000 persons; for instance, Leicester, Chester, Cambridge, Derby, Ipswich, Carlisle, Oxford, Wigan, and other places he could mention. In these towns, the rule laid down, was, that they should return the whole number of thirty-six Councillors. There would be almost necessarily two parties, and a most powerful minority might be entirely excluded from any share in the representation in the Council. What he intended to propose, was, that towns with less than 25,000 inhabitants should be divided into wards. He did not propose this vexatiously, but he thought that the adoption of his suggestion, would improve the measure. He intended to propose in the preamble of the Clause, that the words, "Whereas by reason of the great number of the inhabitants of boroughs, named in the schedule annexed to the Act, it is desirable that sush boroughs should be divided into wards," &c, should be struck out, and that they should adopt some principle with reference to the number of wards a town should be divided into, containing a certain population. What he intended to propose to be inserted, was to this effect, "That it was expedient, if it should appear to his Majesty in Council, that the population of a borough, according to the last Parliamentary census, exceeded the number of 10,000, that it should be divided into a certain number of wards, not exceeding three, if the population of a borough exceeded 18,000, that it should not be divided into more than six wards, and if it should exceed 25,000, that it might be divided into a number of wards which his Majesty might think fit." He did not wish to adhere very closely to what he had laid down, but was willing to leave the matter to his Majesty's Government, if his noble Friend would promise to carry out the principle which he had partially acted upon, and divide towns containing 10,000 inhabitants into wards. If the principle was adopted, he would leave the details to his noble Friend.

Lord John Russell

observed, that there was no doubt that the principle was of great practical importance on the working of the Bill. It was a question of practical detail, rather than one involving a principle. He was disposed to go to the extent of stating, that he was willing to consider whether the plan of dividing towns into wards containing a less population than 25,000 inhabitants could be adopted. His noble Friend asked, what principle his Majesty's Government intended to adopt with reference to dividing a borough into wards? In the first place, it would depend on the wealth and population of a place. Undoubtedly they would to a considerable extent adopt the principle of population in making a ward —that was, they would not do so unless it contained a certain extent of population. The course, however, they would adopt would depend to a great degree on the circumstances of different classes. For instance, if a place were now divided into three or four parishes, it would depend upon the circumstances of the case, whether that division would be continued. If this arrangement could be continued advantageously, there could be no reason why this should not be done. He should be sorry to divide a borough into wards, when the number of voters were so few that they were likely to be influenced. If this were the case, it would produce a jealous feeling which would be most pernicious. As the case now stood, his Majesty's Ministers would be guided by the circumstances of each town, and the wealth and population of it. He was not now prepared to adopt the suggestion of his noble Friend; but if his noble Friend would postpone his Amendment, he (Lord John Russell) would propose to take it into his consideration, and the decision of the Question might be taken on the Report.

Mr. Barlow Hoy

had intended to propose an Amendment, that all towns containing 15,000 inhabitants, should be divided into wards; but the Amendment of the noble Lord fully met his views on the subject.

Mr. Hume

hoped, that the noble Lord would not agree to the proposition that had been made.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the principle of the Clause being a division of the popular boroughs into wards, he did not see that there could be any reasonable objection to the proposition being taken into consideration.

Mr. Kearsley

hoped the noble Lord would not for one moment listen to the hon. Member for Middlesex, or to any hon. Member on that (the Ministerial) bench; he trusted, that he would rather allow himself to be led by the good sense of the noble Lord who had moved the Amendment, having in view the good of the country. He feared, however, that if the noble Lord relied on the noble Secretary of State, he would depend upon a broken reed; he had no hesitation in saying, that he believed the noble Lord would find that the noble Secretary of State for the Home Department was weak in his knees.

The Amendment was postponed, and the Clause was agreed to.

On Clause 33rd being put,

Mr. Goulburn

moved an Amendment, to give to individuals in the different wards the power of voting for any property they might have in any of such wards.

The Attorney-General

said, that the adoption of such a principle would cause the Bill to become exceedingly unpopular.

It was withdrawn. Clause agreed to.

The Clauses to the 36th were agreed to, the House resumed, the Committee to sit again.