HC Deb 09 July 1835 vol 29 cc363-72

House in Committee on the Corporation Reform Bill.

Lord John Russell

said, he had some alterations to propose in the Schedules with regard to several of the places which they contained, but they were not of a very important character. With respect to one borough (Malmesbury), he proposed striking it out of the Schedules altogether, its population being principally of an agricultural character, and especially as he found that under a Local-act there existed rights of inheritance with which he did not think it right to interfere. He considered it better to reserve that borough to be classed with various others, not included in the schedules, for any separate Bill which hereafter Parliament might think proper to introduce. There were also some alterations which he should find it necessary to submit with respect to the number of Councillors. He did not think it desirable that the precise number for each borough should be definitively settled by the Bill; towns being divided into wards, and a specific number of Councillors being required for each, there might arise in some cases considerable inconvenience in providing fit and proper persons to undertake the office. The Privy Council should, therefore, he thought, have the power of fixing the number of Councillors at twelve, sixteen, twenty-four, thirty, or more, according to the condition of individual boroughs. The noble Lord in conclusion moved that Aberystwith stand part of Schedule A.

Mr. Scarlett

rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, to exempt from the operation of the Bill all boroughs to which it was proposed by the schedules to give thirty Councillors, the population being, as he thought, too large for the Bill to be advantageously applied in such cases. The Legislature, in his view, ought to take another opportunity of considering what regulations it would be proper to apply to them. He was extremely unwilling to occupy the time of the House with anything which could fall from so unimportant an individual as himself, and yet he did not think that any apology was required of him for not at once consenting to a Bill, the necessary effect of which would be, in his opinion, to disfranchise the greatest part of all the Corporate Towns in England and Wales. He thought he did enough to satisfy any reasonable Reformer when he consented to pass such a Bill as this, as far as it applied to small boroughs, where it would be much less objectionable than in more extended constituencies. He very much feared they had long ago forgotten the maxim of Lord Bacon, that time was the great innovator, and that they ought to innovate, like time itself, slowly and imperceptibly. He did not think that the application of the Bill to the great towns in England would effect the end which its framers and supporters professed to have in view—a more pure, honourable, and peaceful system of borough government. In small towns it might work well enough, but in large towns and cities it would, he had no doubt, occasion great confusion, without leading to either purity of election in officers, well-ordered administration of justice, economical management of the Corporate funds, or the general satisfaction of the respectable part of the community. He addressed himself, to those who thought with him, that the country was already staggering under the weight of a Democracy, the power which was greatly extended by the Reform Act; and he was persuaded that if this Bill were carried into operation in the great towns, it would very much add to the force which the Democracy had already acquired, the consequence of which would be, that the balance of the Constitution would not in any degree be preserved. In the first place, it appeared probable that those who possessed power, would be changing continually; that there would be constant collision of local interests, or at all events great struggles would ensue throughout the boroughs and towns of the kingdom, which must endanger the peace, independence and good government of the country. It was by a very different course from that which was adopted by the present Government that this country had reached such a height of prosperity and happiness. Governments had formerly ruled the country with a strict adherence to those principles on which its constitution was founded. They had always remembered that the constitution rested for its support upon the prevalence of a proper mixture of monarchical, aristocratic, and popular feelings. This Bill, however, would, if applied to the large towns, have the effect of raising up a class of persons who would not be imbued with the same loyalty or attachment to the constitution as those who now compose the Corporate bodies had always evinced. He would prefer a salaried Magistracy and police to be established in every town throughout the country, to the establishment of a Democratic body whose object would be to restrain the exercise of their privileges, and, indeed, to drive into exile the Aristocratic members of that community where this unjust power had once obtained a footing. He hoped that the House would not consent to apply new and hasty rules of legislation to the government of all the towns and boroughs throughout England. The hon. Member concluded by moving "that all those places in which the number of the Councillors may amount to thirty and upwards, should be exempted from the operation of this Bill."

The Chairman

suggested that it would be better for the hon. Member to reserve his Motion until they came to some town in the schedule to which it was intended to give thirty or more than thirty Councillors.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that the people of Bath, at least, would be greatly alarmed, and troubled, if they imagined that their town was to be removed from the Bill: for certainly, if any towns were more fitted to be brought under its operation than others, they were the large towns. There might have been some pretext for the hon. Member's suggestion, with respect to the very small towns; but if the hon. Member, admitted the principle of the Bill (as it must be supposed he did, for he had not resisted the second reading) what shadow, or glimpse, of anything like reason could the hon. Member bring forward for his proposition; if he had any, he had better state it to the Committee for they had heard of none yet. If the town was large, as in that which he (Mr. Roebuck), had the honour to represent, and the Corporation small, what was the consequence? Why that the great mass of the people would have no confidence in their government; and would be continually at strife with their rulers, so that, on any emergency, the Magistrates would derive no regular assistance from the people as was the case with the City of Bristol, and the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Miles) would bear him out in this—where, at the late riots the Magistrates were without any effectual assistance from their townsmen, having lost their confidence. But if they reversed the case—if they made the Corporation a proper one—if they made it represent the whole of the people—the people would have confidence in their Magistrates, there would be an administration of justice, which the people would believe to be justice, and not such as it was now; it was not so much what the Corporation did, but what the people believed they would do, and till they made the Corporation consistent with the feelings of the people, it would not have their confidence. Under these circumstances, though if the proposition had been for the small towns, there would have been some shadow of pretext for it, he, (Mr. Roebuck) should resist the Amendment of the hon. Member for Norwich.

Mr. Scarlett

said, seeing no disposition in the Committee to support his Motion he begged leave to withdraw it.

Motion withdrawn.

Aberystwith placed on the schedule.

The other boroughs were proceeded with.

On the Question, that Bath, with not less than forty-eight, nor more than fifty-four Councillors stand part of the Bill,

Mr. Grote

said, that as this was the first opportunity which he had of expressing an opinion with reference to the number of the Councillors, he was anxious to observe that it was neither necessary nor expedient that such a number as forty-eight should be appointed for such a town as Bath. A Council composed of thirty Members would be much more likely to give satisfaction.

The Attorney-General

admitted, that much inconvenience might arise, if the duties of the Councillors were not so varied as they would be under the Bill. From the number of forty-eight, Committees would have to be appointed for watching over different local departments such as paving, lighting, &c. From the nature of the important duties which they would have to perform, he did not consider the number of the Councillors too large.

Sir Robert Peel

did not see why the same Councillor should not, if he were an active man, be on two Committees. The number of the Members of the Committees formed from the Town Councils ought to be limited to three or five; or it would be found that the execution of the public business would be greatly impeded. He was afraid that in all large bodies that was the case. He was sure that it was the case with Cabinet Councils, and that a Cabinet Council of nine Members did business more effectually than one of thirteen. In all Commissions, he was persuaded that two Commissioners would be a better number than seven; for in the latter case, the individual Members would feel much less responsibility than in the former. In all bodies, indeed, the smaller the number of Members, provided they were enough to do the business, the better would that business be done. In his opinion, thirty would be a much better number of the Council for Bath than forty-eight.

Lord John Russell

observed, that in considering the number of Members of which a Town Council should consist, it ought to be remembered that the individuals composing that Council were far from being persons who could devote the whole of their time to public duties. The greater part of them were occupied in trade or business; and it was only their extra time that they could spend at the meetings of the Council. If, therefore, the number of Members of the Council was very small, the duty would fall heavily on a few of the Members. On that account, he thought the Town Council ought to be rather a numerous body—the more especially as he was not without hope that they would eventually have the whole affairs of the town under their management. It was true, that it had been represented by some persons, that the number of Members of the Town Council prescribed by the Bill, was too large; but then, it had been represented by others, that the number was too small. He thought it would be no advantage to reduce the numbers.

Mr. Baines

was of opinion that the number of the Town Councils proposed by the Bill was not excessive, and he founded that opinion on the following circumstance. Every one who was acquainted with Manchester, knew that the governing body of that town consisted of 240 persons; the governing body of Salford consisted of 120 persons. Now, the number of Members prescribed by the Bill for the Town Council of Liverpool, a place, the population of which was equal to that of Manchester and Salford together, was only ninety. From those facts he inferred that the number was not excessive. Experience led him to the conclusion that the number of the Council appointed by the Bill would be adequate to administration of the various places to which they belonged, but that a diminution of that number would be injurious. There was another observation arising out of those which he had already made, with which he would likewise trouble the Committee. It should be remembered that in appointing these Councils, they were appointed, not for a stationary, but for an increasing, population, and therefore that it would be better to err on the side of excess than on that of deficiency.

Mr. Roebuck

was of opinion that the number of Members of Town Councils prescribed by the Bill was excessive. He wished to ask the noble Lord why he had increased the number of the Members of the new Corporations, as compared with the old? It was said, that the new Corporations would have more to do. It might be so; but then they would enjoy greater facilities for doing it. He begged to move as an Amendment to the proposition respecting the city of Bath, "That the number thirty be substituted for the number forty-eight."

Mr. Williams

did not think the number proposed by the Bill too large. It should be remembered that, as the noble Lord had observed, the Members of these Town Councils would have their own business to attend to as well as that of the public. Adverting to the number of the Common Council of the city of London, he maintained that if, instead of that number, the number was only sixty, the whole of their time would be occupied by the business of the city.

Sir Robert Peel

was persuaded, that if the number of the Members of the Common Council of the city of London were doubled, the business of the city, instead of being done better, would be done much worse. Where the number of the Members of any body was large, it was no distinction to belong to it; where comparatively small, to belong to it became a distinction worthy of the ambition of respectable men. He had had much experience of public bodies; and he would venture to prophesy, that in any body of the kind in question composed of eighty or ninety Members, four or five would seriously devote themselves to their public duties; but that, whenever anything was to be given away, then all the Members would attend; and the four or five who had rendered themselves, by their attention, conversant with the business, would be overborne by the mass, who, not having taken any share of the burthen upon themselves, must necessarily be in a state of comparative incapacity, and who would, nevertheless, desert the four or five who had been doing all the work.

Mr. Williams

, in explanation, observed, that the due execution of the duties to be imposed upon the Town Councils would occupy much time; and that, unless there was a division of labour, those duties would be imperfectly discharged.

Mr. Horace Twiss

adverted to the constitution of the Court of Directors of the East-India Company. That body managed the affairs of one of the largest empires in the world, and had to sub-divide itself, for that purpose, into various Committees; and yet it consisted of only twenty-four Members.

Mr. Grote

said, that with respect to the Common Council of the city of London, he thought that the great number of the Members of which it consisted was the greatest vice about it; and therefore, in his opinion, the illustration of the hon. Member for Coventry was an unfortunate one. In his opinion, it would be much better to limit the number of the Members of the Town Councils, and by that means to increase their value; for it should be recollected that the value of a body of that kind depended not on the number of the body, but on the number of its constituents. As to the allusion made by an hon. and learned Gentleman to the constitution of the Board of Directors of the East-India Company, the merit of their proceedings was attributable rather to the upper servants of the Company than to the Constitution of the Board.

Sir George Clerk

, in order to show that the number of Members of the Town Council prescribed by the Bill for Bath was excessive, adverted to the case of Paisley, a place of nearly equal population, the Municipal authority of which consisted of a body composed of only sixteen individuals.

Lord Sandon

declared that the present number of the Members of the Corporation of Liverpool—namely, forty, was quite adequate to manage the affairs of the town. Business, practically speaking, was always done better by small bodies than by large.

The Committee divided on the original Motion—Ayes 105; Noes 74; Majority 31.

The remainder of the Schedules were agreed to.

The House resumed—The Report was brought up, and the Bill having been recommitted pro forma, the Report was ordered to be taken into further consideration on Tuesday.

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