HC Deb 17 February 1837 vol 36 cc639-47
The Attorney General

in moving the Order of the Day for bringing up the report of the Municipal Corporations Amendment Bill, said, that he had done every thing to meet the views of his hon. and learned Friend opposite. One alteration, he had made related to the expenditure of the town-councils. The 92d clause of the Act specified certain purposes to which borough funds might be applied. To provide that the expenditure for other purposes than those specified should not be made an abuse, he had prepared a clause by which every money-order issued from the common council, for any purpose not specified in the Act, should be lodged with the clerk of the peace for three weeks, and be subjected to the opinion of the recorder of the place, or other corresponding functionary, and if disallowed by him, should be declared null and void.

Mr. Marjoribanks

rose to complain of a want of courtesy on the part of the hon. Member for Kent in bringing forward a petition reflecting upon his (Mr. Marjoribanks's) constituents without giving any notice of his intention to present that petition. The petition to which he referred purported to be from certain burgesses of Hythe, in Kent, and was presented by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for East Kent on Wednesday last. That petition was got up at a hole-and corner meeting, and the statements it contained were gross exaggerations of the facts of the case. What he complained of was, that the usual notice had not been given him by the right hon. Baronet; and although they had met on the Monday previous to the presentation of the petition, yet the hon. Member for East Kent had not informed him (Mr. Marjoribanks) of his intentions. He had thus been denied an opportunity of stating to the House the real merits of the case.

Sir E. Knatchbull

begged leave to explain. The charge against him was of want of courtesy He did not think the complaint was well founded, for he was always most anxious to consult the feelings of every Member of the House and certainly in the present instance no offence was intended. The hon. Gentleman had said, that they had met on the Monday previous to the presentation of the petition from Hythe. On that day however he had been confined to the House. [Mr. Marjoribanks, it was perhaps Tuesday.] He had an- swered a specific charge; but as the hon. Gentleman had shifted his ground, he hardly knew how to deal with the complaint which had been brought against him. He admitted, that when one hon. Member had a charge to bring against another, it was usual to give him notice of it. But he (Sir E. Knatchbull) had no charge to bring against the hon. Member. "But," said the hon. Member, "you brought a charge against my constituents, and you ought to have given me notice thereof." Now, he contended that no such duty was imposed upon him either by the law or the usage of Parliament. What he had done was this,—he had given notice to the House that he would present a certain petition complaining of the misconduct of the Mayor of Hythe, and he thought that that was a sufficient notice to the hon. Member that he intended to present such a petition. The next day the hon. Member had met him in the House and with a degree of warmth which he himself was not in the habit of exhibiting, reproached him with not having given the hon. Member the ordinary notice. He told the hon. Member that notice of his intention was inserted in the papers of the House; to which the hon. Member replied, that he had left his house at ten o'clock and that those papers had not then arrived. He thought that he had now said sufficient to convince the hon. Member that he had not been guilty of any want of courtesy towards him. If he had he begged to state that it had been unintentionally. He would now ask the hon. Member for Hythe whether he was in the House during the discussion on the petition? [Mr. S. Marjoribanks: He was not.] That was just the answer which he anticipated. He admitted that the petition contained a serious charge against the Mayor of Hythe, but he had not presented it with a view of instituting a charge against any person, but with the view of obtaining such an alteration in the law as would prevent the Mayor of Hythe or the mayor of any other place from acting in a similar way in future. He had said that there were other allegations in the petition, which showed the animus of the parties; but he had refrained from noticing those allegations, because he did not wish to cover those parties with obloquy. These were the facts of the case, and he would now leave the House to judge, whether he had acted wrongly or unkindly to any of the parties concerned. The hon. Member for Hythe had spoken of the meeting at which this petition was got up, and had said that our party was very skilful in the practice of getting up hole-and-corner meetings. Now the hon. Member had made that assertion very boldly, and he would meet it as boldly with a counter-assertion. That petition was not got up at a hole-and-corner meeting. Any opposition which he had given to the Bill was given with the intention of amending it, and the clause which the Attorney-General had brought up that evening exactly met his view of the case. He hoped that the Attorney-General would let the Bill, as amended, be printed, in order that the House might have an opportunity of seeing it in a corrected form before it left the House.

Sir William Follett

asked whether the Attorney-General intended to have these clauses printed before the Bill was read a third time. If he understood correctly the clause which his learned Friend had now introduced for the better control of the municipal funds, it was calculated to increase the very evil which it was professedly intended to check. Oh! then he did not understand the clause which his learned Friend had introduced, and that was a sufficient reason for having it printed for further consideration.

The report brought up, and taken into consideration.

Mr. Scarlett

begged leave to bring up a clause for the better regulating the election of aldermen. The present mode of electing aldermen was in violation of the principle of the Bill, which, as he understood it, was intended to place corporations under popular control and superintendence. At present the aldermen were elected by a majority of the council. He proposed that they should in future be elected by the burgesses at large. The result of the present mode of electing aldermen was, that the minority in the corporations had no representatives at all among the aldermen. This gave both parties an interest in carrying the election of a majority of their own party as councillors; and it often happened that those who were rejected as councillors, were elected as aldermen by their party in the council, to give if additional strength and influence. To cure this, he would give to the burgesses, instead of to the council, the power of electing the aldermen.

The hon. Member brought up his clause.

The Attorney-General

could not say that the plan of allowing the aldermen to be elected by the burgesses at large was not a good one. It would, however, be a fundamental change in the constitution of these corporations. The clause which his hon. Friend wished to alter, was a clause framed elsewhere, no doubt with the same wisdom which pervaded all its legislation. It was connected with in any other clauses, and any alteration in it would dislocate the Bill exceedingly. He thought that his hon. Friend had better bring in a Bill to amend the state of the law affecting corporations, and to cure the defects which had been introduced into it by amendments made elsewhere. At present, according to the clause framed elsewhere, the aldermen were elected by the council. This Bill introduced no organic change into the original Bill, and he therefore must object to the reception of the present clause.

The House divided on the clause:—Ayes 34; Noes 93: Majority 59.

Mr. Scarlett

rose to move another clause, the object of which was to give to every corporate town two sheriffs, as in London and Dublin. The circumstance of there being but one executive officer was calculated to create distrust and excite political and party feeling. It was perfectly natural that men should feel, or at least suspect, that juries were not impartially chosen when there was but one sheriff. To the case of elections, the same objection applied with equal force. The clause which he then submitted to the House, would neither interfere with the duties of sheriff, the mode of election, nor the persons by whom elected, but merely alter the number of those officers in towns corporate, electing them as the aldermen were elected.

The Attorney-General

would oppose the clause. He felt some hesitation as to the election of aldermen, but he should decidedly object to the application of the same principle to the choice of sheriffs. He conceived that the Bill would not be improved by the introduction of this clause. There appeared to be no reason whatever why two sheriffs should be appointed. Why not have three or five, that there might in case of differences of opinion be a casting voice? If there were to be two sheriffs, why not two mayors and carry the dual number throughout the whole corporation.

Mr. Scarlett

knew of no case where the circumstance of the office of sheriff being executed by two persons occasioned doubt or delay. The duty of sheriff was merely ministerial, and he therefore thought that the clause he proposed might be advantageously adopted; but as his hon. and learned Friend did not concur with him, he should not press the question to a division.

Mr. Finch

proposed the insertion of the following clauses, declaring, That nothing in the Municipal recited Act contained, shall prevent the levying and collecting of any rate by the town-council in any such borough or place in the said recited Act mentioned, for the purpose of paying any debt chargeable upon the rates of any borough or place contracted before the passing of this Act or the said recited Act, or the interest of any such debt, &c. He had been induced to propose these clauses to prevent the hardship to individuals which otherwise might occur. To show that such a provision was called for, he had only to mention a case that had recently occurred at St. Alban's. Before the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act, the liberty and borough of the town of St. Alban's were authorized conjointly to raise money on the security of the rates for certain local purposes. A rev. gentleman, on the faith of the law as it then stood, lent a sum of money to the corporation to build a court-house; and since the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act a question had arisen as to whether the interest should be paid by the liberty or the borough? The effect of the doubt was to deprive the party of his interest; and unless the Legislature interposed to protect him by an enactment of this kind, a great injustice would be inflicted upon him, as it was by no means certain that the Court of King's Bench, or any other legal tribunal, could afford him relief. Under such considerations he trusted that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not oppose the motion.

The Attorney-General

was very sorry that he could not comply with the hon. Gentleman's request. The clause was unnecessary, and, therefore, he must oppose it. It was a mistake to suppose that the rev. gentleman alluded to, would not get his money. The law as it stood would afford him all the remedy that he was entitled to have, and as to which party, whether the borough or the liberty, was liable to the payment of the interst, that was a matter for the decision of the Court of King's Bench, and not for that House.

Mr. Finch

regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman should think this was not a case for the interposition of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had expressed it as his opinion, that the party who lent the money had a remedy in the Court of King's Bench, but although that might be his opinion, and he knew that the Attorney and Solicitor-General were usually considered, no doubt properly so, the giants—the Gog and Magog—of the Bar—still it so happened, that in this very case, a different opinion had been given by another lawyer who had been consulted upon it.

The Solicitor-General

said, that as it was impossible for the House to determine the judicial point which had arisen in the case referred to, it would be most improper to introduce such clauses as these into the Bill. He must, therefore, give it his opposition.

Mr. Goulburn

thought, that the case had not been fully staled to the House, The fact was, that if the Municipal Corporation Bill had not passed, such an injury as was now complained of, never would have arisen. The party advanced his money on the faith of an Act of Parliament, which empowered the Corporation to pledge the rates. He lent his money to build a court-house, and although he had got a mortgage on the rates, it turned out that, owing to a difficulty which had arisen out of the new law, he had been deprived of that interest to which he was Strictly entitled. This was not just, and whatever might be the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, to use the words of his hon. Friend, "the Gog and Magog of the bar," he must deny that it was consistent with justice to leave the individual alluded to, the expensive remedy of a suit in the Court of King's Bench, when the evil might be remedied by a provision such as his hon. Friend had proposed. They should not forget that the whole of the difficulty was of their own creating.

The Attorney-General

, thought that in such a case, that House ought not to interfere. The question as to the liability of the liberty or the borough, was one which a legal tribunal alone could decide.

Mr. Goulburn

repeated that, as the injustice had arisen out of the Municipal Corporations Bill, they were bound to remedy it.

Mr. A. Trevor

said, that if the course taken by the hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite, the law officers of the Crown, were justice, all he could say was, that justice was but an empty name. Equity and justice would suggest a very different cause.

Mr. O'Connell

did not think that House could decide such a question.

Sir T. Fremantle

said, that all they required was, that just debts should be paid; that the saddle should be put on the right horse.

Mr. Jervis

said, that until they were in the position to say on which party the burthen ought to fall, it would be absurd to legislate on the subject.

Mr. Finch

said, it was admitted on all hands that injustice had been done. That injustice had grown out of their own Act of Parliament; and although the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite declared that the King's Bench could apply a remedy, another professional man had stated that the only way in which the evil could be rectified, would be by a short Act of Parliament, the expense of which he said the Government ought to bear, inasmuch as it was occasioned by "their own stupid blundering." Now, had an application been made to Lord Melbourne, or any other of his Majesty's Ministers, to bring in an Act of Parliament on the subject, was it likely that it would be attended with success? He thought not; but, at all events, he was satisfied that the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny was so much engaged with his own deep speculations, as to be unable to see the matter in its true light.

Motion negatived.

Mr. Hodgson Hind moved the insertion of a clause in these words:—"And be it further enacted, that all hospitals for the maintenance of aged and decayed freemen, their widows, or daughters, which have heretofore been supported out of the corporate funds of any city or town, shall continue to be supported out of such corporate funds; and that so often as any vacancy shall occur in any such hospital, the same shall be filled up within three calendar months, by the mayor, alderman, and council, of the city or town in which such hospital is situated. Provided always, that no part of the expense of such hospital shall be defrayed out of any borough rate, or out of the produce of any tolls."

The Attorney-General

said, that as the sense of the House had been so fully taken upon this clause already, he felt himself bound to oppose the motion, that it be brought up. On a former occasion a majority of nearly two to one had decided against the clause. As the law at present stood, the Corporations were empowered to apply the surplus of their funds to the general benefit and use of the inhabitants. Unless the hon. Member meant to make the clause compulsory it would be useless, as the Corporations had now the power to make such a provision if they chose to do so; and to make the clause compulsory would be an injustice, inasmuch as it would compel the application of funds intended for the general use of the inhabitants, to the benefit of a particular class.

Mr. H. Hind

contended, that in equity these parties were entitled to the benefit which he sought to obtain for them. Those institutions had heretofore been maintained out of the funds of the Corporations, and he sought to obtain for those individuals a continuance of those advantages which they had heretofore enjoyed.

Mr. Burdon

said, that so far as the Corporation of Newcastle was concerned, it was at present in a state little short of bankruptcy, and it was not likely that it had money to devote to this purpose. If the hon. Member had framed a clause so as to include decayed men, &c, instead of confining the relief to a particular class, he would have supported it.

Mr. Robinson

considered the clause would be nugatory, unless it was made compulsory upon the town-council, so to apply a portion of the funds of the Corporation. He thought if relief of this kind were to be provided, it should not be for a particular class, but for the poor of the borough generally. He felt bound to oppose the clause.

Mr. A. Trevor

trusted his hon. Friend would take the sense of the House on the clause. He was not surprised that justice and equity should be denied the freemen. He had no hesitation to say that in the language adopted by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, justice and equity were out of the question.

Report received, and Bill to be read a third time.