HC Deb 14 March 1838 vol 41 cc891-8
Mr. Vernon Smith

moved the second reading of the Municipal Boundaries' Bill, and in doing so would take the liberty of presenting a petition in its favour. He felt called on to remark that all the petitions presented to the House on the subject of this Bill were petitions praying for alterations merely—not against the measure altogether. All those Gentlemen who had paid attention to the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill would recollect that it had been agreed on all sides that the question of boundaries should be reserved, as in the Parliamentary Reform Bill, to a separate enactment. Unluckily for the facility in the passing of this Bill the precedent of the Parliamentary Reform Bill was not followed, for this Bill had been delayed for some time, and had been nearly forgotten; so much so, that many hon. Members, he was afraid, would consider it some whim of his own, and not one founded upon previous assent and inquiry. After the passing of the Municipal Reform Act, Commissioners were appointed, and sent down to examine into the best mode of fixing these boundaries, and it was upon their report that, acting with his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), he had introduced a Bill similar to the present in the last Session of Parliament, which Bill fell to the ground then, in consequence of the demise of the Crown. Thus it might be said, that this Bill, which was introduced on the 21st of December, had in reality been eighteen months before the country; and that ample opportunity of examining its provisions had been afforded. The principle laid down and strictly adopted in forming the Bill was this, that the municipal boundaries should comprise only those inhabitants who were interested in the municipal offices; and that, as the great object of the creation of these boroughs was jurisdiction and police, no person should be included within them without deriving some municipal advantage. There was some difficulty in carry- ing the principle of the Bill into effect, arising from the circumstance that some of the boroughs were left with the Parliamentary boundaries, and some with the ancient municipal boundaries; but it was expressly declared that that arrangement should only last until Parliament should otherwise provide, and it was to make that other provision that the present Bill was intended. He begged the attention of the House to the difference which existed, and ought to exist, between municipal boundaries and Parliamentary boundaries; for while for Parliamentary purposes it was desirable to infuse a portion of the neighbouring agricultural population in the borough; on the other hand, in defining municipal boundaries, it was essential to limit the boundary to a strict borough inhabitancy; for great mischief and hardship would arise, both to the rural district and the borough, from including the former in the municipal boundary. However, in cases where boroughs wished to adhere to the boundaries in which they had been already included, whether the Parliamentary or the municipal boundaries, he would not desire to act with rigour on the limitations proposed by the Bill, but should be prepared to take into consideration many cases in which application might be made on these terms for a deviation from the principle of the Bill. He was enabled to say, that a greater number of the boroughs contained in the schedule were willing that the Bill should pass than were opposed to it; because, although circulars had been addressed to them all, not one-third took any notice of those circulars, and of those who did, in the majority of the cases, the observations made were founded upon technical errors. If the House would permit the Bill to be read a second time the details could be settled in Committee; but if Gentlemen attempted to throw out, on the second reading, a Bill which was assented to by the acquiescence of the majority of places interested in it, and if any disorder or litigation ensued, and the provisions promised by Parliament remained unsettled by any Legislative enactment, the fault must rest with those who opposed the measure. He moved that the Bill be read a second time

Mr. Ellice

said, that he had been instructed by the corporation of the city of Coventry, the place which he represented, to oppose this Bill as far as they were con- cerned. He admitted that there existed some difference of opinion in the city and county of Coventry with respect to the measure. One party, the town population, were against it, while the other, the rural population, were in favour of it. The town council, however, which was composed of all parties, had passed a resolution condemnatory of the measure, and as he thought their opinion ought to have weight with that House, as it had with him, he was bound to mention the fact. If the question were one which must be settled he thought that this was not the way to legislate on the subject—and therefore it was his intention to take the sense of the House as to whether the Bill should or should not be read a second time. It seemed clear that they ought not to include places in this measure which were opposed to it, and if they would consent to limit it to those places where there was a wish to have the boundaries settled, then perhaps, there would be no objection to its proceeding. He was averse to anything like compulsory legislation, and his belief was, that it would be morally impossible to entertain this measure with the view that it would lead to a conclusion satisfactory to all the places enumerated in the schedule. It was true, that there was another course open to them, and that was referring the Bill to a Select Committee up stairs. He, however, could not see how a Select Committee could do justice in such a case; but, at all events, before they proceeded any further with the measure they should take time to ascertain the sentiments of those more particularly interested on the subject. Looking at the matter which way they would, it was evident it would be hopeless to expect that such a Bill could pass at the present moment, and therefore he hoped his noble Friend would consent to omit from the schedule all those cities and boroughs which were hostile to the arrangement. They might settle the boundaries of all places where a desire to that effect existed, but, with respect to the remainder, the question should be left open to legislation hereafter. He would not propose any amendment just now, but if his noble Friend refused to assent to the suggestion which he had thrown out it was his intention to move, that the Bill should be read a second time that day six months.

Lord John Russell

said, he should like to know what the general opinion of the House was on this subject before he assented to the proposition of his right hon. Friend. This Bill had been rendered necessary in consequence of the omission of the Lords with respect to the Municipal Boundaries Bill. It was founded on the report of the Commissioners who had been appointed to inquire into the matter, but as far as be was individually concerned he had no preference to one line of boundary more than another, or wish to do more than was convenient or expedient He had no desire whatever to impose on Coventry or any other city or borough boundaries which were not satisfactory to the parties, but while he said this he did not think it unreasonable to hope that a bill which would be an advantage to all those boroughs which were favourable to it should be rejected on the second reading. When, however, he heard the opinion of the House on the subject he would say whether or not he was prepared to assent to the proposition made by his right hon. Friend.

Mr. Herries

said, he was glad that the noble Lord had manifested an indisposition to accede to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member, for Coventry, but it was evident that the bill could not proceed without some more definite understanding was come to. The borough which he represented was universally opposed to the measure, but still if the noble Lord would say that it should be limited to those places only where no objection was made to it he would consent to the second reading.

Sir E. Knatchbull

, though not connected with any borough, could assure the House that a strong feeling against it existed in Hythe and the other boroughs in his part of the country. He would not oppose the second reading, if all those places which were opposed to the measure were exempted from its operation. The noble Lord ought to state clearly whether or not he meant to assent to this proposition.

Lord J. Russell

, in explanation said, that before they exempted any place from the operation of the bill they ought to have some proof that the parties dissented from the proposed arrangement. He thought the best way to obtain this information would be by means of petitions, and the opinions which the hon. Members who presented those petitions might express.

Mr. Gladstone

thought, that the opinions of the corporations ought to have weight with that House, and that nothing ought to be done until their sentiments were ascertained.

Lord J. Russell

said, that in cases where those bodies expressed their opinion it would, of course, have its due weight with the Government.

Mr. Hawes

said, that if the principles on which the bill was founded were sound he could see no reason why it should not be carried, even though its operation might inflict individual hardships. The labours of the Commissioners would go for nothing unless their recommendations, of which he approved, were adopted.

Viscount Howick

thought their object in a bill of this kind should be, to meet the wishes of the parties interested in it. He cared nothing for abstract principles, as, under all the circumstances, he thought the best course they could take was that pointed out by his right hon. Friend. Let them take the second reading and go into Committee, but upon the understanding that no place should come under the operation of the bill except those which were desirous of such an arrangement with respect to their boundaries as was proposed. It would, however, be unjust to deprive those towns which were favourable to the measure of the advantages which would result to them from it.

Lord Stanley

said, it was manifest, that without modification the measure could not be carried. On looking to the petitions which had been presented on the subject, he was convinced that a strong feeling of dissatisfaction prevailed in reference to this measure. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Coventry, sounded fairly, but he (Lord Stanley) could not give his assent to the second reading, unless some more definite understanding were come to. In his part of the country he knew that a hostile feeling was entertained towards this bill, and therefore he would not agree to the adoption of any course which might render it necessary hereafter to reunite their scattered forces in opposition to it. He, however, would suggest to the hon. Gentleman who had charge of the bill, and to the Government, whether the better way would not be to prepare an instruction to the Committee, laying down the precise object which they had in view, and to take time, say a fortnight after the circulation of this instruction, for ascertaining whether it met the wishes of the hon. Gentlemen opposed to the measure or not. This course he submitted would obviate all difficulty, and if it were agreed to there could be no objection to allowing the bill to be read a second time. Perhaps a provision of the same kind might be made by the insertion of a clause in the bill, but, which ever course was taken, he would not give his sanction to the present motion unless due regard were paid to local interests.

Mr. Ellice

concurred in the suggestion of the noble Lord, and thought that such an instruction as had been pointed out would be most satisfactory, as in it they could state the names of the places to be omitted. A delay of a fortnight or three weeks would enable the Government to obtain all the information necessary to prepare such an instruction.

Mr. V. Smith

said, that in passing an instruction of the kind there would be extreme difficulty in ascertaining the feelings of the different parties in each locality. Every case might not be so clear as that of Coventry. He thought the better way would be to send circular letters to the different cities, and boroughs intended to be included in the bill, requesting that meetings might be called in order that the opinion of the constituency in each case might be fairly and fully ascertained.

Lord Stanley

said, that the instruction was not his, and that he had merely suggested it as the best means of ascertaining how far the measure would be satisfactory or otherwise. It would not require a delay of more than a fortnight or three weeks, and surely if that time would enable the hon. Gentleman to overcome his difficulty he ought not to object to it. It could not be denied that the petitions against the measure outnumbered those in favour of it, and when that was the case the hon. Gentleman should not be indisposed to meet the wishes of those who disapproved of his bill as it now stood.

Viscount Howick

did not think, that a Committee could decide all the questions that might arise, but as the bill could only be put into proper shape in a Committee he was anxious that the opportunity of amending it, so as to meet the views and wishes of all parties, should be afforded.

Mr. Grote

hoped that the House would not treat the bill in the manner suggested by the noble Lords at both sides of the House. It was certainly a most extraor- dinary way to solve a legal problem—to leave out every thing in dispute, and merely legislate for those points that were agreed upon. The House should recollect that the proposition of the hon. Member for Coventry would not get rid of any existing difficulty. The hon. Member proposed to leave in statu quo all discrepant and discordant interests. Whenever the details of the bill came before the House he should be prepared to show, that, to include any part of the county within the borough of Coventry would be a very great injustice. If there should be any instructions proposed to the Committee they must take some principle for their guidance in cases of conflicting interests.

Sir T. Troubridge

said, that, when he had a duty to perform, he would discharge it in spite of the whole world. In the bill before the House the interests as well as the rights and privileges of the borough with which he was connected were involved. With respect to the second reading he heard so much talk about principle, and a Committee above stairs, and various suggestions from all sides, that he was completely bewildered. If he was given to understand, that the borough with which he was connected was to be withdrawn from the bill he would consent to the second reading, but otherwise he would oppose it.

Mr. V. Smith

thought, that the understanding was, that he should frame an instruction to the Committee such as proposed by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley), and that he should send a circular to the different boroughs to see how far they were likely to agree, and that they might thus be able to go into Committee after Easter.

The Attorney-General

would remind the House that considerable inconvenience might arise from the present bill not being read a second time. When the Municipal Corporations Bill passed in 1835, there was a pledge given to the country that a bill would be passed to regulate the boundaries of the different boroughs. This bill was brought in to remedy those inconveniencies. It was found in 1835 that in many towns the corporate jurisdiction did not extend over half the extent of several towns, whilst in many others a large portion of the rural districts were attached to them, and called the liberties of the borough. In some of these places it was found very inconve- nient to have the rural districts united, for, as they derived no advantage from lighting and cleansing the towns, they thought it a hardship to be subject to assessment for these purposes. It was for these reasons that it was thought advisable to make a new distribution of the municipal territory, on the same principle as had been acted on with respect to the Parliamentary Election Boundaries Bill. For this purpose eminent engineers had been appointed and eminent engineers had been selected for the purpose, who were totally unconnected with politics. Part of the instructions given to those engineers was, in any case where it was practicable, to preserve the old boundary. He knew that this bill encountered much opposition, and excited much disapprobation, but this did not prove, that the bill was wrong; and such dissatisfaction was always to be expected in cases where local interests were affected. He thought the complaints of the hon. Member for Coventry altogether unfounded. It was a mistake to suppose, that these districts were united to Coventry before the time of Henry the 6th, for up to that time they formed part of the county of Warwick. He hoped, at all events, that the bill would be allowed to go into Committee.

Mr. Wilberforce

moved, that the bill be read a second time that day six months

Mr. V. Smith

said, that the bill was no conceit of his, but had been brought forward upon the recommendation of the Commissioners. However, as there had been such a general expression of opinion from all sides of the House with respect to the bill he would yield to the sense of the House and withdraw it.

Amendment agreed to.

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