HC Deb 12 February 1856 vol 140 cc612-4

MR. EWART moved, for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the provisions of the Scottish Municipal Reform Act to certain royal burghs in Scotland, now excluded from the benefits of that Act. It had been originally intended that nine Royal burghs of Scotland comprehended in his proposed Bill should be reformed like all other municipal bodies in the same country; but on account, he believed, of the smallness of some of them, this intention had not been carried into effect. The Royal burghs, withdrawn from the operation of the general measure for the reorganisation of similar corporations, had been left to endure all the evils of a magistracy, which, being self-elected, was, to a great degree, irresponsible. The object of the Bill which he now requested the permission of the House to introduce, was to put an end to this exceptional and anomalous state of things, by extending to the unreformed Royal burghs the same principle of popular control which had been already applied with such advantage to the reformed Royal burghs of Scotland. It would be difficult to exaggerate the injury that had been inflicted on the Royal burghs by abandoning them to an old and vicious system, which in other places had been long since consigned to oblivion. In one of these burghs which he represented, there was no reciprocal confidence between the ratepayers and their municipal representatives; no material improvement was permitted to be effected, nor was it possible to bring the burghs within the operation of the Borough Police Bill of Scotland. The magistrates, who, being, as already observed, self-elected, were not amenable to popular control, very often resided at most inconvenient distances from their burghs—in one instance a principal municipal officer resided fifteen miles from the scene of his duties. In fact, these towns might be said to be governed by the ghosts of departed corporations; which, however, notwithstanding their visionary character, came down and consumed an annual dinner for the good of the community. The anomalies complained of would be abolished by the present Bill, to the introduction of which he had learnt with satisfaction that it was not the intention of the Lord Advocate to offer any opposition. It might be said, that some of the burghs were too small to be entrusted with the privilege of self-government; but others of them, whether viewed with reference to population, public spirit, or intelligence, were fully competent to elect their own magistrates, instead of having them forced upon them; and it was for their benefit that the Bill, for which he now solicited the attentive consideration of the House, was especially intended.


said, that there was no intention on the part of the Lord Advocate to oppose the introduction of the Bill, although he could not, as at present advised, hold out any hopes that his hon. and learned Friend would give it his support. The reason why the nine Royal burghs referred to had been nominally excluded from the operation of the Scottish Municipal Reform Act was, simply, that in some cases their population was so insignificant that it was altogether out of the question to think of extending the principle of representative Government to them. There was one burgh in particular the constituency of which did not, when the Scottish Municipal Reform Act was passed, exceed twenty-eight, on whom would have devolved the duty of electing a council of fifteen members; and, therefore, even though the principle of self-government had been applied to it, the magistracy would, to all intents and purposes, be still self elected. He would not resist the introduction of the Bill, but, in the absence of the Lord Advocate, who had no such sanguine expectations of it as were entertained by the hon. Member who had brought it forward, he could not hold out any promise that the Government would support the measure in its subsequent stages.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. EWART, Mr. ELLICE, and Mr. BAXTER.