HC Deb 04 February 1858 vol 148 cc738-44

said, that in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of the Corporation of the city of London it would be unnecessary to occupy the time of the House with any protracted observations, because the Bill was in its main features the same as that which he had laid upon the table on a former occasion, and the nature of which he then fully explained. There were some modifications to which he should briefly call attention. The Bill which was introduced before was based upon the recommendations of a Commission of inquiry, who had gone fully into the subject. It dill not embody implicitly those recommendations, but departed from them in certain particulars, upon which, after full consideration, it was thought desirable to propose other enactments. The object of the Commissioners was to apply to the City of London a measure similar in principle to the Municipal Corporation Act, but subject to such alterations as the peculiar circumstances of the Corporation of the city of London made expedient. It was proposed in accordance with the recommendation of the Commissioners, to provide for the division of the city into sixteen wards, of about the same area and of about the same population, so as to avoid the great inequality in the twenty-six wards which now existed. It was proposed that the main governing body, as in other municipal boroughs, should be a common council, to consist of the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and common councillors. The present number of common councillors was 232. It was proposed in the previous Bill that each of the sixteen wards should elect one alderman and five common councilmen. In communications which he had since had with persons, connected with the city he had been very much pressed to enlarge the number of common councilmen, and upon consideration it had been determined that instead of each ward electing five, each ward should elect six, which would give 112 common councilmen, as compared with the present number of 232. The constituencies of the common council would be altered and extended. Upon that point, he was happy to say, there was a perfect agreement between the recommendation of the Commission, which was the proposal in the Bill, and the opinion which had been expressed in Resolutions adopted by the common council, and in a Bill which they laid before the House. The qualification would be the rated occupation of a house or premises of the annual value of £10, doing away with the restriction which at present required every elector to be a freeman of the city, and on the Parliamentary register of burgesses. It was proposed that the common councilmen should be elected annually. With regard to the election of aldermen, there was a departure from the recommendations of the Commissioners and the proposal in the former Bill. The Commissioners said they did not think it right, for several reasons to which they adverted, to propose that the same rule should be adopted which was adopted with respect to aldermen in other boroughs. Aldermen of London occupied a very different position. It was well known that they exercised magisterial duties. The Commissioners recommended that, instead of making the tenure of office the same as that of aldermen in other municipal boroughs, they should hold office for six years; they also recommended that they should continue to act as magistrates, and be eligible for re-election at the end of those six years of office; and that power should be given to the corporation to apply for the appointment of stipendiary magistrates similar to the power which existed and was exercised in other corporate towns. With regard to this arrangement, however, a difficulty, which he stated on a former occasion, and which pressed very much upon him, arose out of the consideration that it was opposed to the principle hitherto universally recognized in this country—that no class of persons exercising magisterial functions should be subject to continual election and re-election. There was no such instance except that of the mayor of a borough, who, during his year of office and the year succeeding, was a magistrate, but then ceased to be a magistrate, and was not very frequently re-elected mayor. On the whole, then, he had been led to the conclusion that it was better not to make any alteration in the existing tenure of office of aldermen of London. He should propose that they be elected for life, and retain their magisterial duties; but he should add a proposal which had emanated from the common council, and which he thought wise, to vest a power in the common council, upon the petition of a majority of the constituency of the ward for which he was elected, and for cause shown to have arisen since his election, to remove any alderman from office. This, he thought, would be the best solution of the difficulty, adopting the recommendation of the Commissioners as to the magisterial functions of the aldermen, and giving the corporation the power, if it chose, of applying for the appointment of stipendiary magistrates. The recommendations of the Commissioners in regard to the office of Lord Mayor had been embodied in the former Bill, and in the present Bill also. Instead of requiring the Lord Mayor to be elected from among the aldermen, and from among those aldermen who had filled the office of sheriff, any person possessing the qualification of a common councilman would be eligible. He would be chosen by the common council. The qualification of the sheriffs would be the same as that of the Lord Mayor, and the right of election would be transferred to the common council. The election of all the chief officers of the corporation would be in the common council, with the exception of the Recorder. In all other municipal boroughs the Recorder was an officer appointed by the Crown, but in the city he was elected by the aldermen, who had exercised their duties in this respect with a great deal of discretion. Objections had been made to the proposition to transfer the election of that officer to so large a body as the common council, and upon consideration it had been thought best to continue it in the smaller body. The Court of Aldermen would be abolished as a separate body, and the Lord Mayor and aldermen would no longer form part of the Central Criminal Court. The restrictions of the Municipal Corporations Act on charging or alienating corporate property would be extended to the city. The Bill, also, contained clauses abolishing all exclusive rights of trading, street tolls, the right of metage, and the exclusive right of the fellowship of porters. Some clauses contained in the former Bill, with regard to the local courts, were not in this Bill, because those provisions had been embodied in a private Bill introduced by the Corporation last Session, and passed into law. The same observation applied to the question of the conservancy of the Thames, which had also been settled in the course of the last Session. Another important difference between this Bill and the last was, that this Bill did not contain any provision relating to the coal duties. There were three of these duties. The first was one of 4d. per ton, which was claimed by the City as part of its estate, subject to a charge of nearly £600,000. It would be a long time before this charge could be cleared off, and there could therefore be no immediate benefit derived from its abolition. The former Bill proposed that this duty, when the charge was cleared off, should absolutely cease, but since that Bill was before the House a question had been raised with regard to some other boroughs claiming certain dues as property, which was exactly the same in principle, and a Bill proposing to deal with certain dues which were claimed by corporations as part of their estates, had been withdrawn. Although the question, so far as Liverpool was concerned, had been settled by compromise in the course of last Session, the general question had not yet been decided by Parliament. He did not think it fair, therefore, to ask the House to give an opinion upon it in this Bill, and, as it would be long before the public really could receive any relief from dealing with this duty, he had not introduced any provision relating to it into the Bill. The other two dues were one of 8d. and one of 1d. per ton. In neither of these was the City of London interested at all, and from neither did it receive any benefit. The first was subject to a charge of £12,000, and the second, subject to charges for collection, was payable to the Commissioners of Works for Metropolitan Improvements, and both would expire in 1862. As the time when they would expire was so near he had not dealt with them in the former Bill, and he did not propose to deal with them in the one he then sought to introduce. These were the general provisions of the Bill, which he would have stated at greater length had they not been already presented to the House on a former occasion. The delay which had occurred in passing a Bill for the reform of the Corporation had at least had the good effect of bringing the Government and the Corporation of London into closer agreement. From communications he had had with the representatives of the Corporation—he did not mean the Parliamentary, but the Corporate representatives—he was led to believe that, although on some questions, especially that relating to the qualification of the Lord Mayor and the mode of his election, there would be a difference of opinion, there would be no objection to the principle of the Bill, and there was, consequently, reason to hope that the details of the measure would be fairly and temperately discussed in Committee. Indeed, he would add that an application had been made to the Government by the Corporation to allow them to bring in a Bill embodying the chief provisions of this measure in the form of a private Bill. He had not thought it desirable, however, that it should be dealt with as a private Bill which would withdraw its provisions to a certain extent from the cognizance of the House, and he had felt it his duty to introduce it as a public Bill. The right hon. Baronet then concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, he had heard with satisfaction much that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, but he had to add, that he dissented from some of the details of his measure. For instance, he did not think that the House of Commons would sanction the removal of the right of electing the Lord Mayor from 14,000 liverymen and ratepayers to the common council. Neither did he approve of the provision which excluded the Lord Mayor and aldermen from the Central Criminal Court. It was of great, importance to the administration of the criminal law in the city that the aldermen should have every opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted with that law, and they bad always derived the greatest benefit from sitting in the Central Criminal Court by the side of the Judges. He did not think it expedient to throw open the office of Lord Mayor to all persons. It was very desirable that that functionary should he chosen from among those persons who had had considerable experience in the business of the city, and according to the present practice the Lord Mayor had generally served about ten years as an alderman before his election.


said, he was not surprised at the general approbation which had been expressed at the measure. He hoped, however, that the Court of Aldermen was not to be continued as a distinct court. [Sir G. GREY: Certainly not.] He must protest against the continuance of the 4d. coal due, to which the city had no right whatever. The debt for which it had been granted had been extinguished long ago. When the corporation was first founded all the population of London was comprised within the city walls; but now the city population did not form one-twentieth part of the population of the metropolis, and he contended that the limits of the Corporation ought to be extended so as to represent the whole of the metropolis.


said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the. Home Secretary would introduce some provision to appropriate the property of the Irish Society to its legitimate uses, as recommended by the Commissioners who had inquired into that subject.


remarked that he had heard with great pleasure the statement of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and was glad that he had approached nearer to an agreement with the Corporation than he bad done when he introduced his previous Bill. He thought that the alterations which his right hon. Friend had made in his former Bill were very expedient, and he was glad that the aldermen were to be elected for life instead of for six years, as was before proposed. He thought likewise, that questions of property ought not to be lightly interfered with by that House; and he was glad, therefore, that the subject of the coal dues was not to be included in the Bill or to be hastily decided by the provisions of a measure to which they did not necessarily belong. On the other hand he regretted to find that the election of the Lord Mayor by common hall had not been preserved; and in that respect, and that alone, he should probably differ from the Government when the Bill got into Committee. With regard to the city of London, they must always recollect that the corporation had, by its struggles at a most critical poriod of our history, shown its attachment to the constitutional liberties of the country. He did not wish, therefore, to carry changes in that body to any greater extent than were necessary.


said, he wished to ask of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department whether he proposed that there should be an amalgamation of the police of the city with the rest of the metropolitan police. That was a change which every person very earnestly desired.


said, he also would express his conviction of the desirableness of that measure of police reform.


said, that there were no provisions in the Bill relative to the police. He had stated so fully, when introducing his former Bill, his reasons for not including a clause of that description, that he had not thought it necessary to repeat them now.

Leave given.

Bill brought in by Sir GEORGE GREY, Viscount PALMERSTON, and Mr. MASSEY; and read 1°.