§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. ROLT
Sir, it is with much reluctance that I obtrude myself on the attention of the House for the purpose of objecting to your leaving the Chair, and of moving that tins Bill be referred back to the Select Committee, who have reported it to the House, and that the Petition recently presented by the Corporation of London on this subject be referred to the same Committee, with instructions for them to hear the Corporation by their counsel and witnesses thereon. Sir, my reasons for making this Motion are founded on a conviction that the House is about to establish a dangerous precedent, without having before it all those facts which, are necessary to enable the House to conic to a proper decision. The Bill purports to be a Bill "for the better regulation of the Corporation of the City of London." It may be, for the purpose of my argument, divided into two parts, the one political and the other financial. With the former I do not propose to deal, nor will I enter in any way into the consideration of those provisions of the Bill which purport to alter or amend the constitution of the Corporation. I propose only to call the attention of the House to the way in which the property of the Corporation is dealt with by the Bill; and, if I understand its provisions on this subject rightly, the Bill simply takes away from the Corporation a considerable portion of its property without compensation, and without hearing the parties who are to be so deprived of their property. The 55th section of the Bill provides:—All such rights of Metage of any Grain, Fruit, Wares, or Merchandise as the Corporation is entitled to by custom, charter, or otherwise, and all exclusive right of Porterage of any Grain, Fruit, Wares, or Merchandise which any Porters of the City of London have, or claim, under any such custom or charter, or otherwise, shall cease after the 31st day of December, 1858.These rights, therefore, whether acquired by charter, or by custom, or by purchase from the Crown, or howsoever acquired, are simply abolished. The 71st section gives compensation to every officer of the City whose office may be abolished by the Act, and as the Bill was originally framed the City was left to pay this compensation 267 out of its remaining property not taken away by the Bill; but the Select Committee appear to have thought this rather too severe, and have consequently provided, by the 74th and following sections of the Bill, as amended, a fund for this compensation to officers by continuing a small metage due for a short period, and expressly limited in amount to this purpose; but there is not in the Bill a single provision for giving compensation to the Corporation itself. Now, Sir, we naturally turn to the Preamble of the Bill for some reason that should justify so novel an enactment, but we find there nothing relating to this subject but this, "that it is expedient that provision should be made for the abolition of such customs and privileges of the City as injuriously affect trade and industry." What is proposed, therefore, by the Preamble, is not the reconstitution of a charitable or public trust, because it is effete—it is not restoring a corporation or trust to its original bounds or character, leaving its property untouched; nor is it a Bill of Pains and Penalties, working a forfeiture of property, because of the malfeasances or misdemeanours of the owner. The Preamble does not even venture to assert that it would be expedient that provision should be made for the abolition of such rights of property of the City as injuriously affect trade. It asserts only that it is expedient to abolish customs and privileges of this character. Now, it is my intention to demonstrate—I use the word advisedly—that you propose by this Bill to abolish rights of property; and I would suggest that if you do so, at least it should be done openly and avowedly, and that the preamble should assert that it is just to abolish rights of property when they injuriously affect trade and commerce. Sir, the moment that is done, the moment you put that in the preamble, the Bill is lost, because I am satisfied the House will not consent to the abolition of rights of property on any such grounds, or indeed on any grounds without providing some compensation for those whom you propose to deprive of those rights. It is in reference to this Bill that the Corporation of the City of London have presented a Petition, and I think it material to call the attention of the House to the allegations of that Petition. It begins by informing the House, that the Petitioners did, upon a former occasion when the Bill was first introduced, petition to be heard by their counsel, agents, and witnesses, 268 against its several clauses, and it then states—That by divers clauses of the said Bill, it is proposed to deprive your Petitioners without giving them any compensation of various sources of revenue of which they have been possessed for a period extending beyond the time of legal memory, and their right to which has been repeatedly confirmed by charter, statute, and judicial decision, and by divers other clauses of the said Bill, the rights, interests, and privileges of your Petitioners are prejudicially affected. That large sums of money have been borrowed by your Petitioners for public improvements on the credit of these and other revenues of your Petitioners and are still charged thereon.The Petitioners then proceed to state that they were heard before the Committee upon one clause, and one only of the Bill, and were not permitted to be heard upon other clauses prejudicial to their interests by some of which it was sought to deprive them of their property, and that they consider it unjust that their revenues should be confiscated without any malversation being proved or alleged against them, and without their being heard in support of their rights and property; and after further stating that the Petitioners view with alarm the establishment of a precedent which may be pleaded to justify an arbitrary interference with rights of property which have hitherto been held sacred, the Petitioners pray that the Bill may be referred back to the Select Committee, and that they may be heard upon the allegations of their Petition. From this statement the House will gather that my main objection to this Bill in the form in which it now stands, is that it is an interference with the rights of property. Sir, that is my case. I do not say it is the only case of the Corporation, but it is my only case, and I do not intend to present to the House a rag of a case beyond. I intend to stand upon that ground alone—I shall not attempt to make more of the case, but I will defy ingenuity or sophistry to make less of it. Stale pretext of the rights of property! some friends of this measure may perhaps exclaim. Sir, I admit the antiquity of the argument, and upon its antiquity and upon the benefits we have so long and so uninterruptedly received from the maintenance of those rights I greatly rely. It will be expedient to define in the outset in what sense I use the words "rights of property." By that expression I mean rights established by the positive and arbitrary law of the country—rights of ownership to or in 269 anything which can be enforced in a court of justice—rights of ownership in respect of which, if any wrong be done to them, redress may be had in the legal tribunals of the country. In this sense one man may have a right of property in or against that which in other respects is the property of another. This is my definition, and I trust that those who object to it will, when dealing with the rights which they propose by this Bill to abolish, at least give their own definition of the expression. These, then, being the rights of property, what, I would next ask, are those metage and other dues which the Bill proposes simply to abolish? This will necessarily depend upon a statement of facts which will require to be proved by evidence—by oral or documentary testimony. At this sitting, of course, I am not in a position to prove them. I state them as facts, which the Corporation is ready to prove; and in this argument you must accept them as facts if you refuse to hear those who pledge themselves to their truth. These facts are, that these dues were originally a portion of the hereditary revenues of the Crown, and from time immemorial—from a time lost in antiquity so entirely that we cannot trace its origin, these dues have been in possession of the City of London. After their original acquisition, but still at a time we may deem very remote—at a time with respect to which we should say we had gone very far back, if any other person or body of persons than the Corporation of London were concerned, that is, in the reign of King John—these rights, or a portion of them, were seized and taken from the Corporation by the Crown. At the time when this attempt—which is sought to be repeated to-day—was thus first made, the power employed was, of course, the military power of the Crown. These revenues were then seized into the hands of the Crown, upon the pretence that they had formed part of the revenues of the Queen Dowager; and being so seized, they were afterwards granted to the King's brother, the Earl of Cornwall. The City submitted to the seizure to the extent of re-purchasing them from the Earl of Cornwall, and they paid the sum of 20,000 marks—in those days a very large sum—for what had been so seized. But in the interval the Earl of Cornwall had granted a rent-charge of fifty marks per annum upon the property. For six centuries that rent-charge has travelled from hand to hand, and there is to this 270 day an owner of that rent-charge, not now before the House, but whose rights must be affected by this Bill, who receives the amount annually from the Corporation, and the Corporation are bound at present by law to pay it. These rights so acquired and so re-purchased were afterwards confirmed by Parliament, and from that time the Corporation remained in undisturbed possession till we come to the reign of James I. Arbitrary power now played its fantastic tricks in another shape. It was not now military force that was to be applied, but it was hoped to find subservient Judges and unprincipled law officers. The hope, however, was not at this time realized. But the attempt was made to seize the property through a court of law. An information was brought in the Court of Exchequer, inquiring by what warrant the City of London claimed their rights. The record is somewhat musty, no doubt—perhaps that may be an objection—but it is both legible and intelligible. I have here a copy of the record: it states that the City of London claims (amongst other things) to have the office of Meter of all coals and grain of whatever kind, and of all other merchandises, goods and things whatsoever sold by measure, and the metage of the same whatsoever, in or to the port of the said City of London, coming, brought, or carried on the water of Thames, in any ship, boat, barge, or any other vessel whatsoever, and also to have and take to their own proper use, the wages, rewards, and fees, to the same office of Meter appertaining and belonging; and the City is then called upon by the Attorney General to answer by what warrant they claim to have use and enjoy these liberties, privileges, and franchises; and thereupon there is a plea that the City of London is, and from the time beyond the memory of man hath been, an ancient city, and that the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the said City from the whole time aforesaid, whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary, have had and exercised and have been accustomed and ought to have and exercise the said office of Meter and the other privileges and dues before mentioned; and that all the customs, liberties, privileges, and franchises of the City aforesaid were by the authority of the Parliament of the late King Richard the Second, after the Conquest holden at Westminster in the seventh year of his reign, ratified and confirmed to the then Mayor and Commonalty and Ci- 271 tizens of the City aforesaid and their successors and by that warrant they claimed. The Attorney General admitted the facts as stated; the City prayed judgment, and the judgment of the Court was that "the aforesaid Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the aforesaid City of London and their successors should have, perceive, enjoy, and use all and all manner the offices, privileges, liberties, franchises, wages, rewards, and fees aforesaid, and other the premises in their plea claimed." After this the City remained safe until the time of Charles the Second, when by the wellknown quo warranto proceedings all these dues and tolls were again seized into the hands of the Crown, and so they continued in the possession of the Crown until the accession of William and Mary, when one of the first Acts of the Parliament was to reverse the judgment in the quo warranto, and to restore these dues and all other rights and privileges to the Corporation. I cannot think that the Parliament of Victoria will destroy and take away without compensation these rights which the first Parliament of William and Mary, in vindication of the rights of the people and of property, restored to the City of London. Having thus defined the rights of property, as I understand them, and having explained the history of those dues and rights which this Bill proposes to take away, I think it sufficiently appears that these rights of the City of London are held as rights of property upon the strongest and clearest of titles, a title acquired or confirmed by purchase and payment of the price, a title supported by prescription, immemorial possession, charters, decrees of Courts, and Acts of Parliament. Each and all of these are elements of their title, and such rights founded upon such a title are undoubtedly, as I insist, entitled to protection as rights of property. I do not intend to assume that the argument is exhausted when it is proved that these are rights of property which you are abolishing without compensation. It may not be exhausted in the minds of some, but I trust and believe that in the minds of a large majority in this House, when they are satisfied that that is the effect of this Bill, the argument will be at an end. There may be some individuals whose views are, as they say, more advanced, and who will tell us they are not to be frightened by such stale pretexts, and they would probably admit that the right in question is a right of property without argument. The 272 contest with them would probably only be as to the expediency of interfering with the right, but it will be useful to clear the way by showing distinctly what we are about to do; for as far as the progress of this Bill is concerned with this 55th clause as a part of it, there is, as I believe, an end of the matter, if the House shall be satisfied that that clause will simply confiscate a right to property legally vested in the Corporation. Now, there are but two grounds on which any objection can, as it appears to me, be raised to the position that these metage and other dues of the City are entitled to protection as rights of property; the first, the nature and character of the alleged owner of the property—namely, that it is a Corporation; and second, the nature of the property itself,—namely, that it is a toll, or tax if you please, on the goods or property of others. It is said that it is not an individual being who is the owner of this property, but a Corporation, a thing created by the law; and then that the property itself is not land or goods and chattels, but dues and tolls; in short, property in the property of another. Let us consider these arguments separately. In order to ascertain the value of the objection that the owner of property is not an individual, but a corporation, let me ask the House to consider what is the position of a corporation with respect to the ownership of lands and goods or chattels. I ask upon what principle can you draw a distinction between lands or goods and chattels in the hands of a corporation, and lands or goods and chattels in the hands of an individual? Is not the one property as well as the other? Is it not so in the very nature of things, and is it not so in the positive or arbitrary law of the country by which all questions of property are to be determined? That there is a distinction between individuals and Corporations I admit, but that has nothing whatever to do with the question. God, it is true, made the one, and man the other; one is the individual element of which society in the aggregate is composed; the other is the creature of and creation of society. But that is not the question we are dealing with. We are dealing with the question of the constitution of rights of property in either. The same power creates and regulates the rights of property in each case. There is no distinction in that. The same power which gave the right of property to individuals gave it also to Corporations. It is true that we 273 create Corporations, but we also create and regulate the rights of property in individuals just the same as we do in Corporations. We are not satisfied with—The Good old rule, the simple plan,That they should take who have the power,And they should keep who can.Such a rule would not suit us in the present day, any more than it did when law and order first prevailed. Some of us under such a rule might, perhaps, get more than we now have, but some would certainly get a great deal less; and the same laws which create and regulate, as a substitute for this rule, the rights of property in individuals also create and regulate them in the case of corporations. In creating the corporation we endow it with the faculty of enjoying property, and give it the right to this enjoyment. Why cannot an aggregate of individuals (and a Corporation is nothing more) have as substantial or beneficial an enjoyment of property as a single individual?—and in creating the corporation we have given it this right. In the case of the individual also, the right is his only by our gift, though the faculty of enjoying the gift may be from a higher source. If we were dealing, then, with tangible property, the right to lands and tenements, or goods and chattels in a corporation, the right would be as clearly a right of property as would a corresponding right in individuals. Now let us look next at the particular nature of the property in question, and consider these metage tolls and dues as though they were in the hands of an individual. The right of property may exist in an absolute, unqualified, and unconditional manner, as in the case we have been considering, of property in lands or in goods and chattels. But with equal certainty from the nature and necessity of the case, and also from the positive law of the country, a right may exist in my favour against the right of property in another. It is a most crude and undigested proposition to say that I cannot have a right of toll or right to other benefit in the property of another. Is not my right of way over the land of my neighbour a right of property in and against his property Is the parson's right to tithes, payable out of the property of his parishioners, not as good a right of property as that out of which it is payable? Is not the right to a rent charge upon the property of another as much property as any property that can exist? It is idle to go back into the origin of property or to inquire into the 274 reasons of its institution in the form in which it now exists, or to discuss whether this or that species of property is unjust, or whether any particular lawful tenure of property is inconvenient, with the view of deriving from that discussion an argument for its confiscation. The mode of enjoyment, if the present mode of enjoyment be prejudicial to the public interests, may no doubt be modified. We do that every day. I have the property in a piece of land or a house. My property in it is inconvenient—it stands in the way of some public improvement. I must give it up for making a railway, or carrying out some other work which is supposed to be conducive to the public good. But upon what terms? You must pay me for it, compensate me for taking it from me. In precisely the same manner, if these tolls and dues were the property of an individual, and were inconvenient and prejudicial to the public interests, would their abolition be effected. And the right to such or similar dues and tolls is asserted by individuals every day. It is a peculiar kind of property no doubt. It originally existed in the Crown. The Crown granted rights of this kind sometimes to individuals, sometimes to corporations. There is no question that from the first institution of the rights of property in this country, such rights have been recognized as existing in the Crown, and as having been granted to others by the Crown, and there is scarcely a year passes in which such rights are not insisted upon in courts of justice on behalf of individuals. In their hands these rights are rights of property, and that which is simple property in the hands of individuals is, I contend, equally property when in the hands of corporations. I must leave to the ingenuity of others to point out how it is possible, when you combine the two considerations upon which I have dwelt, that there should be a difference between individual and corporate rights of property. I am not able to suggest a difference. If you are satisfied that lands and goods and chattels are entitled to protection, as property in the hands of a corporation, and that tolls and dues in the hands of an individual are also entitled to the same protection, why such tolls and dues are not equally property in the hands of a corporation I must, I say, leave to others to point out. It being then esstablished that these tolls and dues are undoubtedly entitled to protection as property in the hands of the corporation, I 275 say that this right is a different thing from the customs or privileges to which the preamble refers. The objections to this Bill is not that you are abolishing some inconvenient custom or usage of trade, or that you are destroying some claim to precedence or priority, or that you are removing some feudal privilege inconsistent with the freedom or the liberty of the people; but that you are taking away, without compensation, property which (wisely or not is immaterial) has been legally granted to, and has been for centuries enjoyed, and now is enjoyed by the corporation. This right is something very different from anything like a custom or privilege. It is therefore untrue to say that you are merely abolishing customs or privileges. If that be so, let me invite the House to add in the preamble of the Bill the words—Whereas, it is expedient that provision should be made for the abolition of such rights of property in the Corporation as are injurious to trade and industry.It is a question of fact. Does this Bill propose to abolish these rights of property or not? I ask that the truth should be told in the preamble, and that it should go forth to the world openly, that the British Parliament is willing, without hearing the parties and without compensation, thus to take away such rights. I say, that if you do so decide, you should let it be simply asserted in the preamble, and the moment you come to insert that in the preamble, I think there will be an end of the Bill. But, Sir, the question may still remain in the minds of some, whether interference with the rights of property in a Corporation may not be justified upon principles short of those which will justify interference with the right of property in individuals. I feel satisfied that there are many in this House who would not desire to discuss that question, and who would say, that when put upon such grounds the question was really at an end; but there are, no doubt, others who take a different view of the subject. Sir, the right of property can only be successfully and permanently maintained by maintaining it in its universality. There is no right of property which does not press hard in some direction or another. The whole value of the principle is endangered if you break in upon it, or if you allow yourself to speculate upon its utility in some particular instance. In some point of view or other, the right of property which is in me will press hard upon some 276 other portion of the public, or the right that is in others, will press hard upon me; and it is only when I reflect on the necessity of maintaining for the whole community the right of property, that I am content to bear the burdens this right in others imposes upon me, and am driven to insist that the right is one which shall not be touched. It is only, I repeat, by its universality that you can maintain this right of property. I do not propose to discuss with the House its right to deal or interfere with property; for the purpose of this argument I am content to say, that its might shall be the measure of its right. I only ask the House to consider whether it is either just, wise, or expedient to interfere with the right of property in the Corporation in the mode and manner proposed by this Bill. What are the arguments hitherto brought forward to show that you may interfere with the rights of property in Corporations and not in individuals? As far as I can understand them, they are something to this effect—that there is no individual who has a vested interest in such rights—it is a question of public concern only. You cannot point to any member of the community who is immediately concerned—no individual has any right of disposition or of transmission to his heirs—the rights may be taken away without injuring individuals, as no one can claim a particular interest in the specific property. I am putting the argument as strongly as I am able to understand it against myself. But has this argument any just foundation? Are there not elements of vested interests in common in the two cases? The aggregate body of individuals forming a Corporation can enjoy property and can transmit it to their successors equally with individuals, though the mode and course of transmission may be different. The faculty of enjoyment and the right to the enjoyment by the rules of law apply in either case. A Corporation does not always make a wise use of its property. Do individuals always do so? A municipal Corporation is but an aggregate of people living in the same locality and possessing property in common, and enjoying the benefits of that property in common in such modes as are consistent with law, and as are open to such a community. What is there (if we but generalize justly and sufficiently) in the way of enjoyment of the rights of property open to individuals, which does not also apply to such communities of individuals? That the inci- 277 dents of the right of property are different in the two cases has nothing whatever to do in the matter. The law imposes certain fetters on the enjoyment of the right in the case of the individual, as in the case of the Corporation, though the fetters may not be the same in specie. To the individual it is of the essence of the case, with small exceptions, that the enjoyment of the right of disposition of property by each succeeding individual shall be open, and you shall not make the right inalienable. With the Corporation there is also a fetter imposed, though different in character. The law prescribes the quantity and description of property it shall hold and sometimes makes it inalienable; but subject to such fetters as the law has imposed, the right is complete in each case. Is the right or faculty of geting into debt limited to individuals? Cannot a Corporation get into debt equally? If so, ought not the first enjoyment as well as the first duty of property in each case be the payment of your debts? This Corporation, of the City of London, owes a million of money. Are we to trust ourselves with the question, was it wisely incurred? or any question but this. Has it been legally incurred? If we do, it so happens that in this particular case the answer will be satisfactory. Half a million is charged upon (amongst other property) the property which you now propose to take away from the Corporation, and you propose to do this without hearing the creditor, and without telling the debtor how he is to discharge his obligations to the creditor. But what is the next enjoyment of the right of property possible to a Corporation? The Corporation must maintain its roads and its public buildings, and provide for its administration of justice, and may it not also provide for the rites of hospitality or festivity, if you please? I want to know, if we come to that, why a Corporation or community of individuals, an aggregate body which has accumulated property, if the law has allowed them to accumulate and transmit their property from one time to another continuously—why, I want to know, even with respect to a surplus available for the luxuries of life, there should be any difference between the right of an individual and of an aggregate number of individuals? It is untrue to say that you cannot point to an individual who has any personal vested interest in the property. Each corporator has a vested interest in having the property applied (subject only to such fetters as the law may have imposed on 278 its enjoyment) in saving him from the county, parochial, or other rate which must otherwise be personally levied upon him for the public objects of the locality, and in such other purposes of enjoyment as are open to the aggregate community. When you consider the various modes in which Corporations can and do enjoy property, how can we propose to deal with their property in the mode proposed by this Bill? First, there is the payment of debts already incurred, then the many great and much-needed improvements, the necessity for which is constantly arising, additions to the luxury and splendour of your public buildings and streets, and the various other provisions for all the requisitions of communities living in large numbers together, all tending ultimately to the general good as the community may think fit. A Corporation may become effete and extinct, or an individual may die without heirs, and in either case the state may step in and claim the property. But, I want to know why, while both exist, there should be any distinctions between individual and corporate rights, when the law allows to each substantially the same enjoyment of them. I think it is clear that there can be no such distinction made as has been attemped to be set up. The law has given to Corporations as well as to individuals the right of the enjoyment of property, and, so far as I can judge, you cannot assert that it is wise, just, or expedient to do in the one case that which is not equally so in the other. The case may be put of a Corporation not extinct—not effete—having a sufficient number of corporators, but practically not adequate for the purposes for which it was originally designed, and for which it was originally endowed with the power of possessing, and with the actual possession of the property it claims. But should such a case arise, the remedy is not by forfeiting its property. With a municipal corporation the purposes for which it was called into existence must continue so long as the community of the locality hold together for any municipal or common purposes, and the remedy, if any, must be found in regulations for the Corporation adapted to the present exigencies of the community. Or, again, the question may be asked, what, if a Corporation should become possessed of an estate beyond all manageable bounds, and beyond anything which is required for public purposes, or that any aggregate body of individuals can properly expend—what, then, 279 could you do? I would answer the question by another. What will you do, in the like case, if a private individual were to accumulate and obtain possession of such an amount of property as he could not, with any safety to the State, be left in the enjoyment of? Suppose one individual to hold two or three counties, and to make it his business to go on adding estate to estate till he became a landed proprietor too powerful for the State. To speculate on what is enough for the owner is dangerous in any case; but this I know, that the time has not yet arrived for putting such a question with respect to the Corporation of London. There are here no such considerations. The Corporation is lawfully in debt, and is still bound to borrow, or, at least, will be justified in borrowing money from time to time to provide for the convenience and advantage not only of the Corporation, but also of the public at large. There is no surplus whatever which has to be dealt with in the present case. I submit, then, that this is undoubtedly property in the hands of the Corporation, the right to which is established and regulated by the law precisely as property in the hands of private individuals, and that it would be unjust and inexpedient in the extreme to deal with it in the manner proposed by this Bill. It will not, perhaps, be useless upon this part of the case to call the attention of the House to the finances of the City of London. I have had put into my hands this morning a Return, for which we are indebted to a Member of the Select Committee; but it is greatly to be regretted that this Return, which contains some most valuable and important information, was not moved for before the Committee closed its labours. Upon examining the Return, it will be found that there is no surplus or unnecessary income in this case. Speaking in round numbers the property of the Corporation may be stated to yield £100,000 annually from the income of land, houses, and funded property, and £100,000 annually derived from market and metage and other dues and tolls. With respect, however, to the £100,000 annually from realized property, there is to be borne in mind the fact that a very large portion of that income will expire in a few years by the falling in, or expiring of a lease held by the Corporation, and the Corporation have very prudently put by for many years, and are still putting by annually, a sum of £20,000, in order to meet this 280 contemplated falling off of revenue. The collection of the market dues and tolls is attended with great expense. There are also large sums, as much in the aggregate as £10,000 a year, paid in drawbacks in cases where, upon exportation, the tolls and dues are liable to be returned, and this with the charges of collection and the like on this portion of the revenue, amounts to a sum of £30,000—so that the revenue of the year is not really more than £70,000 from one source, and £80,000 from the other. There is a debt of £1,000,000 upon these, the revenues proper of the Corporation. I am not including here the whole of the coal dues, by far the greater part of which is levied and raised by authority of Parliament for specific purposes, and does not belong to the City. A portion only of the coal dues belongs to the Corporation, and is included in the revenue I have stated. Upon this—the proper revenue of the Corporation—they have borrowed upwards of a million of money, and I believe I am accurate in saying that half of this sum has been devoted to the improvement of the streets and thoroughfares of the Metropolis, in paying for the land dedicated to the public in making these improvements. Every stride you take in these new streets costs a large sum of money, and this half million has been devoted entirely to the benefit of the public in these improvements, and the other half of the debt, if this were the occasion for going into details, could be shown to have been incurred on equally sufficient grounds. At any rate a legal debt to this extent exists in fact, and you have the interest of this debt to provide for; one item for interest alone, therefore, amounts to £50,000 per annum or thereabouts. Next, with respect to a great portion of this property, it was obtained by the City originally upon the terms of supplying the cost, and is consequently subject to the charge of a portion of the police and administration of justice in Middlesex, as well as the police and the administration of justice in the City itself. The citizens of London are, therefore, saved from any county rate, and each citizen has here a definite and specific vested interest in the corporate property. This forms a charge of £50,000. You have thus £100,000 disposed of out of £150,000 of revenue I have spoken of. Then there are various incidental charges; there is a Metropolitan improvement fund, there are charities and pensions, and extraordinary and incidental 281 expenses annually occurring, which together absorb considerably more than £20,000 of income. If you ask the character of these extraordinary charges, the answer will be, that in one year they have some hero to honour; in another, a foreign prince to entertain; in another, their own Sovereign to entertain; and sometimes a monument to erect to a great public man. Items of this character will show that the Corporation believes that it has public duties to the country to discharge in the expenditure of its income, and that it does attempt at least to discharge those duties. These charges exhaust so much of the revenue of the Corporation as not to leave so much as £30,000 for the civil government of the City. That is not a sum, surely, too large for such a Corporation as this. But if it were, the remedy is not to deprive them of their property. If their expenditure is inordinate under any of these heads, any saving that might be effected is undoubtedly wanted for other most legitimate corporate purposes. There are yet many new streets and public buildings wanted—many large improvements are required, but the City has not the revenue necessary for their execution. You who attempt to judge what is necessary for the citizens to possess, by determining what is proper for them to expend, may say there will be enough for feasting and hospitality when the dues dealt with by this Bill are abolished. I am not of that opinion. I doubt whether more is expended even in luxury than is due to the splendour and position of the City. It is possible, nay probable, that some of their expenditure may be injudicious. Where is the large expenditure of which the same may not be said? But, be this as it may, there are undoubtedly many purposes for which, if their revenues were larger, they could be most beneficially and legitimately employed; and even the lowest grounds of expediency are wanting to justify you in depriving the City of any of its rights of property. But, again, I appeal to this House to take up the question on higher grounds, and to look upon these rights of property as sacred, and to believe that the value and importance of the principle requires that it should be universally maintained. But, Sir, I would ask what precedents have you for the course which is thus proposed? Has it ever been attempted before? Can anybody pretend that anything of the kind has been done since law and order were supreme in the 282 land? In early times, no doubt, the strong hand of power has attempted to deprive us of our most sacred rights, and in later times similar attempts have been made through the instrumentality of corrupt and servile lawyers; but now, in the reign of Victoria, we have to meet for the first time the danger threatening us from a House of Commons. I have referred to the military instances of early times, and to the instance of the time of Charles II. I now turn to the history of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act, in the time of William IV. What was done upon the occasion of passing that Bill when dealing with rights of property identical with those of the Corporation of London? The word "dues" was not originally introduced into the Bill, in the description of the property which was to constitute the Borough Fund, but was added in Committee expressly and in order that there should be no doubt upon the subject. It was in substance enacted that the tolls and dues of Corporations should be preserved. The 92nd clause of the Municipal Corporations Act provides that the rents and profits of all corporate hereditaments, and the interest, dividends, and annual proceeds of all corporate monies, dues, chattels, and valuable securities, should be paid to the treasurer of each borough, and should be carried by him to the account of a fund to be called "The Borough Fund," and such fund, subject to the payment of debts contracted before the passing of the Act, should be applied towards the payment of the salaries of the mayor and of other city authorities and officers, and also towards the payment of various expenses connected with corporate elections, and with the administration of justice; "and in case the borough fund should be more than sufficient for the purposes aforesaid, the surplus thereof should be applied under the direction of the council for the public benefit of the inhabitants and improvement of the borough." The surplus revenue, if any, is to be applied for the public benefit of the inhabitants and improvement of the borough. Here is the true definition of the beneficial ownership in the view of the legislature of that day. Will anybody assert that the money expended by the Corporation of London, borrowed upon security (amongst other property) of these dues and tolls, has not been for the benefit of the inhabitants? Will anybody say that there is no scheme for the benefit of the inhabitants 283 of London, for which the proceeds of these dues can be laid out? Will anybody say that the individuals who form the aggregate of that community can receive no benefit from these revenues or have no vested interest in them? I challenge inquiry upon that point, and I ask that before you pronounce on the wisdom and expediency of abolishing this property, you should inquire in the words of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act, whether after the payment of all ordinary municipal expenses, there is no purpose for the benefit of the inhabitants to which the surplus revenues, if any, can be applied. The property exists at present in the Corporation; it belongs to them, by purchase, by prescription, by charter and by statute. Is it not capable of being applied for the purposes contemplated by the Municipal Corporation Reform Act? It may be inconvenient in its character; if so, alter its character or abolish the tolls or dues, if necessary, but compensate the owner. Let simple abolition or deprivation proceed only for legitimate cause, or, at least, on proof that there is no purpose remaining for the public benefit of the inhabitants of London, to which the property can be applied. Let that be asserted openly and clearly, and you will find that you will have difficulties of fact to contend with that are insuperable. I ask hon. Members who contend for the simple abolition of these dues to assert and to prove that there is no public benefit for the citizens of London to which the surplus can be applied; for if there be, then, I say, the course you propose is one of spoliation. But this clause in the Municipal Corporation Act contains other most instructive matter. It was a fact then, as now, that Corporations were capable of getting into debt, and it was well known that some of the Corporations dealt with by that Act were in debt. What was done in that case? The debtor was left by that Act in the full enjoyment of his property, but fearing he might, perhaps, be too liberal with his property to the prejudice of his creditor, there was introduced into the Act a proviso to the effect, that it should not be lawful for the town council, in any borough in which the body corporate before the passing of the Act should have contracted any lawful debt chargeable on any corporate tolls or dues, to alter or reduce the amount of such tolls or dues, or to grant for any consideration any remission of, or exemption from such tolls or dues, or any part thereof, unless with the consent of the creditors, until after 284 such debt, and all interest due thereon, should have been fully paid and satisfied. So that in that case, Parliament. instead of abolishing rights of property of this character, thought it wise to enact that Corporations being indebted should not be at liberty to surrender their tolls in order that the rights of the creditors might be protected. The Act recognized the principle that even Corporations themselves, being indebted upon security of their tolls, should not be at liberty to surrender or reduce them, however objectionable their character. If there had been no such proviso, Corporations within that Act, like other owners of property might have abandoned any toll or due deemed objectionable. But in giving to Municipal Corporations the more popular constitution then provided, it was deemed expedient to enact that they should be just before they were generous with their property, and that their creditors having a charge on such tolls should be paid or should be called on to consent before the Corporations could themselves exercise their right of remitting them; while in the present case the singular inconsistency is proposed that the Legislature shall ignore the existing claims of creditors, and shall abolish the tolls and dues of the City of London under circumstances identical with those which induced the Legislature in 1835 to say that the Corporations then dealt with—the actual owners of the tolls—should themselves be deprived of the power of surrendering them while such circumstances existed. Sir, the next legislative proceeding, bearing upon this question to which I shall refer, was the proposal to abolish local dues on shipping. That attempt proceeded no doubt upon very much the same principle as that contained in the 55th clause of this Bill. It was an attempt to take away from numerous Corporations property to which they had a legal right on the ground that its existence was inconvenient to commerce. The attempt was an entire failure. It is right, however, to say that one important circumstance of difference exists between that case and the present. It was there contended that it was at least highly probable that these local dues on shipping had originally some trust or duty connected with them, which was no longer discharged, and that the levying of the dues was therefore no longer just. That argument, however, does not apply in this case, because this property has always been held in the same manner by the Corporation of London as it is now held, and it is 285 certain that the produce of the toll was never subject to any special trust or duty whatever. It was in vain that the Government of the day endeavoured to press the Bill for the abolition of the local dues on shipping upon the attention of the House. It is true it addressed itself to very many of the Corporations in the country who had property of that nature, but I do not think the House will be disposed to permit one Corporation to be singled out for the purpose of establishing, as against it, that which you could not establish as against many Corporations combined. Look again at the way in which this attempt was followed by the Act for the regulation of the Mersey Docks and Harbour. The material part of that measure as applicable to the present discussion will be found in the preamble and 40th section of the Act. The preamble, shows that the Corporation of Liverpool possessed (amongst other property), 1st, shipping dues; 2nd, harbour and light dues; and 3rd, town and anchorage dues. With respect to the first and second, they were held not for the benefit of the Corporation at all, but upon trust for certain specific purposes; the third was the property of the Corporation in the same manner as the metage dues are the property of the Corporation of London. The House reconstructed the trusts to which the first and second properties or dues were subject. There can be no objection to that; if there be an old and effete trust you can re-construct it; a Court of Equity will do it in certain cases, and this was what the House did in reference to the shipping dues and the harbour and light dues in the case of the Corporation of Liverpool. If the trust is no longer a trust capable of being executed—no longer capable of answering the ends for which it was originally constituted—a Court of Equity will remodel the trust, or the Legislature, if the case be of sufficient importance, will do so. But a distinction was, in the case of Liverpool, drawn between the Trust estates and the absolute property of the Corporation; and, by the 40th clause of the Liverpool Act, the rights of property of the Corporation in the town and anchorage dues were recognized, and compensation was secured, and Parliament thereby declared the rights of property in corporations to be as sacred as in individuals, and that, when found inconsistent with the public good, such rights could only be abolished upon granting compensation. I will not fatigue the House 286 with precedents for compensation. The House has, up to the present time, gone to the extreme in making compensation, rather than in falling short of the necessities of the case. When dealing with legal rights, you proceed to compensate even for offices of all descriptions—first for freehold offices, and then for those short of freehold, but which have some analogy to it. For any interference with property you always amply compensate, but here you are proceeding, without a single precedent in your favour, to interfere without compensation. In the case of these metage dues, the sums received by the Corporation are not the ordinary rights of payment for work, if, and when, done. It is the right to attach a certain toll, on goods sold, by measure in a certain locality. The decree of the Court of Exchequer, which I have read, is conclusive upon that point. You may call it unjust in its origin, and inconvenient in its present consequences, if you please, but that will not affect the force of the argument. The decree of the Court of Exchequer is this—"Bring your corn and grain by water of the Thames to London, to sell by measure, and a toll shall be paid." Then arises the legal obligation on the one side, and the legal right on the other. I believe that the argument in this particular case is not open to the objection that the right is inconvenient in its nature, or that it was originally founded in injustice. But that is a question of evidence upon which I will not enter. What, I will ask, was the origin of many of our established rights of property. What is the present nature of some of our tenures? Test the argument by a case in which the tenure or right is now most inconvenient and unjust, and let the same principle be applied to this case. This is not, I say, a right of payment for work if and when done, with a right to the person against whom the claim is made to employ the officers of the Corporation or not, as he thinks fit. He has no such right. If he brings his goods for sale by measure into that locality, he is bound, by law, to pay the Corporation. It is not for him to choose to have the work done or not by the Corporation, and so to escape the payment if he pleases. This condition of things may or may not be very inconvenient. Let that, if necessary, be ascertained, and if it be found to militate against the public weal, abolish the right, but compensate the owner. Upon these considerations, the sound con- 287 clusion is, that according to reason, law, and precedent, it is not wise, just, or expedient, to interfere with these rights thus vested in the citizens of London. Bat even if this be doubtful, ought they not to be heard? They, at least, claim these dues as a right of property, and they have not been heard in defence of that right. On the 10th of April last there was a Motion made in the Select Committee that the Corporation should be heard by their counsel and witnesses against this clause. The application was refused. The Committee said to them, "You shall not be heard; true, you say it is a right of property, but we say it is not, and we won't hear your reasons; we decide on a question of property without evidence, and without hearing the party conceiving himself to be aggrieved." I say on the contrary, "Strike, but hear." Do not establish a precedent which will disregard a claim to property, presenting at least a prima facie case of right without hearing the persons who assert the claim. The House may be strong enough to do what this Bill proposes, but the thing has never yet been thought of by any Parliament, except in the memorable ease of the threatened abolition of the local dues on shipping, and I do not know that even then it was proposed to decide without hearing the parties. It is said that the course I propose would lead to delay which would be fatal to the passing of the measure this Session, and that the object of the opponents of the Bill is delay. There are three simple answers to that objection, each of which will be found very sufficient. First, the reconsideration of the metage tolls and dues need not delay the passing of the general measure for one moment; next, the opponents of the measure are not responsible for such delay, if any, as may arise; and lastly, the consequences of delay are not to be compared with the risk involved in hasty legislation on the question at issue. If I am at all right in my notion of the importance of the question, delay, as compared with the importance of interfering with rights of property only after you have heard the parties claiming to be owners, is nothing. The measure before the House contains, no doubt, many useful regulations for the Corporation of London, and that part of the Bill is unquestionably important. Still let us not affect to act as if we thought there existed some gross abuses in the constitution of the City of London, some feudal rights and privileges in the hands of 288 the few which were pressing heavily upon the mass of the people, and which could not brook a moment's delay. There is really nothing of the kind here. The thing had better be done if it can be done this year, but it is not an affair of overwhelming consequence for which everything else must be sacrificed. The consequences and conveniences of immediate and of deferred action may here safely be balanced and considered. Again—delay of the more important parts of this measure is not necessary at all, as a consequence of sending back to the Committee the question I have discussed. Carry the rest of the Bill in its integrity if you please, and enlarge or amend the political constitution of the City at your discretion, but reserve the financial part, or that portion of it which is connected with these metage tolls and dues, for further consideration. If you say this is a wise and just measure—so important for the City of London that you cannot postpone the political regulations for twelve months, I will yield to the suggestion; but then, I say, let this part be considered separately and no delay will arise. But is it not fair, also, to inquire who has occasioned the delay that is now sought for? Upon whom rests the responsibility of that delay? Has the City of Loudon occasioned it? Did they not come here the first moment that they saw this clause was in the Bill, and ask to be heard? They were referred by the House to the Committee, and there they again asked to be heard, but were refused a hearing. I believe that if the Committee had condescended to hear them, the Bill would not have contained the clauses now objected to. They have now again come here, and they will by every constitutional means insist on their rights, and I believe in so doing they will receive the aid of every one who is interested in the preservation of the rights of property. Grant them a hearing. If you had let them be heard in the first instance, there would have been no delay. The Bill is, in my opinion, fraught with injustice to the individual members of the Corporation and with danger to the general interests of the community, even greater than its particular injustice, and it is the duty of those who agree with me in that opinion to oppose its progress by every constitutional means. Delay is of secondary importance; but delay is not the necessary result of yielding to the substance of my Amend- 289 ment, and I am not responsible for the delay, even should it arise. Sir, I submit that I have made out my case. This Bill proposes to interfere with the rights of property; those rights in a Corporation are created and regulated by the same legislative authority which creates and regulates the rights of property in individuals, and are held as sacred by the law. You cannot interfere arbitrarily with rights of this kind in Corporations aggregate without endangering the security of property in Corporations sole, and in individuals. You cannot safely trust yourselves to inquire into the wisdom, justice, or expediency of transferring property in municipal Corporations from one hand to another; if you do so, you will first peril the rights of property in Corporations sole, and next, similar rights vested in individuals. The moment you begin to speculate upon the abstract justice of the rights of property, in particular instances, separately and apart from the wisdom of maintaining the right as extensively and universally as the law recognises it, the universal right is in peril. I entreat you, therefore, not to go into this speculation; but if you do, I believe that if you will hear the Corporation they could make out a better case for their particular claim than could be made out by many individuals; and I have confidence enough in their case and in the wisdom and justice of the House, to believe that the House would not, after hearing the citizens of London, deprive them of that property which, for six centuries, has been devoted to their common benefit. There is no ground whatever for saying that the property cannot still be usefully devoted to their common benefit, and to deprive them of it under such circumstances is confiscation. For these reasons, I move the Amendment of which I have given notice, that this Bill be referred back to the Select Committee, that the Petition of the Corporation of London against the Bill, which was presented on the 28th of May last, be referred to the same Committee, and that the Corporation of London be heard by their counsel, agents, and witnesses, before the Committee, on the allegations of their Petition.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, that in seconding the Amendment, it was not his intention to throw any obstacle in the way of the passing of the measure. He wished to see whatever anomalies that might exist, with regard to the Corporation, removed, and the Corporation itself placed on a foot- 290 ing more consonant to the spirit of modern times than that on which it at present, in some respects, stood. The hon. and learned Gentleman on the other side had so fully and so truly stated the case that it would be idle for him to discuss it at any length. He had risen to direct attention to one statement which was contained in the petition of the Corporation, and which he thought was very material in considering the Amendment which had just been moved. That statement was that an understanding had been arrived at between the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill under the late Government and the officers of the Corporation to the effect, that the Bill should be read a second time on the understanding that the Corporation should be heard against it before the Committee. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman did not admit that there had been any such understanding. But when it was stated, on the part of the Corporation, that such an understanding had been arrived at, it was only reasonable to suppose that the Corporation had some grounds for the view which they had taken of it. Speaking for himself, he might state that when the second reading was proposed he had asked what course was proposed to be taken with the Bill. He was told that the Bill was to be referred to a Select Committee. The meaning of that could not be that those who were entitled to be heard against it were willing to allow it to be sent to a Committee sitting with closed doors. Hon. Members were quite justified in supposing that in agreeing to refer the Bill to a Select Committee they were giving the Corporation an opportunity of being heard before it. The merits of the case had been so fully stated by the hon. and learned Member for West Gloucestershire, that he should not enter further upon them, but content himself with seconding the Amendment.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that on the part of the late Government, who originated the Bill, and before the House was addressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the part of the present Government, who had adopted it, he wished to make a few observations on the Motion before the House. He was ready to admit the ability with which the hon. and learned Member for West Gloucestershire had argued this question; but he could not help being forcibly reminded by his speech of the arguments which had been addressed to the House many years ago, when the Municipal Cor- 291 porations Act was under discussion, by hon. and learned Gentlemen of equal learning and reputation, who had endeavoured to induce the House to reject that measure on the same grounds that the hon. and learned Gentleman now asked them to agree to his Amendment. Those hon. and learned Gentlemen, however, failed to convince the House in that day that that Act ought not to pass, and he believed that there was no one now who would contend that that was not a most important measure of municipal reform, or that it was one which ought to be repealed. He thought that it was quite unnecessary to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through all his arguments as to whether these rights of metage were or were not property which could be dealt with by the House, without any compensation in the event of its being taken from the Corporation for the benefit of the public; because it appeared to him that those arguments were wholly out of place on the present occasion, especially considering the Amendment with which the hon. and learned Gentleman had concluded his speech. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not want any inquiry to satisfy his own mind. He stated his opinion as a lawyer that the House had no right to deal with these metage dues, which the City of London levied for its own benefit, and yet he asked the House to refer this Bill back for the consideration of fifteen hon. Gentlemen sitting upstairs in order to settle the question. But the question of whether those dues were property or not was one which the House, being in possession of all the facts to enable it to form a judgment, was alone capable of deciding. It was impossible that a Select Committee should have that principle referred to them, or that the House should consent to be bound by their decision if it were, and he ventured to say that, in the event of their opinion being that Parliament could touch those rights without compensation, the hon. and learned Gentleman himself would be among the first to repudiate their decision. There were, however, two courses open to the hon. and learned Gentleman, neither of which he had adopted. He might either have moved that the Bill be committed that day three months, thinking that it contained principles so objectionable that it ought not to be agreed to; or, approving a certain portion of the Bill, he might have consented to go into a Committee of the whole House, and when they arrived 292 at Clause 55 he might have addressed to them the arguments which he had just submitted to the House. In the latter case he (Sir George Grey) should have been prepared to justify the Bill as it stood; but he hoped that the House would not agree to be led prematurely into a discussion upon an issue which could decide nothing, that issue simply being whether the Bill should or should not be referred back to a Select Committee. The Motion was in fact one for postponing the Bill to a future Session. He admitted that on the 24th of June—and especially in the present state of the Thames, of which the City had been so long the conservators—much might be said in favour of delay; and he agreed also that no great injury to the public might arise from such a course. But it must be remembered that great concessions had been made to the City, in the hope and expectation that the questions which had been raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman would not be again raised; and considering those concessions, and the departure made in the Bill from many of the important suggestions of the Commissioners, he doubted whether the result of delay might not be to produce a better Bill—not in the sense in which the Corporation of London wished to see it amended, but in the sense in which the public wished to see it improved. He should have been prepared to stand by the Bill in all its main features as it had come down from the Committee, but if it should be put off for another Session he should hold himself absolved from any such obligation. The police, the coal duties, and other important questions were not settled in the Bill in the manner that many ardent reformers wished, and if the Bill were postponed in the hope of further concessions he should consider himself quite at liberty to support on another occasion those more advanced views which he believed to be most in accordance with the public interest. With respect to the statement of the hon. Member for the City (Mr. Crawford), which was contained also in a petition which had been presented in favour of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that there was an understanding between him and the officers of the Corporation that the Biil should be read a second time, without opposition, and that the Corporation should be fully heard before the Select Committee, he must give to it a most unqualified contradiction. Not one word had fallen from him which could by 293 possibility lead to that construction being placed upon his intentions; and that he had never consented to such an arrangement was best proved by the fact that the question of allowing the Corporation to appear by counsel and to call witnesses was raised and discussed in the Committee itself, when, with the exception of two worthy aldermen, every Member of the Committee, including the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, voted against that proposition. The Committee, in deciding not to allow the Corporation to appear by counsel, were very much influenced by the consideration that the House had obtained all the information that was necessary in order to enlighten them and to lead them to a right conclusion, and that the Corporation had been fully heard before a tribunal at least as competent as that Select Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, "Strike, but hear;" implying, of course, that the Corporation had not been heard; but the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be totally ignorant of the fact that in 1853 a Commission had been appointed to inquire into all those very questions which had formed the staple of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. The Commission consisted of Mr. Justice Patteson, a sound constitutional lawyer, his right hon. Friend the Member for Radnor (Sir G. C. Lewis), and his right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere), and they were directed to collect information respecting the rights, privileges, duties, jurisdiction, civil and criminal, and generally to inquire into everything which could affect in any degree the rights or constitution of the Corporation. They discharged those duties in the most careful and conscientious manner; they examined first witnesses who complained of the constitution or impugned the administration of the Corporation; and they then examined every officer of the Corporation with respect to those complaints. Reporters of the public press were admitted, and copies of the evidence taken were supplied to the City officials, so that there could be no pretence for saying that the inquiry had not been of the fairest and most ample description. This being so the Committee felt that they were in possession of sufficient information to guide their decision and to influence their judgment, and they therefore refused to hear counsel on the part of the Corporation. For the same reason he trusted that his hon. 294 Friend the Member for West Kent (Mr. W. Martin) would not propose his Amendment with respect to the coal duties. That was not a subject which a Select Committee could decide, and besides the House possessed already all the requisite information on the subject. He trusted that this discussion would not be prolonged, but that they might be allowed to go into a Committee of the whole House upon it without delay, and then, when they reached the 55th clause, let them determine whether there were sufficient grounds for maintaining in the City of London a tax upon corn for the benefit of that Corporation, when it had been abolished universally elsewhere. That was the question which they would then have to decide. It was a mere waste of time to enter into a discussion respecting the difference between private property and Corporation property, and he therefore trusted that the House would at once decide whether any advantage was to be gained from sending this Bill back to a Select Committee. He believed that no possible advantage would result from such a course, and he should therefore vote against the Amendment.
MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, that the reason why the hon. and learned Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Rolt) had been requested to propose the Amendment, instead of some hon. Member connected with the Corporation, was evident. No one connected with the Corporation would have ventured to bring forward as facts the statements with which the hon. and learned Gentleman, who could not be supposed to know the facts, had been furnished. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Corporation had enjoyed the right of this metage tax upon corn from time immemorial, but Messrs. Combe and Delafield, the well-known brewers, had many years ago refused to pay that charge; and although the Corporation had taken proceedings against that firm, they had abstained from going on with the case, and had never attempted to produce any charter giving them a right to make such a demand. Surely this circumstance showed that they had no such right. Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Corporation had borrowed large sums of money upon their right to this property; but with the exception of £92,000 expended in the building of Holloway Prison he denied that the Corporation had borrowed a shilling without their having either the most ample means of 295 paying good interest for it, or of liquidating the whole of the debt by means of taxes on the metropolis at large. To talk of the poverty of the Corporation, as the hon. and learned Gentlemen had done, was really a farce. The only true document with respect to the financial condition of the City that had ever been published was one that was obtained by a Committee of the Common Council in 1835, which showed that the officers of the Corporation absolutely received, in the shape of fees and other emoluments, upwards of £74,000 in one year, which did not appear at all in their accounts. It also appeared that in the year 1833 twelve officers of the Corporation—one of them being a corn meter he believed—actually received a larger amount than the twelve Cabinet Ministers, the former receiving £48,435, and the latter £45,480. In that same year the administrative cost of the Corporation amounted to £2 12s. 6d. per head for every inhabitant of the city; while the whole of the administrative cost of the Government of the country, including its armies and navies, its permanent debt, and its great colonial and other expenditure, amounted only to £117s. per head of the population. With respect to the precise question before the House, he should have no great objection to the measure being delayed, if the effect should be, as he believed it would, to produce an other Bill more in conformity with the re-commendations of the Commissioners; but as he did not see any great prospect of that, he should support the Motion for going into Committee.
MR. STUART WORTLEY
said, he had a suggestion to offer to the House, which perhaps might shorten their discussion of this question. He was quite aware that there were opinions current in these days that property, or rather hereditaments of this description, such as rights of metage and the like, were not to be regarded strictly as property, more especially when they were in the hands of public corporations; and he remembered that it was contended, with great force in the Liverpool case, by the right hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe), that all that kind of property was held in trust for public purposes, and was at the disposal of Parliament. That doctrine was strongly combated at the time, and some hon. Members went so far as to characterise it as revolutionary. He (Mr. Wortley) did not at all shrink from avowing that there was a distinction between property of this descrip- 296 tion in the hands of corporations and in the hands of individuals. He admitted that Parliament had the power to deal with such property in the hands of corporations, but at the same time they must do it tenderly and with the greatest caution. The hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) who took a great interest in financial matters, was quite wrong in his figures upon this occasion, because, instead of the £92,000 expended upon Holloway Prison being the only sum that had been borrowed upon the general revenues of the City, of which the corn metage formed a part, there had been £450,000 borrowed and expended upon the new cattle market. The majority of the members of the Corporation were of opinion, when the option of undertaking or of declining that work had been left to them, that if they were to engage in it, it must entail upon them a loss, but the actual loss in the case had been greater than they had anticipated. He had himself, as the law adviser of the Corporation at the time, told them that if they wished to maintain their station and their influence, they ought not to decline that task; and upon that view of the matter they had acted. The work was a magnificent one, and his only objection to it was that it had been executed on too costly a scale. He had certainly not expected at the period when he had given his advice upon the subject, that it would entail, as it had done, an expenditure of upwards of £450,000. Another debt charged on the corporation property was the cost of erecting New Cannon Street, amounting to £540,000. He believed that that thoroughfare, when completed, would be one of the finest in Europe, and that even Paris itself presented no work of the kind calculated to reflect more credit on the energy and the capacity of its originators. There were, then, these enormous sums charged upon the revenues of the City, of which the metage dues in question formed a part. He thought, however, that it was very desirable that this discussion should cease, and if any arrangement could be made by which compensation should be given—not to the Corporation but to the creditors—he should advise the Corporation at once to accept it. He would suggest, then, that these metage clauses should stand over for the present, and that in the meantime the Corporation should be communicated with to see whether some understanding might not be come to. Or another course would be, inasmuch as these clauses had nothing 297 to do with the constitution of the Corporation, to put them in the same category with the coal duties, and to deal separately by Act of Parliament with all the financial part of the case. If this were done he was sure it would be found that there was every disposition on the part of the City to treat the House fairly. With respect to the coal duties he could not help saying that he thought that any Government which parted with those duties would be guilty of a gross error, and would be really betraying their duty to the Metropolis. Out of the 1s. 1d. per ton charged upon coal, only 4d. went to the Corporation, the other 9d. going to the Government, which represented the whole nation. The tax really was very trifling and was scarcely felt. It was only ls. ld. per ton, and the price of coals now was not above 17s. or 18s. as compared with 56s. a ton, which it used to be when he was a student in the Temple. Notwithstanding the great activity of the hon. Members for Westminster and Lambeth, and Marylebone, and their efforts to persuade people that this tax was a great hardship, so little was it felt that not a petitition from the Metropolis had been presented for its repeal. He admitted that it was a hardship upon the inhabitants of Kent and Hertfordshire, who were no more interested in improving the Metropolis than the inhabitants of more distant counties; but the tax might very well be modified in that respect without being abandoned altogether. He was satisfied that the Metropolitan Board of Works never would be able to raise a rate sufficient to carry out the great works intrusted to it, and he suggested that the 9d. a ton on coals which now went to the Government should be transferred to that Board. As for the 4d., it clearly belonged to the City, and as an evidence of the way in which they expended it, he appealed to Cannon Street—a more important street improvement even than had been undertaken by the vigour and taste of the French Emperor; to Holloway Prison, which was only too handsome and too fine; and to the New Cattle Market, the only objection to which was that the expenditure upon it had been too extravagant. But, if extravagance had been a sin of the Corporation, this Bill which reformed the constitution of that body would remedy it, and under a freely and popularly elected corporation there would be no chance of the recurrence of such a fault. If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home De- 298 partment would hold out any hope that some arrangement could be come to with regard to these duties, which at the same time would respect the rights of property, and would advance the public interests, he thought that this discussion might very well be shortened, and that they might at once proceed to consider what should be the future constitution of the Corporation.
Mr. C. W. MARTIN
said, that if the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. Rolt) were adopted, he should move,That the manufacturers of the Metropolis and the adjoining districts be also heard by their counsel, agents, and witnesses, before the said Committee, with reference to the metage of coals;and if, on the other hand, the Amendment should be negatived, he should feel it his duty to avail himself of some other opportunity of pointing out the injustice to which his constituents in West Kent and the people of other districts were subjected under that corn metage system.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that filling the office which he held, he was bound to express his opinion upon the Bill, and also to state the course which he meant to take after having given the greatest consideration to the Bill. He must say that no Committee could have acted more fairly or dispassionately, or have given more ample consideration to the subject before it than the Committee which sat upon this Bill. They had taken every pains to sift every question and to arrive at a just conclusion. As to the coal dues, he thought they had better be left out of the present discussion; they formed no part of the present Bill, and were indeed purposely excluded from it. This was a question which ought to be dealt with independently and separately. His hon. and learned Friend who brought forward this Amendment said this was a question affecting the rights of property belonging to the Corporation of London, and that the rights of property, as regarded corporations, were the same, or nearly the same, as those which regarded individuals; that we were not entitled to take any of those rights of property in the manner proposed, and that we should reconsider the whole question up stairs before asking the House to come to a decision upon it. Now, he must say he entirely agreed with the observations of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey), that no Select Committee could determine such an issue as that which his hon. and learned Friend proposed. It 299 must be determined, if at all, not by a Committee up stairs, but by the House itself. Now, if that were so, would it not be a mere loss of time not to go into Committee on the Bill at once? As to the question raised by his hon. and learned Friend, in reference to the right of property, he agreed with him that it was of immense importance, nor would he shrink from discussing that question when they came to discuss in Committee that clause upon which the question fairly arose. At the same time allowing the full force of the argument that corporate property ought to be protected almost in the same way and to the same extent as private property, it would not be difficult to show that this principle did not arise in the case of these metage dues. Not one tittle of evidence had been adduced to show that they had been granted to the Corporation as their absolute property for the purpose of raising a revenue for themselves. In the evidence taken before the Commissioners it was shown that the Lord Mayor, as representing the City, had been in negotiation with the corn-factors on this very point, and was prepared to make considerable concession, which he would not have done if the right of the Corporation bad been clear and undoubted. He agreed with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bute (Mr. S. Wortley) in most of the principles he had laid down, and thought there was much force in what his right hon. and learned Friend had said. He agreed that this was a matter in which they ought to deal leniently and liberally with the Corporation. The charges upon the Corporation were heavy, and they ought to satisfy themselves that the revenues of the Corporation were not unduly impaired to the injury of their creditors. Probably it would be worth consideration whether a certain revenue from metage ought not to be continued to the Corporation for a specified purpose and for a limited period. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Gloucestershire had accused the Committee of having dealt rather hastily in that case with the question of property. But, in reply to that charge, he (Mr. Walpole) should observe, that the Committee had reserved the coal dues as a matter for separate consideration, and that they had carefully inquired into the question of the claim to compensation which might be put forward on behalf of those officers of the Corporation whose present offices should be abolished. Still he must 300 admit there was one point which, in his opinion, they had not fully considered, and that was a paper laid before them on the last day they sat relating to the question of corn metage—[Sir J. SHELLEY: That was the last day, they say.] Yes; he had said so, and must repeat that this paper had not received the consideration it demanded. When they came to Clause 55 they might consider what would be fair and just to be done—at all events, he trusted they would address themselves to it in an impartial frame of mind, whether it would not be better to increase the amount of metage now allowed so as to enable the Corporation to pass with safety through their transition state. This he was prepared to consider in Committee; but on all the other clauses of the Bill, he thought the Committee had arrived at a sound conclusion and he should be prepared to support it, at the same time reserving to himself the fullest privilege of deciding as to whether they might award a fuller measure of justice in reference to the compensation which the Corporation should receive in consequence of the abolition of the corn metage. This, however, was a mere question of amount. For these reasons he was of opinion that the Speaker ought now to leave the Chair, and the House to go into Committee on this Bill. He wished to see justice done to the Corporation as well as to the country, but he had great doubts whether the predictions of his right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) would not prove true as regarded this question, that if this Bill were not passed, there might be a pressure brought upon them which might perhaps lead to the introduction of a measure less favourable to the Corporation of London than that now before them. He thought the House was quite prepared to come to an immediate decision upon the question before them.
MR. STUART WORTLEY
explained, and reiterated his opinion that be thought it was better to postpone the question of compensation.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, he wished to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment whether upon the whole he did not think it would be more desirable to allow the House to go into Committee on the Bill, and there deal with his proposition when the proper time arrived for its consideration?
§ MR. ROLT
said, he felt so satisfied that the matters he had stated could be estab- 301 lished by evidence, that unless it was understood that the clause depriving the Corporation of its property be withdrawn, or sufficient compensation made—[Cries of No!] Well, then, he felt bound to press his Amendment.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
was in hopes the hon. and learned Gentleman would have acceded to the suggestion put to him; but as he did not he would offer a few observations. His right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey) had alluded to what took place on the Municipal Corporation Bill, and he (Sir B. Hall) quite agreed in those observations. The remarks made many years ago by Sir C. Wetherall as to the Municipal Corporations Act were exactly those which had been reiterated to-day by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The only ground upon which he could wish to see the measure rejected was that a larger and more comprehensive one might be adopted—one founded strictly upon the provisions and recommendations of the Committee of 1853. The Corporation of London had up to the present moment resisted in every manner every attempt made in Parliament to reform it. Looking at the constitution of the Commission, and the Report which was laid upon the table of the House in 1854, he felt no doubt that if the Bill were rejected the provisions and recommendations of the Commission must be adopted. He regretted that many most useful suggestions in the Report of the Commission were overlooked or materially modified in this Bill. The right hon Baronet then entered at some length into the recommendations of the Commission of 1853, and compared or contrasted them with the provisions of the measure before the House. As to the tax which was levied for the exclusive use of the Corporation by a metage on corn, Messrs. Combe and Delafield had successfully resisted it, for the Corporation were afraid, as his hon. Friend stated, to proceed in Court. And with regard to the improvements in the City in Cannon Street, to which his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Wortley) referred, those improvements were carried out by duties levied on the whole kingdom, by duties on corn and coal imported into London. He thought the coal duty was not abolished, it ought to be handed over to the Metropolitan Board of Works in aid of the rates that must be levied for carrying out Metropolitan improvements. He again regretted the measure was so small in the way of reform. What fell from the right hon. Gentlemen 302 (the Home Secretary) rather alarmed him, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not consent to the imposition of a larger amount of compensation in the loss of the metage dues than was suggested by the Select Committee on this Bill. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider this most carefully before making any such concession. He was exceedingly sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman had not allowed them to go into Committee on the Bill, where the principle of his Amendment could be quite as well discussed on the 55th clause. But he was quite sure that if the opposition was persisted in the Corporation would regret that they had not accepted the present Bill, which, after all, was a poor measure of a much-needed reform.
§ MR. WARREN
It is with great pain that I find myself obliged to differ, on the present occasion, from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole), but I cannot resist the arguments so ably and powerfully urged by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Gloucester. I am perfectly satisfied that the matter before us is not ripe for legislation, at all events, during the present Session. My hon. and learned Friend to my right (Mr. Rolt) insists on the Bill being sent back again to a Select Committee, in order that the Corporation of London may be fairly and fully heard again, and with the assistance of counsel, in defence of their rights to the large property now enjoyed by them, and offer evidence, if necessary, to serve as premises from which this House may safely draw a sound conclusion. I think this the course which, in common justice, ought to be taken. Sir, my hon. and learned Friend the Memfor West Gloucester says that the Bill, in its present form, rests on a principle of undisguised confiscation; and I, too, am of that opinion, and do not hesitate to say so. The Bill strikes at the very root and foundation of the tenure of property; it menaces the sanctity of that right everywhere, and in whatever shape and for whatever length of time it may have existed, whether in the hands of a private individual, a corporation sole, or a corporation aggregate. Now, Sir, some of the leading members of the present Government happen to have given expression in this House, on an occasion which we have not quite forgotten, to opinions slightly at variance with those which they must act upon, if they persist in supporting this Bill in its present form. I allude to the debate which arose not long after I had 303 the honour of a seat in this House, on the second reading of time Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Lowe), for abolishing passing tolls and local dues on shipping. Several leading Members of the present Government spoke on that occasion, and strenuously protested against the extraordinary doctrines then advocated by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe). He had quoted a passage from Mr. Hallam's Constitutional History, for the purpose of establishing the distinction he tried to draw between the right of property in the case of individuals and in that of corporations, and spoke contemptuously of "the musty charters" by which corporations held their property. Now, what was said to that, first of all, by my noble and learned Friend, then Sir Frederick Thesiger, now Lord Chancellor?
§ MR. WARREN
I did not expect to be challenged in this way, or I should have been prepared to verify my statement. I should be exceedingly sorry to misrepresent my right hon. Friend in any, the slightest particular, but I heard him deliver the speech, I heard him quote Hallam for the purpose I have mentioned, and am under the strongest possible conviction that I also beard my right hon. Friend use the two words "musty charters," and in the manner I have stated; for I distinctly recollect, besides, a succeeding speaker catching bold of the expression, and commenting on it long and forcibly. Surely this cannot be all a dream of mine. Well, what said, on that occasion, the present Lord Chancellor? Thus he spoke of a Bill founded on exactly the same principles as the present. He said:—It is a measure which I believe to be fraught with the greatest injustice, and to be founded on principles which, if sanctioned by this House, would tend to shake the security of all corporate property throughout the kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman has based the measure which he has proposed to the House upon the principle, that the corporate towns of this kingdom have no property which they can call their own; that they hold all they possess at the will of the public, and that they may be stripped of their possessions at its pleasure. And upon these principles, and without condescending to assign any other reason, he proceeds to his work of confiscation. When, Sir, I heard such doctrines propounded, and saw them illustrated so strongly by the measure before the House, I was forcibly reminded of those disgraceful periods in the history of our country, when as- 304 saults were made on the charters of corporations, and their forfeitures obtained as a ready means of extortion. I recognize a great difference between public Corporations, and a Corporation composed of an aggregate of individuals, associated for their individual benefit under a common name. This latter class of Corporations may be considered as public bodies, with reference to the individuals of whom they are composed; but with respect to the public at large, they are merely separate communities, having separate rights, and interests, and properties, which they are entitled to maintain as exclusively as individuals are to maintain inviolate the property which they possess. So far from its being true, in the unqualified manner in which the Vice President of the Board of Trade asserted it,—that there is a distinction between the property of Corporations and that of individuals, I contend, on the contrary, that where individual Corporations possess rights which belong to the whole body, and to each individual as a part of that body, no distinction can be made between their property and the property of individuals.Thus much for the present Lord Chancellor; but he was not the only eminent Member of the present Government who expressed similar opinions. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer thus characterized the speech of my right hon. Friend, time then Vice President of the Board of Trade: he said—It was a speech more calculated than any to which I have ever listened in this House, to disturb and alarm the public mind and to unsettle that deep-rooted confidence in prescriptive right which has hitherto been one of the most considerable sources of the stability and security of property and order in this country.But two other members of the present Government, my hon. and learned Friends the Attorney and Solicitor General also took part in that debate. The former (Sir F. Kelly) began his speech by saying:—I am satisfied that Her Majesty's Government are not aware of the real principle which the Bill involves, and which is neither more nor less than one which would take away from any Corporation in the kingdom all the property which they possessed of this description—property which belonged to them in trust for the inhabitants of the towns, and which was to be taken away without any charge of maladministration on the part of the Corporation which would entitle the Legislature to confiscate their property.The Solicitor General (Sir Hugh Cairns) made a vigorous and able speech on that occasion, foreshadowing the still greater ability which he has since displayed in this House, and he said:—To the second part of this Bill, which deals with local dues, I object altogether, as I believe it to be wholly unjust. There is no doubt that these dues were originally granted by those who had a right to grant, and that their grants had been confirmed by charters, by Acts of Parliament, and in every way by which it was possible to give them 305 a solemn sanction. 'But,' says the right hon. Getleman, 'what matters your musty charters?'And here, Sir, I must pause for one moment to point out to the House how completely I am confirmed by this reference of my hon. and learned Friend at the time to the remarkable expression of my right hon. Friend, which I vouched for having heard myself.The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade," the Solicitor General went on to say, "is accustomed to the habits of a country not quite so old as ours; but I beg to tell him that the tenure of the property of every hon. Gentleman in this House depends upon 'musty charters.' If he rails at 'musty charters,' he rails at the tenure of all the property in the kingdom.Well, Sir, thus much for the Lord Chancellor, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the two law officers of the present Government, and the opinions which they deliberately expressed in this House, on a feature of the Bill then before it exactly corresponding with the one under consideration in the Bill now before us. I am confident that the members of the present Government are incapable of expressing one set of opinions in office, and a different set out of office—
§ MR. WALPOLE
We don't intend to do so; we have not thought of such a thing, as my hon. and learned Friend well knows.
§ MR. WARREN
Well, I say so. I believe my right hon. Friend, as everybody does, implicitly; I believe that the opinions which I have just read to the House, expressed by so many leading members of the Government when out of office, are their opinions at the present moment, on which they are prepared to act.
§ MR. WARREN
But let me point out to my right hon. Friend that, in taking up and supporting this Bill, not their own, but of the late Government—or at least this particular important clause in it—they will, in fact, be giving effect to opinions of a diametrically opposite character; and to such a grave charge of inconsistency I cannot and do not believe my right hon. Friend and the other members of the Government liable. Sir, other eminent Members of the House, belonging to the Liberal party—I allude particularly to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring)—expressed opinions entirely in unison with those which I have quoted. He said, among other things,—I recognize throughout this Bill what is even more important—I mean a carelessness of private 306 rights, and a sacrifice of public and Parliamentary faith, which it would be most mischievous for the House of Commons to sanction.Well, Sir, what have we at this moment before us? Here is a Bill dealing with the Corporation of London, that ancient and magnificent Corporation, in itself one of the prominent institutions of the country, one no doubt possessed of great resources, but subject at the same time to commensurate liabilities and responsibilities. Now, the object of the Bill is to place this Corporation on an entirely new footing; and the first thing done is, to strip it of its property in the most arbitrary and undistinguishing manner, regardless of protecting those who may have claims on that property, or the rights of any one who may be injured by this summary and sweeping procedure. And more than that, Sir, without the preamble containing the faintest hint of any such intention—a circumstance which had not escaped my notice, any more than that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Gloucestershire, and who dwelt on it so forcibly in the early part of his speech. Sir, common candour requires that we ought to insert words into the preamble indicating this purpose of the Legislature—what it is, in fact, that we are going to do. There is another point to which I cannot refrain from adverting, and with some concern. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) warned the Corporation that if they did not like this Bill, it might be followed by one which they might like still less; and my regret is that this warning was re-echoed, as it appeared to me, by my right hon. Friend below me, the Home Secretary. Now, Sir, I must be permitted to deprecate this appearance of holding out a threat—for such it was—to coerce the Corporation into accepting this Bill. I do not think that the great Corporation of the City of London is a body which deserves to be dragooned in this way. For aught I know, this House may deem it a proper and legitimate course thus to proceed by way of threat—that if they won't take this, the Corporation shall get something much worse next year; but if that sort of argument is to be made use of on such an occasion, do not let the House forget that it may be made use of on other occasions, and that not long hence either, and in a way not dreamed of by those who now use it. I do hope, therefore, Sir, that we shall hear no more 307 of such threats during this discussion? Sir, I have ventured to occupy the attention of the House, on this occasion, solely because I do believe that in the decision of this question is involved the maintenance or subversion of the great principle lying at the foundation of social order—the sanctity of the right of property. Give your sanction to the Bill as it now stands, and you will, I maintain, give your sanction to confiscation and spoliation. Accede to the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Gloucestershire, and the House will escape from a position of great difficulty, and, at the same time, be under no necessity of retarding legislation. Sir, if I thought this latter the object of the Corporation, I would not give them my support. I have no connection whatever with the Corporation of London, either directly or indirectly, any more than my hon. and learned Friend, who made, as I do, a disclaimer I feel to be so unnecessary. I stand here solely on the ground of strict justice. The rights for which the Corporation of London are at this moment contending are identical with those of every other corporation, be it great or small, and of every individual proprietor in the kingdom, whether within this House or without it. What is the real question at this moment before us? This Bill proposes to strip the Corporation of a vast amount of its property, without even a shadow of compensation, and we are asked to go at once into Committee—to affirm the principle, and proceed to the work of spoliation, before hearing those so seriously affected, and hearing them by their counsel and witnesses. Leaving out of sight the vastness of the interests involved, such a course is utterly subversive of the plainest principles of legislation, of jurisprudence, and the ordinary administration of justice. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with that candour which illuminates everything he says and does in this House or out of it, has just acknowledged that the Select Committee to which this Bill had been referred, and which has sent it down to us in its present form, did not deal with it—I am far from saying, not with perfect fairness, but—in his own words, if I recollect them—with sufficient attention and consideration, in respect of the petition presented to them on the last day of the Committee's sitting, by the hon. Alderman near me, the Member for Andover, (Alderman Cubitt) setting forth, 308 as my right hon. Friend admits, their claims in respect of the corn-metage dues, and of the compensation of those whose offices were to be abolished, with greater distinctness and fulness than the Committee had before had an opportunity of seeing set forth. Why, Sir, how strong a reason that is in favour of the course now recommended to the House. The practical question is—whether, supposing we now go into Committee on the Bill, and get as far as Clause 55, at the present period of the Session—I should rather have said the present state of the sewer which runs by our walls—we shall really be able to enter on these elaborate and protracted discussions which must then take place—into all those details from which we cannot escape, if we would arrive at a safe and just conclusion on this most important question—important in itself, and important as a precedent. This is all that I understand the Corporation to ask at our hands. Sir, as I said before, if I thought their object was merely to "Burke" the discussion—merely to put off the evil day, and procrastinate an equitable adjustment of the matters at issue between them and the Legislature, I should be ashamed of them, and of myself for supporting them; I repeat that I should scorn to support them in such a course, and I believe they would scorn it themselves. They ask, on the contrary, only what they have a right to have—a fair deliberate hearing; they say the interests involved are vast, and the exigency is not pressing. Why are we to be influenced by the conclusions of a Select Committee which it is now admitted has not had sufficient materials before them for drawing those conclusions? Why is the Corporation required thus suddenly to encounter an attack, the time and manner of which they had no opportunity of considering and preparing against? Their title to their dues as cornmetage is attacked. Well, they say that title has never yet been tried before any tribunal competent to form a judgment on the subject; and is this House to tell them that one of its own Select Committees is not competent for that purpose, assisted, too, by council, and enlightened by all necessary evidence? Oh, it is answered—a Committee of the whole House will answer the purpose, and gain every end that could be attained by a Select Committee up stairs. Sir, I beg to deny that. A Committee of the whole 309 House would not have sufficient time, nor patience, nor temper, nor is it armed with the necessary machinery. I was almost going to say that it had not adequate powers—but, at all events, it could not perform the duty half so satisfactorily. Suppose the House resolved itself into Committee, we all know how quickly matters could be forced to a close—how impatient of delay and intolerant of perplexing detail hon. Members would become—they could then say, what the Corporation now says, those details ought to have been referred to the only suitable tribunal, a Select Committee—and a division would be clamoured for. Again therefore, and most earnestly, I urge on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has chosen to take charge of this Bill, to reconsider the course he proposes. The Corporation of the City of London has deserved far too well of this House, and of this country, to admit of being treated in the old quo warranto spirit of the lawless days of King Charles the Second. Never let it be truly said hereafter, that when this great Corporation sued to this House for justice, it was treated without due respect and consideration. Rather let it be said that this House refused to legislate against any body whatever, behind its back, unheard—and above all in the case of this famous corporation, proceeded with fitting and special caution. Acting in that spirit, we may fairly hope to produce a Bill which will satisfy both the Corporation of London and the country at large—and which will form a creditable incident to be recorded in the annals of the City of London and of this Parliament. Sir, if my hon. Friend the Member for West Gloucester presses his Motion to a division, I shall go into the same lobby with him.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he did not quite understand the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the same sense as his noble Friend seemed to have done. He should regret if the right hon. Gentleman had so far departed from the views of the Committee. But if it be really the opinion of the Government that the metage dues involved the rights of property to such an extent as to debar the House from abolishing them without providing compensation, he feared that the Bill must be altered, not only to meet that case, but to meet the case of the "city toll" also. [An hon. MEMBER: That has been abolished.] No doubt it had been 310 abolished by the City authorities themselves; but at present there was nothing to prevent them re-imposing it to-morrow if they pleased. He trusted that the House would bear in mind that all these rights of property, as they were termed, were given, not to the City of London as it now was, but to the City of London as the metropolis of England; not to the 200,000 inhabitants who lived within the city walls, but were given as an important trust to the great emporium of British trade—the great metropolis of the British empire. Both as a Commissioner and as a Member of Parliament he had never had any other desire than to deal liberally and generously with the City of London; but to ask Parliament to consider this vast property as if it had been given for the individual benefit of those men who lived within the precincts of the City was a proposition so monstrous that he was sure the House never would entertain it. It was quite absurd to say that rights which were granted for general purposes of utility stood on the same foundation as the right of private property. To adopt such a doctrine would be to work out the maxim of summum jus summa injuria to its full extent. He trusted the House would not act on the principle laid down by the hon. and learned Member. He was afraid from the disposition which had been shown to throw obstacles in the way of the Bill—a very ill-judged disposition on the part of those who professed to be the friends of the Corporation—that there was very little hope of the measure becoming law in this Session. He owned that he regretted such a result, and he could only be reconciled to it by the reflection that the longer the public dwelt upon this question, and the more they considered it, the more disposed they would be to exact more stringent terms from the Corporation than were contained in the present Bill.
§ MR. NORRIS
said, he was anxious that a Bill should pass for the better regulation of the City of London, but he was not prepared to purchase that benefit by accepting the confiscation clauses which this Bill contained. The House could not without injustice, and abandoning the rights of property generally, take away from the Corporation of London those duties on which they raised £1,250,000. It was most unjust to deal with such a vast amount of property in the manner proposed, and abstract from the security of 311 creditors for the payment of their debts without investigation and without even hearing the parties most concerned. This was not a time hastily to go into questions for the taking away of the power of local taxation for local purposes. They had beneath their own noses a most offensive proof of the absolute necessity of fixing the power of taxation somewhere, and having it clearly defined. The Metropolitan Board of Works was crippled for want of means to carry on the necessary works of the Metropolis; and did they want to see the City in the same condition?
Debate adjourned till this day.