HC Deb 24 April 1860 vol 158 cc69-91

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he would move the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he would beg to represent to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, that many of his hon. Friends, who had been instructed to state to the House their views upon this Bill, had left under the impression that it would be impossible to bring it on that night. Under these circumstances he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman whether the Bill ought not to be postponed.


said, that the Bill had already been postponed some half-dozen times, and, if it was postponed now, he did not know when it would ever be discussed.


said, he had given notice of his intention to move that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee, with instruction to inquire into and report upon the charges and taxes on the metropolis, and the expediency of constituting the metropolis a county of itself for all purposes of local management, and for the administration of justice. He wished, however, at the outset to say, that it was much to be regretted that the Government placed their Orders of the Day on the paper in such a way that no man could tell what would come on and what would not. A hon. Member expected that a question early on the list would be brought forward; he waited in the House and was disappointed. Another that was interested in a question low down in the list went away under the impression that it would not come on, and he was disappointed too. Why could not the Government conduct their business as the late Government did. When the right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office, he never observed that there was any of that difficulty and perplexity which were now constantly taking place. But the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department seemed to take delight in the confused manner in which he placed the Orders on the paper. He (Mr. Ayrton) was, how-over ready to take his part in the discussion of the present Bill, and to submit the grounds on which he proposed it should be dealt with by the Resolution he was about to bring before the House. He could not but express his surprise that a liberal Government should be introducing to the notice of the House a Bill to set up anew, as it were, the Corporation of the City of London; or should devote one hour's labour in the vain attempt to make such a Corporation useful for any practical purpose. The time was past when the Corporation could render service to any portion of the metropolis, though unfortunately the time was not past when it could be a great obstruction and inconvenience to the large body of inhabitants who resided about the boundaries of this petty municipality. The City occupied an exceedingly small area—something like 700 acres in the midst of the 78,000 acres which constituted the area of the metropolis; and its population was 113,000 in the midst of a population now amounting to 2,500,000. The population of the City instead of increasing rather diminished, because every year the habitations of men were becoming converted more and more into storehouses for goods. The population of the rest of the metropolis, on the contrary, was constantly on the increase, and required arrangements to be made commensurate with its great necessities; but the Corporation stood in the midst of it, incapable of progress, and dealing in no way with the great interests by which it was surrounded. This municipality was originally really a metropolitan Corporation. It was not a narrow municipality for the benefit of a small area, but it was established for the advantage and convenience of what was then the whole metropolis. The present citizens claimed as the founder of their City Brutus, the great-grandson of the brother of Æneas; but, however that might be, it was certain that the municipality was originally one which comprised the whole of the inhabitants. It rested on a double basis. First, there was a local situation and a local limit; and, in addition, there was a trading corporation, which embraced all the great branches of trade existing not only within this limit, but all around it, in connection with the commerce of the Port of London. Every trade had a separate guild, and each guild was connected with the general Corporation. Before any man could become a member of the Corporation he was required to be a member of these trade guilds. It was necessary that he should be a freeman of a City Company before he could become a member of the Corporation aggregate, and in the time of Edward I. the power of electing the Common Council was vested, not in the mere local inhabitants, but in the several trading Companies of which the Corporation was thus composed. Many changes then took place, regulating the mode of appointing the governing body of the Corporation. Afterwards the City was divided into wards, and these wards elected members of the governing body. At first the wards were to select according to the position of the councillors as members of the particular trading guilds. Disputes, however, arose between the inhabitants on the one hand and the Companies on the other, and various arrangements were made, but all on this footing—that the guilds formed the basis of the municipality, which had its action and its seat of government within the limits of the City. When the compactly-built houses reached the old walls, a locality indicated by the names of Ludgate, Aldgate, and Newgate, the Corporation, not being tied down to a certain area, extended its limits according to the necessities of those days. The Government then possessed an intelligence in which the present Ministry seemed rather deficient, and, perceiving it to be necessary for the convenience of the inhabitants that the area of the Corporation should be enlarged, extended it to an outer ring now defined by bars, as Temple-bar, Holborn-bar, and Smithfield-bar. Again, when abridge was built across the Thames, and Southwark was connected by a solid passage with the City, the Corporate limits were once more extended, and were made to embrace that suburb. But the citizens, always selfish and exclusive, would never give to Southwark a complete share of municipal ad- vantages. They obtained from the Crown dominion over Southwark, but at the same time managed to keep the district in a state of bondage. There were other indications of a desire on the part of the Crown in those days not to narrow the Corporation down to the mere area within its walls. The Corporation obtained a grant of all markets within seven miles of the City; and entire jurisdiction was given to them over the Port, extending from Staines to the mouth of the Thames—a jurisdiction of which they were only deprived two or three years ago. Thus the Corporation originally was not local, but metropolitan; it had not the character of narrowness into which it had subsequently degenerated, and with which the present Bill sought to invest it as a final settlement of the question. But, unfortunately, the citizens came to be regarded by the Court as rather a troublesome and malignant body. London was a place into which all men who offended Ministers were in the habit of flying, not perhaps for protection, but for consolation and support. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) apparently took a deep interest in the preservation of the Corporation, because the barons after signing Magna Charta hid themselves behind the City walls, were feasted by the citizens, and were thus withdrawn from the power of the Crown. That was the relation long maintained between the City and the Court. Every man who became unpopular at Westminster became, as a matter of course, popular at Guildhall, and if frowned upon by the King, the citizens delighted to do him honour. The case of Mr. Wilkes was only an illustration of the state of things for a considerable period, and during two centuries the Crown used to appeal to Parliament to pass laws for the purpose of preventing the building of any more houses within a certain distance of the City, in order to keep down the great, dominant, and growing power of so great an assemblage of people within one centre of action. In these endeavours the Crown, of course, failed. Houses were built, but still the system of repression was steadily pursued. The Crown would recognize no increase, discouraged it, and made it penal to enlarge the area of the City. At length, in the reign of James I. or Charles I., the system was finally broken down, and those who desired to build houses between London and Westminster became at liberty to do so. The metropolis began to extend its limits. Temple Ear was no longer the boundary of the habitable district. First one nobleman's estate and then another was built upon, until London assumed double its old dimensions. But though the City was thus allowed to enlarge itself, it did not grow in favour with the Court. In former days every Lord Mayor of London when presented to the, Crown received the honour of knighthood; but when the City presumed to comment upon the eon-duct of the Administration the Government advised the Crown to pay no more respect to the Corporation, and from that day to the present no Lord Mayor was knighted except as a special mark of favour. He might add that the general character of the Corporation in connection with the trading companies continued perfect until the year 1835, when the Common Council made a rule that it should be no longer necessary for those who elected them to continue connected with the City Companies, and by a simple resolution deprived the freemen of the City Companies of the right which, they had enjoyed for several centuries. In the whole history of this country there was no more impudent act than the resolution by which the Common Council excluded from corporate advantages all those traders in the metropolis who did not dwell within a certain very limited area. From that time the Common Council assumed a mere local character, not increasing in importance, and becoming less worthy of the consideration of the House of Commons. When they were connected with the City Companies they hold an exceptional position, but then they became a municipality with 100,000 inhabitants, inferior to Liverpool, Manchester, and many other towns. After the House of Commons was reformed one of its earliest efforts was to examine into the affairs of the municipalities of England. Everywhere they had become subservient to the wishes of a few designing persons, and a general law was passed reforming those bodies in harmony with the idea of the present time. But why was not London included in the Reform? The only reason which lie had heard assigned was, that it was so exceptional in its circumstances that it was impossible to bring it within the scope of general regulations. The Corporation, however, with great sagacity, saw the prospect of future Reform, and wisely considered that the best way of obtaining a well-regulated Reform according to their own estimation was to be re- presented in the House of Commons by the leader of the Reform party, and they had since enjoyed the full results of their wise and judicious proceeding. They had returned to that House the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs as their Member, and although repeated promises had been since made of reforming the Corporation, those promises had never been fulfilled. Some attempts had been made, but they were not of a character to commend themselves to the approval of Parliament. There had been small measures to make the Corporation more convenient for its own ends, to alter the number of the Common Council, to make arrangement for a voting list in the City, and to alter the mode of electing the Lord Mayor, just such as might be expected from local corporators who were anxious to increase their own importance, without regard to the just claims of the other inhabitants of London. After much perseverance, however, steps were taken to divest the Corporation of its peculiar and useless character. Two Commissions were appointed by Government, when the cry for Reform became loud, and in the Reports of those Commissions were paraded the shortcomings and the inutility of the Corporation; but there had been a power of vitality in that body which had enabled it to survive every exposure and condemnation of its faults and shortcomings. One Reform, however, did take place which was worthy of notice. The trade of the port of London had grown to such magnitude that it could no longer bear the fetters of the City Corporation, and the Government, yielding to the demands of public opinion, introduced a Bill divesting the Corporation of its main attribute as Conservators of the River Thames. There was one Member of a former Government, presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, who applied his mind to the consideration of the wants of the metropolis, and brought his great intelligence to bear upon the construction of a municipal system suited to the requirements of the metropolis. That right hon. Gentleman (Sir B. Hall) had been since called up to the other House as a reward for his services in that direction—at least, so he (Mr. Ayrton) supposed, for he knew of no other services the right hon. Gentleman had performed. That was an encouragement to all metropolitan Members. The municipality then formed had shown itself able to deal with questions of great magnitude, and had fully justified the expectations of its founder. At the same time it had dispelled the oft-repeated and unsound observation, that it was impossible to frame any sort of municipality for so great a body of persons as resided in the metropolis. The metropolis was now divided into wards, with an admirable provision for their rearrangement according as changes might take place, and the qualification of electors and elected had been defined. The late Government had placed the question of drainage freely in the hands of the Board of "Works, and the result would be that, instead of having thrust upon us the most transcendantly extravagant and nonsensical scheme which was ever imagined—which would have been the case had the matter been left in the hands of the Government—the metropolis would be treed from the inconveniences which had arisen from its sanitary mismanagement under the auspices of the Crown, and that this municipality would justify the predictions of its founder, and would do credit to the judgment of the Government which intrusted it with this power. Would it not be better now to utilize the new corporation they had established than to endeavour to resuscitate the old one which was dying? Could they by any possibility restore life to that antiquated institution; and was it not easy to give vitality for all purposes of municipal Government to the now body which had been created, and which was based upon election by the whole of the inhabitants? He did not mean to assert that the new municipality at present possessed all the powers which would be necessary for general purposes. Hitherto it had been intrusted with only one work; and if it were to be intrusted with the general government of the metropolis, its powers must be increased and its numbers enlarged. At present there were but forty-four members of the Board of Works and 200 of the Common Council, which latter body had nothing to do but to ape the proceedings of that House, and rendered no service to any one. These, however, were details which might properly be left for consideration by the Committee for whose appointment he was anxious. There was another important point which he was anxious should be considered. According to the original constitution of the Corporation of London, the aldermen and common councillors of each ward were, for certain purposes, a municipal body, and governed the affairs of that ward. He thought that the spirit of that institution might be adopted in regard to any new municipality which was to be created. Great dissatisfaction had often been expressed with the present qualification of electors, and it had been urged that the multitude overbore the influence of the owners of property and the possessors of intelligence. This objection might be met by allowing persons possessing a small qualification to vote in the election of councillors, and requiring a larger one on the part of those who were to elect the aldermen; but this again was a question for the consideration of the Committee. He was anxious, however, to put an end to the pothouse intrigues which at present influenced the elections in the City. It was very desirable that gentlemen of station and position should go into the council and give the inhabitants of the metropolis the advantage of their leisure, their superior knowledge, and of their social station. Unfortunately, it was a matter of common knowledge that at present in the City of London men of station and position absolutely disqualified themselves from holding offices, the filling which would, they thought, disentitle them to the respect of their fellow-men. It was a subject of deep regret to see how many hundreds and thousands of persons of independent means and perfect leisure there were in the metropolis who were rendering no useful service to society, but who might find an admirable field for the application of their experience and knowledge in watching over the many branches of municipal administration. There were many subjects, among which was the supervision of the gaols, in which the criminality of 2,500,000 persons was confined, and the lunatic asylums where so many unfortunates were detained which ought to be confided to persons having a common interest with the inhabitants. There were also the various topics that from time to time engaged the attention of that House, owing to the want of a local governing body such as he had described. For example, there was the construction of bridges over the Thames. The Government had to make one bridge, and they applied to Parliament for the necessary means and powers; the City of London made another; a private company made a third; and a barrier was put between the one-half of London and the other, so that persons passing to and fro between them had to pay tolls that were a scandal to the age. Bridges were built that would not stand, and people only asked when they were to tumble down. All this came of leaving these matters to haphazard management, and always would be the case when they were confided to bodies remarkable only for incapacity to deal efficiently with any matter they took in hand. A notable instance of this was that a department of the State was found so incapable for such duties that it could not even clean out a small piece of water like the Serpentine. How could a body like that regulate the metropolis? A complication of parishes, vestries, municipalities, and Government offices, all meddled with affairs with which they could not adequately deal, sacrificing the real in forests of the inhabitants, who had nothing for it but to pay heavy charges which a little foresight and intelligence might have spared them. The evil was gradually in creasing in magnitude, and the time had come when it should be grappled with. He therefore hoped the House would consent to an inquiry such as he had suggested. Session after Session Bills were brought in and Commissions appointed with respect to municipal subjects which ought to be dealt with by a properly constituted municipal body, responsible to the inhabitants and ratepayers, who would at once remove them from office if they mis-conducted themselves. The establishment of a municipality would involve serious consequences. Assuming that they would have such a governing body, of course they would have committees appointed who would superintend the different departments. They would deal with the whole area, and the now subdivided different bodies would then become united together. The City of London was a county of itself. Let the metropolis, according to ancient precedent, unite also in itself the institutions of a great city with those of a separate county. Then they would get rid of the preposterous pretensions of the Commission of Lieutenancy in the City of London which now enabled a number of portly people to dress in red coats and ape the costume of field-marshals in the army. The county of the metropolis might have its Lord Lieutenant like other counties; or, if it was thought advisable to gratify the vanity of a group of persons, the Crown might, as at present, put the lieutenancy in commission, when the position might be filled by men better qualified for it than aldermen, bank directors, and persons highly respectable in the eyes of the citizens and on 'Change, but destitute of the distinction suitable for the occupants of such important posts. London aldermen equipped like British general officers were the laughing stock of the Boulevards of Paris, and brought contempt on the City and the country to which they belonged in every foreign capital they visited. Then the City also had its sheriffs. The inhabitants of all Middlesex were treated almost as the property of the London Corporation, the shrievalty of that important county—a situation which might be an object of legitimate ambition to its gentlemen of station and fortune—having six centuries ago been assigned and bartered away to that ancient body for money by some corrupt statesman or improvident Sovereign. That abuse ought to be swept away, and an end put to the absurd claims of a little area of one square mile and 100,000 people, who not only had their own sheriffs obstructing the administration of justice in the entire county, but arrogating to themselves the headship of the rest of the metropolis, whom they affected to spurn and excluded from any share in corporate rights. These, relations must be restored to a rational footing, when many gentlemen of distinction would be found ready to act as sheriff for the county of the metropolis, whereas at present everybody with a character to maintain rather shrank from the office lest he should be carried about as a mere pageant for the amusement of the London apprentices. Then, again, there were other offices, like those of the Recorder, the solicitor, or the architect of the Corporation, with salaries from £3,000 to £2,000 a year attached to them, and which might command, as they now did, a great amount of ability and intelligence, although, unfortunately, those qualities were not now turned to account, as they might be, by reason of the very limited field to which they were restricted. Another obstruction consisted in the City police. An admirable police force had been organized some years ago for the rest of the metropolis, but they were not allowed to enter within the bounds of the Corporation, where a separate establishment was still maintained, apparently for no other object but to put everything in confusion, and offer facilities to roguery and crime. That was a state of things he desired to see abolished, for he was satisfied that the amalgamation of the two bodies of police would be a work of great public usefulness and economy. Again, there was no police magistrate within the area of the City, as in other parts of the metropolis. That defect, however, it appeared, was about to be remedied, but in a way that harmonized with the aspirations of the Home Office, which preferred to have magistrates of its own selection, and it was said that "Whigs never lost an occasion for grasping at the exercise of patronage. There was also the important question of taxation. The Corporation had for a long time assumed an exceedingly anomalous position and power in reference to the metropolis in that respect. Whatever might have been the powers of the Corporation over the purses of the inhabitants in times long past, those powers were consistent with the relations subsisting between the inhabitants and the Corporation. But hon. Members knew that there existed at present a grievous impost of 1s. 1d. on every ton of coals that came into London, which extended not only over all the inhabitants, but over a radius of twenty miles beyond the metropolis. It was naturally asked how the Corporation obtained that singular power of levying taxes on their neighbours; but whenever any one attempted to discuss that question with them they took refuge in the mazes of antiquity. They referred to a multitude of charters, many of which had no longer any existence. He rejected all these pretences however, as he found an intelligible explanation of the origin of the tax in the statute book. In the time of James I. a metage of coals was granted to the Corporation as appertaining to the conservancy of the Thames and the port of London; and so long as they acted as conservators and regulated the import of commodities it was reasonable that they should receive a consideration for the discharge of those functions. The sum allowed them in that reign was 8d. a ton for weighing and delivering coal. In the reign of Charles II., after the fire of London, it became necessary to consider how the consequences of that great calamity could be alleviated, and it seemed to have entered the mind of the Corporation to tax coal as a means of carrying on the work of reconstruction. A statute was therefore passed in that reign imposing a tax of 1s. a ton on coals entering the Thames, for the creation of a fund with which, as the Act expressed it, "to rebuild London as the imperial seat of His Majesty the King." Subsequently there was a further grant of that duty for widening the streets, building prisons, and embanking a portion of the Thames. In the reign also of Charles II., there was a grant of a tax for the building of public market places and for churches. These grants were all temporal; but the Corporation had discovered the tax upon coals to be a convenient resource, and they seemed resolved never to let it go. An incident occurred before the Revolution, called the shutting up of the Exchequer, by which the Corporation was placed in financial difficulties. That was done at the instance of the Crown, and the Corporation happened to have a considerable sum of money deposited with the Exchequer at that time. They alleged that the money so locked up was not their own, but belonged to the orphans of the City of London. On the Restoration they applied to the Government to have that money repaid, and eventually, on the allegation that it belonged to the orphans of the City, they obtained an Act empowering them to levy a tax of 4d. a ton on coal coming into the port of London; and that was the charter on which they now took their stand, though the orphans must have long ago got back all their lost money. There was a time when the mention of that statute had so surprising an effect on the Speaker of the House of Commons that he was suddenly seized with a complaint which compelled him to leave the chair. When inquiries were made as to how that statute had passed it was discovered that it was the result of a contrivance on the part of the Corporation, a handsome bag of gold having been given for the purpose to the Speaker, to the clerk at the table, and to a Minister of the Crown. The Speaker, however, never recovered from the fit that seized him until he was voted out of the chair as unworthy to fill it. Yet this was the title of the City of London to the tax, this plunder upon the rest of the inhabitants. Prom that time to this the Corporation had never lost sight of the coal tax. Special Acts had been passed by which it was increased from 4d. to 1s. 1d. per ton. He thought the House would be disposed to ask whether an Act obtained under such a pretence was to be allowed to remain on the statute-book, and whether it had not been a great scheme on the part of one class of the inhabitants of the metropolis to plunder the rest. He had hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department was prepared to fulfil the pledge he had given, to the effect that he would endeavour to pass a law this Session for the settlement of that financial question. There was another tax, worthy of mention, on the metage of corn, yielding about £14,000 a year. This was one of the incidents of a former state of things which had no relation to existing circumstances. If the Act depriving the Corporation of the conservancy of the Thames were examined it would be found that in the spirit, if not in the letter, the metage was to be levied for the benefit of the navigation of the Thames, not for the purposes of the Corporation. He might here also refer to the tax levied by the Government on hackney carriages in London. That tax was legitimate enough, no doubt, when first imposed, when only fine gentlemen got into coaches; but it was a monstrous thing now to levy £70,000 a year on cabs, while local taxes had to be imposed to pay for the repair of the roads which they were constantly engaged in cutting up. And he would call on those hon. Members who objected to a shilling of public money being laid out for metropolitan purposes to help in adjusting these matters of taxation between the citizens of London and the Exchequer Another point of vast importance to the people of London, and even of all England, was that of the administration of justice in the metropolis. That was the third branch of the inquiry he proposed with a view to the introduction of considerable improvements. With regard to the criminal part of the question he had been anticipated by that great law reformer, Lord Brougham, who many years ago abolished a most indecent system of administrating justice, carried on under the patronage of the City of London, and established the Central Criminal Court. The operation of that Court had shown the advantage of a uniform system. It had worked so well that it required no defence on his part. He desired to see that system enlarged and improved, for at present the relations of the people of London to the justices of Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey, and all the injustice they committed, were most inconvenient and harassing. It would be infinitely better than the present system to have a commission of the peace for the whole metropolis, and a body of justices selected from the inhabitants, who would necessarily take a deeper interest in the questions submitted to their judgment. There should be a uniform system for the whole metropolis, which might be divided into convenient wards, suitably arranged for purposes of polling. In each ward there should be petty sessions, presided over by a recorder or deputy-recorder, when small offences could be tried in the immediate neighbourhoods in which they were committed. This would be a great convenience to the inhabitants, and the police would not be withdrawn from their own districts to attend trials in which they were engaged. This would all result from the metropolis being made a county of itself. But he would have arrangements for improving the civil as well as the criminal administration of justice. The House would scarcely believe the amount of trouble, vexation, and annoyance to which the inhabitants of the metropolis were put by the manner in which civil justice was administered in connection with the highest courts of the country. From a Return made up to the end of 1856, being the latest made, it appeared that out of all the causes tried in that year before the Judges of the superior courts at Westminster with juries there were entered for London and Middlesex 2,608; while for the whole of England, except London and Middlesex, the number was only 1,329. The arrangements for trying civil causes were of the worst possible kind. They had not only Courts sitting in London and Middlesex, but after that they had sittings at Guildford, Kingston, and Maidstone in connection with the assizes. What a monstrous thing it was that a man living on the south side of the river, when he had a dispute about his house, should be taken to Maidstone or Guildford, as the case might be, in order to have the case disposed of! On the north side there was experienced the great inconvenience of three Courts sitting at Westminster at the same time to hear causes with juries; and the same thing took place in London, to the great detriment of a right administration of justice. Instead of this antiquated contrivance, he wanted to have a central civil court for the trial of causes at nisi prius. That Court should be constantly sitting, so that if a man commenced his suit at the beginning of a month he would have it tried before its close, instead of having to wait for several months. One Judge from Westminster Hall should sit week by week in rotation, finishing the business before him, or, if not finished at the end of the week, the remanet should be disposed of at an extra sitting. Every man would thus know when his case was to be tried, and could insure the attendance of his counsel, and justice would be economically and satisfactorily administered. It was absolutely necessary with reference to the trial of civil causes that the system of juries should be rearranged. The jury list should be made co-extensive with the whole metropolis. Juries instead of being summoned to Maidstone or Guildford, ought to be required to give their services at some central court for the benefit of the whole community. He believed a step was now being made in that direction, and if ever the system came into full operation they would have a system for the administration of justice which would be economical, expeditious, and at the same time equally convenient to the suitors themselves and to the jury. But the subject was one which required careful investigation, inasmuch as it involved a number of important details both of legislation and of action. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Homo Department would see the absolute necessity of breaking down the imaginary but at the same time roost ridiculous barrier of the City boundary, of putting an end to the partition which now existed, and of forming the whole of the metropolis into one county, for the purpose of having justice rightly, conveniently, and expeditiously administered to the entire body of the community. Before concluding his remarks he wished to say a word or two upon the minor civil courts of London. There was in existence a court called the Mayor's Court, but he confessed that he was unable to see why they should set up a little court like that in the midst of London, with a peculiar system of administering justice, unless it were to add something of dignity to the Corporation. This was a state of things that could not be continued. They had another court called the Sheriff's Court. The only distinction between the two courts that he knew of was this, that the one had an unlimited jurisdiction which was never exercised, because every cause of importance was transferred to Westminster Hall; while the other had a limited jurisdiction, and conformed to a certain extent to the ordinary procedure, the practice in the Mayor's Court being to get a man into a parlour and commit him to prison in private. The sooner that system was abolished the better. Yet they had actually introduced into the other House of Parliament during the present Session a Bill containing 228 clauses in order to reform the Sheriff's Court! What must be the abuses of a court which required an entire code of laws to get rid of its errors! When he was told of that enormous Bill he said to one of the parties, "I think you only want one clause to make it a much bettor measure—a clause that, instead of reforming, would abolish your court and substitute a county court." The country had exhausted its intelligence in framing a system of local jurisprudence and summary justice for all the inhabitants of England; but this Corporation, being under the protecting ægis of its great representative in that House, continued the petty pretence of these antiquated courts. Why, the Corporation did not even pay those who presided in its courts a fixed salary; common councilmen practised there, gave themselves the airs of the masters of the Judge, or officers whose salaries they could canvass when next pay-day came round. Yet this indecent proceeding was tolerated by Government when they proposed to reform the Corporation! Could the right hon. Gentleman with such a Bill call himself a reformer of this miserable municipality? He had stated enough with reference to these little courts to lay the ground for investigation and important reform in this respect. If a Committee were appointed, and this Bill sent to it with the view of being made worthy of the occasion, the result would be that they would get a useful institution, based on recognized principles, harmonizing the Corporation with the necessities of the metropolis, and really useful to the inhabitants. If there was anything interesting in the old Corporation—the Lord Mayor's show, Jack-in-the-Green, and Guy Fawkes—by all means let them preserve it, but let them reform the Corporation itself on wise, comprehensive, and yet Conservative principles. For that purpose he desired that a Committee should be appointed; he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consent to that Committee, and suspend the progress of the Bill in the meantime. In point of form he believed he could not put his Motion until the Bill was read a second time; he did not care whether it was read a second time or not if he understood that the whole subject was to be investigated fully and effectually; but he asked the right hon. Gentleman to give the House the assurance that, if read a second time, the Bill should be referred to a Committee. In that case he had no doubt from the inquiry would evolve a measure which, on the authority of the Committee, the right hon. Gentle- man might introduce next Session, at once really creditable to himself and to the Government with which he was connected.


said, that this Bill was the third Measure for the reform of the Corporation brought in since the Report of the Commission, and in his opinion it was by far the most inefficient. In point of fact, it effected no reformation at all. The object of such a Bill ought not to be confined to a twentieth part of the metropolis, but ought to be extended to the whole. The cost of administering the Corporation was much more than would be sufficient for all the expenses of a Corporation for the whole of the metropolis. A very remarkable report was made by a Committee of the Common Council about 1836, in which there was an exhibition for the first time of the vast expenditure and extravagance of the Corporation. A Commission was appointed, he believed, in 1852, consisting of the right lion. Baronet the Home Secretary, Mr. Labouchere, now Lord Taunton, and Mr. Justice Patteson. If the recommendations of that Commission had been carried out they would have produced an efficient reform; but every important feature recommended by the Commission was omitted in the Bill. Nor had any of the valuable features of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) been preserved in the Bill before the House. The Commission recommended that a new charter should be issued, containing all provisions in existing charters of the Corporation, and all other customs of the City which it might be deemed expedient to preserve. No notice of that provision was taken in the Bill. It was recommended that the Lord Mayor should be elected from persons qualified to be common councilmen. By the Bill he was to be elected from the aldermen. The Bill proposed that the aldermen should be elected for life, although in Liverpool and other great towns they wore only elected for six years. The Bill proposed to create 20 wards, having 20 alderman and 120 councilmen; although in Liverpool, which had a population of over 400,000, while the City had only 128,000, there were but 16 aldermen and 48 councilmen. Several privileges and monopolies, which were a great nuisance, in London wore left unnoticed by the Bill. It would be better that the system, with all its abuses, should remain as at present, until they had a Government which could take a comprehen- sive view of the question. The corruption of the Corporation affected the whole of the metropolis. It was more extravagant, wasteful, and corrupt than any Government which had ever existed in the world, municipal or national. In the year to which the evidence taken by the Commission referred, its revenue was £406,851. Twelve of the principal officers of the Corporatin received in one year £2,955 more than the twelve Cabinet Ministers. 246 officers received £74,000 in fees never accounted for at any period before, and of which the Council were not aware. Indeed, the common councilmen were not themselves aware of anything like the corruption which existed until the discoveries made by the Common Council in 1836. There were twenty-eight lawyers, receiving £22,843. The present Bill contained no provision to remedy any such expenditure, however shameless. In the year referred to the Corporation received £155,000 for taxes on coal, corn, salt, &c. The expenditure of the Corporation during the year, to which the returns he held in his hand referred, was £2 12s. 8d. per head, whilst the expenditure of the British Government was only £1 17s. per head of the entire population of the United Kingdom. He should be glad to see the Bill rejected altogether rather than to sec a measure of so absurd a character passed into a law—a Measure which did not propose to correct any of those abuses to which he alluded, and of which the public had been for so many years complaining. He ventured to say that if the question were left to the Corporation themselves they would have proposed a much better Bill than that framed under the authority of a Government that called themselves Reformers. He should not, however, oppose the second reading, as he felt in the present state of the House he should be unable to obtain a satisfactory result to such a Motion.


I think, Sir, that no sufficient reason has been given to the House for withholding its consent to the second reading of this Bill. I do not think it necessary to follow the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets in his historical sketch of the City of London from the time of William Rufus, but will content myself with stating what has been done since the Reform Bill of 1832. One of the first consequences of that Bill was a reform of the municipal corporations of the country. A Commission was accord- ingly issued, which took a comprehensive view of the question, and presented a Report. That Report, being laid before Parliament, was the foundation of the Municipal Corporations Act. From that Act the Corporation of London was excluded, upon the recommendation of the Commissioners, mainly because the City Corporation was based upon popular principles. Whatever may be said in a disparaging tone of the constitution of the London Corporation, it was a model of popular municipal government, and it was on that ground excepted from the general measure. A few years afterwards a Report was made by the Municipal Commissioners upon the City of London, That Report contained very few recommendations of reform, and the Commissioners confined themselves to a general statement of the constitution of the City, supported by documentary evidence. For some years the Corporation of London was unaffected by legislation, but, complaints having been made that Reform was needed, in 1853 a Royal Commission was issued, composed of Mr. Labouchere (now Lord Taunton), Mr. Justice Patteson, and myself, our duties being to inquire into the Corporation of the City of London, and by what means it could be reformed. The question referred to that Commission was not the general and more extensive question which the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets has raised, whether municipal institutions for the entire metropolis should be established, but what reform should be made in the constitution of the Corporation of the City of London. The Commissioners investigated the subject, and, after full consideration, made a series of recommendations. I retain unchanged the opinions I then formed. At the end of that Report the Commissioners apologized for not considering the subject of extending municipal institutions to the metropolis generally, which they did not treat as within the scope of their Commission. They did not advise that municipal organization for the entire metropolis, not upon the ground, which has been alleged, that such a municipal institution would overshadow the dignity of the Crown. They thought, on the contrary, that if the attempt to include the whole metropolis by a wider extension of the present boundaries were made, the utility of the present constitution would be destroyed, while a municipal administration of excessive magnitude, and ill-adapted to the wants of the inhabitants of the metropolis, would be created. They recommended the establishment of a Metropolitan Board of Works—such board to be composed of a limited number of members deputed by the council of each municipal body including the Corporation of the City. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets said I had not sufficient breadth of intelligence to enable me to grasp so extensive a subject as a municipal institution adapted to the whole metropolis, but that he rejoiced Sir Benjamin Hall had proposed the plan of a Metropolitan Board of Works and carried that great measure through the House. I have not the least objection to any compliment being paid to Lord Llanover, to whom, I think, we are much indebted for framing and carrying the measure in question; but I wish to remind the House that the principle of the Bill was first proposed by the Commissioners, whose Report Lord Llanover himself acknowledged to be the groundwork of his scheme. The reason why the present Bill does not give effect to many of the recommendations of the Committee which were adopted in the measure of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is, that they were excluded from the latter by the Select Committee of the House to whom it was remitted. I do not think I should have acted fairly towards the House had I adhered to the opinions I had formed as a Commissioner, and disregarded the conclusion of the Select Committee. I believe the Bill is useful as far as it goes, and trust the House will not reject it because some hon. Gentlemen think it does not go far enough. Those who think that the Bill should have dealt with the finances of the City, and the nisi prius jurisdiction of the superior courts, may propose separate measures for those objects; but the existence of such questions, which are quite independent of the constitution of the Corporation, ought not to interfere with the adoption of this Bill. It will not be in my power to accede to the proposal of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets to remit the Bill to a Select Committee. I do not understand how any practical plan can be devised for transforming the entire metropolis into a county, and I am not aware that any great advantage would arise from it. The proposal is an entirely novel one, and does not appear likely to receive general public approval. For my own part, I see nothing to recommend its adoption. In the first place a difficulty would be experienced in settling the limits of the new county, which would embrace portions of Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent. Then, is it likely that any advantage would arise from the appointment of a Lord Lieutenant or the establishment of a militia or yeomanry, or the re-adjustment of the gaols? Could a single assize suffice for two and a half millions of people? Many plans, of course, may be proposed for placing additional funds at the disposal of the Metropolitan Board of Works. I should be glad to see the administrative functions of that body enlarged, and I am not blind to the various anomalies which exist in the Corporation of the City. It appears to me that the only legitimate conclusion to be derived from the speech of the hon. Member is that we ought completely to sweep away the Corporation of the City, and distribute its revenues among the different districts of the metropolis. That is a proposal which has never yet been suggested to the House and as the present Bill, in whatever change it proposes, goes in the right direction, I trust there will be no opposition to it in its present stage.

MR. JOHN LOCKE moved the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


said, he hoped the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time, as there would be ample opportunity for further discussion on going into Committee.


said, it was his intention to take the sense of the House on his Motion after the second reading.


observed, that he was authorized to say, on behalf of the Corporation of the City, that they wore desirous the Bill should be second time, but reserved to themselves the opportunity of proposing some Amendments in Committee. He hoped, therefore, hon. Members would permit the Bill to be read a second time at once.


would undertake to postpone the division on the Motion for a Select Committee to another evening if they would agree to the second reading.


said, he thought it would be more convenient if the questions of enlarging the area of the Corporation were discussed on the second reading. He submitted that no time would really be lost by the adjournment of the debate. He was not disposed to abandon his Motion.


said, that the Motion of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets could not be discussed till the Motion now before the House was disposed of.

Question put,

The House divided:—Ayes 37; Noes 82: Majority 45.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. ROUPELL moved the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."


said, he could not exactly see what was the object of these repeated Motions of adjournment, after what he had stated in respect to the intentions of the Government. If the House would let the Bill be now read a second time he would on a future day move that it be committed to a Committee of the whole House, and then the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ayrton) might make his Motion as an Amendment to that proposition.


said, the course suggested might be adopted if they had any confidence in the manner in which the Government conducted the business of the House. But the way in which the business had been conducted had created a total want of confidence, and the best way to deal with the Government was to give up nothing. What they wished was that a Bill of such importance should be fixed for some certain day, and brought on that day. They had never been able to tell when the Bill would come on. They had been brought down, to the House day after day for twenty days and subjected to every kind of annoyance. The right hon. Gentleman should fix some day for taking the discussion and abide by it.


denied that he had ever shown any want of good faith to the House. The Bill had been taken that night because he had felt himself precluded from bringing on the Ecclesiastical Commission Bill and the Highways Bill, in consequence of an error in the printing of the notice paper. He would fix a reasonable day for making the Motion to which he had referred, and if he was unable on that day to go on with it, he would give fair notice of the postponement.


said, whatever opinions Gentlemen might entertain as to the conduct of public business, or whatever want of confidence they might feel towards the Government, he must say that he had never found the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Lewis) wanting in consideration for what was due to the House, or to the just claims of those who opposed the Government measures. Indeed the difficulty in which the right hon. Gentleman then found himself had been in part caused by his scrupulous regard for the convenience of hon. Members, who had quitted the House not expecting that certain important business would be brought forward. If the right hon. Gentleman consented to fix a night when the discussion could be resumed, he thought the hon. Member opposite might fairly withdraw his Motion for adjournment.


said, the vast number of Bills which were put down on the paper each evening rendered it impossible to know when any particular measure would come on. On the understanding that a day would be given to the discussion of this Bill, he had no objection to withdraw his Motion.


said, he thought it was desirable that the Bill should receive further discussion, and in consequence of the very long speech of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets many hon. Members had been prevented expressing their opinions with regard to the Bill.


said, he understood that all that was wanted was an assurance that there should be an opportunity for full discussion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read 2°.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.


said, he proposed to adjourn the further stages of the Bill to that day fortnight. If it should not be likely to come on then he would give notice a few days beforehand.


said, he rose to move his Amendment.


said, that if the hon. Gentleman then moved the Amendment he would not, on the resumption of the debate, have an opportunity of making a speech.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday, 8th May.