HC Deb 26 February 1862 vol 165 cc746-52

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of the Bill. It was precisely the same as one which had been passed by the House at the close of last Session too late to be proceeded with in the other House. A Bill similar in most respects was originally introduced in 1860, and referred to a Select Committee, which sat fifteen days. The delay thus occasioned prevented the measure from passing that Session, and last year it encountered considerable opposition because it was accompanied by another Bill, known as No. 2 Bill, which was not now before the House. After the very full discussion which the subject had undergone, he trusted there would be no objection to the second reading.


said, he did not intend to offer any opposition to the Bill. It affected very materially the interests of his constituents, and to some of its provisions they entertained considerable objections, especially to the part giving to the Metropolitan Board of Works powers inconsistent with the privileges of the City of London. He was not disposed to give formal notice that the Bill should again be referred to a Select Committee, but he hoped that the House would have a fair opportunity of considering its provisions, and for that reason that the hon. Member would name a distant day for the Committee.


said, he was much pleased to find that silence had been broken and that the Corporation of London were disposed to oppose the Bill. In former years they had taken no steps in the matter. That change of policy he attributed to the feud which had recently sprung up between the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works on the subject of the Sale of Gas Bill. The cause of the feud was an opinion given by the Attorney General that the Metropolitan Board of Works had the right to appoint inspectors of gas meters in the city. The House might imagine the commotion that opinion had created in the city. The Corporation obtained another opinion to the contrary, and a combat was now going on between these bodies for which the ratepayers would have to pay. Such was the result of establishing antagonistic bodies in the Metropolis, Still, though his hen. Friend the Member for London (Mr. Crawford) was hardly actuated by first-rate motives, he was glad that he had risen, and he expected him to conclude by moving that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. [Mr. CRAWRORD: I said I would not.] True, his hon. Friend had said so that morning; but the previous day he learnt that it was his intention to Conclude with a Motion.[Mr. CRAWFPRD: Not at all.] Then he must have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. He must say, however, that he thought it would be better if these two great bodies—the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Corporation of the City, would both pay rather more attention to the interests of a third body, whom he hoped the House would protect—he meant the inhabitants of the Metropolis. It was true that the Bill had passed that House last Session, but when it reached the House of Lords, they insisted on sending it to a Select Committee, and that was the reason it was not proceeded with. The Bill conferred extensive additional powers upon the Metropolitan Board of Works, and he could not therefore admit that the fact of its having passed last Session was a reason for its passing again. Moreover, it was certain that since the Bill passed through the House last year, a circumstance had taken place which altered the position of the whole question. In the last Session a Committee of that House had inquired into the local taxation of the Metropolis, and it was clear that if the House thought the recommendations of their Committees were to be treated with any respect, they could not pass the measure without further consideration; for that Committee reported that the constitution of the Metropolitan Board of Works was defective, and that its mode of election was opposed to sound principles of representation. They were not elected by those they taxed. They were elected by the vestries; the members of which were originally selected with very little care, because nobody cared much who were vestrymen. It was, indeed, said by some of the witnesses last year that direct election would produce no better representatives in the Metropolitan Board of Works. No one said that they Would have worse; while they had a great; deal of positive evidence that many eligible persons who were not willing to become vestrymen would be quite ready to serve on the Me+ tropolitan Board if they could so without passing through the vestry. Accordingly, the Committee of last Session recommended that the election of memhers of the Board should in future be direct, instead of being as at present a mere distillation from the vestries. It was evident, therefore, that with such a radical change impending over the Board, the Bill could not be allowed to pass as a matter of course. Unless some intimation were given by hon. Members having charge of the Bill that they were prepared to recognise and give practical effect to the recommendations of last year's Committee, he should feel bound to oppose the second reading. The first clause of the Bill re-adjusted the rating to the extent of upwards of £50,000. How could the hon. Member for Bath undertake to say that the inhabitants would be satisfied to bear a higher taxation than they had hitherto paid, for the benefit of particular parishes in which money had been expended? The Bill was said to be the same Bill that was passed last year totidem verbis. [Mr. TITE: Word for word.] His hon. Friend must have taken his information at second hand. He could not have read it from beginning to end himself; that would be too great a labour to impose on one man; but it could be performed by a Select Committee. He trusted it would not be hurried through the House, but that the House would treat the Bill as they would any other Bill. He regretted that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London had not come forward to propose what the city long promised, that it should cast its ægis over the entire Metropolis. The city ought, in fact, as in ancient times, to comprise the whole Metropolis, and then the great funds at the disposal of the city would be applied for the benefit of the many, instead of being frittered away in petty squabbling.


said, he was at a loss to understand how further time could be wanted for the consideration of a Bill which had been brought in from year to year, which had passed the ordeal of a Select Committee, and which had afterwards been carried through all its stages in the House of Commons. The Bill went up last Session to the House of Lords, and the only reason it did not pass was, that it reached that House after the time fixed for second readings. To refer it again to a Select Committee would be, in fact, to throw it over for the Session. He was therefore strongly opposed to any such suggestion. The alleged quarrel between the Metropolitan Board of Works and the City only existed in the fertile imagination of the hon. Member for Southwark. Certain duties were imposed upon the Board of Works by statute, which they carried out quietly and steadily, and although questions had of course arisen requiring solution in the usual manner, they did not interfere with the City nor did the City interfere with them. To suppose that they were influenced by any feeling against the City of London was only one of the peculiar idiosyncrasies in which the hon. Member indulged. The Bill had been introduced exactly in the same state as it passed the Commons last year. The Board had not thought it proper to include any provision as to the mode of election, because such provision was not in the Bill of last year; but it was quite open to any hon. Member to bring up a clause upon that subject.


said, he hoped that no opposition would be made to the second reading of the Bill. It was true the Committee recommended that the Metropolitan Board should be directly elected instead of being sifted through the vestries, and he was himself anxious that the basis of the Board should be extended, but the best machinery for doing that could be discussed when the Bill went into Committee. With regard to metropolitan improvements, he would bring up a clause empowering particular localities to tax themselves for improvements within those localities; but with the sanction of the Metropolitan Board, who might contribute to the expense. The Bill would work well, and he should be sorry to see any difficulty thrown in the way of the second reading. He was in favour of direct election, as he believed it would have a more beneficial effect in regard to the feeling which the Metropolis at large entertained towards the Board, but at the game time he thought the Metropolis was much indebted to the members of it for their services, which were gratuitously given.


said, that two or three years previously, when the Metropolitan Board of Works asked for increased powers, he contended that they did not enjoy the confidence either of the inhabitants of the Metropolis or of the House, and moved for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the local government of the Metropolis. The result of that Committee must have satisfied the House that the position he affirmed was well founded. The Committee unanimously recommended that it was desirable that the constitution of the Board should be changed, by substituting for the present imperfect and novel mode of election, that which was well understood and generally prevalent throughout the country. The noble Lord who established the Board thought that a better selection would be obtained if the members were elected by the vestries, but no one was now more grievously disappointed than the noble Lord himself as to the result. It was generally admitted that the sooner they got rid of the present system of election the better, and therefore it was his intention to propose a mode of election in conformity with the recommendation of the Committee. He regretted that the Board had not introduced a clause into their own Bill to alter the mode of election. Perhaps they had felt some delicacy about destroying themselves. He had not introduced any Bill for that purpose, as he preferred to extend to them the Asiatic politeness, which allowed a criminal the option of suicide before ordering his execution. He proposed also to give them a large power of relegating certain parts of their duties to Committees—a system which was found to work exceedingly well in the Corporation of the City of London, which, in its constitution, was the best corporation of England. He regretted that its benefits were not extended to the whole Metropolis, but gentlemen within the walls of the City were desirous of keeping the advantages of the corporation to themselves, and therefore all that could he done was to copy what was good in the Corporation of the City. It were much to be regretted that the House should be turned into a vestry to consider questions such as might be disposed of by a properly constituted municipality. Of that they had a painful example on the previous night. He hoped that the proposals he intended to introduce would not be opposed.


said, he hoped the hon. Member for Southwark would not persist in opposing the second reading, though he was inclined to think that the Bill ought to be sent to a Select Committee, not for what it contained, but for what it omitted. There were other omissions in the Bill besides that as to elections, and he wished to suggest some alterations in order to get rid of certain anomalies with respect to the division of wards and the number of vestrymen allotted to them, as well as to the mode of compound rating, which shut out many voters. He also thought there was no necessity for any qualification on the part of vestrymen beyond that of being a rated inhabitant, especially as the qualification of Members of Parliament had been abolished, and as the Members of the Metropolitan Board of Works themselves were not required to have any qualification. These points might all be considered in a Select Committee.


said, that it was impossible to lose sight of the fact, that the Bill was substantially the same as the Bill that passed through a Committee of the whole House last Session, was read a third time, and sent up to the House of Lords, but was not considered there owing to the late period at which the Bill went up. The only question of importance raised in the discussion was with regard to the constitution of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had given notice of his intention to propose certain clauses in Committee. Surely that was a subject which the House ought to entertain as a whole, and ought not to refer to a Select Committee. He (Sir George Grey) thought that the Metropolitan Board of Works had not been fairly treated with regard to the recommendation of the Committee of the last Session, as it teas assumed that the Committee had condemned the constitution of the Board, and questioned their competency to discharge their duties. What the Committee really said was, that the tendency of the evidence led them to the conclusion, that while the Board, as at present constituted, was fully competent to discharge the duties imposed upon it, greater authority would attach to its deliberations if its Members were elected directly by the ratepayers of the Metropolis. Certainly, the recommendation of the Committee was not expressed in terms which could be cited as the slightest objection to the passing of the Bill.

Bill read 2o, and committed for Wednesday, 19th March.