HC Deb 21 May 1867 vol 187 cc882-91

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the establishment of Municipal Corporations in the several districts of the Metropolis, said, he did not do so in any spirit of hostility to the Report of the Committee relative to the Local Government of the Metropolis, of which Committee he had the honour of being a Member. It was true he had disagreed from the majority of the Committee on several of their Resolutions, but as a whole their Report had his general concurrence, and he considered it a great step in the progress of this question. The Committee, in the first place, freely acknowledged existing defects; and, in the second place, it recognised the general principles upon which, in his opinion, a reform of those defects should proceed. It recognised that good municipal institutions for the metropolis must consist of two parts—namely, local bodies representing districts, and a general body representing the metropolis at large—the latter to take the place of the present Board of Works. Neither was his Motion framed in hostility to the Board of Works. It might at least be said for the Board that it had been appointed to perform a great and laborious work, and that it had actually done that work. The Report proposed increased powers and an improved mode of election for the general Board; and with regard to the local district bodies, the Report considered the present districts to be too small, and virtually recommended the abolition of hole-and-corner local government. The Report might be considered in that and other respects as an outline of what municipal reformers desired; and the Bill he proposed to introduce would do something towards filling up that outline with regard to the local bodies only. He had given notice of his intention to ask for leave to bring in a Bill for the establishment of a central federal municipality for the whole of the metropolis, but he was not yet prepared with that Bill, and he should not ask the House to read the present Bill a second time until he was able to lay before them the entire plan. The plan he was now about to propose was not his own, but originated with one of the most important vestries in Westminster, and it had obtained the warm support of many of the leading vestrymen of the metropolis. He had no hostility to the vestries. Our parochial institutions, with all their defects, had done great things for the country. They had carried down to comparatively low grades of society a familiar acquaintance with the forms of public business and the modes of carrying it on, and in consequence this country possessed an advantage which, perhaps, no other country (except the United States) enjoyed—namely, that when circumstance call for the expression of an opinion by a collective body of citizens, there are numerous persons who know how that opinion should be collected and expressed. These merits could not be denied to our local system; but that system, as established in the metropolis, appeared to him to be on too small a scale. The Report of the Committee did not recognise that fact to so great an extent as he could have wished, and therefore he ventured to propose his plan. The Committee said that the districts of the metropolis were too small and inconvenient in some cases. He (Mr. Stuart Mill) believed they were too small in all cases, and that the municipal boroughs of the metropolis ought to be conterminous with the Parliamentary boroughs. He thought it necessary that the municipal districts should be of considerable extent, and highly desirable that they should also be units in themselves. Unless the districts were considerable they were always more or less a kind of hole-and-corner government. It was a common fallacy, now going the round of Europe, but still a fallacy, that the mere circumstance of a body being popularly chosen was a guarantee that it would conduct its proceedings on popular principles. His faith in popular governments did not depend on their being popularly elected. The real value of popular institutions consisted in the popular power of correcting mistakes, and enforcing responsibility to the people. Owing to this responsibility, it would not be possible for any body long to retain its position if it habitually exercised its powers contrary to the public interest as generally understood. Another point was that the greatest attainable publicity should be secured to the business transacted by these bodies; but when the business was on a very small scale it did not excite much attention. The check was not effectual unless the business was of such a nature that the public eye would be fixed on it. It was further desirable, for the sake of greater publicity, that not only should the district be of considerable magnitude and the business important, but that the districts should, if possible, be natural units in themselves, or at least, should be units for other purposes than this special one. The importance of this was, that it would tend to induce a higher class of men to enter these bodies. Three of the metropolitan boroughs (the City, Westminster, and Southwark) were, if not natural, at least historical units; the other districts, though of more recent origin, were gradually acquiring an esprit de corps, and a sense of common interest. It had been at first thought desirable that an additional district should be created out of parts of Marylebone and Finsbury. The great importance, however, of making the municipal and Parliamentary boundaries coincide, had led to the abandonment of this idea, except so far as regarded the formation of a new police district, there being at present no police-office between Marlborough Street and Worship Street in the extreme cast. The Bill provided for the division of the Tower Hamlets; but this would be dealt with by the Bill for the Representation of the People. He should not ask the House to read the Bill a second time till he had introduced the remainder of the plan of which it formed a part. Whatever merit the plan had, and that merit appeared to him to be considerable, it belonged entirely to his constituents who originated the plan. He himself had no part in it except that, at his own special request, he was permitted to introduce it to the House. He now begged to move for leave to bring in a Bill to establish Municipal Corporations within the Metropolis.


said, that as he had had the honour of presiding over the two Committees appointed, the one in 1861 to inquire into the Local Government of the Metropolis, and also over the Committee appointee in the last and continued during the present Session, he wished to make one or two remarks on the proposition now submitted to the House by his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster. He need hardly say that, in consequence of his holding the position as Chairman of these Committees, he had received a great number of suggestions for improving the local management of the metropolis. A great number of schemes had been put forward, varying from the extreme of a Minister of the Crown, with a suitable staff of officials under him, and abolishing all local institutions and popular forms of government, to the other extreme of a purely democratic administrative body. Among those schemes that which had just been submitted to the House came under the consideration of the Committee of 1861, and he (Mr. Ayrton) confessed that after giving to it all the attention which a proposal of so elaborate a character deserved, the Committee were, he believed, generally of opinion that it was a proposal which could not with advantage be entertained. He had not since seen any reason to alter the conclusion at which the Committee then arrived. It appeared to him that the establishment of a number of corporations in imitation of that of the City of London would multiply rather than diminish the existing evils. It seemed to him that instead of an efficient government and administration being secured under such a system, there would rather be a tendency to degenerate into those errors and evils which it would be desirable to eradicate from the corporation of the City of London. But while he did not think it necessary to encourage this proposal, yet it appeared to him that very great changes might be advantageously made in the administration of the local affairs of the metropolis. He thought, however, that, in considering what ought to be done, there was one question which ought to be first determined, and that was what ought to be the nature of the central and general administration, and proceeding from that one might be enabled to find out by what means the local administration should be carried on. But his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster proposed to introduce a measure for the local administration without favouring the House with any proposal for the general administration of the affairs of the metropolis. In that respect he thought his hon. Friend had inverted the right order of things. He could conceive nothing more calamitous than having a number of corporations in the metropolis jealous of one another, to a certain extent fighting with one another for supremacy and control, and none of them — unless the hon. Member should bring in a complete scheme—under proper subordination. The Committee of this year, having the advantage of the deliberations of the Committee of 1861, and the evidence which had been taken last year and in the present, had arrived at the general conclusion that it was desirable there should be a strong and efficient central administration, elected to some extent on popular principles and partly appointed on other grounds, so as to avoid the extreme the hon. Member for Westminster had so properly deprecated; and he (Mr. Ayrton) thought that popular election was, perhaps, not altogether the best means of constituting a satisfactory body for the administration of the affairs of the metropolis. It was impossible to disguise the fact that this city differed materially from all other cities in the country, inasmuch as it was the seat of the Government and of the Parliament, and the Committee therefore thought that the local administration should be kept in due subordination to the central authority so as to prevent the great inconvenience experienced in times past from the want of harmonious action. The mode in which those local authorities should be constituted, and the area over which they should have jurisdiction, were matters it was not easy to determine. Some might think that the largest parishes were quite large enough for local municipal bodies; some might think that contiguous parishes might be annexed to them; but it was impossible to lay down any general rule with great confidence. Whether Marylebone or St. Pancras were large enough for a municipality was matter of opinion. Whether it would be desirable to add to St. Pancras half-a-dozen other parishes, or whether Marylebone should be added to St. Pancras, was a matter on which it was exceedingly difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion. Experience taught that these large parishes were fairly administered; we had no experience to show that larger districts could be better administered; and there did not seem to be any necessity for changing that which had been proved to be good, for that of which we had no particular knowledge. It was not desirable now to examine the Report of the Committee in too much detail, because it concluded with the suggestion that the Government should bring in a Bill to carry out its recommendations, and until the Government had an opportunity of considering that Report and submitting a measure the question was hardly ripe for discussion in that House. In the present state of business it was quite clear no progress could be made with the consideration of the subject in the present Session; and it was therefore undesirable to prolong a debate which could not lead to a practical conclusion. It would be found that the plan recommended by the Committee afforded the means of dealing practically and efficiently with the administration of the metropolis, so as to prevent the recurrence of those causes of dissatisfaction which so often and so justly had been brought under the consideration of the House.


said, that having been on the Committee from its commencement with the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) and also during the time the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) had been on the Committee, he wished to make one or two observations. He quite agreed with the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets that it was useless to discuss the question further; because, although one scheme for the better administration of the metropolis had been propounded in the most lucid manner by him, and another by the hon. Member for Westminster, he (Mr. Locke) believed that the House did not understand anything at all about it. It was a complicated question, which had occupied attention for several years; a vast amount of evidence of a very contradictory nature had been taken; and any hon. Member reading the Report would have great difficulty in understanding how it was to be carried out. The hon. Member for Westminster seemed to think that the metropolis ought to be divided into seven or eight municipalities, each to be framed under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act. There would be great difficulty in this, because each of the proposed Corporations would have its own police and its own government. It was admitted by the hon. Member for Westminster that there was a certain prestige about the City of London; besides which the City had a great deal of money. But this was not all. The Corporation had, likewise, a staff of officers ready to carry on the business, not only of the Corporation as it at present existed, but also of the Corporation with any extension even to the whole of the metropolis. He (Mr. Locke) had a plan to suggest. It was that the Lord Mayor should remain the head of the City as now; that the metropolis should be divided into wards, each having an Alderman, and each sending members to the Common Council; and that the Corporation of the City of London should thus administer the municipal affairs for the whole metropolis. This was no novelty; for in olden times the Corporation was in the habit of adding to itself by taking in surrounding districts, which then became component parts of the City of London. The borough of Southwark was one of these. Edward VI., by a charter, handed Southwark over to the Corporation of the City of London, with the intention that the City of London should include Southwark in it as a ward. But the Corporation never fulfilled its duty and only appointed an Alderman, but no Common Council. In fact, they took what was given them; they gave nothing in return. Bishopsgate and Cripplegate Without were fully incur- porated with the City although outlying districts. If a similar plan were now adopted he believed the existing difficulty with regard to the metropolis would be effectually met. The Alderman and Common Council now perform duties in their ward, and those duties might be extended under the system he suggested. His views were coincided in by the City Chamberlain, who had given evidence to that effect before the Committee. They had a large Corporation, which had discharged its duties for hundreds of years, and they ought to consider whether its jurisdiction might not be extended for the benefit of the metropolis at large.


said, that they had now had three schemes propounded—one by the hon. and learned Member for Westminster, another by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and now a third by the hon. and learned Member for Southwark; but he did not think the matter had been much elucidated by any of the three. He agreed it would be a difficult thing to provide municipalities all over the metropolis. If the metropolis were divided into a number of municipalities with Aldermen and Common Councilmen it might be apprehended that their operations would clash, and each individual body would want to be considered at the head of the rest. Difficulties also would arise from their not being in possession of large funds. He did not see how the proceedings of vestries could be called "hole-and-corner" doings, for the members were elected publicly in pursuance of advertisement; the meetings were open, and the proceedings were duly reported in newspapers, which at least were read by those who were interested in local affairs. Some of the vestries were constituted of a respectable body of men, and he was associated with one vestry, which he had had pleasure in working with, and the members of which worked well together for the public interests. So far as he knew them vestries had worked well. The hon. Member for Westminster thought the municipalities would work better. But whether vestries or Corporations, the same men would be elected, and calling a man an Alderman would be nothing. Besides, some people, who would do the work well, would not like to be called Aldermen. Many Gentlemen would rather discharge public duties in a quiet way, and he did not think that the right men would be induced to come forward by one name more than by another. The hon. Member said the Corporations would get a better class of members than the vestries. He (Colonel Hogg) did not want to see all the members of a superior class. He liked to see all classes represented. He liked to see the gentlemen; he liked to see the upper class shopkeepers; he liked to see the lower class shopkeepers; he liked to see the professional men. With such a union of interests public business would be carried on much more satisfactorily than it otherwise could be.


would remind hon. Members that the prestige of the municipalities of the City of London arose from its honourable place throughout all our history in the defence of the liberties of the people, and in this way they had rendered no small service to the progress of the nation. In one of the most important crises the nation had ever undergone the five Members of the Long Parliament found refuge in the City of London from the tyranny of Charles; and on many eventful occasions they had been the first to call forth the spirit and energies of the people. It seemed to him a strange way of asserting the principle of local self-government to overthrow the oldest and most famous local government in the world.


said, that of course he should offer no opposition on the part of the Government to the introduction of the Bill. On the contrary, the Government would be glad to see the mode in which the hon. Member proposed to deal with this question. The House owed a great obligation to the Committee which sat so long and paid such attention to this subject, and it was especially indebted to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Ayrton) who had presided over the Committee. Of course, the House would not expect him to say what steps the Government would take in the matter. The Report of the Committee had only been a short time in their hands; now the Bill of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stuart Mill) would soon be before the House; probably the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Locke) would oblige them with his plan; and the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Hogg), who might be said to represent St. George's, Hanover Square, would also probably make his suggestions. If, with all this information before them, the Government could see their way to doing any good they would be very glad to deal with the subject. But it was one of extreme complication, it was one upon which metropolitan Members themselves did not agree; and all he could promise was that the Government would consider the various schemes placed before the House before coming to any conclusion.


, in reply, observed, that he believed the Bill would be approved of by the City when its provisions became known.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the establishment of Municipal Corporations within the Metropolis, ordered to be brought in by Mr. MILL, Mr. THOMAS HUGHES, and Mr. TOMLINE.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 166.]