HC Deb 17 June 1868 vol 192 cc1730-40

Order for Second Reading read.


The House is aware that this Bill is only one of two which have some claim to be considered as one, inasmuch as they are parts of a combined plan for the local government of the metropolis. The most important of them, as the House is also aware, I have been unexpectedly prevented from proceeding with. It has been decided to be a violation of the Standing Orders. It appears to me a subject well worthy the consideration of the House under what circumstances this difficulty has arisen, and that I should have been unable to propose to the House apian for the general municipal government of the metropolis because due notice has not been given to the Corporation of the City of London. The Bill is not of private, but of public interest; the Corporation is solely interested in it by reason of the property it holds for public purposes; the City of London is perfectly aware of all that is proposed, and has made no complaint of not having received notice. The promoters of the measure do not expect to make money by it, but may have a great deal to spend in carrying out its objects; and it appears to me worthy of consideration whether the forms required by the Standing Orders were ever intended for such a case as this, and whether the promoters of the Bill ought to be required to spend several hundreds of pounds out of their own pockets to give formal notice to the Corporation. Since the House did me the honour of permitting me to introduce the former measure, a great change has taken place in the situation of this country as respects its institutions. The great measure of last Session has been passed, and our Constitution has been materially altered in a democratic direction. This new state of things imposes new duties; it requires the House, on the one hand, to do more than it was previously obliged to do; and, on the other, to consider the inconveniences, whether great or small, that may be created by the new direction in which we are proceeding, and to guard against them as far as possible. It is well understood what is the special danger of democratic institutions: it is the absence of skilled administration; and I strongly recommend to the consideration of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Bentinck), who I believe intends to move the rejection of the Bill, that the great political problem of the future, not only for this country, but for all others, is to obtain the combination of democratic institutions with skilled administration. It is extremely desirable that this House without either idle regret for the past or vain confidence in the future should apply itself to find out how these two things may best be united. I am anxious to impress on the House the importance of reviewing our institutions in this particular point of view, and to induce the friends of democracy to appreciate the advantages of skilled administration, and the admirers of skilled administration to appreciate the merits of democratic institutions. As regards the general principle on which municipal institutions should be founded, the established practice with us is that all the ratepayers should have a voice in the expenditure. In the democratic direction, nothing further than this can be desired. But in the matter of skilled administration there is much to be altered. All the defects of democratic institutions are great in proportion as the area is small; and if you wish to work them well, I do not know any rule more important than that you should never have a popular representative assembly on a small area, for if you do, it will be impossible to have skilled administration. There will be much less choice of persons; a much smaller number, and those less competent for the task, will be willing to undertake the conduct of public affairs. And here I must direct attention to a principle of great importance. The value of a popular administrative body—I might say of any popular body—is measured by the value of the permanent officers. When a popular body knows what it is fit for and what it is unfit for, it will more and more understand that it is not its business to administer, but that it is its business to see that the administration is done by proper persons, and to keep them to their duties. I hope it will be more and more felt that the duty of this House is to put the right persons on that Bench opposite, and when there to keep them to their work. Even in legislative business it is the chief duty—it is most consistent with the capacity of a popular assembly to see that the business is transacted by the most competent persons; confining its own direct intervention to the enforcement of real discussion and publicity of the reasons offered pro and con; the offering of suggestions to those who do the work, and the imposition of a check upon them if they are disposed to do anything wrong. People will more value the importance of this principle the longer they have experience of it. This principle, when applied to local popular administration, shows itself in a very strong light indeed. A popular assembly that has only a little work to do in a little area, tries to do it itself, and to transact public business by making speeches—the most ineffective way in which public business can be done. In proportion as the local body approaches to the position of a great assembly like the present—though at a great distance—and has to represent a large area, and has a great deal of various work to do, in that proportion it will feel that its business is not to do the work itself; its business is to set the right people to do it, and to use for the purpose of controlling them all the lights which the collision of opinion amongst their own members may produce, but not to take the work out of the hands of the administrators. The adoption of that principle absolutely requires that the popular democratic representative bodies, such as those by which our local administration is carried on, should not be on the small scale of a local board, but should be on a larger scale—as large a scale as is consistent with unity of interest in the body whose affairs they have to administer. The local business of the metropolis is now divided, in kind, amongst a variety of administrative bodies, and is likewise divided, in a most minute manner, geographically. The various parishes carry on their business by means of vestries and local boards, and there are duties besides, that do not belong to the vestries, which are of the most multifarious description possible. There are 37 districts for the registration of births, 56 for the purposes of the Building Act, 19 divisions for police purposes, 30 County Court districts, and 15 Militia districts. There should be for the administration of all this business a consolidation of those very small districts. Among the advantages to be derived from consolidation would be greater efficiency and economy. Nothing can surprise me more than to find any petition presented against this Bill on the ground that its effects will be to raise the rates; that is not only impossible, but it must have the contrary effect, because in proportion as the present divisions approach the size they would all reach when combined under the plan I propose, economy has been effected. Compare the two districts, for example, of Marylebone and Westminster, which are about equal in population. Marylebone is all one parish under one local government, and is an approximation to the system I would establish, and its administrative expenses amount to £8,000 a year. "Westminster is divided amongst five boards, and the five boards cost £20,000 a year. Probably not more than a third of the number of officers employed in Westminster is employed in Marylebone. In fact, the more an area is divided into independent districts, the more paid officers there must be, and the less skilled they will be. The small districts cannot afford to pay for the greatest skill, and the smallness of the districts prevents the officers from acquiring it. Add to this the expense now arising from quarrel and litigation, which, of course, would not exist if these boards were fused into one. I find that no less than 4,000 persons are engaged, in some capacity or other, in the local government of the metropolis. I cannot help asking, would any person now think of establishing the present system of administration in the metropolis if it did not already exist? Would it exist at all except for the accidental growing up of arrangements that have never been reviewed? In a great metropolis, who cares about his parish, except for its church? and, as we are going to get rid of church rates, the parish will have no common interest at all in future. If we are to have a body that can do the work well, the first condition must be unlimited publicity—publicity which must not be theoretic, but real. It is not only that the people should have a right to know what is done; but that they should really and actually know what is being done. You must get them to give their attention to it; and that is not accomplished on the present system, because the area of administration being on so small a scale, the public does not take sufficient interest in the subject to inquire into what is being done. Except in a large parish, no light is thrown on what is going on. I am far from undervaluing what the local institutions, imperfect as they are, have done; but they are doing much less every day, as the conditions on which they were established become less adapted to existing circumstances. It is very generally believed that it is an extremely frequent thing for persons who sit in vestries of the metropolis to be landlords of small tenements utterly unfit for human habitations, men whose interest—I do not say they always yield to that interest—is not to promote those sanitary arrangements for the improvement of the dwelling places of the great mass of the community which it should be our object to promote. In the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens)—the Labourers' and Artizans' Dwellings Bill—it was desired to give greater powers in dealing with that class of property, but no authority could be found that was deemed fit to exercise those powers. At first the Bill intrusted those powers to the vestries; but the vestries were not trusted, and the Select Committee preferred intrusting them to the Metropolitan Board of Works: and then it appeared that the Board of Works was not trusted either; and I have received repeated applications to oppose the Bill on that ground. It may be said that, acting on the principles I have enunciated, I ought to have proposed one municipal government for the whole metropolis. There is a good deal to be said for such a course. But on the other hand, it might shock settled ideas to propose at once to entrust the whole local government of so vast an area, with about 3,000,000 of inhabitants, to one local body. The business to be intrusted to their management would, moreover, be too great, and it would give them the control of too large an amount of revenue; and it would have been useless to attempt to obtain the consent of the House to such a measure. Probably it is better to have local municipal bodies for the different Parliamentary boroughs, and that the central Board should not be troubled with any business but such as is common to the whole metropolis. The Parliamentary boroughs offer a medium between the contemptibly small size of an ordinary parish and the inordinate size of the whole metropolis; and in them there has grown up, from the circumstance of their being Parliamentary boroughs, a certain feeling of local connection amongst the whole of the inhabitants. This feeling exists in a very great degree in the old Parliamentary districts, the City of London, Westminster, and Southwark; and some amount of it has grown tip even in those which were created by the Act of 1832. I therefore propose by the Bill which I ask you to read a second time, to create municipalities for the Parliamentary districts, which shall exercise the powers of the municipalities under the Municipal Corporations Act, and also those of the vestries and local boards of the metropolis, except so far as Parliament shall otherwise dispose. It may be said that the Metropolitan Board of Works meets the idea of a central Board. The Metropolitan Board is a clumsy creation, arising from the felt want of some body to represent the whole metropolis. It was at first called into existence to carry out a great sanitary improvement which is now nearly completed, and its existence would in consequence have soon expired, but that Parliament in the meantime found out the necessity of some such central body, and threw upon it a great variety of duties, which originally were not contemplated. It never was intended that the Board should be a municipality for the whole of London; and I cannot conceive that that body can continue to discharge those duties without its construction being at least greatly modified. I could not expect that this Bill would pass at this period of the Session, even if the Government were to adopt it; but I think it is right to remind the House of this question, and to prepare the public mind for a more mature consideration of it. On these grounds I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. Stuart Mill.)


, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, that he did not wish it to be said that the Bill had been dropped solely in consequence of the lateness of the Session; and he therefore desired to obtain the opinion of the House on the Bill. He confessed his surprise that the hon. Member should attempt to proceed with it after his other Bill had been prevented from being discussed. Having been a Member of the Committee on Metropolitan Local Government which sat last Session, he would remind the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) that in the opinion of the Committee the mainspring; of reform in the municipal government of the metropolis had always been the creation of a general and central body. Last Session the hon. Member himself referred to such a creation as the most important element of his plan, so that to proceed with the present measure, from which the central body was absent, would be a waste of the time of the House. That the municipal administration of London was extremely bad, and that the separation of the metropolis into so many districts was a great evil would not be denied; but the hon. Member should first create the governing body and afterwards deal with the local administration. No doubt the metropolis was suffering from want of unity of management. The division into parishes was too arbitrary, but the divisions of the Parliamentary boroughs were quite as arbitrary, and if the hon. Member's Bill passed the existing anomalies would not be got rid of. The hon. Member referred to the jealousies between the vestries; but would there be no jealousies between the municipal corporations, and would not these jealousies be augmented rather than diminished by the creation of half-a-dozen rival mayors? At any rate, the hon. Member ought to have shown that his municipal corporations would be as economical and efficient as the municipal council which was recommended in the Report of the Select Committee. In Paragraph 17 they said— It is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should ascertain in what manner the metropolis can be best divided into districts and wards, in accordance with these Resolutions. When he looked at the hon. Member's Bill, all ideas of superior economy vanished, for one of the provisions of the Bill was that each municipality should have a spacious town hall and other municipal paraphernalia; and one witness examined before the Commmittee stated that in his opinion every one of these municipal corporations ought to spend £5,000 a year in entertaining strangers and dispensing hospitality. He did not see how the pockets of the ratepayers would be benefited by such a measure. With regard to the Bill being the means of introducing persons of a higher class than those now in the vestries, he differed from the hon. Member. The hon. Member proposed to style them "aldermen." No doubt it was a great thing to be an alderman; but there was a class of men who would be prevented from going into these councils from the very fact that they might be dubbed aldermen. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Colonel Hogg) served on the Vestry of St. George's, Hanover Square, with great credit and popularity; but he (Mr. Bentinck) doubted whether he would like to exchange the title of "the gallant colonel" for that of "the worthy alderman." He apprehended that the first thing his hon. and gallant Friend would do on being made an alderman would be to send in his resignation. Another objection to this Bill was that any measure dealing with the local government of the metropolis ought to be brought in by the Government—and that was one of the recommendations of the Committee. But the main objection to the Bill was that it was entirely repudiated by the mass of the ratepayers. Early in the year a deputation went to the Home Office on the subject of this Bill. There were in the metropolis thirty-eight vestries, representing an annual value of £14,000,000; and nineteen of these Vestry Boards, representing an annual value of £9,000,000, joined in the deputation against this Bill. What was there on the other side? The Vestry of St. James's, at a meeting at which only seven members were present, refused to petition against the Bill, by a majority of 1—that one being Mr. Beal, the author of the Bill. A public meeting of the inhabitants was afterwards held in St. James's Hall, when a resolution was carried against the Bill with only four or five dissentients. A subsequent resolution was carried without a single dissentient—namely, that Mr. Beal be thrown out of the window. The vestries might be unpopular, and the inhabitants might wish to get rid of their jurisdiction; but all sensible men were opposed to the principle of this Bill, which would only increase the expenditure, insure misgovernment, and make the existing state of things worse than ever. He moved that the Bill be read a secone time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Bentinck.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, that while rendering full credit to the able and temperate manner in which the Bill had been introduced, he thought it was impos- sible at this period of the Session to pass the Bill. Another objection was that it was necessary to have the other Bill of the hon. Member before the House at the same time, so that his whole scheme might be discussed and considered at once. The Bill was generally condemned by the metropolis; and he believed that the interests of the ratepayers would be seriously injured if it became law. It would only have the effect of creating larger vestries with larger powers of taxation. Then the various officers now employed were to be compensated. The expenses of carrying out the Act would so great that he was not surprised that the ratepayers looked upon it with alarm. He objected to any Bill of this kind being brought forward without a general call for it; and there was no such call. He could testify that the deputation from the vestries expressed a strong feeling against the Bill. The object of asking the House to read it a second time was to stamp it with a certain amount of approbation; whereas the House at present cared little, and knew less, about the subject. The whole subject of metropolitan local government had been referred to a Select Committee last Session. They took evidence, and recommended that it was desirable that Her Majesty's Government should submit to Parliament a Bill to carry their Resolutions into effect. This would be far better than leaving the subject in the hands of a private Member.


said, this bill was founded on an entirely false basis, and was altogether a very crude measure, and would be utterly unworkable. Instead of tending to produce economy, it would, he thought have an opposite effect. He had been present at an immense meeting in St. James's Hall, called together by the friends of the measure, and only four hands were held up in favour of the Bill. Great stress was laid upon the number of petitions presented in favour of the Bill, but, after all, he found that the number of petitions was 259, and the number of signatures 241. The fact was that a public meeting of ratepayers having declared against the Bill, the only resource the supporters of the measure had was to send round petitions to be signed by single individuals, who forwarded them to the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), who, of course, was delighted to present them. The parish of St. James's, with a population of 35,000, was the only parish that had declared in favour of the Bill, and that by a majority of 1 only, in a vestry meeting of about seven individuals, whilst vestries in number nineteen and representing an annual value of £9,000,000 were strongly opposed to the Bill. He very much objected to the provision in the Bill which proposed to hand over the charitable funds of the metropolis to the municipalities. He thought the Board of Works had done its duty, and was, if it increased taxation, only supplying the deficiency of former years.


said, he could not undertake at this time of day to discuss the philosophical principles laid down by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), and as the hon. Member had said he should not press the Bill this Session he did not think it necessary to discuss it. He might remark that the Bill was opposed in its principle and details to the Report of the Select Committee which had inquired into the question. One of their recommendations was that the question should be dealt with by the Government; but he need hardly remind the House that circumstances had prevented the Government taking up the matter this Session. The principle of the measure, to divide the metropolis into new boroughs, was wholly at variance with the principle of the Municipal Corporations Act, which provided that new boroughs were to be created by the Crown, on petition by the inhabitants. He agreed with an hon. Gentleman who had spoken (Mr. Harvey Lewis) that a Bill of this kind should be introduced upon the responsibility of the the Government, and not on that of a private Member. At all events it was such a Bill as could not receive the support of the Government.


suggested the withdrawal of the Bill. From the complicated character of the subject it was one which could only be efficiently dealt with by the Government. The measure before them only touched a fragment of the question, which should be dealt with as a whole. He would suggest that the Amendment should not be pressed, and that in it a Resolution should be substituted, declaring that it is the opinion of the House that the Government should introduce a Bill providing for the better government of the metropolis.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department would accede to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton). No Member who had addressed the House had said that some alteration was not necessary in the government of the metropolis. The principle of a general Board of municipal administration was one of which he most highly approved. The extension of the City of London throughout the metropolis would greatly relieve the burdens of the ratepayers. The present Bill lay in a nutshell, Clause 9 containing the main principle. On the whole he would recommend the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) to accede to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets.


said, that the proposal seemed to be that the Government should come forward to help the House out of a difficulty.

And it being now a quarter to Six of the clock—

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.