§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Winterbotham.)
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he thought the correct title of this Bill would be "a Bill for the Encouragement of Municipal and Political Jobbery." The great object of the House should be to prevent municipal contests becoming political. The Bill gave the Home Secretary the power to manipulate the municipal wards in every town in the kingdom, and he would naturally manipulate them in the interests of his own political party.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
said, the Home Secretary's name was not mentioned from one end of the Bill to the other. The power was given to the Privy Council.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
replied, that the Home Secretary would really be the person responsible, though the Privy Council might be nominally responsible. But if that were not so it only made his argument stronger. He had confidence in the present Home Secretary, but if the power rested with some Member of the Government not named—perhaps the Secretary of the Treasury—it only made matters worse. However it might be, the measure was calculated to give greatly increased prominence to political differences of opinion in every borough in the country, and would place power in the hands of the Government to dispose of in furtherance of their own political views. That was needless, for the Government had quite enough to do as it was, without having imposed on them the regulation of the affairs of every municipal borough in the kingdom. The Bill, if passed, therefore could not fail to give great dissatisfaction on account of the Government interference which it sanctioned, and it would lead to unlimited municipal dissensions wherever it was put into operation. If one Government made a change the next would be appealed to as soon as they came in to undo what their predecessors had done. He would, therefore, move that it be read a third time on 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. Robert Fowler.)
§ MR. STEVENSON
said, the hon. Member ignored altogether the cases in which, owing to altered local circumstances, some reconstruction of the wards was absolutely necessary. It was an exaggeration to impute to the Bill mere wanton interference with municipalities for political purposes. In practice it was impossible to procure the sanction of two-thirds of the Town-Councils for a re-arrangement of the wards, and thus, under the existing law, no such re-arrangement could be made without the expensive process of an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that before they altered the law they were bound to show there was a real practical grievance. One or two cases might, perhaps, be adduced in which the neces- 749 sary two-thirds vote could not be obtained; but in those cases was not the majority in the right? A majority of two-thirds could always be obtained if a re-arrangement were required for municipal purposes; the only other object must be political; the House should not encourage municipal re-arrangements for political purposes; and as no municipal necessity had been shown, he supported the law as settled by his own Bill passed in 1859.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
observed, that as the hon. Gentleman introduced a measure dealing with this question in 1859, he evidently believed that at that time there was a real grievance; and it was for the hon. Gentleman to show that it had now ceased to exist. There was, however, nothing in the Bill to indicate a political object, and, as a matter of fact, the increase of population and wealth in prosperous boroughs required changes in the distribution of wards; and many applications had been made to the Home Office for changes of this character to be introduced into Local Government Bills. The machinery of the Bill had been adopted from the Act of the hon. Member; and, as he considered that the question should not be regarded from a party point of view, he was anxious to prevent the measure being used for political purposes. As in the present Bill, so in the Act of 1859, it was provided that applications should be made to the Privy Council; and, therefore, the objections of the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. R. N. Fowler) failed. If an evil be recognized by one-third, they may make out a case for submission to the Privy Council; and this Bill contained a safeguard against abuse. He should therefore be sorry to see the House reject it.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he thought that the authorities on the Treasury Bench did not display any intimate knowledge of the practice in America on these questions, for in that country as soon as the question was decided one way there was an agitation for the readjustment of boundaries. He hoped the House would hesitate before they handed over power as was now proposed. He had never heard any great desire expressed for the alteration proposed by the present Bill, and he trusted the hon. Member would persevere with his Motion for the rejection of the Bill.
said, that his attention had been called to the difficulties which existed in relation to the ward representation in many boroughs, and especially in the borough which he represented; and, on behalf of his constituents, he had no hesitation in most heartily supporting the Bill.
§ MR. BIRLEY
said, he was inclined to think that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Winterbotham) was hasty in saying that the provisions of the Bill were satisfactory. In the course of time the Bill might have a very evil effect, for minorities in corporations and in boroughs might act in accordance with the wishes of an unpopular and tyrannical Government, and alter wards, and thereby change the political and social condition of the municipalities.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he thought it would be advisable to wait until the effect of the Act of last year taken in conjunction with the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South-west Lancaster had been ascertained before further legislation on the subject was attempted.
§ MR. LEEMAN
held that the Bill would be found useful, and that the House would do well to pass it, though he thought in some respects it scarcely went far enough.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 67; Noes 34: Majority 33.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.