§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ MR. HEYGATE
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that this Bill, the principle of which he would endeavour to explain, and which he should ask the House to read a second time, was the same as that which he introduced last year, but for the consideration of which he was unable afterwards to obtain a day. It was also founded upon the Resolution and Bill which were discussed in the last two Sessions of the last Parliament, but with respect to which Bill no decision was arrived at, partly owing to the limited time that remained on the Wednesday on the last occasion of its discussion. This was not a Party question, because the principle was supported as well as opposed by hon. Members sitting on both sides of the House. It dealt with a subject of a somewhat dry and technical character, and was perhaps uninteresting to others than those who took an interest in the working of municipal institutions, but at the same time it dealt with an abuse that required a remedy, and a grievance that existed to a considerable extent in many parts of the country, and whatever might be its fate that day it was a question that sooner or later would compel legislation, with a view to a remedy of the grievance complained of with regard to past legislation on the subject. The Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 were no doubt beneficial in their general character by destroying the close, and in some cases corrupt, corporations, and substituting for them an open system of municipal government; and in that respect they were, no doubt, good and useful Acts, 1426 but they signally failed in one respect. The boroughs were divided into wards for the purpose of obtaining a fair representation of the feelings of the different sections in each borough. The wards were represented in the council by councilmen freely chosen by the burgesses; but there was not that equal and fair representation in the election of aldermen, and, unlike the election of aldermen for the City of London by the burgesses, it was given to all the councillors themselves to elect the aldermen by a vote of the majority, and it was invariably the case that when party spirit ran high the elections of aldermen were conducted on political principles more than for the sake of obtaining good municipal government. When men were elected, not for any special fitness for dealing with local and municipal affairs or business capacity and experience, but simply as a reward for their adhesion to the principles of a particular political Party, they failed to be a reflex of the public feeling, and of those best qualified to discharge local duties for the benefit of the ratepayers. Moreover, by the present mode of election the aldermen were not only not a fair reflex of the public feeling, but, as it sometimes happened, they were opposed to the feelings of the majority, because, inasmuch as only a portion of the aldermen went out of office each year, those remaining were able to vote for the vacant seats on the aldermanic bench, and the consequence was that the councillors were often outvoted and the aldermen represented themselves. This occurred a short time ago at Leeds, when all the aldermen not retiring by rotation voted for the election of their successors with the minority in the council, and thus turned the minority into a majority. It was sometimes the case in boroughs that very important questions were decided by the votes of the aldermen overruling the votes of the councillors. The working of the system was also illustrated by what had occurred at Leicester. The council met last year to consider whether they should petition in favour or against this Bill. A majority of the councillors approved of the Bill, and were in favour of affixing the corporate seal to the Petition, but the aldermanic vote came down and converted the majority which represented the ratepayers into a minority. The same with regard to Winchester. There the inhabitants were opposed to 1427 the establishment of a school board, and the councillors voted 8 for it and 9 against it; but the aldermanic vote, numbering 6, was given in favour of the establishment of a school board, and the majority was converted into a minority, so that if the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council had not hesitated to comply with the Petition the City of Winchester would have been unnecessarily taxed for a number of years by those who in no sense directly represented the ratepayers. He was willing to concede that this system of political exclusion was not general in all the boroughs in England, but it was unfortunately an increasing evil. In the north and midland districts these elections were nearly all political contests, and in some they appear to have lost sight of the real nature of municipal institutions. During the last Recess he took the trouble to gather reliable statistics upon the point from 30 boroughs in the north and midland districts, and he had to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the assistance they rendered him in the matter. In answer to the question—"Are the municipal elections in your borough fought out on political principles?"—he received an answer from one-third of the number—"Yes, plainly," and from five-sixths of the remainder the reply was more or less in the affirmative. One replied—"Yes, increasingly so." Another—" Nothing else is ever thought of." One—"Not until lately." One—" I believe you, my boy." One or two said—"Generally so;" and only one—the borough of Doncaster—and for the honour and glory of that distinguished borough let it be known—said these contests were not political, but that the best men of both parties were selected irrespective of their political opinions. Out of 30 large boroughs only one answered in the negative to his question, and he assured the House that answers came from friends on both sides of the House. The second question he asked was, to what extent the exclusion of the opposite claimant was carried out in the election of aldermen, and whether those elections gave a fair share of the honours to the opposite side? and the answers were generally that they did not give a fair share to the opposite side. Twenty-six out of the 30 stated their policy was, as a rule, to exclude the opposite element from municipal towns 1428 for political purposes, and in three places only, in addition to the happy borough of Doncaster, did they appear to give any sensible representation of the minority amongst the aldermen. He was informed, also, that a general desire existed amongst most of the respectable inhabitants of these boroughs for a change. Not only was there a complaint that the best men were excluded by the existing system, but there was a special grievance that the wards represented by the minority in the council had aldermen assigned to them who were entirely out of sympathy with them. He did not wish to be understood as making a sweeping charge against all the municipal corporations in England, because he was willing to allow that, in many cases, proper men still took part in municipal matters under the present system; but he was bound to express his belief that the best men were very often excluded, and many retired in disgust. In answer to the question whether the best men were excluded, the reply was, in almost every instance, that it was the case, and in one borough the office had fallen so low in public estimation that the "town councillor" went by the sobriquet of "town scoundrel." In 1835, Lord Melbourne made this system of political exclusion one of the chief reasons why there should be a change. After citing from the Re-port of the Corporation Commissioners, he said—Now, let us look at the corporation of——. From the mayor to the humblest servant of the corporation every office has been filled by persons of the corporation or so-called Tory party, to the total exclusion of all who entertained different opinions, however wealthy, however intelligent, however respectable. Now, let me ask your Lordships, what do you think of the working of such a system as this?If a reform was necessary then, in consequence of this political exclusion, surely it was no less necessary now. The aldermen did not fairly represent the opinions of those who were elected by the ratepayers. He might be told that the minority should be bound by the majority, though it were only a majority of one, and that this was the very essence of representative institutions. He was quite willing to admit that; but his Bill would not force a minority into a majority, as was sometimes the case under the present law, nor would it enable the majority, as he had shown was now the case, to artificially increase its own relative strength. He could not give a 1429 better illustration of the injustice that existed than by asking the House to suppose that they had to elect Peers to the House of Lords, and by a bare majority electing 200 Members to come and sit with them, and form one Assembly—the 200 being selected from one political Party. Who could defend such a system as just?—yet it was an exact illustration of what occurred in municipal boroughs. There were three modes by which the evil might be dealt with—first, the election of the aldermen by the burgesses of each ward, as in London—but not for life—where he believed it would work beneficially. He had heard no complaint of the way in which aldermen were elected in London, and the present Bill would not interfere with the working of the system there Another was to give the councillors of the ward the power of electing the aldermen for the ward; but there was this objection to it, that, in some cases, the wards were so small, and the number of representatives so limited, that it would be impossible to secure an adequate representation by asking three men to retire into a room and elect one; and therefore he was driven to that which was adopted in this Bill—to leave the election in the hands of the councillors, but to apply the Cumulative Vote—each Councillor to have as many votes as there were aldermen to be elected, which they might distribute as they thought fit. By that means a fair representation would be given to the minority. He knew that the word "cumulative" excited horror in the minds of some, and that many decidedly objected to it. He was not specially wedded to the word, and he had no wish to see the principle carried out generally; but be thought it was unobjectionable in the limited manner now proposed. It would often be a very valuable means of giving to the minority fair representation, and of securing to all sections of the community their share in the election of representatives in the municipal councils. The Cumulative Vote had been objected to on the ground that it was a difficult and complicated system to manage. The hon. Member (Mr. Dixon) brought in a Bill to abolish the Cumulative Vote in the case of school board elections, because of his experience of what had taken place at Birmingham at the first school board election there, when the parties in the minority obtained a majority of repre- 1430 sentatives. But the reason of that coincidence was well understood, and the objection had been entirely obviated by the last election, which showed how soon a large and intelligent constituency could be taught the right use of the voting power, because the voters on that occasion went in for what they could get. The result showed that, even on a large scale, the cumulative system brought about a fair representation. The object of the Bill was that the opinion of the burgesses, as expressed through the councillors, should find a fair reflex in the election of aldermen. By the means proposed in the Bill a fair representation, and no more than a fair representation, would be obtained of the different sections and classes of the community. In conclusion, he wished to say that he had no personal object or motive in bringing this matter before the House. He did not represent a borough, nor did he live sufficiently near one to be able to take part in municipal affairs. He had, however, seen the evil working of the present system, in so far as it often deterred the best and most qualified men in large towns from taking any part in municipal affairs. Therefore, he thought that nothing would do more to restore a healthy tone to municipal bodies, and to oust politics, so far as they could be ousted, from municipal affairs, than a measure securing a fair representation of all parties. He knew this Bill did not please those violent political partizans, who could not rise superior to party considerations; but when he remembered that when this subject was before the House, in the last Session of the late Parliament, three hon. Members for Leeds, each speaking from a somewhat different political standpoint, rose to support a Bill almost identical to this one, he could not but hope that the Bill now before the House might meet with the support of the thoughtful men of all parties. It was not a great measure he would allow; but it dealt with a subject in which an increasing interest was felt, and believing it was a just, righteous, and fair measure, he commended it to the impartial judgment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Heygate.)
§ MR. DODDS
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three 1431 months, owned that the hon. Member had introduced the question with much moderation and ability; but, at the same time it seemed extraordinary that a measure relating, as this one did, solely to municipal corporations, should have been brought forward by a county Member, and not by an hon. Gentleman representing a borough, and having personal experience of the practical working of the present law. The observations which had fallen from the hon. Member all failed to convince him that the Bill ought to be passed. His own experience differed from that of the hon. Gentleman in regard to the prevalence of political feeling at municipal contests in the North and East of England, and the hon. Gentleman had not given the names of the boroughs to which the statistics he had given applied. In the borough of Stock-ton, which he (Mr. Dodds) represented, he admitted that political feeling had to some extent crept into municipal elections; but both parties were fairly represented, and even in that Liberal borough no fewer than five out of the eight aldermen were Conservatives. In Darlington and Middlesborough, political feeling did not enter into the municipal elections. In these three leading boroughs in the North of England, Stockton, Darlington and Middles-borough, political feeling was scarcely recognized in political contests, and town councillors were selected from Liberals and Conservatives indiscriminately. The hon. Member said a small portion of the aldermen went out of office every year. That was an error, because the aldermen retired triennially, one-half going out at the end of one period of three years, and the other half at the end of the second. The deduction he gathered from the argument that in Leeds, Leicester, Winchester, and other places, the voice of the people, as represented by the councillors, was overruled by the voice of the aldermen, was that the office of alderman ought to be abolished altogether. At any rate, the argument of the hon. Gentleman pointed in that direction. This, however, was not the object of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman also stated that aldermen were appointed to wards where they were not in sympathy with the people. His own experience was diametrically the opposite of that of the hon. Member. In Stockton 1432 they had eight aldermen for four wards—two for each—and one year alderman A was assigned to the north west ward, and in the following year alderman B, and so in regular rotation in each of the wards. Nor had it been shown that the Bill was desired by municipal corporations, or by the people. Not a single Petition had been presented in its favour; the only Petition that had been presented on the subject being against the Bill. It was a Bill which sought to introduce a very novel, unusual, and at the same time mischievous principle. The Bill consisted of two parts. First, it provided that each person should be entitled to a number of votes equal to the number of aldermen to be elected. That, he ventured to say, was unnecessary. Then, the Bill went on to provide—and this was the objectionable part of it—that every voter might give all such votes to one person, or distribute them, as he thought fit. Now, the Aldermen were elected by the continuing members of the council. In Stockton, there 24 councillors and eight aldermen, four of the latter going out triennially, whilst the remaining four aldermen, with the 24 councillors, elected the four new aldermen, who in nine cases out of ten were re-elected; but the great objection to the Bill was that the persons elected aldermen might be selected, not from the councillors who had been elected by the burgesses, but from councillors, or from persons qualified to be councillors. So that if the Bill became law, a small section of the council, by combining together, would be able to bring in persons outside the council, and who had never been before the burgesses at all. The existing law, which had been in operation since 1835, had worked well, and it ought not to be disturbed by the introduction of a fancy franchise of this kind unless more substantial reasons for it were given than they had heard that day. It might happen that a candidate who had offered himself to the burgesses for the office of town councillor, and who had been unsuccessful over and over again, might by the action of a section of the town council be brought over their heads and placed upon the Alder-manic Bench. The power to be given to a small section of the town council was a point which ought to be taken into careful consideration, for under it six out of 32 persons in the town council of Stockton would be able to 1433 pitchfork an alderman into the council over the head of a man elected by the burgesses and properly representing them. The difficulty of getting good men to serve as town councillors was now very great, but the machinery of the Bill would not meet this in any way; indeed, the Bill would be an utter failure in that respect. There had been as yet no experience of the working of the Cumulative Vote, except in school board elections, which was not sufficiently satisfactory to induce him to support this Bill; but even supposing it had been a success it would not have afforded any precedent for a measure of this kind, because the principle of this Bill was merely to give the town councillors and the continuing aldermen power to adopt the cumulative vote. The Bill went either too far, or not far enough. It should have begun by giving the burgesses the Cumulative Vote, and then the other part of the measure would, perhaps, have been less objectionable. As it was, the Bill was most objectionable, and that was the feeling of those whom he had the honour to represent. With regard to the election of Members of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) brought forward a Motion in 1867 which was similar—almost identical, in fact—to the terms of this Bill, relating to municipal elections. The clause then proposed was as follows:—At any contested election for a county or borough represented by more than two Members, and having more than one seat vacant, every votes shall be entitled to a number of votes, equal to the number of vacant seats, and may give all such votes to one candidate, or may distribute them among the candidates as he may think fit.There was a long debate on the Motion, and, after two nights being spent therein, it was rejected by a large majority. The present Prime Minister, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, said, in the course of the debate—Now, I am not prepared on the 5th of July to ask the House of Commons to enter upon a campaign to carry out a system which is, as far I understand it, alien to the customs, manners, and traditions of the people of this country. The proposal is opposed to every sound principle, and its direct effect would be, I believe, to create a stagnant representation, and a stagnant representation would bring about a feeble Executive.The right hon. Gentleman added—I have always been of opinion with respect to this cumulative voting and other schemes 1434 having for their object to represent minorities" that they are admirable schemes for bringing crotchetty men into this House—an inconvenience we have hitherto avoided, although it appears we have now some exceptions to the general state of things, and I do not think we ought to legislate to increase the number of specimens."—[3 Hansard, clxxxviii. 1111–12.]He observed from the Notice Paper that the Home Secretary intended to move the Previous Question, and he was glad to infer from this indication of opinion that the Bill was not likely to receive the support of the Government, because he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that the system it proposed was alien to the manners and traditions of the people; that it was opposed to every sound principle, and it would have a tendency in municipal corporations, as in that House, to create a stagnant representation, which would bring about a feeble executive. He had heard no sufficient reasons given why the established principle of Government by majorities on which the country had acted in its municipal matters for so long should not be continued, and as he regarded the proposal as one of the crotchets referred to by the right hon. Gentleman from whom he had just quoted, he trusted the House would refuse to give the Bill a second reading.
§ 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. Dodds.)
§ MR. T. ROWLEY HILL
, in seconding the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stockton, said, that while admitting that the hon. Member for Leicestershire had shown that the present mode of electing aldermen was not satisfactory, he could not support the measure. In his opinion the proper course would be to abolish the office of alderman and increase the number of town councillors. He did not approve the Cumulative Vote. He might mention as an illustration of the working of the Cumulative Vote, in the school board elections, a case which occurred about two years ago. A school board of seven members had to be elected, and in the town where that took place there was a person who had signalized himself by having been before a magistrate and sent to prison for six months for an assault; and that person, before he had been 1435 many weeks out of prison, was returned at the head of the poll as a member of the school board, where he so conducted himself that every other member was compelled to resign.
§ MR. ASSHETON
said, he represented a borough (Clitheroe) in which the Bill of the hon. Gentleman was very much required, for one Party monopolized the municipal honours altogether. He was glad to hear that there were a few boroughs into which in municipal elections political feeling did not enter. But if any hon. Member would take up a newspaper on the 2nd of November he would see a long list of candidates ticketed-off with the magic letters L.C. For his own part he would be glad to see letters which were favourites in the Emerald Isle—he meant H.R.—attached to the names of candidates, provided they were intended to indicate a close attention to the local affairs of the municipality. At present the highest municipal honours were confined to the representatives of the dominant Party. In Clitheroe no one had a chance of becoming an alderman who represented the political Party to which he (Mr. Assheton) belonged. In Blackburn political feeling was so nearly balanced that at the last election the senior member was a Conservative and the junior a Liberal. The junior ran the senior member very hard, but there were rather more Conservatives than Liberals in the town. There were 12 aldermen who were all Conservatives. The third borough to which he referred was Burnley, which was precisely the counterpart of Blackburn. Burnley returned only one Member, and he was a Liberal; there were eight aldermen, and they were all Liberals. Why should not something be done which would render it possible to have a Conservative alderman for Clitheroe and Burnley, and a Liberal alderman for Blackburn? He was not so sanguine as to suppose that a Bill brought in by a private Member and only read a second time on the 14th of July could pass during the present Session; but he hoped to hear some declaration from the Government before the debate closed to the effect that their best attention would be given to this matter during the Recess, with the view of remedying an evil which no one could venture to deny. He should give his best support to the Bill.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he thought it very natural that the Bill should come from the other side of the House, as it was essentially a Conservative measure, inasmuch as it was directed against the violent fluctuations in the constitution of the municipal bodies which were of constant occurrence; while it appeared also to be a Liberal measure, because it provided that every section of the community should have its fair share in the representation of the local governing bodies. The hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds) had protested against the arguments of the hon. Member who had brought in the Bill, on the ground that the hon. Member for Leicestershire had had no experience of the facts with which he was dealing; but he (Mr. Rathbone) ventured to think that the hon. Member for Stockton had shown that it was possible to have a microscopic knowledge of facts that was in fact misleading. The hon. Member for Stockton had assumed two points on which he (Mr. Rathbone) thought he was mistaken—first, that politics were not the guiding principle of municipal elections; and, secondly, that men did not constantly obtain aldermanic honours who had been rejected by popular constituencies. In almost all the boroughs he knew in the North of England—and he was glad to hear there were some in the state of innocence described by the hon. Member for Stockton—the rule was that politics entered into the municipal elections. The history of the municipal body of Liverpool was very much to the point, and he believed it was parallel to the history of almost all the large boroughs. Under the old Corporation Act prior to the Municipal Reform Bill, the Tory Party held undisputed sway, the only two persons in the Council of those days who were not Tories being two who had slipped in unawares—men belonging to the oldest families in the borough, and whose politics had not been considered. There were few of the old corporations that had done so much work as had the members of that corporation. They had maintained the docks as a public trust, and had done many other useful things; but with all their merits they were subject to the demoralizing effects of being possessed of too much power, which they exercised in some instances with too despotic a sway, jobbing considerably in favour of 1437 the Church of England. The result was they offended the feeling of the ratepayers, and when the Municipal Reform Bill was passed the Conservative Party were swept away, only eight or ten out of the members then elected belonging to that political Party. But the Liberals showed themselves no wiser or stronger in resisting the temptations of power than the Conservatives, and they elected every alderman from their own Party. In their turn they were swept away, and the municipal power passed into the hands of the Conservatives who used it as the Liberals had done, in appointing Tory aldermen. The consequence was that the council had not always elected men from their own body, but had sometimes chosen a man because he had stood a certain number of contests, and not always because he had stood them on the purest principles; while the aldermen were not of the average standing and fitness of the rest of the town council. This certainly was not what was intended when the aldermen were elected for a longer period than the town councillors, and it could not happen under the Cumulative Vote proposed by this Bill. He held that if both Parties were certain of selecting a particular number of men, and neither could select an overwhelming number, the tendency would be to secure the best possible men. He was not afraid of democracy, if they could only ensure that the democracy had the opportunity, in times of political excitement and disturbance, of hearing truth and justice stated. There had been occasions on which the services of able and public-spirited men, in Liverpool, had been lost through the tide of popular opinion having set against the men who had endeavoured to carry most valuable measures, but which were not understood by the public; and experience had shown that it would have been a wise thing to have retained them in the town council as aldermen if they could have been elected on the principle advanced by this Bill. He thought it would be a most valuable principle, and he should be glad to see it carried further. He should also be very glad to see any extension of the principle of the representation of minorities by Cumulative Vote, or in any other way. But the application of the principle was most easily worked when applied to secondary instead of primary elections,
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that when the Birmingham Corporation Act was passed, he was anxious to secure that the position of the alderman should be rendered analogous to that of alderman in the City of London. On that occasion he failed—he was, for the time, submerged by a democratic wave—but he never abandoned the object. It always appeared to him, that those who entertained ultra-Liberal opinions were apt to undervalue the ancient institutions of this country, as though they were not scientifically framed, forgetting that true science was always consistent with common sense, and that what had long been tested by experience, and had borne the test, was always in itself consistent with common sense. When the Reform Bill was passing through this House, he laboured to support the principles of representation of minorities; but he thought that the Cumulative Vote, as illustrated in the election of school-boards, ran to excess. It was desirable that considerable minorities should be represented; it was not desirable that too small minorities should be represented. It was possible that a small minority might introduce a mere obstructive, or a man of extreme views, who did not fairly represent public opinion. By public opinion, he did not mean the temporary phase of passion or feeling, but that deeper current which was, after all, the great source of progress and stability. He was glad that the Home Secretary intended to deal considerately with this Bill, and he hoped that some such remedy would be provided for the evils which it attempted to meet.
§ MR. MORLEY
thought it a source of great satisfaction that the question before the House could not be distorted into a Party question, as evidence had been given in the course of the debate to show that all parties were interested in a right settlement of it. The reason why he had willingly allowed his name to be placed on the back of the Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Leicestershire was that he desired to interpose every difficulty in the way of obtruding Party politics into their municipal institutions. Nobody who had any experience of the large municipal boroughs of this country could be ignorant of the fact that politics were now obtruded, and that they frequently took the place of that calm and 1439 fair deliberation which men absolutely uncommitted politically would be likely to bestow upon questions of large local interest. They had in Bristol a case in point. He had not a word to say in depreciation of the gentlemen who filled the office of aldermen in that city; but it so happened that at the time of the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill, it was found that there was a majority of I on the Conservative side, and immediately 16 aldermen of Conservative opinions were appointed from outside, and, with one exception, that had been the character of the aldermen of the city of Bristol ever since. Precisely the same thing would have happened had the Liberals been in a similar majority, and, therefore, he must not be understood as condemning the action either of one side or the other; but what he desired was to interpose some obstacle to that interference with what he regarded as the fair and honest representation of the people of the borough. The question really deserved the consideration of the Government. There seemed to be an universal impression that something ought to be done. He believed the system adopted in the City of London was a sound one, where the aldermen were elected by the wards. He confessed that of the various methods that had been suggested for dealing with this subject, that proposed by the hon. Member for Stockton appeared to him to be, perhaps, most worthy of attention—namely, the extinction of the office of alderman, the usefulness of which he could never see.
§ MR. TENNANT
mentioned the case of Leeds, with a population of 300,000, with 50,000 registered electors; a town council of 48 members and 16 aldermen, of whom only one was a Conservative, elected in 1836, and where there never had been a Conservative mayor. Questions of local administration ought not to be decided on political or Party grounds. Neither the wisdom nor the folly of municipal councils belonged altogether to one Party. The arguments adduced in favour of the measure by the hon. Member for Leicestershire were, to his mind, conclusive. He was not prepared to deny that the Municipal Act had worked well; but that was not the question they had to consider; and even if it were, he supposed it would not be contended that the Municipal Act would 1440 work less well, if those who held the highest offices in corporations were selected from a larger area. It had been objected to the Bill that outsiders would be admitted to municipal honours under it. That was quite true; but, as the law now stood, aldermen could be elected from those who were not in the corporation. It was further urged that the measure did not go far enough, but that was no reason why it should be rejected. On the ground that the Bill would remove many inequalities and anomalies which now existed in our municipal representation, and would give a fair representation of all classes of the community, and thus tend to a better representation of local affairs, he should certainly support it; and therefore trusted the House would reject the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton.
§ MR. EARP
would support the Bill, which he thought would operate beneficially. He hoped this discussion would impress on the Government the necessity of either abolishing aldermen altogether, or providing that the candidates who had the largest number of votes should be aldermen. That suggestion, if carried out, would be attended, he believed, with manifest advantage.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, that like his hon. Colleague, he should not have thought it necessary, perhaps, notwithstanding the great interest he took in this subject, to address the House at all in the present debate, had it not been that more than one speaker had somewhat pointedly referred to the borough which he represented. Notwithstanding this, he was anxious, at the outset, to place the matter, if possible, upon a broader basis than that of mere localisms or Party considerations. Indeed, by no possibility could this subject, if reasonably treated, be brought within the realm of Party polities, and, certainly, it ought not to be dealt with as a Party question within the walls of that House. Undoubtedly, whatever might be the views, or even the experiences of the hon. Member for Stockton, he apprehended that nearly throughout the whole North of England, the municipal elections of the 1st of November had been for some time almost invariably and exclusively political elections, and were, he was sorry to say, year by year, becoming more and more so in their character. 1441 Whenever the triennial period arrived for the election or re-election of aldermen it was the self-evident result of such a state of things that these elections also partook more or less of a political view in all those boroughs, and in certain of them they became too exclusively so. It might be, no doubt, from the constitution of his (Mr. Wheel-house's) own mind; but he must confess that he had never yet been able to discover why it was considered necessary that a man should be a Whig or a Tory, a so-called Conservative, or a Radical, in order to judge of his capacity for determining how many rounds there should be in a lamplighter's ladder, upon what plan a street would be most efficiently paved and drained, or whether it was desirable to apply to Parliament for a new Local Improvement Act. These were the purposes for the due fulfilment of which it was supposed the governing body of a local municipality was called into existence, and such were the questions to which it might very well confine its scope of duty. But, instead of this, the elections in the district of which he spoke had, for years—indeed, ever since the passing of the Municipal Corporations Reform Act—been solely political or quasi-political. It must be manifest that such a course of operations would produce, as it unquestionably had produced, the great disadvantage of placing the members of a certain political Party in the borough, not indeed as a Party, but as residents of the borough, altogether beyond the pale or chance of having or taking any part in the municipal representation. They had been told often enough, both in that House and elsewhere, that taxation and representation ought to go together. He was the last man in the world to differ with that principle, and when, therefore, he saw that not only did the present system of electing aldermen cut at the very root of that principle, but that it excluded those who might be, and indeed were, often, the largest ratepayers in the borough, he was satisfied—and he thought it must be abundantly clear to everyone who would confess it—that a remedy was immediately and urgently required. He was as anxious as anyone could be, that this question should not be approached from a Party or political point of view, neither was he especially desirous of looking at it merely through the light thrown upon 1442 it either by the large borough he represented nor by any of the smaller boroughs in the North of England. His sole and earnest wish was to see the question considered from that aspect which might best ensure the full development of the old principle of "the greatest good of the greatest number, consistently with fairness to all." It was idle—if he might venture to say so—with all the abundant evidence to the contrary before us, to endeavour to impress upon the House that the elections for town councils, town councillors, and aldermen had not, he would say degenerated, into mere political questions; that they were so, was, he thought, a matter as undeniable as it was possible for anything to be. The hon. Member for Stockton ought to have entered a little more fully into the present bearing of municipal matters in that borough. Why did he not tell the House, when he said that politics were creeping into the municipal representation of that borough, how the elections for the several wards of Stockton were at present conducted? Were they guided by political feeling or ruled by political principles? That was the proper test; and the true answer to that inquiry, could it be obtained, would speak far more effectively than whole volumes of theory. In saying this, it must be understood that he (Mr. Wheelhouse) did not care for the result; what he wanted to know were distinctly two matters—first, how were these elections at Stockton as well as elsewhere conducted; and, second, why was political feeling creeping into questions which ought to be confined to streets and sewers? But even the hon. Member for Stockton himself, when he declared that the importation of political feeling was not common into municipal elections, practically gave up the whole of his own case; since if a single instance only could be shown to exist, that instance would of itself prove the contention of the hon. Member for Leicestershire to be absolutely and entirely correct. Prom his (Mr. Wheel-house's) standpoint he considered there ought to be no such thing as political feeling brought into municipal representation either at Stockton or indeed in any other borough in England. But even Stockton, where it was confessed that political feeling was only now creeping in, could not in any way be 1443 taken as a fair type of the full force and intensity of the evil which was thus generated. Besides which, it must be be remembered that however much the importance of that borough was increasing—and he, for one, as a resident of the North of England, and almost—if he might say so—a neighbour, most sincerely wished that its reign of prosperity might long continue to expand and increase—the size of its municipality scarcely entitled it to rank among the largest of our English boroughs. The evidence of hon. Gentlemen in that House representing such enormous constituencies as Bristol in the South-West, and Liverpool in the North, was conclusive on the point that there was an evil, and that immediate remedial agency was very desirable. It had been said, and said very truly, that the present system of electing aldermen had the effect of actually placing and continuing the minority of the representative element in the position of being in a majority of the town council, and thus occasionally over-riding its feelings and wishes. He said nothing of the town which he represented beyond this—and indeed they might take it that what had been mentioned by his hon. Colleague and which he himself could confirm was true—namely, that it was impossible, practically, in a council of 64 members, 16 of whom were not directly responsible to, or elected by, the burgesses, that its constitution could be so far altered during any triennial period as to afford room for that healthy change which was sometimes not only very desirable, but actually imperatively necessary. In such a borough the present system had the unquestionable effect of strangling the very intention of Lord Melbourne's Act, and repeating, in a far worse degree, all the evils and inequalities of which he then complained. Whatever might be the evils of the old courts of aldermen and assistants—or by whatever name the charter of incorporation might designate the municipality—that system did ensure a pretty sound reflex of the principle, so far as the franchise was then concerned, of something like equality in representation and taxation, whereas now the two were not only permanently divorced, but were often, not to say generally, placed in permanent antagonism to each other. That which had arisen in Leeds had also been mentioned as having come about 1444 elsewhere, and there could be no doubt that while various changes had from time to time taken place with regard to the social and domestic requirements of the several populations, the political element which had been infused into municipal elections had caused the councils to become, as it were, permanently stereotyped with a characteristic which, if not noxious in itself, was utterly one-sided and exclusive. It had been said to-day that they ought to have gone very much further, and that they should have started with the abolition of provincial aldermen altogether. He for one wished, most sincerely, they had done so, and he thought that those who were the representatives of the town in its municipal and social affairs, ought to be entirely elected by the burgesses themselves; and, being so elected, then let the choice take place for the whole body according to the present method. But in the meantime, there was no reason why they should reject the Bill at present before them. It was manifestly and admittedly a step in the right direction, and the time was already arrived when they ought to consider this matter, which pressed most seriously even now upon the taxpayer. Corporations might possibly do their work reasonably well, but what he (Mr. Wheelhouse) wanted, was a wider area from which to choose both elements of the town council. He wished that area to be enlarged so that every man in these councils should be directly elected by the burgesses, and thus immediately responsible to them; but, so long as the present system existed, that state of things was utterly impossible. He wished, at the time when the Municipal Corporation Act was passed, the same principle which was now applicable to the City of London had been carried into our provincial municipalities, since, if the aldermen had been a permanent body, as they were in London, it was quite possible to suppose, judging from the example of the good old city, that much of the evil now felt would have been wholly obviated, or at least considerably diminished. In conclusion, he could only say that having experienced the working of the Municipal Corporations Reform Act for now more than 30 years directly in one of the largest boroughs of England, and indirectly having become acquainted with its operations in many others, both large 1445 and small, he was satisfied that some remedy was urgently required; and for that reason he gave the Bill now before the House his most earnest, cordial, and emphatic support.
§ MR. SERJEANT SPINKS
observed that the question under consideration was one of great social importance. There could be no doubt the system now pursued in cities and boroughs in the election of aldermen was very objectionable. He considered it most desirable that aldermen should be elected in that mode which would secure the services of the best men. The present system narrowed as much as possible the area of choice for aldermen. Looking at the position of Parties, how did the case really stand? Many persons were elected in a ward of which the dominant Party had the complete control, and this process was repeated over and over again until that ward furnished a large proportion of the aldermen. It had been said that there was a difficulty in obtaining good candidates; but that was hardly to be wondered at when, in most corporations, there was a dominant Party in full sway, and if a person was elected who was not connected with that dominant Party he could not expect properly to realize his position. He represented a borough the constituency of which numbered about 20,000, and it was a good many years since there had been such a thing as a Conservative alderman, and unless such a Bill as the one before the House passed there never would be one. Although he was ready to vote for the Bill he was not a strong advocate of the cumulative principle. Owing to the wonderful increase of the wealth and population in many of these towns this had become a matter of national importance, and therefore he trusted the Government would devise some means by which the people might have confidence that those who were elected to preside over their affairs would do the best they could for the benefit of the population whose interests were entrusted to their care and management.
§ MR. DIXON
said, that if the House went to a division on the Bill, he should certainly support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds). He hoped, however, that it would not be necessary to take such a course. After what had been said by several hon. Members with reference to 1446 the presumed intentions of the Government, he would offer one or two reasons why he thought those who had brought this Bill forward might be satisfied with the debate. It had been said that there was no probability of passing the measure under any circumstances this year. If that were so, what good could arise out of pressing a division on the subject? Let hon. Members who had brought the Bill forward be contented with the discussion which had been evoked. During that discussion it had been every evident that the main reason that had been alleged by the supporters of the Bill in favour of such a measure was the allegation that the aldermen of the various corporations in the provinces of England did not fairly represent the ratepayers. At the same time that that allegation was made it had been over and over again admitted that the town councillors did adequately represent the ratepayers, and that what was required was that the aldermen should represent the ratepayers as efficiently as the town councillors. If that were the only reason why this Bill was introduced, the answer was in the hands of those who supported the Bill, and who had distinctly stated that in their opinion the aldermen, who were now elected by town councils, could be made adequately to represent the ratepayers if they were directly elected by the ratepayers themselves. One or two methods had been suggested whereby this more direct and perfect representation could be obtained, but he would not further allude to them than by saying that if it was true that the object of the promoters of this Bill would be better promoted by a different course, then he would suggest that it would be advisable that the Bill should be withdrawn, so as to give time for a mature consideration of the subject. He apprehended that there was another reason why the introducer of this Bill was anxious that it should be carried, and that was that there was a strong feeling in favour of the application of the principle of minority representation to municipal elections. If that was the reason why this Bill should be carried to a division, then he would suggest to the House whether they were not landed in this difficulty—whether really, under the cover of this Bill, the debate did not deal with the application of the principle of minority representation, not only to 1447 aldermen, but to town councillors. He thought the one would carry the other. That was a much larger question, and he did not think that it would be advisable to vote upon the larger question under cover of a vote for the second reading of this Bill. He would not enter into any discussion as to whether it would be advisable by a minority vote to proceed to the election of town councillors. But he would urge that it was advisable that the country should understand fully what the House was voting upon, and that these great corporations should have the opportunity of expressing their own opinion on it. Therefore, he would suggest to the introducer of the Bill whether, if it was true that the Government had any intention of dealing directly or indirectly with this question, it would not be better that the Bill should be withdrawn on this occasion, and the discussion deferred to a more suitable opportunity.
said, he agreed with almost every speaker who had addressed the House that their object should be, if possible, to eliminate politics from the election for aldermen and other municipal contests. Politics had entered far too largely into municipal elections. He was not, however, prepared to say that there was sufficient information before the House to justify the belief that by adopting the system which was recommended in this Bill they would strike a sufficient blow at the evil. Cumulative voting was at present adopted in the elections of school boards, and in the elections for three-cornered counties the same result was attained by a process nearly similar; but there was otherwise no instance of such voting in our Parliamentary and municipal systems. The discussion had shown that even those who supported the Bill were not unanimous that this was the proper remedy. Had the question been fully discussed either by the House or the country? It had been brought before the House by a Bill in 1873, but the discussion upon it had been hardly sufficient to elicit the opinion of the House. The subject had been briefly discussed upon one other occasion, but there had been no expression of opinion by the country itself, and where there were so many different opinions—the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley) being in 1448 favour, for instance, of abolishing the dignity of alderman altogether—the Government asked the House not to prejudge the question, but to leave it open for further discussion. He would, therefore, suggest to his hon. Friend that, instead of pressing the second reading of his Bill, he would be acting more wisely in the interests of the object he had in view in withdrawing his measure and consenting to the Motion for the Previous Question. The Government considered the subject deserving of serious attention, but they thought it could not be dealt with until after further information had been procured. He would ask the House to negative the Amendment unless the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds) consented to withdraw it, and then to deal with the subject by agreeing to the Previous Question.
§ MR. HEYGATE
said, he had great pleasure in expressing his gratification at the course which the discussion had taken. He was not only assured, by what had fallen from the Under Secretary of State (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson), that the Government were of opinion that it was a subject which required their consideration, but on the other side of the House hon. Gentlemen who represented most important constituencies, and who were always listened to with great respect, had for the most part coincided with the objects of the Bill, whilst not a single speech had been made against it beyond that of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, and even they did not agree. He should not, therefore, press his Motion to a division, or attempt to legislate on this matter at this period of the Session. Before he sat down he must, however, say, with respect to the observations that had been made on the absence of any Petitions in favour of the Bill, that it was not at all likely that town councils would petition for their own reform, especially as such a proposal must be agreed to by a majority, and the grievance was that that majority was not a fair majority of those who represented the ratepayers, but made up of aldermen who did not fairly represent them. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Dodds) was against the Bill because it would allow persons outside the council to be made aldermen, but that was the law already, so that this Bill 1449 made no change in that respect. He begged to thank the Government for their determination to negative the Amendment, and would assent to the Previous Question as proposed by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State who had last addressed the House.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
rose, pursuant to Notice, to move the Previous Question. He said, he would not detain the House, because the views of the Government had been fully, explained by his hon. Friend (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson). The great object of municipal institutions was to get the very best possible materials for the governing body of the municipality. His hon. Friend (Mr. Heygate) had done good service by his treatment of this question and in having called attention to this matter. He believed the subject had not yet received sufficient attention in the country, but it would now be discussed by every municipality, and when Parliament again met the Government and the House would have the advantage of their deliberations in deciding upon the legislation to be adopted. His hon. Friend having done good service by bringing the matter before the House would now do equally good service in withdrawing his Bill from the decision of the House on the present occasion.
§ Previous Question, " That that Question be now put,"—(Mr. Assheton Cross,)—put, and negatived.