§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
, in rising to call attention to certain unreformed 1010 Borough Corporations of England, and to move an Address for—A List of Municipal Corporations (England and Wales) which are not incorporated under the Act 5 and 6 Will. IV., c. 76, showing with respect to each, in a tabular form, the amount of revenue at the date of the inquiry held in 1835; for Copies of the Petition of the inhabitants of Woodstock to Her Majesty in Council in 1867; of any Correspondence between the chief constable of Oxfordshire and inhabitants of Woodstock relating to charges made in 1874 or 1875 against the landlord of the 'King's Arms' at Woodstock for breaches of the Licensing Act, which charges resulted in the conviction of the said landlord, then and now Mayor of Woodstoock, on January 18,1875, for the said offence; and, of the Petition of the inhabitants of New Romney to Her Majesty in Council in 1869.said, that it was of course well known to everyone that, before the passing of the Municipal Corporation Act, there existed in England a vast number of close borough Corporations possessed of property, but many were under the impression that all of them were swept away at that time, and that the abuses which existed in connection with them had ceased for ever. That was not the fact. There still existed a great number of such Corporations, with all the anomalies which were presented by any that existed before the days of reform, although they were almost entirely confined to small places, and although also a majority of them did not possess very large funds, and consequently were not worth the inquiry. He knew himself of 96 such corporate boroughs. In Cornwall alone there were 10, which included the fatal names of Grampound, East Looe, West Looe, Lostwithiel, and Marazion. The incomes of most of these boroughs were only a few hundreds, but that of Queenborough in the Isle of Sheppey was £15,000 a-year in 1835. The three worst with which he was acquainted, and which were good representative cases, from the absolute concealment which existed with regard to them of all accounts of monies received or expended—involving thus the possibility of plunder by self-elected persons, were Queenborough and New Romney in Kent, and Woodstock in Oxfordshire. He would state the cases of those three towns, as showing what singular abuses still continued in a portion of our institutions which they had imagined to have been thoroughly reformed. The case of Queenborough was an interesting one. It 1011 was called Queenborough, because Queen Philippa, passing through it in the time of Edward III., procured its enfranchisement. She visited it once more a little later, and seeing "the Mayor, a thatcher, roofing a house (for in those days there were no loyal addresses), with his breeches rent at the seat," she ordered 10s. a-year for ever to be paid to the town to find the Mayor in breeches. This payment is still enjoyed by the town. The whole of the borough, about 600 acres, was formerly the property of the Corporation, but owing to their wasteful mismanagement of their oyster fisheries they became bankrupt in 1845, and the property was sold under an Act of Parliament to pay debts which were, for the most part, to the present day unpaid. Large fortunes were shortly after this time realized by one or two members of the lately insolvent Corporation, who, for paltry considerations, and by most shameful jobbery, managed to inclose Queenborough Common. That Corporation, careless about its unsettled liabilities, was avariciously diligent in levying harbour dues: 2s. for lifting an anchor; 2s. for discharging any vessel; 2s. for loading a barge; 6d. was charged on every load of hay or straw entering the town, through which the only main road lay, and 4d. for every wagon carrying produce. Yet there was no gate or turnpike trust, and the cattle depôt which was about to be established close by, in the rich pasture of the Isle of Sheppey, made the continuance of that class of duties a question of great importance to the London cattle dealers. It was calculated that £1 9s. was the fee chargeable on a barge-load of straw discharging at Queen-borough. The town sergeant kept no accounts. When a ship came in, he boarded her and pocketed the 2s. himself. The borough Court also imposed fines and penalties, and altogether it was reckoned that from fines, fees, dues, &c, the Corporation got about £200 a-year. To that sum must be added nearly £200 a-year which the Corporation collected with the county rate by their own officers from the inhabitants; the guardians of Sheppey Union—who stood in whole-some dread of the Local Government Auditor—altogether declining to recognize those peculiar charges, and therefore confining themselves to the collection of the poor's rate alone. Out of the amount thus levied on the inhabitants 1012 £25 a-year was granted to the Mayor as table-money. The borough charities possessed £1,700 worth of property, of which the interest was paid thus; to every boy in Sheppey Workhouse 6d. a-year; to the widows of freemen 36s. each. All the officers were self-elected. Land could not be obtained for any public purpose. The jurisdiction was complete over misdemeanours, and no one could be arrested without the counter-signature of the Mayor. A burgess of Queenborough has the serious privilege of—Being quit in the whole kingdom of toll, pontage, pannage, murage, kayage, piccage, groundage, lastage, stallage, hidage, rivage, and wreck of the sea.Which last he brought to the notice of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). The freemen of Queenborough possessed inalienable rights of common of fishery in the waters of Queenborough Corporation. That was settled after a famous trial known as "Skey's Case," in the early part of this century. He did not think the ablest lawyer in that House could say with any confidence whether those freemen's rights of fishery still existed, or whether they were done away by the Act of 1845, which authorized the sale of those fisheries. Those fisheries were never really sold; they were offered at auction, but no one would bid. But this was what happened—and he went into these particulars because he thought it was one of the worst cases he ever heard of—five members of the incorporated septemvirate formed themselves into a body of fishery trustees, raised a fresh sum of money on a new set of bonds, under a trust deed which was to have been enrolled in Chancery, but which never has been so enrolled, and then bought back the fisheries which they held in trust for the benefit of Queenborough—for whatever, that was, they might choose to consider "the benefit." They were supposed since to have paid off their second set of bonds, and the oyster fisheries were becoming valuable; but the former creditors had but a poor chance as long as the trust deed was un enrolled, and the accounts were secret. Phineas Webb, the oldest freeman in Queenborough, lately tried to put his rights of common of fishery to the test by going and exercising them. He was fined by the Mayor and Corporation, who refused his request to be sent for trial to Maidstone, and, declining 1013 to pay the fine, he was sent to Canterbury gaol. Yet Phineas Webb, as he had said, was most probably in the right. He was, nevertheless, prosecuted, tried, and punished, and refused a chance of a fair hearing, for a supposed offence against a firm of fishermen, by the partners in that firm! So much for Queenborough. New Romney was a town in Kent, the capital indeed of Romney Marsh, the latter being the well-known fifth quarter of the globe, according to the inhabitants of Kent, who habitually spoke of Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh. New Romney was one of the Cinque Ports; indeed, from some points of view, it might be called the capital of the Cinque Ports. It was governed under a charter, which was similar to the charter of the neighbouring town of Winchelsea. The port had been destroyed by the great storm of 1287, and it now stood two miles from the sea; but, although it had become a crazy village, it had kept the organization of a flourishing mediæval town. Untouched by municipal reform, it was governed by a self-elected Corporation, dealing with large town properties and with very considerable funds, the proceeds of them; and letting, as he would show, the Corporation lands solely to members of the Corporation. The proceedings of this Corporation were brought before the Home Secretary by a memorial of the inhabitants on one occasion. The facts stated in that memorial were extraordinarily strange. Those facts had never been denied. The memorial prayed for the creation of an ordinary Corporation, and Major Donnelly was sent down to see whether the population was sufficient, which he found was not the case, although the ordinary limit was very nearly reached. If instead of praying for the creation of a new Corporation, the inhabitants had prayed only for an inquiry into the legality of the existence of the Corporation, and the manner in which it had exercised its powers, he did not see how that inquiry could have been refused. On Ladyday of every year, the election of the Corporation by the commonalty took place, and he would describe the election without a particle of exaggeration. On the eve of the day, at 10 o'clock at night, horns were blown through the town, and proclamation was made in these term— 1014Every man of twelve years or more, go to the church; there our commonalty hath need. Haste, haste!In the morning the horns were again blown by the sergeants of the Corporation, and the same form was repeated. A procession then took place to the church—the sergeants carrying the two silver maces of the Corporation; the mayor carrying his staff of office; two jurats carrying keys, the keys of the town chest: and the remainder of the jurats and the freemen. They entered the church, and, by their reading of the law the "commonalty" being only the freemen, and the Corporation being entitled to refuse the freemanship to any except their own nominees, they proceeded to lock the doors of the church in the face of the assembled population, and "publicly and openly the election of the Corporation for the year is then made" by a number of gentlemen which generally was six, but which counting non-residents who ought not to be counted—could not exceed eight, sitting round an old tomb! A Mr. Stubbins, who lived two hundred years ago, and who lent an air of respectability to his name by writing it as Stuppenye, had left that tomb to the Corporation to serve as a table at their annual meeting. The Mayor took his seat at the head of the tomb; he then addressed the commonalty, who that year consisted of one person, in a speech in which he desired them—that was, him—to proceed to a new election. The town clerk then rose in his place, and read a tremendous document directed against corruption. Now, the ancient documents under which the election was conducted, or should be conducted, continued their description of the forms to be observed as followed—but here he must notice a divergency between the practice and the principle:—" The commonalty desire the mayor to withdraw, and name three other respectable men to be in election with him," &c.; but the documents he quoted assumed two things—they assumed that the person to be chosen Mayor was a resident, and they assumed that there were 12 jurats; or, as they expressed it, a jury of justices. Now, last year, they had a non-resident Mayor, which he believed to be illegal, and instead of twelve jurats they had only four; whilst, so nearly did the election of those four exhaust their whole numbers, that there was only one gentleman 1015 left to represent the commonalty of the town. Now, Mr. Jeakes, the learned historian of the Cinque Ports, said that it was incumbent that there should be 12 jurats; and he also said that the non-resident freemen were prevented from voting, and the records of the Cinque Ports themselves declared—If a man be made free, he must within a year after have lands, goods, or chattels of the value of 40s., or else his franchise is forfeited, and the jurats may not grant the freedom to anyone that is not resident within the franchise.Now, no doubt, the late Mayor was resident when he was made a freeman; but it appeared as contrary to the spirit of the law that he should continue to be Mayor when not resident, as it was contrary to the words of Mr. Jeakes. But, at all events, if it should be shown that no illegality strictly speaking and technically existed on that point, he maintained that there was an illegality on a most serious point, inasmuch as it was declared in Stephen's Commentaries that a Corporation was dissolved "by the loss of such au integral part or portion of its members as the charter requires for corporate election." If that was good law—and he believed it was so—he maintained that the Corporation of New Romney, at the present moment, was non-existent, and that certain unauthorized persons were illegally holding its valuable lands, and that was the ground upon which he mainly rested the case for an inquiry. In the Petition which had been presented to the late Home Secretary, it was stated that there were 570 acres of valuable Corporation land, of which the whole was rented from the Corporation by members of the Corporation, no balance-sheet being shown. The Mayor, Mr. Walker, held 318 acres of it. The Mayor's brother held 44 acres. Mr. Cobb, one of the jurats, held 26 acres. His son, Mr. Cobb, held 49 acres. Mr. Coates, a member of the Corporation, held 95 acres. Mr. Humphery, the Chamberlain of the Corporation—who was now the only representative of the commonalty of New Romney—that was the only freeman who attended and who was not a jurat, and who, he presumed, was "commonalty" chiefly because his name did not happen to be either Walker, Cobb, or Coates—held 23 acres; the remainder being held by the family of the town 1016 clerk. He believed that the same thing was true now—namely, that the whole of the land was let to members of the Corporation, no balance-sheet of any kind ever being shown. Now, he found by the records of Cinque Ports that—It was ordered at the Court of Brotherhood and Guestling held July 22nd, 1634, and by that assembly fully decreed, that the lands of the Corporation of New Romney shall be let to any of the inhabitants of that town who shall give the most for them, namely, to the best advantage. They may be let for the term of seven years only if he shall so long live in the said town. If any shall assign the term of seven years, only if he shall live in the said town, not to anybody but an inhabitant of Romney as aforesaid, and the said town of Romney are enjoined forthwith to establish a decree and duly observe the same decree in every respect, upon pain of £500 to be levied more solito.He claimed that the Corporation, therefore, had subjected themselves to that fine of £500 by the manner in which they had let their lands. The question which had been raised by all these proceedings was not so small a one as might at first sight appear. On the one hand, the revenues of the town of New Romney from their lands were so considerable, or ought to be, as to make the town the richest publicly of any with which he was acquainted. Again, the powers of the jurats, at that moment four in number instead of 12, were very considerable indeed, but the whole existence of the Corporation being probably illegal, it was doubtful whether a rich man could be punished for any ordinary offence that he might commit within New Romney. A poor man would of course be punished, because he could not afford to appeal and contest the jurisdiction of the jurats. The property of the town was estimated at £1,200 a-year for a population of 1,000. That property was at the present moment considerably under-let, but he named a figure which had been actually offered for it four years ago by a substantial local man, whose offer was renewed by two others in a subsequent year. The whole of the property being let as he had stated by the Cobbs and the Walkers; who were members of the Corporation, to the Walkers and the Cobbs, they showed no balance sheet. He did not accuse them of dishonesty, and although the lands were much under-let, such as the revenues were it might turn out on inquiry that they spent them for the public good. But no one could know that that 1017 was the case. Their public did not believe it. They had not him, but their public to convince, and it showed the most singular stupidity on their part to imagine that they could escape grave local suspicion so long as they refused to show a balance sheet. He was bound to say that they were not much afraid of public opinion. The local papers in their part of Kent called them week by week, "a rotten relic of antiquity," "a reproach to civilization," and "a libel on the age." He did not wish to use strong language, but if they were to be left alone without inquiry, he should propose, at all events, that the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) should next year include them in the Schedule of his Ancient Monuments Bill. In 1871 the New Romney Corporation brought an action for libel against a local paper which had spoken of them in these terms, and on this action they, of course, spent without let or hindrance the money of the town. Mr. Justice Hannen, in his charge to the Grand Jury, said—It was the first instance in his experience in which a libel on a Corporation had been made the subject of an investigation of this kind. The Corporation of New Romney, however, seemed to be extremely sensitive … No doubt it was strong language to say that the money of the Corporation was parcelled out among the members and their friends.The Grand Jury threw out the Bill, and the Corporation did not clear their corporate character. It was set forth in the great Municipal Corporation Report that New Romney "absolutely refused all information to Your Majesty's Commissioners." "John Walker, Esq.," Mayor, in the chair, the "mayor, jurats, and commonalty" of New Romney, on 8th February, 1834, passed a resolution declaring the Municipal Corporation Commission wholly illegal!—and the sky did not fall. Talk of "before 1832!" Why, before 1832 New Romney was an open Corporation compared with New Romney now. The total number of its freemen at the time of the Reform Bill was 21, so that if they had elected a Mayor and 12 jurats they would have had the respectable number of eight freemen over to represent the commonalty. The total number of freemen now, including the Mayor and four jurats, was eight, of whom three, at least, were nonresident, and legally disqualified from voting, though they did vote. Those 1018 five freemen, or eight freemen, or whatever it might be, had not only, properly speaking, to elect a Mayor and 12 jurats from among themselves, but also 26 councillors. He came next to another, and perhaps to a still more serious side of the affair. If those gentlemen were responsible to no one but themselves, as they claimed, and if they were never to show a balance sheet, what was to prevent any successors of theirs who might be dishonest, and who at the present rate of decrease would in about 10 years' time be only four in number, from selling the whole property of the town and dividing the proceeds amongst themselves? It was an undoubted fact that parcels of land—including, for instance, the old bed of the river—had been sold by the Corporation without the previous knowledge of the inhabitants, and without any proof or even pretence that the proceeds had been reinvested in land. One piece of Corporation land had been sold quite lately. He did not wish to charge the members of the Corporation with individual dishonesty; but he thought that as honest men, they ought to wish to be placed above suspicion. Now, the question which their public asked itself was, what did they do with the money? The property was grossly underlet, but even grossly underlet as it was it produced £800 a-year—that was £7 or £8 a-head to each ratepayer. When Major Donnelly went down, Mr. Stringer, the town clerk, was asked a few questions outside the strict scope of the inquiry. He was asked, What was done with the money? He said that £30 was paid as salary to the Mayor, £25 a-year to the schools, £60 for gas, £20 salary for the chamber-lain who was a member of the Corporation; and in all he accounted for less than £200 a-year. Mr. Buss, the village Hampden, very naturally asked—"What do you do with the rest?" "I shan't tell you," was the answer by Mr. Stringer, and Major Donnelly had no power to ask more. It was not only ordered in former days that the Corporation should let their lands to those of the inhabitants who would give the most; but it was further ordered that the lands should be let at a public meeting; but the amazing contention of the six or eight graziers who at present constituted the Corporation, was not only that they and they alone were the inhabitants, but 1019 that they, assembled in the church around the tomb with the church doors locked, were a public meeting. As for their claims that they—half of them not living in New Romney, at all—and they only were the inhabitants, it would appear that though you might have been born in New Romney, and have lived in New Romney all your life, and your fathers before you, nevertheless you might not be an "inhabitant." A case had been submitted to the late Attorney General (Sir John Coleridge) upon that point, and he had held that the word "commonalty" meant more than the freemen, and did include other inhabitants, but he had not gone on to decide what was an inhabitant. The charter of Queen Elizabeth, which was the charter under which the present proceedings of the Corporation were conducted, used the phrase "for the benefit of the freemen and commons for ever," from which it would appear that the freemen and commons were distinct. As to what he said just now about the residence of some of those "inhabitants;" Mr. W. D. Walker, the last year's Mayor was not only non-resident, which he believed to be illegal, but he also held the office of bailiff of Romney Marsh, and the effect of that combination of offices was that he had to audit his own accounts as manager of the Southland Charity, and to supervise himself. He thought that the attention of the Charity Commissioners and of the Endowed Schools Commissioners, for it concerned both, ought to be called to the Southland Charity, which had a large income entirely independent of that of the Corporation. The governor of the charity enjoyed a house and salary under the founder's will. By the founder's will he must be a "scholar" of Oxford or Cambridge, and he must teach two boys English. Now, he was informed that the present governor was, when chosen, not a graduate of either Oxford or Cambridge, and that instead of instructing the boys himself, he paid two-pence a-week for them at the national school. If so, he followed, he believed, the example of his predecessor, for he had taken the trouble to go to the office of the Charity Commissioners and to examine the return made by his predecessor to the first great inquiry into charities. He found that he reported, with great modesty, that the boys were 1020 taught elsewhere, where they would probably be better taught than by himself. To return to the Corporation, he thought that inquiry was necessary, not only in the public interest—not only in the interest of the inhabitants of New Romney—but also in the interest of the members of the Corporation themselves. The gravest possible charges were made against them in the town they governed. Scurrilous bills were circulated from hand to hand. There was one which was to be found in every house in Romney Marsh, which was Bumpkin's Kattechism. In it Mr. Walker, the Mayor, was elegantly alluded to as "Hookey," and in "Billy" they recognized Mr. Stringer, the town clerk, inasmuch as Mr. Stringer's celebrated answer before Major Donnelly appears in Billy's mouth—Q 'What are the benefits of members?'—A. 'Shan't tell you,' says Billy.Another question ran as followed:—Q. 'What is considered indispensible for admission to the Copperation? '—A. 'Relationship; a complete surrender of private judgment, and a promise to obey implicitly Hookey and Brother Bill.'The doctrine of trusteeship as understood in New Romney was thus indicated in Bumpkin's Kattechism:—Q. 'For what was the Copperation instituted?'—A. 'For the benefit of Hookey and his friends.'But seriously! Other Cinque Ports had been in nearly as corrupt a condition as New Romney, and had been thrown open. Hastings was thrown open before the Reform Bill. Winchelsea had been thrown open to all payers of scot and lot. New Romney was the worst of all. The total number of its freemen at the time of the passing of the Reform Act was 21. The total number at the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act was 18. The total number now was eight! New Romney was the only town in the whole world in which six people locked up in a church formed a public meeting of the inhabitants; it was the only town in England in which six gentlemen elected themselves to every office, appointed themselves magistrates, let the whole of the valuable town properties exclusively to themselves, audited their own accounts, and never showed a balance sheet. It was into that monstrously corrupt Corporation that he prayed that 1021 inquiry might be made. He came next to the case of "Woodstock. The Corporation of Woodstock consisted of five aldermen who took turns to be Mayor, and of 16 common councilmen, who were self-elected and held office for life. The councilmen chose the aldermen, who acted ex officio as borough magistrates. The Corporation possessed property which the inhabitants who were in correspondence with him stated to be worth between £300 and £400 a-year. The Mayor, when examined before Major Donnelly, who was also sent to Wood-stock, admitted that the account given by the Corporation of their property in answer to the Petition was incorrect. They showed no accounts or balance-sheet, and they denied the right of the inhabitants to inquire into what became of it. They paid £45 a-year for the lighting of the streets; but, as he was informed, devoted no other sum whatever towards the benefit of the town, although the charter stated that the funds were given them to repair the roadways and the bridges of the borough, neither of which was done by them. They administered several charities, and the property of the grammar school, and they elected the master. In the case of the grammar school, they had lately over-ridden the unanimous resolution of a meeting of the townspeople which they themselves had called together to consider the question. They had also appointed a committee of townspeople to assist them in managing the grammar schools, but they ended by never calling the committee together. The late Endowed Schools Commission had prepared a scheme widening the trust; but the Corporation, by refusing to agree to it, managed to delay it until the change in the Commission last year, and the scheme appeared to have been dropped. They had appointed a clerical master taking clerical duties, contrary to the express wish of the unanimous town's meeting summoned by themselves, of which he had already spoken. Here was a small extract from the examination of the Mayor before Major Donnelly—The Mayor:—" There was not a single Dissenter in the Corporation; there never had been. There were two brothers and two sets of brothers-in-law on the Council. The glove trade was not represented at all; it was the only manufacture in the town, and the amount paid in wages was vastly more than in any other trade.1022The Counsel for the Petitioners:—" And yet it is stated in the Corporation Petition that the election of a glover would introduce dissension and discord into the body corporate.The Mayor:—" I thought that the introduction of municipal elections in a small town like Woodstock would create ill-feeling and prove injurious.He did not mention the fact that political elections in a small town like Woodstock—where they did occur—might create ill-feeling or prove injurious. Here was a bit from the examination of the town clerk—Some years ago there were 80 freemen; but they have now dwindled down to 21. Only 3 have taken up their freedom since 1832. When the freemen become extinct there will be no one left to elect a mayor.The town clerk admitted that their proceedings on the only occasion on which they had ever opposed the Duke of Marlborough had at once had their legality questioned by mandamus. The Corporation were beaten and the costs came out of the corporate funds. He also admitted that there were three Dissenting chapels in the town, and that many of the leading tradesmen and glove manufacturers were Dissenters; but that they were absolutely excluded in practice from the Corporation. He also admitted that the water company of the town of Woodstock was the Duke of Marlborough, who supplied it from his reservoir and had the ordinary power to take up streets and lay down pipes. The Petition was signed by a clear majority of the inhabitant householders, by all the glove manufacturers, and by all the shopkeepers not themselves members of the Corporation. One of the leading aldermen of the town last year was a publican, and his public-house, kept by an ex officio magistrate, was used by other ex officio magistrates or aldermen until remarkable hours of the night. Although two other publicans of Wood-stock had been summoned or fined for less than an hour's evasion of the law, and although the King's Arms—which was the house of which he spoke as having been kept by the ex officio magistrate—had been several times reported by the police—the alderman told the police—"Don't you know I am one of the chief magistrates of the town?" Inspector Bowen of the police, stated in Court that he had more trouble with the King's Arms than with any other house in the town. In the present 1023 year, the landlord of the King's Arms was himself Mayor. Not only was the King's Arms' landlord Mayor, but the King's Arms itself belonged to the Corporation. The house was assessed at £35 a-year, but it was let at £1 13s. a-year, or, making allowance for the fine, it was so let as to produce rather less than £5 a-year. On the 7th of December a great number of people were in the King's Arms late at night-time for drinking purposes, and with closed doors. The police broke in, and the superintendent applied for a summons. The summons was not granted. A number of inhabitants then wrote to the chief constable for the county, and on the 11th of January 10 persons were summoned for drinking at the Mayor's house after hours. Eight were convicted. The Mayor made a long statement in Court on the occasion. The chief constable was again written to, and he having interfered, on the 18th of January the Mayor himself was summoned. The case was fully proved against him; he was convicted, and fined. The Mayor then said in Court—"I have always had a great respect for the police, but I never shall again." As this case was an undoubted fact, he hoped no one would accuse him of having found a mayor's nest. They had then in the case of Woodstock, as they had in the case of New Romney, a large property—although less large—withheld from public purposes and spent, nobody knew how, without the production of accounts or balance-sheet, by a self-elected body. They had also, as a special ground for inquiry in the case of Woodstock, a wilful breach of a well-known statute by the Mayor himself, without the possibility of his being deposed from his official rank as an alderman and a magistrate by the inhabitants of the town, inasmuch as they had taken no part in his election. In the case of New Romney, he had been offered a Petition from a majority of the inhabitants praying for inquiry, and he had no doubt from what he had learned locally, that at least as many of the inhabitants would sign a Petition now as had signed one in 1867; but as he found that one official had been dismissed, and that several persons had been deprived of charitable aid because they had signed that Petition, he had not thought it desirable to provide himself with one on that occasion. In the case of Woodstock, 1024 he was acting at the desire of a large number of the inhabitants of that town. The majority of the inhabitants signed the Petition in 1866. For Liberals it would be a sufficient reason for inquiry into those cases—to use the words which had been frequently heard in Parliament—" When corporate bodies do not apply land under their control to proper uses, it should be taken pos-session of by the State." He was, however, aware that that was not an altogether accepted doctrine of the Conservative Party, and therefore he would give more special grounds for inquiry into those cases. It was, he thought, a grievance demanding redress that self-elected bodies should possess ex officio jurisdiction of any kind over other persons, as they did in both those cases. There was also a special reason for inquiry into the mismanagement alleged by the inhabitants of the Southland Charity, in New Romney, and of the grammar school and several charities at Woodstock. There was also at New Romney, and he believed at Woodstock, a taxation grievance. Mr. Tunbridge, of New Romney—a member of the assessment committee of the Board of Guardians, and himself a man assessed at nearly £600 a-year, the leading inhabitant not a member of the Corporation, and bitterly opposed to its existence—had stated, and he believed it could not be denied, that not having been offered to competition, the Corporation lands were not only ridiculously under-rented, but also ridiculously under-rated, and that in consequence every person else who had to pay rates in the district was over taxed. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, that She will he graciously pleased to give directions that there he laid before this House, a List of Municipal Corporations (England and Wales) which are not incorporated under the Act 5 and 6 Will. 4, c. 76, showing with respect to each, in a tabular form, the amount of the revenue at the date of inquiry held in 1835:
Copies of the Petition of the inhabitants of Woodstock to Her Majesty in Council in 1867:
Of any Correspondence between the chief constable of Oxfordshire and inhabitants of Woodstock relating to charges made in 1874 or 1875 against the landlord of the 'King's Arms'
at Woodstock for breaches of the Licensing Act, which charges resulted in the conviction of the said landlord, then and now Mayor of Wood-stock, on January 18,1875, for the said offence:
And, of the Petition of the inhabitants of New Romney to Her Majesty in Council in 1869,"—(Sir Charles W. Dilke,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, it was with considerable amusement, although at the same time with great relief, that he had listened to the speech of the hon. Baronet. His manner had been so mysterious and alarming that he had led the House to suppose that he had some terrible tale of vice, immorality, and crime to divulge against the Corporation of Woodstock and the other unhappy boroughs against whom the Motion was directed. Now, however, that the thunderstorm which had been gathering over their heads had burst, it had not done very much damage. The affairs of most of the Corporations the hon. Baronet had alluded to were of very little moment to him (Lord Randolph Churchill), and, as he should not follow the example of the hon. Baronet in meddling with matters which did not concern him, he should confine his remarks to the borough of Woodstock. The only general remark he would make in connection with the subject was, that if the information given by the hon. Baronet with reference to the other Corporations was not more correct than that he had afforded with reference to Wood-stock, the House would act very wisely in not paying too much attention to it. He would explain to the House the real facts with respect to the case of the Mayor. A meeting of the Foresters' Friendly Society was held at the King's Arms, at which it appeared that the business to be transacted was of such an unusually heavy and complicated nature that the hours during which the public-house might remain open were not sufficient for its completion. The police of Woodstock—a highly-intelligent and active body of men—reported the case to the magistrates' clerk, who was himself a member of the Corporation, and a summons would have been immediately taken out by the Chief Constable of the county had it not been for the occurrence 1026 of the terrible Shipton accident, which had occupied his time for fully a month. As soon as that was arranged, the Foresters and the Mayor were both summoned, the former having to pay 2s. 6d. each and the latter £1 and costs. The hon. Baronet had alluded to some expressions of dissatisfaction which he alleged the Mayor had made use of on the occasion. What he had really said, however, was—" I have always thought very highly of the police of Woodstock; but from this time forward I shall think more highly of them than ever." He could easily understand that in the heat of the moment—for, of course, the summoning of a Mayor was not an everyday occurrence—the Mayor might have been misunderstood, or misreported, or, indeed, he might not have said what he intended to say. On the whole, the affair was creditable to Woodstock, and to the Corporation. In that respect, indeed, he might paraphrase the expression of Henry IV. on the occasion of the affair between the Prince of Wales and the Lord Chief Justice Gascoigne, and say—" Happy is the town which has such a corporation, and happy is the corporation that has such a mayor." He should certainly oppose the Motion of the hon. Baronet, and he hoped he might be able to persuade the House and the Government to take a similar course. The hon. Baronet was a terrible customer for Returns; but he had noticed this peculiarity about them—that they were really not very interesting to anybody except to the hon. Baronet himself fie recollected that when the Vote for Printing and Stationary was discussed in that House, great complaint was made by many hon. Members that that Vote was annually increasing, and there was a general agreement that useless and unnecessary Returns should not be granted. He could not help thinking that the present was a very proper moment for the House to commence a course of economy. He had another objection to the Return, and it was, that he had often noticed that when hon. Members below the Gangway opposite made Motions for Returns to inquire into property, they were in the habit of following that up with Motions for acquiring the property itself. Now, this Woodstock property was in no sense public property. The value amounted to £300 a-year, of which about one-third 1027 was held in charitable trusts that were managed by the Corporation under the control of the Charity Commissioners of England and Wales, and the accounts were published every year. He might here explain that a clergyman had been appointed master of the grammar school, in order that he might perform service in the Woodstock Union on Sunday afternoons. That part of the property which was not held on charitable trusts had been acquired partly by charter, partly by devise, and partly by prudent purchase. The income of that portion of the property was expended in public works in Woodstock, in lighting and paving the town, and in keeping the pavements and the roads in repair, except those roads which were under the control of the highway surveyor, and only £20 was absorbed by salaries. Moreover, the Corporation gave liberal subscriptions to the national schools, the county infirmary, and other local charities. The hon. Baronet had complained of the Corporation being a self-elected body. If by that, he meant that there was any exclusiveness about it, he was greatly mistaken, for he could tell him that with the exception of the persons from whom he supposed the hon. Baronet obtained his information, there were few of the eligible inhabitants of the town who had not been either elected or had had an offer of election on the Corporation. Did the hon. Baronet mean it was close politically? If so, he was mistaken. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not know of any Dissenters being on the Corporation; but he could tell the hon. Baronet that there were three men belonging to that body who entertained Liberal opinions—the town clerk, the coroner, and a Scotchman, who, he need hardly say, held the most advanced opinions. It had always been a commendable custom with the Corporation for ages past to recruit its members from the most wealthy and respectable portion of the inhabitants, and as in boroughs other than Woodstock, wealth and respectability were often found coincident with Conservative opinions, it was not surprising that the Conservative members of the Corporation should form the majority. Did the hon. Baronet mean that the Corporation was close, in the sense that it was not elected by the ratepayers? On that point he submitted that it could not be better constituted if it were 1028 elected by the ratepayers; and its property could not be better managed; and if the House made this alteration they would have to annihilate Royal Charters and abolish ancient privileges without any good reason being shown for such high-handed proceedings. The hon. Baronet was greatly mistaken if he thought that he was doing the slightest service to the inhabitants of Woodstock by bringing this matter before the House; and if it had been shown that his statements with respect to Woodstock were erroneous, the House would easily infer what weight was to be attached to them with regard to the other places to which reference had been made. The inhabitants of Woodstock were an excessively independent body of men, and if they were dissatisfied with their Corporation, they would take the earliest opportunity of disembarrassing themselves of that body. But he could assure the hon. Baronet and the House that the inhabitants of Woodstock prized and valued their corporate and municipal privileges as highly as they did their political ones. The tenure of property by the Corporation was viewed without jealousy, and the administration of it without suspicion. The Corporation since the date of their Charter, granted by Henry VI., and confirmed by subsequent Monarchs, had discharged their civil and magisterial functions with dignity and with impartiality, and they had enjoyed, and still continued to enjoy, the esteem of all, and the affection of many of the inhabitants. Those, he humbly submitted, were not the kind of people whom that House would wish to annoy by a useless, inquisitive, prying, and needless investigation. The matter was not worthy of the attention of the House, and hardly worthy even of the attention of the hon. Baronet. The hon. Baronet's constituents had a right to expect better things from him than the cruel vivisection of an unfortunate Mayor and persecution of a few poor Aldermen. In conclusion, he wondered that his hon. Friend did not desist from these trifling little attacks, these petty onslaughts on Corporations and institutions which were as harmless as they were ancient, as unobtrusive as they were respectable, and respected. He wondered that his hon. Friend did not devote his great and acknowledged talent to the attainment 1029 of some higher object, and to the pursuit of some worthier game.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that after the two amusing speeches which the House had just heard, what he had to say would seem very dull indeed. He could not attempt to answer what the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had said with regard to the particular cases he had referred to, as he (the Attorney General) had no other information on subject than what the hon. Baronet had just stated. No doubt, the question as to how the various unreformed corporations should be dealt with was a matter worthy of consideration; and as far as regarded that portion of the hon. Baronet's Motion which asked for a list of those corporations which were not incorporated under the Act of William IV., and the amount of their revenues, there could be no objection to it. The hon. Baronet had illustrated the general observations he had made by referring to the cases of Queenborough, New Romney, and Woodstock, and he (the Attorney General) must confess that, until he heard the speech of his noble Friend behind him (Lord Randolph Churchill), he thought that the attacks of the hon. Baronet upon these Corporations could not be answered without further inquiry. He was sorry, however, that the hon. Baronet, after giving the House the benefit of his antiquarian researches, had thought it right to make charges of this kind at a time when it was extremely possible that the persons concerned or interested in them were not in a position to answer them.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
explained that he had informed the noble Lord of the character of the statements he intended to make as to Woodstock.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
remarked that that no doubt was the case as regarded Woodstock, for the noble Lord was evidently well prepared to defend that Corporation, and had most efficiently done so; and if those interested in the other boroughs mentioned had been equally forewarned, they would probably have been able to make as good an answer as that of the noble Lord. Possibly the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who had been referred to by the hon. Baronet, would have been able to say something with reference to Queen-borough or New Romney, though he 1030 Attorney General was not aware that those Corporations were within the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
stated that he had informed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kent of the nature of the statements he intended to make as to those boroughs; but the right hon. Gentleman was not disposed to enter into the matter.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
replied that his general argument was not affected by these particular circumstances, and went on to say that he was unable to imagine for what purpose the speech of the hon. Baronet, amusing as it was, had been made, because it hardly agreed with the terms of his Notice of Motion. There would be no objection to the furnishing of copies of the Petition of the inhabitants of Woodstock to Her Majesty in Council in 1867, and of that of the inhabitants of New Romney in 1869, but he must object to the remaining portion of the hon. Baronet's Motion. The hon. Baronet asked for a copy of the Correspondence between the Chief Constable of Oxfordshire and the inhabitants of Woodstock relating to charges made in 1874 and 1875 against the landlord of the King's Arms at Woodstock for breaches of the Licensing Act. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was not in a position to produce that Correspondence. If the noble Lord would withdraw the objection he had taken to the Motion, so far as it concerned Wood-stock, the Government would assent to the production of the Papers asked for by the hon. Baronet, with the exception of the Correspondence to which he had just referred.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he felt sure the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea would accept the offer of the hon. and learned Attorney General to grant the substantial part of the Motion; and he (Sir William Harourt) hoped that if the allegations made against these Corporations were well founded, they would have the assistance of the Attorney General in taking further action, for the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to be specially interested in matters of this kind. He therefore trusted that the hon. Baronet would be satisfied. By doing so he 1031 would by no means lessen the force of his argument, which went to show that there were in existence certain close Corporations, consisting of self-elected members, who held large public funds of which, as trustees for the public, they ought to render a public account. The hon. Baronet had made an extremely interesting and amusing speech, which had called forth an entertaining reply of equal ability, for the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) had made a gallant defence of the borough he represented. It was impossible that the defence could have been better, and it filled one with all the astonishment and admiration which had been excited by the French cook who made 24 excellent dishes out of an old boot. The skill of the dressing concealed the miserable quality of the materials with which the artist had to deal. The great beauty of the speech was that the noble Lord, having admitted all the most damaging facts against himself, persuaded the House that they were of no importance whatever. No doubt, the noble Lord would be glad that these Returns should make known to all the world the merits of that admirable Corporation in which he himself had so much confidence, and which redounded so much to their credit.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he would not press for the Correspondence which the Attorney General objected to give.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
suggested that it would be more convenient if the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea would withdraw his Motion altogether, when it could be renewed in the form of a Motion for an unopposed Return.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.