§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
—Mr. Speaker: The 29th of February is a 1127 day on which it has not been given to everyone to bring forward a Motion in the House of Commons; but I can assure the House that the day fixed for the discussion of this Motion is not odder than many of the topics of which it will be necessary for me to treat.
It will be remembered that last year I called attention to the subject of un-reformed municipal corporations with special reference to the cases of New Romney, Queen borough, and New Wood-stock. This year it is my intention to refer in illustration of my general arguments to one other unreformed corporation of Kent, and to those of Sussex, the Isle of Wight, Dorsetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall. I gave nearly three weeks' notice to those Members of the House who represent the counties in which the boroughs which I have to name in a hostile manner are situated, except in two cases, and in those cases one week's notice. If I do not escape alive from the House to-day it is to the Members from Cornwall that my destruction most probably will be due.
I moved last year for Papers which were granted, and obtained from Government a list of the whole of the unreformed corporations of England and Wales. I told the House last year that the letters which I had received, and the inquiries which I had made led me to believe that there were 97 or 98 of them in existence. The Return makes them 102 in number, but three or four of them are now extinct, and the town of Newport, in the Isle of Wight, is, I believe, wrongly included, it being a reformed municipal corporation, so that the number 97 or 98 stands correct. Since the publication of the Return I have made special inquiry into the condition of such of these corporations as be south of London—not that I believe that the southern boroughs are the worst, but because they are the most easily reached. When I say that they are probably not the worst I must tell the House that I have received a vast number of letters from the respectable inhabitants of a great many of these towns, and that it is a singular fact that in every one of these letters the inhabitant who writes it informs me that the un-reformed corporation of his particular borough is undoubtedly the least efficient and the most corrupt of all. The fact is that each writer knows only the 1128 case of his own town, and, knowing how bad that is, cannot conceive that there can be any worse. I do not deal to-day with the southern boroughs in any belief that in a monetary sense they are the most important, for the property wasted in the unreformed boroughs of the East Coast, and by some of those in the North is far more considerable than that which the southern boroughs have to waste. Wasted it is, in almost every case without exception, so far as I have yet gone: muddled away in some cases; in some cases stolen; but made effective use of in hardly one.
When I spoke last year I pointed out that in all these boroughs we have the same general features. A very small number of persons, self-elected, let the town lands to themselves at ridiculously low rents, and spend the town property without account. In most of them, those persons or their nominees exercise criminal jurisdiction over persons who have nothing whatever to do with their election, and it will be observed that in the Notice that I have given I have attached peculiar importance to this matter of jurisdiction.
Before I pass to the new cases with which I shall deal to-day, I wish to make a short reference to last year's debate. The only answer which was given to my charges in the House was that of my noble Friend who sits for Woodstock. The noble Lord said that the property of the corporation of Wood-stock was not public property at all. I would ask, in reply, not as to Woodstock only, but as to any of these corporations, if their property is not public property what in the world then is it? I should doubt whether any man would venture to assert that it is purely the private property of those individuals who happen at any particular moment to be the members of the corporation. Certainly, Parliament in 1835, when it took away all the property of all the corporations named in the Municipal Reform Act, did not pay compensation to individuals or treat that property as property of a private nature. I have, before I pass on, one other remark to make upon the last year's speech of the noble Lord. When I quoted the memorable words of the mayor of Woodstock, uttered on the solemn occasion when he was fined for repeated breaches of the Licensing Act—namely—"That in the past he had 1129 always had a high respect for the police, but in future he should have none;" the noble Lord, making perhaps the cleverest, and certainly the most audacious reply ever made to such a statement, said, that the words the mayor had really used were these—"That he had always in the past had a high respect for the police, but in future he should have more." I have but one comment to make on that defence, and it is this—The mayor was again fined for a fresh breach of the Licensing Act on the very day on which he was thus defended by my noble Friend. The noble Lord was aware of that fact at the time at which he spoke, but unfortunately I was not, and he knew that I was not.
When I said that no other answer was made last year to the charges which I brought forward, I forgot an answer in the Kentish papers by the town clerk of the corporation of New Romney. His long rambling statement was replied to at the time, and the correspondence revealing no new points was not of interest, except as showing the singular partial blindness which affects unreformed corporate authorities. The town clerk said, that neither he nor the mayor had ever seen any scurrilous hand-bills directed against the corporation. I replied to this in the best way I could by posting to both of them copies of the worst.
Since last year's Motion the inhabitants of New Romney have broken out into poetry:—thus we find—… out of a thousand a-yearThey pocket eight hundred, it is very clear.MR. Stringer's reply to me is thus touched—The town is well-drained, says their legal wit! Of its own rights, it is, for they crib every bit.In dealing with the corporations of the South of England I shall name 16 which I have examined with equal care to that which I gave to the three into which I went last year. I shall incidentally allude to five others that are in the list, and shall thus have dealt when I sit down with 21, and 3, or 24 in all out of the 102, leaving 78 that I shall not have mentioned. Judging from the letters which I have received, I have no doubt that the 78 are just as bad as the 24 whose cases I have happened to investigate. 1130 Going across England from east to west I have to name in Kent, in addition to Queen borough and New Romney, the corporate borough of Fordwich. A gentleman who had been mayor of this interesting place for many years had informed a friend of mine that his venerable corporation was "a positive nuisance, and ought to be got rid of without delay." But, on local inquiry, I have come to the conclusion that it was not so very bad a one when compared with many of the others. The rector of Fordwich has since written to me that he believes it to be "the worst corporation that exists on the face of the earth." I name this only to show that those which I think white, by comparison with the really black, are not so considered by the inhabitants who have less experience than I have now acquired of the depths to which municipal corporations may descend.
These are the facts about Fordwich. The charter, which is lost, was granted by Edward the Confessor, and renewed by Henry II. The corporation consists of six persons, only one of whom is resident. Any friend of the six by paying £10 may become a seventh, and ex officio a justice of the peace. These persons hold sessions at which they try criminal offences, and they licence public-houses. No accounts are published, but they have lands, tolls, and a trading tax. These six self-elected persons also levy a rate. They have sold land, and the way in which the proceeds were disposed of is unknown. The rector writes, that—"During the 24 years that I have lived in the parish I have never known the corporation expend a single shilling for anything of material benefit to the borough." The official meetings are held at a public-house, "where rowdies collect and drink at the expense of the corporation." The present mayor has been mayor for 28 years, and a previous mayor ruled for 44. The latter was the person who, may I say, stole the property. The present mayor is mayor by force, for the Côutumier directs that "if a man refuse to serve, the freemen shall go to his house—if he have one—and the same by hooks, or any other means, shall pull to the ground."
In Sussex, I have to mention Pevensey and Seaford. Both these towns have special privileges as Cinque Ports, and it may be said "the Cinque Ports are 1131 venerable institutions which ought not to be touched." These privileges of the Cinque Ports thus enjoyed by Pevensey and Seaford were not granted by the Crown without consideration. The ports were bound to supply ships and men, and this supply in return for special trade advantages was the only system of naval defence existing in England in the early middle ages. The Cinque Ports now claim to keep their privileges although the consideration for which they were granted is altogether gone. Pevensey and Seaford, like New Romney, although Cinque Ports are not now ports at all. Just as the sea retired from New Romney and from Winchelsea, so the sea has retired from Pevensey, and the river Ouse from Seaford, and the harbours of both are bowling-greens.
Pevensey returned itself in 1835 as having an income of £85 per annum for corporate purposes, although the village possesses only one house that is rated at £ 16 per annum. It is a tiny place of one street, with a butcher, a grocer, a parson, a Dissenting minister, and two publicans. The county magistrates have no jurisdiction within the liberty, and a grand jury is summoned to make presentments. They sometimes present that they have nothing to present; they sometimes present that the parish pump is out of repair; but whatever they present, as usual, in these cases, they end their arduous duties by a feast. The corporation licences public-houses. The election takes place in the church, as at New Romney. The corporation possesses a large amount of enclosed land in Pevensey Marsh, and its income ought to be a great deal above the £85 a-year at which it was returned in 1835; but the corporation, in addition to its revenue from lands, raises a "liberty rate." It makes no statement to the inhabitants of the purposes for which this rate is required, and it, of course, publishes no accounts. In 1835, the corporation used to spend a large proportion of the revenues on dinners to members of the corporation, and I believe that they still dine together frequently at the public expense. One of their payments in 1835 was an annual one to the Hastings corporation to which I invite the attention of my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings. Pevensey was what was called a limb of the Cinque Port of Hastings, and this payment is the Pevensey share 1132 of the wages of the Members of Parliament for Hastings for which I would recommend my hon. Friends to sue the corporation of their town. In addition to all their revenue from land, and from the liberty rate, the corporation are trustees for a charity worth £100 a-year at least—the ancient hospital of St. John Goroglton.
Seaford is returned as possessing a property of only £60 a-year, but it must be remembered that in all these cases the properties are valued greatly below the mark, and sometimes enormously below the mark, the lands being exclusively let to members of the corporation. As to a considerable portion of the corporation lands of Seaford, the corporation, induced by the bribery of a majority of their members, gave a lease to the late Dr. Tyler Smith, one of themselves, for 300 years, or, some say, for 199 years in consideration of the sum of £500. The inhabitants believe that the corporators divided that sum of £500 among themselves. I have in confirmation of that statement, which, of course, I cannot prove, there being no accounts, a written declaration' from one of the freemen, whose name I am willing to give privately to the Attorney General, and a verbal declaration from another, that the £500 was thus appropriated; but another authority has informed me that part of the money was spent upon law costs in an action, and that it was only what remained which was "shared out" among the members of the corporation. This last authority, a very good one, thus goes on, "all surplus is shared out at the end of every year; the neighbourhood regards the corporation as a sharing-out club, and despises them as such." The balance is now, being smaller, put in a big dish on the table on bailiffs' day, at Michaelmas, and the host is ordered to supply liquor to that amount. It seems to me that many of these corporations ought to come under last year's Act as "dividing benefit societies." The corporation of Seaford have lately saved £20 a-year by withdrawing their subscription to the National schools. It appears that the present vicar of Seaford is a High Churchman, and the views of the corporation being Evangelical, they have quarrelled with the vicar, and put the money in their pockets. The original charter of the town gave all the inhabitants 1133 a voice in the corporate elections. I need hardly say that here as elsewhere in these boroughs "commonalty" has been defined by the corporation to mean only their own nominees, and the lodging-house keepers who, from the growing favour of Seaford as a place of summer resort, have begun to be numerous in the town, are entirely excluded from any voice in the government of a place, the prosperity of which, if it is ever again to be Prosperous, they must make. This corrupt corporation, like that of Pevensey, licences the public-houses, though the chief brewer is one of the members, and here is a side of this unreformed corporation question which touches the Home Office, and into which inquiry should be made. The corporation has criminal jurisdiction—one of the magistrate members has been three times bankrupt under doubtful circumstances, and has also been fined by his own colleagues for breaking a man's head in the street. I have a solemn written declaration by a well-known gentleman of high standing that he has known judgment delivered by a magistrate drunk and a colleague interested in the case, and that he has known a prosecution "squared" in Court for a quart of ale. The chamberlains who collect the revenues, and keep those accounts which are never shown, are with singular irony rewarded for their services by the rent of Hangman's Acre. But of them one is yearly elected hangman to the corporation! Just as the corporators of New Romney sit round a tomb to elect their mayor, and, locking the gate of the church to keep the people out, declare themselves a public meeting of the inhabitants, so the freemen of Seaford on Michaelmas Day of each year march in a body to an ancient gate-post, near West House, and there elect their bailiff. Freemen only, because while the word "commonalty" is always taken to mean inhabitants generally when privileges are pleaded, when an election is held it is interpreted with, as I think, illegal strictness. This is the present state of a borough for which Pitt was Member.
Coming to the Isle of Wight we find the corporation of Newport, included as I have said in the list by mistake, and in addition those of Yarmouth and of Brading.
At Brading, the Town-hall and the 1134 stocks are the only outward and visible signs of the existence of the corporation. A Town-hall, only 8 feet by 10. The corporation of Brading performs no duties whatever; its officers are elected at a private meeting, and it differs from all other corporations that I know in being forced to admit that it cannot find its charter. The members of the court leet of 13 jurymen are cautioned at their annual meeting that they must not disclose anything that takes place, but the small tradesmen who are summoned are most compliant, for they do not like to lose the annual dinner which the corporation gives. The corporation returned their income in 1835 at the ridiculous figureof£6 17s. 11d. Though knowing but few out of the many sources of their income, I can prove that it is above ten times that sum. There are taxes upon commencing trade, and fee farm-rents from all the lands, and nearly all the buildings in the borough. I said just now that the corporation of Brading did nothing whatever with their money; I am wrong, for they have lately put up nine oil lamps to light the town.
At Yarmouth, a very large property seems to mysteriously disappear. The accounts, which were reported by the Commissioners in 1835 as not having been published or audited, do not seem any better kept at the present time. The property of Yarmouth, which is given in my Return as only £30 a-year, amounts to £180 a-year from one source alone to my personal knowledge. The quayage dues are not only large, but fast increasing. The corporation do, for the money which they receive, absolutely nothing except, once a-year, hoist a glove on a flag-staff to protect their charter rights. This they do at fair time, but the fair is now extinct. So little public spirit has the corporation that it insisted on a payment being made by the revising barrister for sitting in the Town-hall to revise the county list, which has led him to hold his sittings at an hotel. The right of the corporation to levy quayage dues at all was contested in a law-suit some years ago. This suit was ended by the corporation, in a highly diplomatic manner, electing Mr. Blake and Mr. Bagges, their opponents, to seats upon the Board, and Mr. Blake is now mayor. In 1858, the corporation having a preponderating influence in a company called the Yar 1135 Bridge Company, smuggled a clause into an Act obtained by that company which confirmed the right of the corporation to levy these disputed dues. The corporation of Yarmouth has not only large property at the present time, but also great expectations, for the Yar Bridge property will revert to the corporation after the debt has been paid off, and an inquiry before the Inclosure Commissioners in 1862, arising out of a dispute about the Common, proved that the revenues of Yarmouth, which had been returned by the corporation as being only £30 a-year in 1835, were then £200 a-year, and the quayage dues have greatly increased since that date. My strong impression is that it would be found by a searching local inquiry that almost the whole of these corporations made false Returns to Parliament in 1835.
I come, now, to the Dorsetshire corporations—Wareham and Corfe Castle.
Wareham was returned in 1835 as "having £40 a-year of corporate property received by the mayor without account." Most of this was spent upon an annual dinner. The feast continues, and, according to the account of a friend of mine who was staying at the inn on one occasion when it took place," rages from 3 in the afternoon till 11 at night." The corporation of Wareham licences the public-houses, and the county magistrates having, as I am about to show, failed in the case of Corfe Castle in the legal steps which they took to contest the jurisdiction of the corporate authorities, these licensing powers are still exercised without control. Three brewers are members of the very small corporation, and, I will not venture to say in consequence, there are 20 public-houses in the very tiny town of Wareham. The average number of public-houses to population in small towns of the West of England is 1 to 1,000 inhabitants—in Wareham the proportion is 7 to 1,000.
Corfe Castle is the most peculiar of all the unreformed boroughs that I have met with. It may be said to be a corporation with only one member. There are, so far as I can tell, no revenues, but there are large charities and considerable jurisdiction. The magistrates of the borough with the ordinary powers, and with licensing powers, would be the mayor, and the ex-mayor, if there were an ex-mayor, but there is no ex-mayor. 1136 There ought to be two barons at least to swear in the mayor, and there ought to be eight barons in all, but no one can be discovered who ever heard of a baron in the village of Corfe Castle. In cases which require two magistrates, Mr. John Johnson, grocer and draper, who for many years past has been mayor of Corfe Castle, is willing enough to act as one magistrate, but there being no ex-mayor, the policeman complains that he has sometimes to travel 30 miles before he can find a county magistrate who will come in and sit with Mr. Johnson, grocer and draper. Corfe Castle had, with New Romney, in 1835, the proud distinction of having refused all information whatever to the Royal Commissioners and to Parliament. The lord of the manor is known to have very large chartered privileges, and he possesses by Royal Charter the dignified and belligerent title of Lord High Admiral of the Isle of Purbeck and the adjacent seas. I have heard, with what truth I know not, that he is an inoffensive clergyman. He is also Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Purbeck, with power to call out the whole population in "mustration," that is, for military service. The inhabitants of Corfe Castle have all the privileges of inhabitants of the Cinque Ports, and the shores of the Isle of Purbeck are exempt by charter from Admiralty jurisdiction. The mayor hides his charter and refuses all information, but there being no barons it would seem that he must elect himself. As he exercises much licensing and other jurisdiction, he must, I suppose, hold frequent meetings with himself, but I am not aware as to whether he keeps minutes of what passes.
In The Times of the 5th June, 1875, there was a very singular legal proceeding reported at great length. It was an application by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Penrhyn on behalf of the justices of Dorsetshire for a quo warranto against the mayor of Corfe Castle, calling on him to show by what authority he assumed to grant licences to ale-houses. The mayor, with his customary good sense, again said nothing, and, as in 1835, his predecessor had had the wisdom to say nothing, no one knew the facts. Mr. Justice Blackburn said, that there he was, that he was exercising this jurisdiction, and that the presumption consequently was that 1137 he had a right to exercise it, and that the other side must show good ground for believing that the mayor had no authority to act. The Lord Chief Justice said—"Can you ask us to assume that he acts without a lawful commission." Mr. Justice Mellor said—"Must we not assume that he has a title to act, until some reason is shown to doubt it, otherwise any man's title may be questioned." My hon. Friend, at his wit's end, then got a man to make an affidavit that there was no separate commission of the peace for the borough of Corfe Castle. "But," interposed Mr. Justice Blackburn, "he gives us no ground for so swearing." The result was that the quo warranto was unanimously refused by four Judges. I was reminded of a curious event which occurred in India last year, when a Fakir, near Oudipore, uncrowned and untitled, became virtually a king, being invested by himself with authority over a large district. When troops were sent against him by the Oudipore durbar, he said that this was most unfair, inasmuch as there he was, and that it was the business of the Oudipore authorities to show that he was not acting rightfully in the authority that he had assumed.
After my Motion of last year, one of the comic papers had six cuts of "our unreformed corporation from our provincial correspondent." The first was of "our grocer;" the second was of "our mayor;" the third was of "the gentlemen who elect our mayor;" the fourth of "the gentleman who disposes of our public trusts;" the fifth of "the gentleman who benefits by our public trusts;" the sixth of "the Committee appointed annually to look into the accounts of the gentleman who disposes of our public trusts." Each of the six cuts contained one figure. All six were one person in different costumes, from the apron of our grocer, to the velvet robes and gold chain of our mayor, and to prevent any doubts as to identity the distinguished inhabitant was in each cut represented with a large wart on his nose. Last year I thought this a somewhat exaggerated joke, and even the experience of New Romney had not prepared me for its being literally true of the borough of Corfe Castle. A matter which has been perplexing me is what happens when a mayor of Corfe Castle dies. We all of us know the 1138 difficulties which occur in Chinese Tartary when a grand Llama ceases to exist. It is found necessary to conceal the fact of the death, and to bring forth from the seclusion of the palace some youth who has been captured for the purpose when a child. I fancy that this must be the system adopted at Corfe Castle in the case of the dynasty of Johnson.
The first of the two Devonshire corporations that I have to mention is that of Okehampton. This is a very important town, incorporated under a charter which, although dated so late as the end of the reign of Charles II., nevertheless, following probably the words of an earlier charter, gives the corporation a jurisdiction which it still holds "concerning all, and all manner of felonies, witchcrafts, incantations, sorceries, magic arts, forestallings, regratings, ingrossings, and extortions whatsoever." The market tolls alone, which belong to the corporation, are let for £300 a-year. But the rest of the property of the town, worth not less than £30,000, has, in consequence of a quarrel in the corporation, been lately handed over to trustees. The corporation still perform large magisterial duties. The "capital burgesses" are nearly all tradesmen, and nearly all related to one another. In 1873, the corporation brought in a private Bill which failed to pass this House. Their town clerk ran them up a bill of £700 for the legal portion of the business, and the market tolls for 1874 and 1875 have been swallowed up by this outlay. No man can say what it will please the unreformed corporation of Okehampton to do in future with this £300 a-year.
Close to the borders of Cornwall is the Devonshire corporation of Plympton Earle. In 1835 no accounts of its revenue were produced, and I had been told by persons living in the locality that the charter had been dropped, and that the corporation was extinct. If it had been so, I should have asked, as I am going to ask in some of the Cornish cases, what then has become of the property? But it is not so. The corporation is not extinct; the charter is not surrendered. A sort of tontine has been formed of the money, and the corporation is in a state of suspended animation. It can revive if it pleases. There is no mayor; there is no bailiff; there are no town-sergeants; the Guildhall is 1139 let; no new freemen are created, and "when the "capital burgesses" are reduced to one, I suppose that he may claim that all the remaining assets of the corporation are his property. Sir Joshua Reynolds was once mayor of Plympton Earle, and not being able on one occasion to attend the corporation dinner, he sent down his portrait painted by himself to be put in his vacant place. It was afterwards hung in the Town Hall, but after a long period had elapsed the representatives of the aldermen claimed that the portrait had not been given to the corporation, but to the aldermen as private individuals. They sold it, and it is now in the possession of Lord Egremont at Silverton Park.
I turn now to the Cornish boroughs, and first to the town of Saltash, near Plymouth. In 1835, the town, of Salt-ash informed the Commissioners that its corporate property was about £400 a-year, but "could not be accurately ascertained." I will put the matter thus; the Saltash corporation had £400 a-year by their own computation, and a great deal more by the computation of all other persons. I am sorry to say that in 1835 the Commissioners reported that the revenues were misapplied, and that the mayor appropriated the surplus to himself. I fear that England is the only country in which ancient abuses are so tenderly dealt with, that such a report to the Legislature should not be followed by any action. The borough of Saltash bears the arms of Richard king of the Romans on its seal, of which, however, the reverse has been lost, having been carried off in the middle of a free-fight which once occurred among the members of the corporation. Saltash collects, up to the present day, dues on all ships entering Plymouth Sound—a most monstrous power. The country has to pay considerable sums on account of those among these unreformed corporations which possess the power of levying shipping dues. By various treaties we have bound ourselves to give up differential dues directed against foreign ships. These ancient ports, such as Queenborough and Saltash, possess by charter the power to levy differential dues, and they used to tax French ships most severely. Saltash taxes Spanish ships at six times an English or three times a French ship. These differences we now have 1140 to pay. For the dues which are levied by Saltash on all vessels that anchor in Plymouth Sound nothing whatever is done, except that £1 a-year is spent upon a trumpery buoy. Eights of bushel-age and oysterage, the latter let for £110 a-year, are also exercised in the Tamar by the Saltash corporation, and it has absolute jurisdiction over the whole liberty of the Tamar which goes right past the far more flourishing towns of Plymouth and Devonport. During the last few years the corporation has done something towards street improvements, though why all ships entering Plymouth Sound should be made to pay for the improvement of the streets of Saltash it is hard to say.
Saltash corporation elects its own recorder, who is a practising attorney. He has enormous power, which he has exercised so far as to transport persons for the term of seven years.
The muniments of Saltash are kept in a chest which has seven locks, for there are seven aldermen. Each of the seven aldermen has his key, and unless all the seven aldermen are there with their seven keys, the chest cannot be opened.
The town administered by the corrupt body which I have described, and thus governed by a self-elected irresponsible clique of local tradesmen, is growing very fast, and growing, it happens, with a population of a wealthy and a cultivated kind. The new inhabitants say that they are unable to discover why a flourishing community should in these days be ruled by a body as close as the corporation of New Romney. As long ago as 1854, the inhabitants petitioned both the House of Commons and the House of Lords for the abolition of the corporation, and the local papers are at the present time full of histories of their misdeeds. They check trade by levying taxes at markets and fairs; they have sold land; they have largely let land to members of their own body with the customary bad results; they own the living; they own the church; and some time ago they sold its ancient font. General jobbery is also alleged against them.
The conclusion to which this evidence leads with regard to Saltash, is that this is a case in which it would not be enough merely to insist on the revenues being properly applied with due publicity. I 1141 confess I think that the dues levied on ships easting anchor in Plymouth Sound ought to be taken away from the corporation.
Passing along the coast from Saltash we come next to East Looe. In 1835, the corporation of this town returned its revenues as £100 a-year, but the Commissioners reported "accounts not published, and not known, and lands much underlet." This is, however, the purest corporation that I have come across; it happens by chance to have fallen under the control of a few public-spirited and honest men of means who have devoted themselves to the welfare of the place, but the objections of principle to the existence of this corporation are the same here as they are elsewhere. A self-elected body licences public-houses and possesses the power to exercise criminal jurisdiction, and there is nothing but chance to prevent this self-elected body from here also becoming a clique, narrow-minded, or corrupt. Even here lands are sold without public competition, and the future of the town is pledged, rightly perhaps, perhaps wrongly, but, at all events, without its own consent.
Divided from East Looe by a narrow river is the sister borough of West Looe, also an unreformed corporation. It is the most interesting ease of the class which includes Grampound and Plympton Earle. West Looe is a rather modern borough. It was chartered by Queen Elizabeth, and endowed by her with lands out of the property of the Duchy of Cornwall, the Duchy being at that time held by the Crown. The corporation paid always until its extinction, if it be extinct, a nominal rent of 5s. a-year to the Duchy for these lands. About 40 years ago a kind of tontine was arranged, the corporators ceasing to fill vacancies in their number under the amiable idea that the last survivor would become possessed in his person of the whole of the property of the town. When Nathaniel Hearle died in 1870, he being the last elected mayor, it appeared that the stealing of lands which had been successfully carried out at Grampound, and which, in the absence of inquiry, will be successfully carried out elsewhere, could not be carried out at West Looe because of the singular character of the charter. In most cases the lands have come down from times before all documents, or have been purchased 1142 by the corporations with the proceeds of dues and tolls, or have been given by individuals, but in this case they had been granted along with the charter, and with a nominal rent reserved by a still existing body corporate—the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1870, accordingly, the Duchy claimed that the charter had been forfeited, and it stepped in and resumed its grants. The Duchy, in 1874, reconveyed the whole of the property to trustees for the benefit of the town for a rent which, though no longer nominal, is very small. But just as the corporation had exceeded their powers, so the Duchy seems to have exceeded its powers, and an action of ejectment brought last year to turn out a person who paid no rent wholly broke down and failed, and I believe that unless we pass a confirming statute the trustees will find that the corporation property of West Looe no longer exists.
The next borough of which I have to speak is one that has been long dead, but I mention it in order to show that the infamies of the extinction of these corporations are as great as the corruption of their lives. Grampound, a borough for which in the 17th century there sat as a Member of the House of Commons John Hampden, but which, in the 19th century, was extinguished by Parliament for its gross corruption, was reported by the Municipal Commissioners as being almost without property, its lands having been, between 1822 and 1835, stolen by members of the corporation. The very small portion which remained in 1835 has, I believe, been stolen since. David Varcoe, who was mayor at the time of the disfranchisement of the town, sold most of the lands and bolted with the money, after burning the whole of the corporation books. But 13 years after this the corporation was for a time revived, and it might be revived again. The last mayor informs me that at the time of his election the property had entirely disappeared. He refused to serve, believing his election to have been illegal from informality. All these dead corporations are still called over by the Clerks of the Peace at the county Quarter Sessions as though they survived. Lot us put an end to the walking of the earth by their ghosts, for as matters stand their jurisdiction might undoubtedly be re-established. The calling over of their names reminds me of 1143 the reading on the muster roll of the French grenadiers—La Tour d' Auvergne, but it cannot be replied of Grampound Mort sure champ d'honneur.
Tregoney is also dead like Gram-pound. It had property in 1835, but no accounts to produce. The farm of Treswallen belonged to the corporation, and in what manner that corporation has become extinct, and with what financial arrangements no person in the locality can say.
Returning to the coast we find the town of Fowey. The Commissioners stated that its charter was forfeited in 1826, and it is not one of the boroughs returned as existing in the paper of last year. Nevertheless, there are certain statements which have to be made in regard to it which, I think, will prove of interest. Fowey, which was the town which sent most ships and men to the siege of Calais, and which in the days of Elizabeth was almost the first seaport of England, but which now is a mere village, had the misfortune to quarrel with its lord, Mr. Treffry, lord of the manor and steward of the town. A great Chancery suit was pending in 1835, but the Commissioners stated in their Report certain points with regard to the administration of the town, and, among others, that lands which were worth £250 a-year had been let for the sum of £8. Mr. Treffry obtained an injunction in Chancery against the corporation for mismanagement, but Chancery proceedings were pending for 19 years before Mr. Treffry took other steps which had the effect of bringing the existence of the corporation to an end. He seized the Town-hall, the muniment chest, and the records by force, and I believe that the Treffry family possesses the mace and other insignia at the present day. What I want to show is that if we look at the worst of these corporations, committing, with the least caution, the most illegal acts, we shall see that there is not the smallest chance of putting them down unless under such purely exceptional circumstances as those which existed at West Looe or at Fowey. At West Looe it will be remembered that the Duchy of Cornwall proved the original grant of the lands to the corporation. At Fowey, Mr. Treffry had the prestige of the great local family in fighting the corporation, and he also was able to show a grant by his ancestors 1144 in the year 1421 of considerable estates to the town. Yet even here the case was pending for a vast number of years, and the Treffry property was mortgaged to the extent of £40,000 on account of the law suit. The lands are now held and managed for the benefit of the town by trustees, and nine-tenths of the land on which the town stands is in their hands. No entry as to the property of Fowey is made in my Return, but I believe it to be very valuable, and I know not upon what it is expended, except that £30 a-year is given to the church and £80 to the church school. My strong impression derived from local inquiry is that the balance goes to the Treffry estate. There are heavy tolls and quayage dues, and this unfortunate town has in addition to pay another £40 a-year to the neighbouring unreformed corporation of Lostwithiel. The Lost-withiel corporation levy Is. 4d. upon every English ship entering Fowey, and 2s. 8d. upon alien ships, besides bushel-age on the cargoes, and we, of course, have to pay the differential dues as I have explained before.
Lostwithiel, which I named just now, is one of the worst places in all England. In 1835, the corporation was composed of six members in all. They kept no accounts, and they stated that their property was worth only £153 a-year, although the Commissioners thought it was worth more. The mayor published his accounts in 1843, and showed that the income of the corporation, even at their own rates of letting, was £400 a-year instead of what they had told the Commissioners. Their rents from lands alone were vastly greater than the £153 which they had named. In addition they had heavy harbour dues and quayage dues, and large receipts from tolls, fairs, and markets. In fact, I have reason to believe that if the property of the corporation of Lostwithiel were let at its full value it would produce, at least, £1,000 a-year.
In 1843 they spent £150 in repairs of the church, but those were repairs such as could be only needed once in a century or so. It was probably on account of this special expenditure of £150 that 1843 was chosen for the publication of accounts, inasmuch as in other years the corresponding £150 had probably gone into pockets which it would not have been convenient to have specified 1145 in a Return. In 1843, the corporation appear to have spent a large sum on a dinner to themselves on an occasion called "mayor-choosing."
The corporation of Lostwithiel ought to consist of seven aldermen, one of them acting as mayor, and of 17 assistant burgesses chosen by the seven aldermen. "The seventeen" are mere dummies, having no voice whatever in any matter except "mayor-choosing," and this is always arranged before-hand and is a mere farce. "The seventeen" are sometimes locally styled "the wise men," but they are more commonly known as "the seventeen nines with their tails cut off," that is, ciphers. The town is in reality governed by five persons, that is, by five out of the seven aldermen, for one of the seven refuses to act, and another of the seven was a bankrupt and has not lived in the town for 20 years. The five take it in turn to be mayor. Of these five two are tradesmen, and under the thumb of two others who are brothers, and the fifth is their doctor. One of the brothers is a tanner, and one is a tanner and banker. One of these brothers, who was elected mayor the moment he had been made an alderman, was not even a ratepayer of the town. The tan-pit of the reigning family makes a horrible stench in the middle of the place, but nobody dares complain for the tanner is dictator. The sanitary state of the town is disgraceful. There are five slaughterhouses and scores of pig-houses, intended, not for the use of the locality, but for the supply of places around. A thousand sheep a week are slaughtered in the village for the London market, and pigs are fed there on the entrails of the sheep. It is impossible to obtain a conviction in the borough for a breach of the sanitary laws, for the butchers are of "the seventeen," and help to keep the ruling family in office. In 1872 virulent smallpox broke out in Lostwithiel, and carried off no fewer than 36 persons out of the very small population. The conduct of the corporation in sanitary matters has ruined the river Fowey as a salmon and trout stream, although it was one of the best in the South of England, and the tanner who pollutes the stream is one of its "conservators." The refuse from the gas works, and from a yard where railway sleepers are pickled in creosote is all sent into the river to help to feed 1146 the fish, and I am told that the few fish left in it are blind upon which they are to be congratulated. I can further tell the Government, who have shown by their Bills that they are in earnest in trying to prevent the pollution of rivers, that the moment the Commissioners' letter was received which announced a local inquiry at this interesting place, the corporation set to work to put a temporary stop to the pollutions, which, however, have become as bad again as ever since that day.
Salaries are paid out of the revenues of the town, not only to the town clerk who is not one of "the seventeen," but to nearly all the members of "the seventeen" themselves. There is an educational charity under the management of the corporation, but the master is one of "the seventeen," and he fills a multiplicity of offices under the corporation; for besides being schoolmaster, he is tax collector, stamp distributor, relieving officer, secretary to the gas company—of which one of the aldermen is chairman, and in which the mayor has an interest, and which has a splendid contract with the corporation—secretary to the sanitary board, and keeper of the corporation accounts, which I have reason to believe might be audited with advantage. He is also vicar's churchwarden. The following officials are also assistant burgesses or members of "the seventeen;" two town-sergeants, two beadles, two constables, a swine driver, an ale-taster, two regulators of weights and measures. Another of "the seventeen" is the salaried organist of the church, also paid by the corporation. I can prove that fifteen out of "the seventeen" are in the pay of the corporation. I believe that a sixteenth is in their pay, and it is possible that all seventeen are. "In the pay of the corporation" means, as I have shown, in the pay of the mayor whom they elect. "The seventeen" dine together, as I have said, at the corporation expense at "mayor-choosing," but they also compose the court maritime of Fowey, and being again called together, as such, 14 days after "mayor-choosing" they then get another dinner.
I turn, now, to the jurisdiction of the Lostwithiel corporation. There is a Recorder of the town, appointed by the Aldermen, but he never comes, and one of the Aldermen acts with all authority 1147 as his Deputy. The Deputy-Recorder is bound by the words of the charter to be "sufficient," which, I believe, means sufficient in the law, that is, versed in the law; but the present Deputy-Recorder is the tanner and despot of Lostwithiel. The magisterial decisions of the ruling authorities of the town of Lostwithiel are curiosities in our judicial annals. The sentences may be judged of from the fact that a local ruffian was lately fined the sum of 6d. for an assault on one of the county police. The county police do duty in the town, although salaries are paid out of the accounts, as I have shown, to the constables and other similar officers of the corporation. When the police catch a noisy drunkard on the bridge, which is half in the borough, they always try to push him over to the county half of it, because if they take him there they can get him convicted, otherwise not.
The living belongs to the dictator of the corporation. It was held by the late incumbent for 55 years, and he died three years ago at the age of 86. For a long period he had been one of the Aldermen of the town. The living had been his, and it was only a few months before his death that he sold the living for a low price to its present owner. Now, the church is kept up out of the income of the corporation, who completely control it—for instance, instead of one of the churchwardens being chosen by the parishioners in their vestry, the vicar's churchwarden's colleague is nominated by the Aldermen, and is one of "the seventeen." He is, indeed, the painter and glazier who effects the repairs of the church for the corporation. The present owner of the living sits and votes money out of the Town income towards his own church. The present vicar was appointed only for six years, and the owner of the living has another brother who is preparing to take orders. Of this person, I will only say that he was formerly in a cavalry regiment, which he had to leave, and that he is not a fit person for the office. It is understood that when this person is made vicar he will at once be chosen Alderman, and then the three brothers, even without their dependents, will carry all before them. The corporation are paying an additional income to the present vicar, who lives in a corporation house rent-free.
1148 The corporation of Lostwithiel, like the corporation of New Romney, but even to a larger extent, has sold, without account and apparently without reinvestment, freehold property of the Town. We ought to know to whom the property was sold, and at what price; and also what houses and lands belonging to the Town are held on lease by Aldermen. It is believed in Lostwithiel that they let their own lands to themselves at perpetual leases.
It may naturally be asked why a self-elected body should be kept thus in possession of uncontrolled power to squander a property certainly worth £500 a-year, and probably worth £1,000 a-year; why, in Lostwithiel, the county magistrates should have no jurisdiction, and the law be administered according to the judicial ideas of country tradesmen. What crime have the inhabitants of Lostwithiel committed that they should not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the rest of the people of England, and that they should be refused all voice in the government of their own town.
The last of the Cornish corporations with which I deal are those of Marazion, Camelford, and Tintagel. Marazion, or Marghasieuve, has attracted much local attention since my Motion of last year, but is unimportant. The mayor gets three guineas a-year to spend on cakes. There is in Camelford a revenue from fairs and markets, and from land; the members of the corporation are, as usual, self-elected; the rector, who is one of them, is non-resident, which here, as at New Romney, is said to be illegal; there is an educational charity for teaching Latin to six poor scholars, the conditions of which are said to be violated; and another charity, the money of which is said to be misspent.
The Tintagel property appears to have been resumed by the Duchy of Cornwall on a claim of forfeiture of charter, though the charter was granted by Richard king of the Romans; but the Duchy did not here, as in the West Looe case, hand over the property to trustees for the benefit of the town, but sold it. The mace was carried off by one of the free-men, who also made in his own person and name a sale of the Town-hall and market-house. At Tintagel, the vicar is, under the old charter, constable of King Arthur's Castle. Presuming on this position he has introduced rabbits, 1149 and is said to have ruined the sheep-feed of the Duchy; but thorough reliance cannot be placed on the local statements in regard to him, because he is making a large income out of quarrying slate on the glebe land, which the inhabitants hold to be illegal. The place is so dangerous that no insurance office will pay on ships loading under King Arthur's Castle—one of them was, indeed, totally lost there last year.
I believe that the whole of the unreformed corporations are very like the 19 that I have carefully examined. As for the corporations of Wales, for instance, the most frightful abuses exist in the case of Conway, the mayoralty of which curiously enough is in the gift of the Crown. In the summer of last year Mr. Vernon Darbyshire, of Pendyffryn, a member of the corporation of Conway, brought forward an unsuccessful Motion in favour of its dissolution. I hear that the account-book of the corporation has been made into a picture-album by the grandchild of the agent to the corporation. There is at Conway a large income with the ordinary abuses, and with even more than the ordinary sale of corporation lands. The town of Henley-upon-Thames is also one of those possessing unreformed corporations, where a Motion for the dissolution of the corporation was brought forward in consequence of my Motion of last year, with the usual want of success. Relationship, as at New Romney, is essential for election to the corporation, and Dissenters, as at Woodstock, have been till lately rigidly excluded from the body. Since my Motion of last year, and the local stir in Henley which it caused, some of the leading Dissenters have been asked to join the corporation. With one exception they have all declined, although some years back they would have consented. They have declared, to quote the words of their manifesto—That they will not become members of a body the very existence of which is a stumbling-block to that political life which is necessary for the welfare and progress of the town.Henley was returned, in 1835, as possessing a property of only £72 a-year; but I have a statement by a leading member of the local board to the effect that the unreformed corporation of Henley does, in fact, administer property worth £1,600 a-year. It is impossible 1150 for me, in the total absence of evidence, and complete concealment of accounts, to even pretend to say whether it is the corporation Return or the local statement that is right; but there is this confirmation of the local view, that in 1858 some accounts were published which showed a balance in a single year of £350 unexpended monies. This balance, moreover, existed in spite of some of the lands being let to members of the corporation at half their value. The discrepancy between the sum of £72 returned by the corporation, and the sum of £1,600 a-year, always alluded to in the local papers, and named on high authority to me, of itself shows the urgent need which there is for inquiry into the funds held by unreformed corporations.
I have also received many letters about the case of Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire. There is property estimated at £300 a-year; no accounts; criminal jurisdiction exercised in sessions by the mayor and ex-mayor, ex officio, and licensing jurisdiction. The members of the close body let their land to one another in the usual way. With the exception of a sum of £25, the inhabitants assert that the corporation "scramble" their large funds among themselves.
With regard to the jurisdiction of the corporations, it seems to me so clear that persons neither nominated by the Crown for fitness nor elected by their fellow-subjects should not be allowed to try criminal cases, that I shall conclude my speech by moving that we forthwith abolish all criminal jurisdiction exercised by unreformed municipal corporations. Here is a case of jurisdiction for the House—At Havering-atte-Bower, in Essex, the steward, who is magistrate with criminal jurisdiction, is nominated by the lord of the manor, though the manor has been sold for money. This is selling a right to sit and try one's fellow-subjects! Liberty sessions are held every fortnight, and all the privileges of the ancient "Horned Monastery" are claimed.
With regard to their property, however, and their administration, I think that a local inquiry by means of a Commissioner should be held. There may be some objection to this course, and I will not make any Motion as to it, but I will instead, with reference 1151 to this branch of the subject, proceed to shortly put to the Attorney General certain legal questions as to which I have given him full private Notice.
It is my impression, and this is one reason why I make no Motion with regard to the funds of these corporations, that there does exist a manner of reaching some or all of them under the present state of the law. It is not free from difficulty, and it needs the intervention of the Attorney General. Here is the point to which I ask his careful attention. "A charity," by 43 Eliz, c. 4, includes all property held by corporations, partly for municipal and partly for church or educational purposes. In the great majority of cases these unreformed corporations have some such claims upon their money. In all these that circumstance seems to bring the whole of their property under the legal obligations of the Charity Acts. Comparing the 61st section of the Act of 1853 with the 44th section of the Act of 1855, the trustees, or, in the case put, the corporations have to send accounts annually to the Charity Commissioners. This law is broken by the vast majority of the unreformed municipal corporations holding mixed properties partly under charitable, educational, or religious trusts. Again, under section 29 of the Act of 1855, trustees, or, in the case put, the corporations, are forbidden to make, without the approval of the Charity Commissioners, any sale, mortgage, or charge of the estate, or any lease, in reversion, after more than three years of any existing term, or for any term of life, or in consideration, wholly or in part, of any fine, or for any term of years exceeding 21 years. This law is also broken by the great majority of unreformed municipal corporations holding mixed properties. These corporations, if written to by the Charity Commissioners, would reply that they do not hold upon charitable trusts. Now, when trustees deny that they hold on charitable trusts, or, as it is called, when they hold adversely, the Charity Commissioners by the 15th section of the Act of 1853, are precluded from demanding any information. I wish to ask the Attorney General whether if, in the case, for instance, of the Lostwithiel corporation, who, undoubtedly, hold part of their lands upon a charitable trust, inhabitants 1152 were to ask him to assist them, he would, if written to by the Charity Commissioners, help them under Clause 20 of the Act of 1853?
The clause to which I call the Attorney General's attention is the 16 & 17 Vict. c. 137, s. 20, which enacts that in any case in which it shall appear to the Charity Commissioners that the institution of legal proceedings is requisite or desirable with respect to any charity—and the Lostwithiel corporation is, as I have shown, for these purposes a charity—it shall be lawful for the Commissioners to certify such case to the Attorney General, and thereupon the Attorney General, if upon consideration of the circumstances he think fit, shall prosecute such legal proceedings as he shall consider proper by application to the High Court of Judicature.
With regard, then, to the property of these corporations, I feel that local inquiry by a Commissioner is desirable; but while I urge the Government that they should grant it, I will not make a Motion to that effect. I have shown how in many of the cases, if local inquiry is refused by the Government, we shall be able, although with the difficulty which is caused by local fears and local pressure, to procure applications to the Charity Commissioners. I ask the Attorney General with regard to these, whether, in the event of such applications coming to him, backed by the authority of the Charity Commissioners, he will prosecute? I wish also to ask either the Attorney General or any other Member of the Government whom it may more properly concern, whether I may have, as an unopposed Return, any correspondence which has lately taken place between the inhabitants of Lost-withiel and the Charity Commissioners upon this point?
Upon the other, and, as I think, the clearer branch of the question where both are clear, because I know not what answer can be made to our case, I beg to move the Resolution of which I have given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, it would be desirable to forthwith abolish all criminal jurisdiction exercised by unreformed Municipal Corporations or their officers, with the exception of that of the City of London, for which due provision has been made by statute."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he had listened very carefully to the speech of the hon. Baronet, and he understood that the question which had been put, was whether, if the Charity Commissioners should ask one of these corporations for information with reference to its property or an account of the disposal of its property, and the corporation should decline to give any information or any account, the matter should be certified; and he understood the hon. Baronet to have asked him whether in such a case he would direct legal proceedings to be taken against the corporation. In a moment or two he would answer that question as definitely as he could; but before he did so he would ask leave to call attention to the position of these corporations with reference to the property they held. He believed it had been decided, over and over again, that corporations, whether Ecclesiastical or Civil, except charitable corporations, were not trustees of the corporate property—that was to say, were not to be considered primâ facie as trustees. In order to make them trustees of the corporate property it was necessary to show that the property was subject to some specific trust, public or private, by some Act of Parliament; some will, deed, or instrument of some kind or other. Primâ facie these corporations were not trustees of separate property. If they had been, no doubt many of the abuses alluded to by the hon. Baronet would have ceased, because those interested in the trust property would have taken proceedings against them and had it properly administered. "With respect to municipal corporations under the Municipal Corporations Act, they were trustees of the corporate property. That Act made them trustees, and provided that the corporate property should be trust property. But unfortunately the Municipal Corporations Act did not apply to the corporations to which reference had been made, and therefore those provisions which made their property trust property were not applicable to them. Then came the question as to what proceedings might or should be taken under the Charitable Trusts Act of 1853 and 1855. The Act of 1853 said that the Commissioners might make inquiry as to all property held on trust for charitable purposes; and if they came to the conclusion that any property was held on trust for a charitable purpose, and they thought that 1154 charity was not being duly carried into effect, they might certify the case to the Attorney General for the time being, at the same time giving him all the information they could afford with regard to the particular property or charity and a full explanation of the case; and if the Attorney General, on considering the explanation thus given to him, thought it was a proper case in which proceedings should be instituted, then it was within his power, and it would undoubtedly be his duty and also, he thought, his pleasure, to direct that proceedings should be instituted. But to deal with the specific case alluded to by the hon. Baronet—namely, where the only fact submitted to the attention of the Attorney General was that the corporation, having been applied to for information with respect to its property or for an account of its proceeds, simply refused to give the information or the account—whether, in that case, the Attorney General would be justified in directing proceedings to be instituted, he should very much doubt. As at present advised he should hesitate to direct proceedings to be taken against any of the corporations on that simple fact being established; because it was clear that until, at all events, a primâ facie case had been made out of the existence of a trust, the corporations were not bound to answer such a question put to them by the Commissioners, and could hold themselves adverse, so to speak, to the Commissioners. But though he might not be justified in directing proceedings in specific cases like those, a very little evidence showing that there was a trust in some persons would induce him to consider it a fair ease for investigation and to direct proceedings to be taken. In such cases it would not take much to satisfy him that the property held of the corporations was held upon trust. If it was made out that it was in any way a charitable trust, then it would come under the jurisdiction of the Charity Commissioners, and he should have much pleasure in directing that there should be an inquiry, in order that that property should be administered as the donor had desired. The question put to him having been one of a somewhat vague nature, it perhaps did not admit of a more distinct answer than he had given.
§ MR. GREGORY
could have wished that the Notice of the hon. Baronet the 1155 Member for Chelsea had been more specific, and had given some intimation of the charges he had made against individuals. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 distinctly recognized the antecedent right of the corporation to the property vested in them, and it protected not only the right of property of individual members of the corporation, but even those of their wives and families. That fact did not bear out the statement of the hon. Baronet; but, on the contrary, it confirmed the view of the law laid down by the learned Attorney General. The hon. Member then referred to the corporations now in question which were within his own district, leaving other hon. Members to deal with those existing in their respective neighbourhoods. The corporations of Pevensey and Sea-ford had been referred to by the hon. Baronet. Pevensey, he said, was a place of very great antiquity, having, in fact, been a Roman town. It was, perhaps, the oldest corporation in England, its original charter going back to the time of Edward I. It contained a population of between 1,100 and 1,200. The corporation consisted of 40 freemen and seven jurats, or elected magistrates, the latter being a body of gentlemen than whom none more fit for the office they held could anywhere be found. The corporate property was very small, not exceeding £110 a-year; it was expended on education or in charity and on other purposes useful to the inhabitants, and he did not know that any grievous error had been alleged against the corporate management. The hon. Baronet had alluded to a charity under their administration; but it was now administered under a scheme settled some 15 years ago by the Charity Commissioners. As to the rates they levied, they were, in fact, county rates for police and lunatics, levied under a precept sent to the jurats by the quarter sessions. He came next to the borough of Seaford. The corporation consisted of about 45 corporators; their income was £40 a-year, and they had expended about £540 for improvements, and £500 for building a guyne or sea-wall. It was true the corporation granted a lease of their property for 299 years to a gentleman named Tyler Smith, under the impression that he would carry out certain improvements, and would, among other things, erect a sea-wall. The speculation, however, 1156 failed, and the works were not carried out. As far as the corporations on whose behalf he spoke were concerned, he would say for them that they had no objection to any inquiry which might be instituted, nor would they resist such alterations in their constitution as Parliament, in its wisdom, might think necessary. What they would consider a grievance, however, would be any proposal involving their utter annihilation as corporations.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he thought the admissions made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down in reference to the corporation of Seaford furnished a strong argument in favour of the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea. They had leased their property for 299 years to Mr. Tyler Smith without taking any precautions to secure his carrying out works for the public good, and having received £500 from Mr. Smith, they divided it among themselves. He would not dispute with the Attorney General the law which he had stated, that corporations were possessed of property not affected with any trust, but that he would be glad to imply a trust. This was not, however, a question of trust, but a question of policy for Parliament to deal with. Under the Municipal Corporations Act Parliament said that corporations should be treated as trustees acting on behalf and for the benefit of the public in the vicinities over which they had control, and how these corporations had escaped the net he did not know, but it was quite time that they should be brought into it. Last year the Home Secretary dealt with the brick and mortar rookeries existing in different parts of the country, and it was to be hoped that he would now take in hand the municipal and political rookeries which still remained in the shape of these small unreformed corporations. Anything more scandalous than the condition of some of these corporations could not be conceived. Some were better and some worse than others. Those which were better would not suffer from inquiry, but those which were worse ought to suffer. All bodies of this kind ought to be made to do their duty, or else they ought to cease to exist. He considered the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea had been very wise in confining his immediate Resolution to the most objectionable of all powers 1157 held by these corporations—namely, the exercise of criminal jurisdiction. How was it possible that hon. Gentlemen whom he addressed, who formed the best part of the magistracy of the country, and who were desirous of maintaining its authority, could desire that side by side with the magistrates under the authority of the Lord Chancellor, who were nominated by the Lord Lieutenants, there should sit a body of men exercising criminal jurisdiction who were elected in the manner stated, and who were under no authority? What did anyone know of these men, and what guarantee was there that they were persons who ought to be charged with such authority as that they were possessed of? The administration of the Licensing Act was one thing which he was sure the Home Secretary would not think was a fit subject to be left to persons elected in this manner. Therefore, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would let the House know whether he was prepared to give in some form or other support to a Motion the object of which was to do away with the flagrant abuses.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he felt sure the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea would admit that every facility had been afforded him by the Government for bringing the matter forward. He was equally sure that the House was indebted to the hon. Baronet for having taken a vast amount of trouble in ferreting out what he took to be abuses requiring remedy. On one occasion the right hon. Gentleman behind him (Mr. Henley) described the sport of ferreting out ecclesiastical abuses as being something better than a rat hunt. In the same spirit the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea had delivered to the House what was not only a useful, but an amusing speech. The Attorney General had not spoken of the question of policy, but had' wisely and properly confined himself to the question of law; but he (Mr. Cross) did not see how it could well be considered that the property held by corporations had not trust attached to it. However, he would be ready to give any help that he could in bringing about an inquiry into these corporations and in providing a better state of things. As to the question of the administration of justice by these corporations, that was a matter of the greatest importance, and if there were any division he could not divide against 1158 the Motion of the hon. Baronet. In all boroughs, whether large or small, justice ought to be properly administered, and fit persons only should be entrusted with the important duty of administering it; and as to the Licensing Laws he thought that only justices of the peace ought to be intrusted with the powers conferred by the Acts of Parliament. He hoped the Motion would not be pressed to a division by the hon. Baronet until he had heard the reason why these things had been allowed to remain for so long; untouched, and why they were not mentioned in the Report of the Commission of 1835. It was supposed that the exercise of the criminal jurisdiction had ceased. In the case of Romney Marsh, although a Court of Session was held before the Bailiff, the offenders were very few, and there had been no cases of felony for three or four years. They would find that the criminal jurisdiction had practically ceased in the views of the Commissioners. Now that the matter had been brought before the House and the country, he felt bound to say that it was time the whole question should be looked into, and the corporation put upon a better footing; and if the hon. Baronet would trust him, he would promise to take such steps as the Government might think best in order that that should be done.
§ MR. PEMBERTON
said, he was anxious, in consequence of being absent last year when this question was brought on, to say something on behalf of New Romney, which was once one of the Cinque Ports. The corporation of that borough was an ancient one. Its charters had been confirmed by several Sovereigns, and the last was granted by Queen Elizabeth. There were at New Romney a mayor and five jurats, and certain freemen and commonalty. One of the charges made last year by the hon. Baronet was that the corporation was not legally constituted, that the number of jurats ought to be 12; but the charters stated that there might be any number of jurats not exceeding 12. In the time of Queen Elizabeth there were five, and from that time to the present the number had varied from four to 11; therefore, he thought that charge of the hon. Baronet had broken down. As to the mayor, who had been alluded to, it was true that he had a residence a mile and a-half away, but he had large property in the borough, and went there 1159 daily. The mayor and corporation had applied the property which they held for the benefit of the town. Leases had been granted according to the valuation of surveyors, and a great deal of property had been reclaimed from the sea, much money having been spent for that purpose, and they had applied the residue of their funds for the benefit of the borough, paying out of them the borough, police, paving, and lighting rates. There had been no borough rate from time immemorial; therefore, so far as New Romney was concerned, the charge of maladministration had not been sustained. Of the mayor and jurats two were county and borough magistrates, appointed by the Lord Lieutenant and the Lord Chancellor. Those gentlemen did not wish to oppose any inquiry, nor to oppose anything that the Government might think desirable. As to the election of the mayor being in the church, that was required to be done by the charter, in the absence of all but the commonalty and freemen. [Sir CHARLES W. DILKE; The commonalty?] Yes; but the hon. Baronet would, if he read the charter, see that commonalty and free-men meant the same persons. As to the borough of Queenborough, no doubt it once possessed some property, but the corporation engaged in the speculation of oyster breeding, and in the year 1845 the corporation became bankrupt, and the whole of its property, under an Act of Parliament, was sold to pay its debts, and they were paid off, and now the only property which it possessed was the Guildhall, a house, and the advowson of the living, and its income was, on the average, £50 a-year, which was applied purely towards corporation purposes. Of the corporation of Fordwich he knew nothing, as he had had no communication from the borough. On the part of the other corporations there had never been any desire to make concealment.
§ MR. CHADWICK
, in support of the Motion of the hon. Baronet, said, that never had a better case for an inquiry been made out. He thought that if these corporations were not affected with a trust for charitable purposes they held their property in trust for the public good, and not for themselves personally; and he also thought that the answer of the Attorney General would be looked at by the public as a legal quibble. He would venture to suggest that there 1160 should be either a Royal Commission or a Select Committee appointed by the Government to inquire into and report upon the whole matter, as regarded the constitution, funds, forms of government, and the mode of appointment in all these boroughs. Such a Report would form the only sound and reliable basis for any proposed reforms.
MR. H. T. COLE
said, he was of opinion that the hon. Baronet had conferred a great benefit on the public by his able exposure of the defects and anomalies of these corporations. He could add one fact with regard to Corfe Castle. The mayor of Corfe was himself an elective officer; curiously enough he had the power of appointing a deputy who acted as a justice of the peace, who sat at licensing sessions, and exercised all the other powers conferred on those magistrates appointed by the Lord Lieutenant of the county or by the Lord Chancellor. That was, he believed, the only case known in which a mayor could exercise such a power.
SIR CHARLES W. DLLKE
said, that after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department—who, he was sure, would do what was right in the matter of jurisdiction—he would not press his Motion to a division.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.