Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [7th April],
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better Government of London, and other purposes connected there with."—(Lord Richard Grosvenor.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, in introducing this measure I shall endeavour to make as short as possible the observations I have to offer on behalf of the Government. I have great need to ask for your patient indulgence, for I am sure the House will feel that mine is a task of great difficulty and complication, and I approach it not without the feelings of a navigator who enters a sea strewn with many wrecks, and whose shores are whitened with the bones of many previous adventurers. Still I think we may approach this question with some hope of a solution, for, as time has gone on, both the public outside this House and this House itself —I venture to hope without distinction of Party—have come to believe that this question is one which ought to be dealt with, and one with which it is worth their while seriously to grapple. There are, however, one or two preliminary questions with which I must occupy the time of the House, and there are just one or two main points in the previous history of this question to which I should like to advert. There have been many attempts to solve it, which it was the duty of those who present this scheme to the House to have carefully studied; but I will not delay the House by going in detail through them. There can be no doubt, if you look at the origin of the present municipal institutions of London, that the Corporation of London in old days did, and was always intended to, represent the whole Metropolis. Why it did not extend itself as the Metropolis grew is an interesting question as a matter of history; in some degree it was due to the jealousy of the Crown; the Tudors and Stuarts were very unwilling to see the power of the Corporation increase; in some degree also it was due to the fact that London was surrounded by great manors, especially the great ecclesiastical manors, and the whole system of these manors was incompatible with the enlargement of municipal and corporate rights. The result was that, while London grew, the Corporation remained stationary, and the City of London, as represented by the Corporation, is now about one square mile in extent, and has a resident population of about 50,000—that is to say, is 42 equal to about a second or third-rate Provincial town in respect to population. When we consider that its population a few years ago amounted to about three times that figure, it will be seen that the resident population of the City of London, so far from increasing like the rest of the Metropolis, has of late years been constantly diminishing. Indeed, although it can hardly be compared to—Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,there is no spot on earth of which it could not be more truly said that it is a place—Where wealth accumulates and men decay.I do not mean individuals, of course. When the general reform of Corporations took place throughout the United Kingdom it was always intended that, the Corporation of London should be included. Lord John Russell stated he never intended that Corporate Reform should stop short at Temple Bar. But there was one reason why the Corporation of London did not become the first subject of inquiry; and I mention it because it was a reason to the honour of that Corporation. It was because, amidst the decayed and decaying municipal institutions in England at that period, the Corporation of London was a real Corporation, with a real municipal life, and, whatever were its defects, was discharging a great duty to the community over which it presided. But a few years later, in 1837, the Corporation of London became the subject of an. inquiry by the same Commissioners who had previously examined into the state of other Municipal Corporations in England. They dealt with the City in a Supplemental Report, and I will read to the House what was said by the Commission of 1837. The Report states—We do not find any argument on which the course pursued with regard to other towns could be justified which would not apply with the same force to London, unless the magnitude of the change in this case should he considered as converting that which would otherwise be only a practical difficulty into an objection of principle. We have pointed out how small a proportion of the Metropolis is comprehended within the municipal area. We are unable to discover any circumstances justifying the present distinction of this particular district, except that it is and has long "been so distinguished…… We hardly anticipate that it will be suggested, for the purpose of removing this inequality, that the other quarters of the town should be formed into independent and isolated communities, if, indeed, the multifarious rela- 43 tions to which their proximity compels them would permit them to be isolated and independent. This plan, as it seems to us, in getting rid of anomaly, would tend to multiply and perpetuate an evil.After referring to various subjects of local management, they add—These matters have never been so well and economically managed as when superintended by an undivided authority, and the only real point for consideration is how far those duties for the whole Metropolis can be placed in the hands of a Metropolitan Municipality, or how far they should be intrusted to the officers of your Majesty's Government.I will merely state to the House that we are not going to make the second proposal here named, or to delegate these functions of municipal authority to any officers of Her Majesty's Government. Anyone familiar with the political and Party history of that epoch will understand why the whole question of Municipal Reform slumbered until 1853–4. At that time there was appointed another Commission to inquire specially into the Corporation of London. I observe that the Order of Reference to that Commission was exclusively to inquire into the Corporation of London; it had no reference to report upon a general scheme for the management of the whole Metropolis. Certainly I wish to speak with the greatest respect, not only on public, but on private grounds, of the individuals who constituted that Commission. They were Sir G. Cornewall Lewis—a name I never mention without feeling the greatest personal veneration and regard—Mr. Labouchere, not the present one, and that eminent Judge, Sir John Patteson. Now I state frankly and candidly to the House that this Commission arrived at a different view to that stated by the Commission of 1837. They were alarmed at the notion of a single Government for a town of the magnitude of London, and they preferred a scheme for the creation of seven Municipalities to represent practically the seven Parliamentary boroughs, and they indicated in general terms a Central Body to be elected from these Parliamentary Municipalities. I refer to that because I have no doubt that the Report of that Commission, and the opinions to which I have referred, will be frequently insisted upon in the course of this debate; but while I have said that the Commission thus reported 44 in 1854, the Government of Lord Palmerston, which took up the question of the reform of the Government of London, in that year declined to accept the principle of independent Municipalities, and in the ensuing year that measure was passed which, whatever may be its defects, has given some sort of government to the Metropolis, which was previously in a condition of absolute chaos, I mean the Metropolis Local Management Act, 1855. That Act was conducted through this House by a man of great practical ability—Sir Benjamin Hall—and was introduced by a Government of which, singularly enough, Sir G. Cornewall Lewis was one of the chief Members.
Did that Government adopt the principles laid down by the Commission of 1854? No; it rejected them altogether. It declined to accept the principle of separate Municipalities. Sir Benjamin Hall said it was an idea that London would not accept, that it was not wished for, that if it had ever been desired, any of the London Parliamentary boroughs would have got it. Sir George Grey, as Home Secretary, in fact offered to any of these boroughs the privilege of incorporation if they desired it. They did not wish it, and therefore the Government did not propose it. That was the action of the Government of which Sir George Cornwall Lewis was a Member. (I forget whether Mr. Labouchere was a Member of the Government in 1855.) The Government and Parliament of that time distinctly declined to accept the doctrine of separate Municipalities in London. To that question of separate Municipalities, I have to ask the attention of the House for a few minutes, because I have noticed a disposition to revive the theory now. It has been raised repeatedly in Committees and in Bills before this House, but always rejected. The noble Lord opposite, the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), took a very active part in the Committee which sat in 1861. In 1861 the proposal was made to create separate Municipalities, and was voted against by the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire. I do not see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith); but in 1870 the proposal to create separate Municipalities was brought forward by Mr. Buxton, and 45 it was condemned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster. He said there was no desire for separate Municipalities, but that, on the contrary, there was an impression that their creation would lead to considerable difficulties. Therefore I say that, as far as authority goes, the authority of the Commission of 1854 has been overruled by the authority of Parliament and the Government.
I venture to say that the creation of separate Municipalities in London is impossible, and is not compatible with any real conception of a Municipal Corporation. What do you mean by a Municipal Corporation? Is it not one which represents the interests of the community over which it presides? But in all these schemes you must recognize the fact of some Central Body or other. This Central Body must deal with the large affairs, and the consequence is that you must have—according to everybody's theory, according even to the theory of the Commission of 1854, and according to everybody who has proposed it since—a Central Body doing all the great things; and then what is left for the other Municipal Corporations to do? There is nothing left for them but the minor matters, which are now dealt with by the Vestries of London. I suppose the Central Body would have to manage the drainage, the main roads, the fire brigade, the housing of the poor, open spaces, questions of water and gas, building regulations, embankments, and so forth. What, then, is left, after all these, for the separate Corporations? Nothing but the most subordinate duties. Under such a system you will have a number of second-rate inferior Bodies, overshadowed by the power of this great Central Authority. People are proud to live in London; but I do not think there are many people who, till a General Election comes on, are certain which particular borough they live in; and it seems to me that there is not a geographical or local feeling in London which would justify the creation of separate boroughs. As to founding them on the Parliamentary boroughs, that would not do; everybody knows that they are not fixed stars, and that their limits and character may from time to time be altered. It is these facts that account for what Sir Benjamin Hall pointed out, that none of these 46 Bodies had ever asked for incorporation, and that, if offered it, they have refused. Even Westminster, which has a sort of name of a Corporation, has not got a real Corporation, and has never desired to be incorporated; and no feeling in favour of separate boroughs has ever been manifested in London. It would be an absurdity, I think, to create 10 or 12 minor Corporations. The people do not want them. There would be an absurdity about having a Mayor, and a Sheriff, and Common Councilmen, and Aldermen, all to perform comparatively subordinate functions. They do not rise to the dignity of turtle soup—[Laughter, and a cry of"Conger!"]—they would hardly rise, as an hon. Member says, to the dignity of conger. Therefore I think that a proposal to create these petty Corporations is not one which is likely to commend itself to the House. I would venture, then, to dismiss, as Parliament has previously dismissed whenever it has been proposed, a scheme of this character. It is a sort of attempt to revive the Heptarchy, and I do not think that is a plan on which London would wish to be reformed.
There are two questions which, leaving that scheme, we ought to ask ourselves. Are things satisfactory as they are? Because, if so, we have to ask ourselves — first, whether things are satisfactory as they are; because, if they are, of course no scheme is wanted at all; and, secondly, if things are not satisfactory, what are the defects of the present system, and what are the remedies to be applied to it? Does anyone assert that the present system is satisfactory? Shortly after the reform of 1855, there were Parliamentary Committees sitting to discover remedies for a system that was admitted to be in many respects defective. There was Committee after Committee and Bill after Bill. I will not go into the details of these various schemes; but in 1870, when Mr. Buxton produced one of his Bills—it was in the time of a Liberal Administration —proposing to create separate Municipalities, the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster called upon the Government to introduce a Bill to reform the Government of London. In 1878 Parliament expressed an. opinion very definitely upon this subject when a Motion was brought before this 47 House by Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttle-worth, who moved—(1) That the present state of Local Government is unsatisfactory and calls for reform; (2) that the whole Metropolis should ho united under one administrative authority directly representing the ratepayers, and so constituted as to command general confidence; (3) that these conditions are not fulfilled under the present system; (4) that the ancient Corporation of the City should be extended over the whole Metropolis and remodelled so as best to form a Representative Body of the Metropolis of this country; and (5) that these reforms he undertaken by Her Majesty's Government without delay.That Motion was carried by a considerable majority. From that time unquestionably the Party sitting on this side of the House considered themselves pledged to undertake the task. It has been frequently discussed; it was before the constituencies at the last General Election, and the Government have always regarded it as one of their duties to deal with this matter. The House is aware of the circumstances that have from time to time delayed it; but at last we are making an effort to redeem our pledge, and to do the work which Parliament has called upon us to undertake. So much for the question of whether there is any occasion for us to handle this matter at all.
Now, what is the nature of the evil which we have to combat? Everybody feels that it is the multiplicity of independent authorities in London. If you want anything done for London as a whole, you have the greatest difficulty in finding anybody to do it. A familiar example of this difficulty is the Water Question, and we have had indications of it in the question of the housing of the poor. You have a Central Body in London, it is true, for all London in the Metropolitan Board; but its powers are strictly limited. My hon. Friend opposite, the Head of that Board (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), knows very well there have been frequent complaints that the Board has not a general authority to act for London in matters that concern its interests as a whole. Everyone sees that if you have in London an outbreak of cholera or small-pox, it is a matter that interests every part of London; but how to deal with that outbreak is a question which can only be considered in the small part where the disease commences. If you wish to send out orders and see that that locality takes the mea- 48 sures necessary to stamp out the disease and prevent it from spreading, where is the Central Authority that has power to control the independent Vestries? It does not exist; and that is one among many instances that might be given of the evils from which we at present suffer. The question of the dwellings of the poor is also a question in which it is easy to see that there is an immense want of some controlling and superintending Central Authority to give vitality to and to arouse action among the small Bodies in the different parts of London, not only in great matters, but in small ones. No one has ever seen a snow-storm in London without observing how incapable the fragments of London are to deal with matters affecting the traffic of the whole of the Metropolis, What everybody feels that we want is some single Central Body having authority, of its own right, to meet the exigencies of the whole community of the Metropolis. That is what every other great town has, and we cannot help asking why London has not got it? But here I wish to guard myself. I do not say that the Central Authority should execute all details of administration in each locality. But you want a Central Authority to control the local action of the particular parts of the Metropolis and to bring them into harmony; and, in my opinion, that controlling and harmonizing force ought not to be in the Executive Government of this country, but in a Representative Body of the community of London. Now, if we take that as our general principle, is it a sound principle? I do not think that my hon. Friend at the head of the Metropolitan Board will dispute that, because in the year 1870 the Metropolitan Board passed a resolution to the effect that the Committee had considered the question of the future government of the Metropolis; and, as the result of their deliberations, they reported their opinion that it was desirable that there should be a Central Municipal Government, with jurisdiction over the whole of the Metropolis, and that there should be a readjustment of the districts into which the Metropolis was at present divided for the purposes of Local Government. What does that mean? That you are to have one Central Municipal Government for the whole of London, and that you are to readjust and alter the various 49 districts. That was the resolution of the Metropolitan Board in the year 1870. Well, what objection is to be urged against a proposition which seems on the face of it to be almost self-evident? Why, it is said, the size, the magnitude of the area, the vastness of the population, and the variety of London make this impossible. That is the fear that actuated the Commission of 1854. But then the Commission of 1854 had never seen one Central Body charged with the interests of the whole Metropolis; but immediately after that Commission reported, such a Central Body—namely, the Metropolitan Board—was created; and, therefore, the very thing that was then said to be impossible does to a certain extent exist. You have one Central Body, consisting of 46 members, who do for many—aye, and for some of the most important—purposes of Local Government deal with the whole of the Metropolis and its 4,000,000 of people. Therefore, you cannot say it is impossible, for the thing exists. I take this opportunity of saying, as I may not altogether find my hon. Friend opposite in accord with me, that he will bear me witness that our official relations have always been of the most cordial character; and I wish to bear my testimony to the admirable, and, I may call it, extraordinary, work, under the circumstances, which has been done by the Metropolitan Board of London. That 46 men should have been able to accomplish such vast and laborious work as they have achieved, upon the whole with considerabte success, is a thing which deserves a tribute of public approbation. The Metropolitan Board was originally limited in its scope—namely, it was created with a view to main drainage works; afterwards the Thames Embankment work was added to it; and gradually its authority was extended to other matters. And that is a point to which I wish to direct the attention of the House. You have got a Central Body, for limited purposes, in London. You have a number of smaller Bodies in the Vestries. From time to time you have found that there was important work to be done. To which of these Bodies did you give the new work? Was it to the single Body, which it was said would not do for the whole of London, or to the Central Bodies? It was given almost invariably to the smaller 50 Body. And why was that? Because in that way it was more efficiently and effectively done. Therefore, since the constitution of the Metropolitan Board you have added to it almost all the important new functions that have been created in the Metropolis, including among others the charge of the fire brigade, the dealing with slaughterhouses, explosives, tramways, theatres, locomotives, and even with destructive insects. Therefore you have this Central Body which you say cannot deal with the minuter interests of London; and yet whenever you have a new job to be done it is to this great Central Body that you give it, and not to the Local Bodies. But it is said it cannot deal with minute matters in the different and distant parts of London. What more minute and daily or more constant operation can there be than the superintendence of buildings under the Metropolitan Building Acts? And to whom are the care and administration of that matter given? Why, to the Metropolitan Board. That, therefore, is the practical answer to the contention that it is impossible for a single Body to deal with so vast an area and such an immense population as that of London. I am told that the City of Manchester, which is, of course, small in comparison with London, but which still is a great town, was originally placed under a district system; but it was found that that was not nearly so beneficial as a central system, and the district system was abandoned in order to have a more central system under the Town Council. When it is said that you cannot administer minute interests spread over a great distance by a single Body, I should like to know how the London and North-Western Railway Company manages to do it. Looking at the enormous magnitude of our great railways, and the vast mass of minute details which enter into their daily administration, is it not absurd to say that, even in a town like London, it is impossible that a single Body could attend to this work? I conclude, therefore, that the size of London is no argument against a Central Control, although I make this proviso—that it may be a very good reason for having subsidiary arrangements for administering minuter local affairs in the districts themselves. To my mind the very vast-ness of London, and the impossibility of 51 breaking it up into well-defined areas, is an argument rather in favour of a Central Control than against it.
Then I come to close quarters with this question. If we are to have a Central Body, where is that Central Body to be found? We might make a clean sweep of all that exists, but I am not in favour of that. I think it is not in accordance with the genius of English Reform. I would much rather build on ancient foundations. We have always built on ancient foundations, but we have never attempted to keep up rotten buildings. Now, we have a single Central Body already. I have indicated the character of the work, and the good work as far as it has gone. That Body is the Metropolitan Board. It has done much, but it has not done enough. It is constantly obliged to acknowledge its inability to undertake work which London requires, and which the Metropolitan Board, I dare say, also desires to do. It is not fit under its present constitution to bear a greater burden. It is not a Body directly elected by the ratepayers. It is elected by an indirect process, which is a source of weakness to it, and it is constantly conscious, I think, of that weakness. It is too small in its numbers to undertake much greater work. The nature of its election, as I have said, is not a good one. I desire to speak with respect of the Metropolitan Board, and I will therefore not adopt the phrase that was used in one of our debates, which characterized it as "a vestrified Vestry." If we were to take the Metropolitan Board as the basis of our Central Government it would have to be reconstructed altogether; and, therefore, you would not be taking an old Body— it is not very old—but you would have to take it entirely to pieces and reconstruct it upon new lines. That would not be taking what was practically an existing Body. Then it would involve another thing—it would involve the extinction of the ancient Corporation of London. Now, the extinction of the Corporation of London would be a great shock to the sentiment of this country and the sentiment of this House. I have said before that this House adheres to the traditions of its forefathers. It is willing to reform its institutions; it is not desirous to destroy them; and there are no traditions more illustrious than those which cluster round the Guildhall. I am 52 afraid that during the progress of this Bill I shall have to encounter the opposition of the Lord Mayor; but I will assure him beforehand that he shall not hear a word from me in these discussions that is inconsistent with the high personal esteem which we all hold for himself, or with the high respect which I feel for the great Office that he holds, and the famous Institution that he represents. I would very unwillingly part, unless there was the greatest necessity for it, with the traditions of the Guildhall and the Corporation of London. They belong to the most famous chapters in the history of the making of the English people. I should be as adverse to destroying the Guildhall as to destroying Westminster Hall or the Abbey. But the Palace of Westminster has adapted itself to the constitution of this House and of Parliament, and to the growing wants of the country; and the Abbey includes many memories which are strange to the traditions of the Plantagenets. I do not see why the Guildhall, or the Corporation of London, should not be willing to accept the same enlargement of their action as those two other famous Institutions have received. We have therefore come to the conclusion that if you are to have a Central Body, and are not to make a clean sweep of all that exists, but are to build on the foundation of that which exists, we ought to take as the foundation of the municipal life of London the ancient Corporation of London. And the object of the measure which it is my duty to explain, to the House, is to adapt the Corporation of London, and to make it what it originally was intended to be, and what, in my opinion, it is capable of becoming— the great Municipal Government of the Metropolis of the United Kingdom. There is no originality in this recommendation, but there is great authority for it. It was indicated in the Report of the Committee in 1837, and in 1861 it was proposed by a man of great ability and great knowledge of London, as well as of other affairs—whose absence from this House is a matter of general regret —Mr. Ayrton. I think the first definite proposal of adopting the Corporation of London as the foundation of our Municipal Institution was in the draft Report of the Committee of 1861. The great advocate of this scheme was another gentleman extremely well acquainted 53 with London affairs, the late Mr. John Locke; and he always advocated this proposal as the proper system of Municipal Reform. He was supported at that time by Mr. Benjamin Scott, the Chamberlain of the City of London, who gave evidence before this Committee, and who admitted that it was quite possible to adapt the Corporation of London to the wants of Municipal Government. But there is a still more important supporter of that scheme—and I am sorry he is not here to-day—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster. In 1870, after having condemned the principle of separate Municipalities, Mr. W. H. Smith is reported to have said that—It appeared to him there "was but one mode of dealing with the subject—that suggested by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke)."—(3 Hansard, 870.)Now, what was the manner suggested by the hon. Member for Southwark? Mr. Locke said—The view he took of the matter was shared by a number of the members of the Common Council of the City, for he had read with great interest a debate which had occurred a short time ago, in which excellent arguments were adduced in support of the plan, that, instead of having these different corporations established, the whole Metropolis should be divided into wards, and that there should be one corporation for its government; and this view was strictly in accordance with the principle upon which the City acted when, centuries ago, they included within their bounds such districts as Cripplegate-without, Bishopsgate-without, and Farringdon-without."—[Ibid.870.]That was the opinion of Mr. Locke, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster, who now sits on the Front Opposition Bench, said—There was but one mode of dealing with this subject, and that was the manner suggested by Mr. Locke.Now, I think that that plan is the plan to which all those who have been occupying themselves with a consideration of this question have ultimately come. It is very well known that a gentleman who took part for many years in the discussion of this matter, and who formerly advocated the plan of separate Municipalities (Mr. Beal), himself came round to this opinion; and my hon. Friend, who has done so much to advance the cause of Municipal Reform— I mean the junior Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth)—arrived also at that conclusion. But, Sir, there is an authority that I rely upon even still more than 54 those Gentlemen to whom I have referred, because this plan of Mr. Locke's was proposed in a definite form before the Committee of 1867. He proposed a resolution that the limits of the City of London should be extended to the Metropolis as defined by the Metropolitan. Management Act, and that the Metropolis should be divided into wards for the election of Aldermen and Common Councilmen. One of the persons who voted for that resolution was my hon. Friend the Liberal Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence); therefore we have, in favour of this proposition, the recorded opinion of such a distinguished citizen as my hon. Friend behind me, combined with the authority of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Westminster, as a concentration of light upon a single point not often to be found.
Well, therefore, the foundation of our plan is to adopt the Corporation of London as the basis of the Central Municipal Body which is to administer its affairs. Now, there is a very great advantage in thus extending the Corporation of London, because, as I have already said, it has never lost the instincts, the habits, and the forms of municipal life. In its Committees you have—if I may use a military phrase—complete cadres of municipal administration. You have a Body by reason of its numbers, its ability, its wealth, and of the whole system of its organization, capable of administering a much more extended area. When you have a Body like that, with all its grand traditions, and with all its resources and means of public benefit, why, in the name of common sense, should it not be adopted and adapted to the requirements of this great Metropolis? How this is to be done is much more simple than people will suppose. We adopt the existing Institution, with all its privileges, with all its traditions, with all its customs, but with certain modifications. What is to be the area? The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor need not be alarmed. We only extend his arms so that he may embrace a much larger population. I think nobody will doubt much about that. It ought to be the area now under the authority and control of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), in a speech 55 which he delivered on this subject, and which I read in the Recess, observed that there are many parts of London which ought to be included in the Metropolitan area, especially in the North district. That I admit; and a Bill would be very incomplete which did not give the Municipality the power of including other districts which ought to be included, and of excluding other districts which it was thought ought to be excluded. But there is immense advantage, I think, ill taking areas with which people are acquainted, in which they are in the habit of working together, in which they know their relations to one another; and, therefore, in the area to be taken, we adopt the area of the Metropolis Management Act, not as the real basis, but as the basis to start with. We propose to incorporate into the existing Corporation the whole of the citizens within the area of the Metropolis Management Act of 1855. We shall maintain the Corporation, and incorporate therein the inhabitants, who will then be "members of the ancient body corporate and politic of the mayor, commonalty, and citizens of London."
Now, as to the provisions of the Bill. The qualifications of the citizens will be the same as in other Municipal boroughs. What are the powers of this Corporation? Now, first of all, we merge in the Corporation a number of semi-independent Bodies; and as it is the essence of this Bill that the whole original authority shall be in the Central Body, we merge in it the powers of the Commissioners of Sewers, of the Court of the Mayor and Aldermen, so far as they are administrative, of the Common Hall, the Wardmotes, and so on. The Lord Mayor will understand that I mean those satellite bodies which are not exactly the Corporation, and which are not exactly independent of it. Those Bodies, then, are to be merged in the Corporation. In addition to that we transfer to the Corporation of London the existing powers of the Metropolitan Board; the existing powers of the Vestries under the Metropolis Management Act of 1855; the powers, so far as they are administrative, of the Justices of the Peace of the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent: the powers of the Burial Board; the control of baths and wash-houses, public libraries, and other minor matters. The House will see, 56 therefore, that the main transfer is a transfer of the powers of the Metropolitan Board, the Vestries, and the Justices of the Peace. Of course, we transfer with that the property and the debts; and, in fact, we transfer the whole administration of all the material questions in municipal life, with three exceptions. We do not meddle with the administration of the poor; we do not meddle with the administration of education as it exists; and we do not meddle with the existing administration of police.
Now, the Corporation is to act exclusively through its Common Council for all purposes—that is to say, it will appoint all its own officers. It will not elect its officers, as it at present does, through the Liverymen in Common Hall.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Theoretically it does not, but practically it does, because it elects its chief officer, and that is the Lord Mayor. I may say, that in doing away with the authority of the Common Hall we are really following the advice of the Commissions and of the persons who were examined in reference to the question. I say nothing about the Parliamentary rights of the Livery Companies, but, so far as their municipal rights exist, they are universally condemned. They have nothing whatever to do with municipal life. Their claim to take a sort of part which they have been supposed to take in the affairs of the City of London, recommends itself to nobody. If I had the time at my disposal, I could quote authority after authority on this point. The institution of the Liverymen is entirely alien to City life. We owe the presence of the Lord Mayor here, it is to be noticed, to the fact that the Liverymen were overruled. How is the Common Council to be elected? It is to be elected, as was recommended by Mr. Locke, by what will correspond to wards. We propose to divide London into municipal districts—I adopt that word, as, perhaps, more appropriate than the term "ward," having regard to the size of these districts. I do not say that I propose the ideally best division of London into districts for this purpose; but we take the districts as they now exist under the Local Management Act. I dare say these areas may require a good deal of correction, and 57 powers for that purpose will be given to the new Corporation. These areas, I admit, are by no means perfect; but I think it is better to start with areas that are well known and familiar. What is to be the number of Common Councilmen? I have taken the number that at one time existed in the present Corporation. In the year 1837 there were, I believe, 240 Common Councilmen, although this number is now reduced to 206. The question of redistribution in regard to the new Corporation will, I have no doubt, excite a good deal of interest as it does in regard to another subject. Among these municipal districts it is proposed to distribute 240 Common Councilmen in the manner that will be found in the 1st Schedule to the Bill. We propose to allot those members upon the principle that exists in the present Municipal Corporation and under the Metropolitan Management Act—namely, of taking population and rateable value jointly as the basis of calculation. The allocation of members will, of course, not be correct to a decimal; but the principle will be that which I have mentioned. In regard to the City of London, having respect to the smallness of its resident population and the greatness of its rateable value, we do not think it would be fair to deal with it on the same footing as the other districts, and we have given it a proportion of representation upon the basis of rateable value alone. This will ultimately give 30 members to the City of London, which will be one of the municipal districts. The other districts will have a number of representatives on a scale descending from 14 to 1 each, according to their population and rateable value. We shall then have a Council of 240 members, which will be fairly Representative of the whole Metropolis, and which will be invested with complete municipal authority.
The Lord Mayor will be annually elected by this Body, and will then be what he is supposed abroad to be—the Representative of the whole Metropolis of England. He will no longer be elected out of a couple of dozen Aldermen by a few hundred Liverymen who have no connection with the City of London, but by a Body which will be fairly representative of 4,000,000 of people. I do not think that we are thus doing much to degrade the Office of Lord Mayor of 58 London. The election in Common Hall will, as a consequence, be abolished. In consideration of the great amount of work which will fall on this Central Body, it is proposed to have a Deputy Mayor, who will be a paid officer, and who will assist and take the place of the Lord Mayor when he is unable to be present. He will receive such salary as the Common Council may decide.
We now come to the question of the Aldermen, which is a very delicate subject. The present position of the Aldermen in the City of London is very peculiar — almost an unexampled one. They are a body of elected magistrates —an institution not favoured by the Constitution of this country. In 1843, Lord Brougham, in an eloquent speech, denounced it; and in 1837 a Royal Commission reported as follows: —The Court of Aldermen still offers an instance of that union of magisterial, judicial, and legislative authority "which Parliament has recently condemned and dissolved in other Corporations. An additional inconvenience is found in London from the separate existence of the Court of Aldermen as a Municipal Court, the exclusive character of which appears to excite jealousy, while at the same time, by the constitution of the City, whatever advantages might be obtained from it as a second Legislative Chamber, are not secured or arrived at.It is also noticeable that in 1854 the Common Council themselves, in a document handed in to the Royal Commission, recommended the abolition of the extrajudicial authority of Aldermen. The Commission of 1854 recommended the abolition of the Court of Aldermen. We propose to do more than that. We propose to transfer the magisterial authority of the Aldermen to stipendiary magistrates. The administrative functions of the Court of Aldermen we shall transfer to the Common Council. The peculiar and exceptional features of the Aldermen of the City of London will disappear. The rights of existing Aldermen will, however, be reserved. We might, of course, create Aldermen upon the footing that they exist in other boroughs. In the Bill of 1835 Aldermen were given no distinction save that of rank, and I do not know that the change introduced in the House of Lords was very beneficial. Nor does it appear that the creation of Aldermen is very popular in boroughs where they exist. Only the other day I received a resolution adopted at Leeds praying 59 for the total abolition of the office of Alderman. There are people—I do not know why, because it is a very ancient and honourable title—who do not like being called Aldermen, and it might be more difficult to obtain suitable persons to serve in this capacity if the old title of Alderman was retained. Although this will be a matter for consideration, we do not, therefore, propose to create any titular Aldermen.
Of course there will be a burgess roll for each district, and the term of election in each would differ. It would be a great affair to have a general election throughout London, especially an election which we hope will attract a great deal of interest. We are anxious not to tax London by too numerous elections of this kind, and therefore we propose, instead of the alternate system being adopted, as in the other municipal boroughs, to have the whole of the Common Council elected at triennial periods, in the same manner as is adopted in the election of the School Board.
Hon. Members will also find in the Schedule of the Bill a number of clauses of the Municipal Act incorporated, which we think is the most convenient course. The Central Common Council under this Bill will be invested with all the original powers of the present Council, and it will be organized into committees in the same way. It may be objected that the work to be performed by the Central Council is too large and too varied to be all brought into one centre, and that, therefore, the interests of the particular localities will be overlooked and postponed. I am not going to argue against that view, because, although the fears thus expressed may be founded upon an exaggeration of the difficulties of the case, I am going not to put them aside, but to meet them. It is said that the local work can be done much better by the Local Vestries than by any Central Body. Happily it is not my business to attack or to impeach any of the existing Bodies in London or to deny that those Bodies have done much and useful work. Of the Vestries there are some good and very good, some indifferent, some bad and very bad; but the worst of it is, when they are bad, there is nobody to control them, nobody to superintend them, nobody who can bring their work into one common whole, and exercise any supervision over them. The 60 existing Bodies are absolutely independent in the exercise of the powers they possess, and there is no common bond of action between them. This has a bad effect. Thus, sometimes one Vestry will do its work very badly, while an-another will do its work very well, and the result usually is that the one that does its work well will suffer. It may be said that the local work might be done by the Central Body; but I do not think that would be a good plan, or that it would be calculated to give satisfaction to the different localities who like to look after their own affairs. Therefore, in addition to the Central Council, we propose to establish District Councils in each municipal district. These latter Bodies will not be like the present Vestries, inasmuch as they will have no original or independent authority. If these District Councils were to have such independent authority and powers conferred upon them, it would be impossible to control them or to bring them into harmony with each other. These Bodies, therefore, will have merely a derivative authority delegated to them by the Central Council, and that authority and those powers will be defined by district orders emanating from the Central Council. These District Bodies will not be nominated by the Central Council, they will be elected by their municipal districts, but they will possess no power except that which is conferred upon them by the Central Council. I wish to indicate to the House the advantages which will result from this plan. The Central Council, having original authority, will be able to judge how much of the work it can do itself, and how much of it it ought to delegate to the minor Local Bodies, whose action it will supervise in order to see that the work is properly done. We, therefore, propose that these Local Representative Bodies, actin gunder their derivative powers, shall take upon themselves the great mass of the minute work to the relief of the Central Council, and shall do that work in accordance with the wishes and the desires of the locality in which that work is to be performed. It might be asked— "Why do you not describe in the Bill what are to be the powers of the District Councils?" That would be a very bad thing to do, as it would perpetuate the very evils that now exist under the present Vestry system, and would destroy the elasticity of 61 the plan I am now submitting to the House. It is far better to leave the Central Council to ascertain for itself the matters which it will be best to leave to the District Councils to look after. It may be said that the Central Council will arrogate too much power to itself. But this check has been provided to meet that difficulty—namely, that the Central Body will have to provide the funds out of a central rate for the work it does itself, whereas the Local Bodies will have to pay for the work they do out of a local rate. This proposal will, therefore, operate as a check upon either Body undertaking more than their fair share of work. I omitted to mention this important fact—namely, that the members of the Central Council elected by the municipal district will be members of the District Councils, and thus will be the connecting links between them and the Central Body. In this manner we shall establish local subordinate Bodies, which will be in relation with the Central Body. The members of the Local Bodies will be elected at the same time as those of the Central Body are.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
In the same way as the Municipal Councillors are elected now. Each will have its own budget, and by the exercise of the counteracting influences of these centrifugal and centripetal forces we provide that what each asks for it must pay for. Under the scheme, there will be 240 members of the Central Council, and there will be, with the City, 39 municipal districts. After a training up in life as District Councillors, they will become Common Councillors. When the Central Body consigns the duty of rating to the Local Bodies, it will consign to them the duty of preparing an estimate for carrying out the works, and the Local Bodies will be elected at the same time as the Common Council. The District Councillors will be in one sense the agents of the Corporation, who will have the confidence of the localities which elect them, and an understanding can be arrived at between the Central and the Local Bodies as to the powers best to be transacted by each. We hope that this combination will relieve the Central Body from all work they cannot 62 do. It will not be like surveyors or agents going into parishes; the Local Councils will give to active persons in the district a field of usefulness and ambition, a power which the Vestries do not possess. There will be 39 of these subsidiary Bodies, including the City, with powers of raising money by district orders granted by the Common Council. That is our plan for meeting the desire of local administration.
I now come to a chapter which I cannot altogether pass over, and that is the question of finance. I cannot go into great details in regard to it, because the Corporation, remaining the Corporation as it is, will retain the whole of its property, and I hope we shall not hear the word confiscation on this occasion. The funds of the Corporation are practically in three categories. The first is that of the City cash, which is a semi-private and semi-public property. Then there is their Trust Fund, and next there is the rate which the Commissioners of Sewers apply. The City cash is applied to municipal staff purposes. It finds the emoluments of the Lord Mayor and of the staff, the Guildhall, the Mansion House, certain charities and schools, and so forth; and likewise certain magisterial salaries and expenses. All these purposes, or almost all of them, are equally as applicable to the whole of London as they are to the City. We think that the Lord Mayor of London, though he will perhaps be a more dignified, will not be a more expensive person. I have never been a party to the charges, as to waste of money, that have been brought against the Corporation of London; but if I had any complaint to make, it would be that the Corporation has a staff which is rather expensive in proportion to the work to be done. We do not propose to take it away; we only propose that it shall be available for the whole of the Metropolis instead of the centre. There is one other matter to which I should like to call the attention of the Lord Mayor. We are not going to abolish the hospitality of the Corporation. Allow me to read the 4th sub-section of Clause 20. It provides that—Whereas the Corporation has been accustomed to spend money in conferring the freedom of the City upon distinguished personages, and in contributing to public and charitable objects, and also in the prosecution and defence of legal 63 proceedings for the promotion of the interests of the citizens, and whereas it is expedient to provide for the continuance of the power of expending money for such purposes, it is declared that all such expenditure properly incurred in pursuance of the resolution of the Common Council shall be deemed to be expended for the public benefit of the citizens of London.I think it would be a great mistake to deprive the Corporation of the Metropolis of the power of exercising that municipal hospitality, which, in my opinion, is not a dishonour, but an honour, to the Corporation of London, though I hope they will not offer too many invitations to Her Majesty's Ministers. The City will, of course, have its own expenditure for its own services within its own district, as at present under the Commissioners of Sewers. That will be a local rate.
Now, I have already alluded to what I think is a very important economical principle in the Bill—that is to say, that the things which are administered and done by the Central Body of the Common Council will be paid for out of the general rate, but that the things administered by the District Council in the district shall be charged specially in the district. If you depart from that principle, you will have infinite extravagance. We know, by experience, what a tendency there is to extravagance if you allow people to put their hands into the pockets of the General Body.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
No, it makes a budget and an estimate, but the rate is made by the Central Body. They say how much they will want, and they receive the money, and they levy that money on the people in their own district. That we regard as a very important economical principle. We also think that this is fair—that the assets and debts of municipal districts shall be credited to and debited against them, for, otherwise, we might have a district, which had incurred a large debt, placed in a position of advantage as compared with a district which had been more economically administered. As to the Audit, we propose to apply to it generally the principles of the Metropolitan Board Audit, although, from the jealousy which I know this House has on the subject, we have nothing to do with the power of surcharge. But if the Auditors see 64 anything which they disapprove, they may make a Report which will be published, and we regard that publication as a check on any improper expenditure. Now I must pass over a good many details. I have said that we keep alive the privileges and the customs of the City of London. I see no reason why we should not do so. The real truth is, that although there were privileges and customs and charters in old times which were found to have an expensive operation, yet in modern times the Corporation has been prudent, and I do not believe that the privileges and customs, with the exception of one or two, which are specially abolished by this Bill, will be injurious to anybody. We have limited the power under these customs to those which are actually now in use, so that there will be no power to go back upon any former practice.
Of course, the burgesses of the City of Westminster must disappear. The real truth is that they never had any municipal character, and the officers of Westminster were really the officers of a Manorial Court. They exercised no power except as to weights and measures, and they never constituted a real municipal institution.
Then there are other matters which we should like to deal with in this Bill, but we cannot afford to do so—like the episodes of gas and water. We cannot transfer the hackney carriages to the Municipal Body from the Police. We cannot undertake to do by this Bill what the Commission of 1854 recommended, and that was to transfer to another Local Body the Irish Fund. We have indicated our opinion that those things can be done by clauses which require the Corporation of London to introduce Bills for those purposes. We have also a larger power of making schemes, subject to appeal to the Privy Council, for the alterations to which I have referred. There is another episode which we cannot undertake in this Bill. I have often been asked my views on the licensing system. We cannot fight out the liquor question as an episode of this Bill; but although, as I have said, the view of the Government is that the power of licensing should be transferred to a local representative authority, we have been obliged, in order not to have too many side issues in this Bill, to leave the 65 licensing authority as it is, or rather as it will be under this Bill, in the Borough Justices.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Yes. Clause 48 enacts that the Common Council of London shall provide as soon as possible for the purchase or regulation of the undertakings which at present supply water and gas to any part of London, or any one of them. That, I think, sufficiently describes our ultimate municipal plan.
There remains the County Question. The City of London is a county in itself; but the best of the Metropolis is dispersed among the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent, being subject to a sort of haphazard jurisdiction as fractions of these counties. I do not think that anybody will consider that the administration of the Middlesex magistrates, for instance, is at all adequate to the requirements of a Metropolis like London. Well, we propose to include the whole of the Metropolis in the county of the City of London. For that purpose, of course, we shall remove the county jurisdiction out of London. That is done in the second part of the Bill. I have not time to refer to the peculiar history of the origin of the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex in the Reign of Henry I. London will, in the future, appoint its own Sheriff, and the Sheriff of Middlesex will be appointed, as in other counties, by the Crown. The Quarter Sessional jurisdiction of the various County Authorities will be transferred to a Recorder and Deputy Recorders. We shall keep the Recorder of London, and the Common Serjeant will be a Deputy Recorder; and we propose that there shall be three other Assistant Recorders to take the place of the Assistant Judges at the Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent Sessions. Practically speaking, the county jurisdiction in London ceases, and the administrative part of the business goes to the Common Council, while the judicial part of the business goes to the Recorder. There will be a Judge who will sit for the purpose of assessments. As to Petty Session jurisdiction, we shall have Stipendiaries. There will be a Borough Bench for London, and, subject to power of alteration in the Bill, the Police Court 66 Divisions will be the Petty Sessional Divisions of London. The Coroners will be appointed by the Common Council.
The Central Criminal Court will be altered in this respect, that the Aldermen will no longer sit there. The Lord Mayor's Court will be retained until otherwise provided by Parliament, though its jurisdiction will not be extended over a further area. The City of London Court will be what it really now is—a County Court. Of course, too, in the Bill there is no alteration of the Trusts that exist—there will be a saving of all the nominations to the different Trusts. Above all, I desire to say this, with respect to the loud voices which have been raised on the subject—that the interests of all existing officers will be considered. There will be plenty of work for the admirable staff of the Metropolitan Board and of the Corporation of London, which will now be amalgamated, and the Vestry Clerks and the other officers of existing Bodies will continue to be officers of the Corporation. There is a Schedule in the Bill which I would commend to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). There will be a great number of Departments which are now under the Crown and charged to the Imperial Revenue—among others the Police Courts —which will in future be under the control of the Corporation. I am also happy to say that, though the Municipality will be larger, the Treasury will not be any richer. We have to encounter a difficulty which it is necessary to provide for. We are not creating a new Body to do a new business; we are taking over a going concern. We have therefore to provide for a transition period, so as not to lead to confusion. We must take care that chaos does not arise in the transfer to the new Body of the power which was exercised by the existing Body. For that purpose two things are necessary—first, that the new Body should have time to organize itself and make preparation for the duties it has to undertake; and, secondly, that the new Body shall include the persons who are now engaged in the old business. We have endeavoured to provide for both these things. The first thing wanting will be to provide a burgess roll, because there is now no burgess roll for the whole of London. That 67 will be commenced immediately after the passing of the Bill, and come into operation on the 29th of January following. Common Councillors will be elected upon that day for the several municipal districts. But we do not propose that they shall elect the whole 240 members. They are to elect 150, who will be rateably distributed among the municipal districts. The other 90 members will be chosen in the following manner: —We take over bodily into the first Triennial Common Council the whole of the 46 members of the Metropolitan Board, including their Chairman. We think we cannot testify more completely our sense of the services which the Metropolitan Board has rendered, and of their capacity to bring their knowledge and experience to bear upon the starting of the new machine. Next, we propose to elect out of the Common Council of the City of London 44 members to be members of the first Common Council—the best and most experienced members of the present Common Council. Thus we shall start in the new Common Council with 90 members perfectly familiar with the working of the Corporation, and the Metropolitan Board, with the finances and the various questions which are of importance in municipal affairs; and they will be 90 out of 240 members of what I may call the first "Constituent Assembly" of the Corporation of London. Those 44 members will take their places for the City districts. That Body will be thus constituted in the last days of January. I now come to the question of time; I have dealt with the question of persons. This Body will not at once enter upon its complete executive functions. It will have time to make itself acquainted with its duties, to organize and prepare its Committees, to appoint its officers, to consider and determine what work it shall do itself and what it shall assign to District Councils. In point of fact, they will have time to set the machine in motion. For that purpose they will have three months till the 1st of May. During that time they will be a Provisional Council. It will be elected at the end of January, will so exist for three months, and come into complete life and action on the 1st of May. We provide for this in the latter clauses of the Bill, which we call the Transitory Clauses, by which we provide for the 68 period of confusion and chaos and transfer of authority. That being so, at the end of April the Councils will be elected. Then the whole machine will be taken over in its new form, and in that manner we hope that by securing time and experience the whole work will be secure. Now, Sir, the fact that it is necessary to prolong, under the present Bill, the existence of the present Body will render it my proud privilege to have continued the existence of a Lord Mayor of London for a term of six months. I shall be the first person who will have continued a Lord Mayor in office for 18 months; and my right hon. Friend the Lord Mayor will probably be the last man and the first who will have the office of Lord Mayor of London for 18 months.
The House will be glad to hear that I am now coming to an end. I have endeavoured to explain this scheme— very imperfectly, I fear. At all events, it will not be said that it is a revolutionary scheme. As far as possible, consistently with the objects of the Bill, it is placed on the basis of existing institutions, and is built upon existing foundations. Now, there is one great objection which may be taken to it. That is a political objection. It is said that this will be such a terribly powerful Body that the State will reel under it. That objection was taken by a noble Lord in "another place" to the institution of the Metropolitan Board of Works, The noble Lord said that you, Sir, would tremble in your Chair. You are new, Sir, in that Chair; but I do not think your Predecessors have felt that terror. If my hon. Friend opposite (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) is a despot, he is a mild despot. If he possesses that great power, he exercises it with moderation. We have not suffered under the political reign of the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works. There have been times when there has been political danger from the Corporation of the City of London. We have read the history of John Wilkes and Alderman Beckford. There are to be found inscribed in marble in the Guildhall certain words said to have been employed on a famous occasion by Beckford, about which the strangest fact is, I believe, that they were never used. And, horresco referens, this House has sent a Lord Mayor and Alderman to the Tower. But those 69 events took place in the old days of the old Corporation, and are not the political dangers of some dreadful new Democratic Body. They were the work of the Corporation of the last century. I see no reason in the present century that the Corporation, as it becomes more representative of London, will become a danger to the State. How will this Bill affect the Mayor and Corporation? Does it do indignity to the present Corporation of London? This Bill merely magnifies and enlarges the power, dignity, and influence of the Corporation of London? And as to the Metropolitan Board, it will not exist completely as in the old Body; but it undergoes a transmigration of soul. The spirit of the Metropolitan Board will be transformed into the body of the Corporation of London. As to the Vestries, they will have as their principal Members, what they have never had before, members of the Corporation of London. It is idle to suggest adherence to the principle of independent local authority, which is at the root of all the mischief. I have done all I can to facilitate the understanding of the Bill by means of marginal references, and it will be accompanied by an explanatory summary which will make it more easy to master. The first and second parts are the skeletons of municipal and county government, while the third and fourth are the expansion of existing Bodies. I would make an appeal to the House to discuss this important question. The Bill of 1855 was one of 250 clauses, and it was dealt with in three or four months; this is a Bill of 73 clauses, and it is not so complicated as was the Bill of 1855. I hope the present House of Commons will show itself equal to that of a generation ago. The Bill is one of great complexity; it may contain errors of omission and commission. If there be any errors no one will be more happy than I to correct them. All I claim on the part of the Government is that we have made an honest and painstaking effort to grapple with a considerable question, which, I believe, does in a very great degree affect the happiness and the welfare of 4,000,000 of people.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 171.]