§ MR. FIRTH (Dundee)
said, he rose for the purpose of calling attention to the Report of the City Corporation (Malversation of Funds) Committee, 1887; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, without delay, to place the expenditure of the Corporation of the City of London under similar statutory restrictions to those to which other Corporations in the Kingdom are subject.Perhaps, in the first instance, it was desirable that he should shortly draw the attention of the House to what those statutory restrictions were. Before the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, all Corporations had been regarded as the owners of their property; but the effect of that Act was held to be to constitute them into trustees of such property only. That was supposed to be the effect of the 92nd section, and the 94th imposed a restriction upon their method of dealing with their property without the approval of the Treasury. The whole of the provisions of the Act in respect of property was reenacted in the Consolidation Act of 1882, 1628 which was now the law. Under the last Act, all income from property was to be paid into the borough fund, and the borough fund was only applicable to certain purposes set out in the Act. This provision had been found to work satisfactorily in 246 boroughs which were at the present time placed under the provisions of the Act. With respect to the Corporation of the City of London, it was not, as the House was aware, under the Act of 1835. Lord John Russell promised in that year that it should be placed under a similar set of restrictions; but the promised Bill was not introduced, although no question was raised as to the propriety of placing the Corporation of London under the same control as other Corporations. In 1853, a Commission sat, which consisted of Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Mr. Justice Pattison, and Mr. Labouchere, to consider the question. That Commission recommended that the very thing should be done which he proposed to the House in his Resolution—namely, that the provisions as to expenditure of the Municipal Corporations Act should be applied to London. It was also suggested that there should be auditors with full powers of examination and disallowance. In the document supplied to hon. Members by the Corporation of the City of London in opposition to the present Motion, it was said that they published annually a fully audited account of their receipts, and that the members who disbursed the funds of the Corporation were accountable to their constituents. As one of the constituents in question, he could only say that he had never seen any fully audited accounts. The audit of the Corporation of London was of a kind which differed altogether from any other audit existing in this country. The City Livery Companies and the members of the City Guilds elected four men as auditors; but theirs was not analogous to other audits. The auditors could not verify the truth of the vouchers. City Committees were entitled to draw upon the Chamberlain by warrants; and, if the auditors saw the warrant, they were unable to go behind it. As a matter of fact, neither the auditors nor the Common Councilmen themselves were aware what the details of the expenditure were. He need scarcely say that, under those circumstances, there was no surcharge. In 1629 the evidence given before the Commission, it was said that in one instance an order was given for payment of £1,287 by the City Committee to one of its own members. In regard to that payment no details were given, according to the Remembrancer's own evidence. When asked whether the word of the member of the Committee was the only authority for the expenditure, the City Remembrancer replied—"Rather, I would say, the wish of the Committee." Now, the City of London had always claimed to be the absolute owners of their property, and no opportunity had ever been afforded for contesting what their position in that respect really was. They protested last year, before the Committee of this House, against the production of their accounts and their expenditure in connection with their estate, on the ground that it would be a derogation of the ancient rights and privileges of the Corporation and of the Livery. He supposed that they claimed to be in the same position as that in which they were previous to the passing of the Act of 1885. He knew of no decision, although there was a dictum of Lord Eldon on the matter, in which any Corporation before the Act was not entitled to regard itself as owner. The suggestion contained in his Resolution was that the Corporation of London should now be placed under the same restrictions as other Corporations. In their statement the City of London said that they differed from other Corporations, inasmuch as other bodies levied a borough rate which was restricted to the purposes for which that rate was levied. The 92nd section of the Act of 1835, and the corresponding section of the Act of 1882, provided that the income derived from all property should be applied to the purposes of the borough fund, and that all the property of the Corporation should be in the position of trust property. In their statement, the Corporation said something in regard to the word "malversation." Now, that word was one which was put in the Reference to the Committee last year. He did not know who put it in, and it was not in the terms of his Motion. It was difficult to see what would be malversation. The Corporation said that he had been unable to substantiate the charges he had made; but he was not responsible for the use 1630 of that word. The Report of the Committee last year deprecated the use of the term "malversation," but went on to say that the Corporation had from the earliest times freely expended the City cash without any control by Parliament, and that Parliament had never required any accounts to be rendered. That was quite true. Their Report went on to say that no conclusive judgment on the question of malversation could be arrived at except by a Court of Law. That undoubtedly was so, and he ventured to think the matter ought not to have been referred to a Committee at all. They said that he had failed in substantiating the charges he had made against the Corporation; but, as he had pointed out, he was not responsible for the use of the word "malversation." He thought that was an improper word to use. All that he said was that there was no proper control over the expenditure. Attention was called to this fact by the Commission which sat in 1853, and a year or two afterwards Sir George Grey's Government Bill came on for discussion. On that occasion it was asserted in regard to the large expenditure of the City Corporation that they declined to give any explanation of the expenditure, simply contenting themselves by saying that the money was judicially and fairly expended. As a matter of fact, the Court of Aldermen declined to give an account of the expenditure of the City cash, even to the Common Council. Before the inquiry of the Commission in 1853, the evil of the absence of public examination was forcibly shown, and it was because it was forcibly shown that the Committee practically recommended that there should be what he proposed to add—namely, statutory restrictions. There was evidence given of the expenditure of some thousands of pounds in opposing a Government Bill; and, further, that Petitions had been got up by the City officers to insure its defeat, the plea being that if the public were made aware of all the circumstances of the case, the opposition would be more effectual. Of course, that might or might not be so. His view of the case was that where a great Corporation spent large sums of money, as it was well known the City Corporation did, it was not a matter which should be affected by secret petitioning; but it was clearly the right of the House of Com- 1631 mons to insist upon the expenditure being made a matter of common knowledge. That state of things continued for some years. In 1881, there was a serious inquiry into the propriety of continuing the Coal and Wine Dues. Last year the Corporation endeavoured to develop a predominant opinion in favour of those dues, and a Petition was presented to the House signed by 93,000 persons in favour of the continuance of the dues. It would appear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had suggested that unless there was a predominant public opinion in favour of the dues, the Government would seriously consider the question of continuing them. Accordingly, an endeavour was made to obtain a predominant public opinion, and the City Solicitor employed a man who employed other men to obtain signatures to a Parliamentary Petition. Upwards of 90,000 signatures passed through their hands in regard to which an expert declared his doubt whether a very large proportion were genuine at all. Not only was this scandal created, but it was found that all the expenditure in getting the Petition was paid out of the City cash. He therefore suggested that there ought to be that statutory control over the expenditure of the City cash which there was over the expenditure of other Corporations. He would give the House an illustration of what it was he desired to draw attention to in his Resolution. In 1882, in Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, it was suggested that there should be an extension of municipal government in London. A Committee of the City Corporation was appointed to consider the question, and to do as they might deem expedient. That Committee had power to expend whatever money they thought fit. As a matter of fact, they did expend £19,550, but no Report was ever presented to the Common Council, and every application made for it had been in vain. Last year an inquiry into the action of the Committee was decreed by the House on account of the discovery, or production of the copy of a book, of one of the Associations which had worked with the City officers. That book was printed at the end of the Report of the Committee, and it justified every statement he had made.
§ ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, he rose to Order. He wished to know 1632 whether an hon. Member was allowed to read his speech? He had been keeping his eye on the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth), and he appeared to be reading every word.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! It is a well-established Rule of the House that a Member may refer to notes in order to refresh his memory, but he must not read his speech.
§ MR. FIRTH
said, that at the close of his speech he would hand his notes to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if lie wished to have them, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman would then be able to see whether he had been reading his speech or not. As a matter of fact, he had not read a single sentence except what was contained in the Report of the Committee, and he was going to show from the Report that an improper use had been made of a portion of the funds in the hands of the City Corporation. As he had pointed out, there had been an expenditure of £19,550 by the Committee which was appointed by the Corporation to examine into the question of the extension of municipal government to London. Of that sum £14,139 was expended in 1884, and it was expended in a very remarkable way. It was expended in circulating pamphlets, and there were some very remarkable pamphlets circulated. For instance, every vestryman in London received a pamphlet of 89 pages, entitled Centralisation knocked into a cocked hat, or Firth dissected, and this was paid for by the City Corporation. Some of the money was expended in a movement which suddenly grew up in favour of obtaining Charters for various London constituencies. This movement was conducted in so subtle a manner as to deceive even the very elect, for the First Lord of the Treasury attended a Charter meeting at Westminster in connection with which more than £50 were spent for the purpose of providing an audience. The statement with regard to the Greenwich Charter was of a still more remarkable character. The Committee endeavoured to get some evidence in regard to that expenditure, but they were told that all the documents had been destroyed. In answer, however, to several questions, it was admitted that money was paid to induce persons to promote the Charter. 1633 A considerable sum was paid for getting up Petitions; but, perhaps, the most remarkable phase the position assumed was the establishment of associations apparently bonâ fide for the purpose of obstructing reform. Six associations were established, and the City spent a large sum in advertising their proceedings, £2,341 having been spent in advertisements only in the course of two months. The Committee very naturally reported that this expenditure was extravagant and excessive. The particular matter which led to the appointment of the Committee was specially inquired into—namely, a grant to a particular association of a sum of £3,950. This money was paid to the City Solicitor, and paid by him into his banking account, whence it was drawn out in cash and paid to other agents. For some reason or other no copy of the cash account in connection with these items had been produced. Probably, it was thought that the matter would never come within the public knowledge, although, as a matter of fact, it did leak out. Some remarkable evidence was given as to conferences being called. At one of them only five men attended, although the conference had been largely advertised. Evidence was given of meetings having been held at which the secretary admitted everyone who presented himself, and all who attended were paid. The chairman, the various speakers, and the movers of amendments, it would appear, were always paid. The promoters of the anti-reform movement even arranged some meettings purporting to be in favour of reform; but it was carefully arranged that there should be a majority on the other side. One great meeting, of which the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir Robert Fowler) had spoken, was held in the Guildhall. That meeting, described as one of bankers and merchants, was alluded to in the appendix to the Report of the Select Committee in one single line, "130 men at 5s., £32 10s." That was a meeting held within the sacred precincts of Guildhall; but it was stated that the City Solicitor expressed an opinion that 5s. was too much to give to each man for attending a Guildhall meeting. There was a good deal of evidence given as to the character of the associations which were established, and the Committee 1634 reported with respect to this matter as follows:—Your Committee further consider the system of subsidising so-called political associations, such as the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Protection Association, to have been improper on the part of a public body. The practice of placing corporate funds at the disposal of irresponsible and unknown persons was calculated to mislead Parliament by the appearance of an active and organized public opinion which might in reality have no existence. The improper use of a portion of the funds derived from the City estate under the authority of the Special Committee of the Corporation has been proved.It would, however, appear, from the City statement, that the Corporation regarded the Report of the Committee as an acquittal. He would not quarrel with them upon that matter, but he confessed that it did not strike him as an acquittal. In his opinion, the Corporation ought to be put under the same statutory control as other Corporations, because the course they had pursued in regard to the presentation of Petitions to that House, and in respect of other operations—such as their opposition to the Bill of 1884—were matters of public notoriety. He would give another illustration in justification of his assertion that those who lived in London had the right to object to be governed by a Corporation which made such an improper use of the City money as this Corporation had undoubtedly done. The case had come under his own notice. In the year 1885 he was a Member of the Telephone Committee of that House. That Committee reported on the 12th of May. On the 21st of May, in the Common Council, a question was put by an inquiring member of the name of Sly, as to whether the Streets Committee proposed to spend Whitsuntide in Paris, and there was great difficulty in extracting an answer. In the end, an answer was extracted, and it was to the effect that the Streets Committee were going to see the telephone wires in Paris themselves, because it would cost a great deal more to employ experts. Moreover, it was said that the Parliamentary Committee would not take second-hand evidence. The result was that on the 22nd of May, 1885, the Streets Committee of the Corporation, at a cost of £500, went to Paris to see the telephone system in operation there, in order that they might give evidence before a Select 1635 Committee, which had already reported 10 days before. it was suggested that it was desirable to continue the expenditure of the money of the Corporation for the general public interest. It was contended that audited. accounts were periodically supplied. He held one of those accounts in his hand, and it afforded another illustration of the way in which the Corporation dealt with these matters. He found that in connection with the matter affecting the whole of the police area over which the Coal and Wine Dues were collected, a sum of £600 had been expended in visiting the boundaries of the coal and wine area. It would appear that last year a sum of £5,000 was expended in refreshments for the Committee, in addition to which a considerable sum was expended upon trips up the river in an ancient barge, called The Maria Wood. If everything done over every square mile was to be done at the same rate of expenditure, the feeding of Committees alone would cost a sum of £250,000 sterling. All he maintained was that whether this expenditure was sanctioned by long precedent and usage or not, it ought to be made a matter of the same statutory control as other Corporations. He had only one word more to say in respect of this question, and he would then cease to trouble the House. The Corporation had published an account of their good works. He had never denied that the Corporation had done some good works; but that fact by no means constituted a sufficient answer to his case. He had never said that they were unrighteous altogether, and he regretted that they e should have found it necessary to go back as far as the 17th century in order to show what noble work they had performed, and how well it bad been done. The Corporation said they had done much more, and had done it better than the Metropolitan Board of Works. Among other works, they set forth that they had expended £20,000 upon the purification of the Thames. Yes; but the Metropolitan Board of Works had not spent a sum of £20,000 in showing that their work had been done properly. It was suggested that the Corporation expended money for charitable purposes. That was beyond all doubt They maintained an excellent library, as he himself knew. Further, the 1636 Corporation claimed that it was their business to discharge the duties of national hospitality. He agreed with that view to a large extent, but the Resolution did not propose that there should be no more cakes and ale, and no more hospitality to anybody. In the 28th section of the Bill of 1884 it was proposed that the Corporation of London, which was to be a larger body, or at any rate was to possess a larger jurisdiction, should have the power of entertaining strangers, and conferring the freedom of the City upon distinguished persons; and, further, that the Corporation should be entitled to contribute to charitable objects, such as education and in providing schools, and that it should have power to institute and defend legal proceedings for the protection of the interests of the City. Therefore, the propositions contained in that Bill covered the whole ground of objection which the City took in this part of their statement. He admitted that the Corporation—or somebody in their stead—should have the right to entertain hospitably people who came from a distance; but even that right ought to be under some control. Not long ago the City gave a banquet and a ball, on which the sum of £903 was spent by a Corporation on menu cards and ball tickets, and £145 on gloves, perfumery, and hair-brushes. Surely, such sums were far too large, and would never be incurred by a reformed Corporation which was placed under statutory restrictions. If Her Majesty's Government proposed next year to deal with this question of the government of the City in the sense of putting it on the same lines as other Corporations, he thought he should be justified in withdrawing the Resolution; but if the Government had no proposal to make in regard to the matter, then he would venture to suggest that his proposition might be fairly conceded that the City of London should be placed on the same lines as other Municipal Corporations. At present there was no power to prevent the Corporation from doing the things which he had pointed out; and, unfortunately, a Corporate Body frequently did things which a man in an individual capacity would never dream of doing. Lord Coke said, 300 years ago—"Corporations cannot commit treason, or be outlawed, or excommunicated, for 1637 they have no souls." This expenditure, however, could be controlled, and he maintained that it would be for the advantage of the people of London and for the Corporation itself that the expenditure of the City should be placed under the same statutory restrictions as had been successfully imposed in the the case of every other Corporation in the Kingdom. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
said, he rose for the purpose of seconding the Motion; and he was very glad indeed that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth) had brought the matter before the House. He failed to see why the inquiry which took place last year had not been followed up by some action on the part of Parliament. In regard to the Motion which he had brought before the House last year, and the inquiry which subsequently took place as to the conduct of the Corporation with reference to the Bill for its reform, every statement he had made had been verified by the Report of the Committee. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler) at first characterized his charges as anonymous tittle tattle. It was, however, a singular fact that the Inquiry conducted upstairs, by very able Members of the House, proved that every statement he had made was substantially true. He had been aware of the responsibility he incurred when he introduced the subject, and when he mentioned the fact that £19,530 10s. 10d. had been expended by the committee appointed by the Corporation to examine into the question of the extension of municipal government to London, it was proved that he was correct, even to the 10s. 10d. Some hours were spent by the Corporation, when before the Committee, in trying to prove that at least £200 might be struck off that bill; but he thought the House would agree with him that even if £200 had been struck off, he had fairly proved his case before the Committee. But, as a matter of fact, the £200 were retained, notwithstanding all that was said and done; and it stood in the Report of the Committee that all the items he had mentioned were accurate. One paragraph contained in the Report deserved to be quoted. It stated—The items are correctly given in the Memorandum furnished by Mr. Bowen, and printed in the Appendix.1638 That Memorandum was the report in Hansard of the statements he had made in the House. The Committee went on to say—Your Committee have gone through every item, and found them all debited to the City fund.He wished to call the attention of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City to that fact, because he had himself described the statements that were made as "anonymous tittle-tattle," although he was a member of the special committee of the Corporation, had attended its sittings on many occasions, and ought to have known what was being expended by the Corporation. Although the hon. Baronet characterized the statements as "anonymous tittle-tattle," it was distinctly stated by the Select Committee that, as far as the City accounts were concerned, every item had been carefully identified. There was another statement in the Report which deserved to be quoted, especially as there were some hon. Members who sat upon the Select Committee present in the House. The Committee stated in their Report—The classification of items was, on the whole, accurately summarized by Mr. Howell in his speech in the House of Commons.The words of the Committee were "on the whole." He should have thought that the Committee, after having identified every item, might have left out that particular expression "on the whole," because it was not only "on the whole," but every individual item brought before the House in his speech had been traced and identified before the Select Committee. He would recall to the House the terms of his Motion last year, because he desired distinctly to show the position in which he stood in regard to the matter. In the course of his speech on that occasion he had never once used the term "malversation." He had carefully avoided that term, because he knew that it was a technical term, and one that was very difficult indeed to substantiate. Unfortunately it dropped into the Resolution subsequently proposed, and, therefore, he had to take, and did take, the responsibility for the use of the term. He was quite aware that the Committee had exonerated the City Corporation from malversation. Very well, he accepted that exoneration; but, after all, the 1639 Committee itself showed that a large amount of money had been spent wrongly, and he was perfectly satisfied with that result, notwithstanding the fact that the Select Committee exonerated the City from the charge of malversation, so far as the technical use of that term was concerned. He had certainly never meant to fasten a charge of malversation upon the City Committee, and the hon. Baronet the Member for the City knew very well that in the statement he made to the House he declined to fasten upon the Committee as a whole, or any individual Member of it, any charge of a criminal nature. What he maintained then, and maintained now, was that a large amount of the public money belonging to the City had been employed in a manner in which it ought not to have been employed, and in that respect the Select Committee had supported his statement. He had asserted in his speech that a considerable sum of money was spent in getting up bogus movements. He would ask the House, and any hon. Member on either side of the House who had read the Report of the Committee and the evidence given before the Committee, whether it was not absolutely proved up to the hilt that bogus movements were got up and paid for by the City funds for the purpose of influencing the decision of the House. But, although hon. Members as sensible and business men must have been aware that these bogus movements might have been got up for a particular purpose, they did not know that the agitation was to be followed up by action of a much more serious character—namely, the manufacture of bogus Petitions. Hon. Members would, perhaps, remember a curious and somewhat solemn scene which was enacted in the House when a youth was reprimanded at the Bar of the House for the part he had taken in regard to those Petitions. What he maintained was that instead of reprimanding that youth, the men who were themselves responsible, who had hired him and paid him for his services, ought to have been reprimanded, and something more. All that the Resolution asked was that in the future the public money should be expended in such a way as to reflect credit and honour upon the municipality which expended it. He did not think that that was asking very 1640 much. The Corporation of the City of London certainly deserved to be reformed more than any other Corporation in the Kingdom. It required reformation at the time the Municipal Corporations Act was passed more than any other Corporation in the land, and certainly it required it no less now than it did then. If any Corporation had ever spent money in a corrupt way, if he might use the term not in an offensive but in a modified sense, that Corporation was the City of London. He used the word "corrupt" to cover, at any rate, the bogus movements to which he had referred, and which were alluded to in the Report of the Select Committee; he used the term "corrupt" to show in what way the money belonging to the Corporation of the City of London was spent, tens of thousands of forged signatures having been sent into that House for the purpose of influencing the decision of Parliament. He said to the honour and credit of the Corporation of London that it had a history in many particulars of which it had a right to be proud, and, therefore, it ought to be the first to welcome such a reformation as would put it on a par, at any rate, with all the other and more healthy municipalities of the United Kingdom. His desire was that the Corporation of the City of London should be a Corporation worthy of its position and worthy of its great name. He wished to see that Corporation expend its vast funds in such a manner that the expenditure could not be called in question in that House, but in a way that would redound to the honour and credit of the City. Instead of striving to retard the day when it must be brought under the operation of the Municipal Corporations Act, the Corporation should be the first to request the House to place it under the provisions of that law. He called upon the Government, especially now that they were doing something for the reform of local government in the country, to do something with regard to the Corporation of the City of London. He called upon the Government to assist hon. Members on that side of the House in endeavouring to purify the Corporation of the City of London, and bring some kind of influence to bear upon it, so that the vast sums of money committed to its care should, in future, be expended on worthy objects. He sup- 1641 ported the Motion of his hon. Friend because he believed that it would be for the advantage of this great City. Not of the City of London merely that covered the one square mile which had been alluded to, but that larger City, that greater London which they had to deal with, that London comprising 4,000,000 of inhabitants over which the Lord Mayor and Corporation ought to feel pride in governing. He asked that the Government should take some steps, either in connection with the Local Government Bill, or by some independent measure, to bring the Corporation of the City of London within the Municipal Corporations Act, as was proposed in the Resolution. He had great pleasure in seconding the Resolution which had been moved by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundee.
Motion made, and Question proposed,That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, without delay, to place the expenditure of the Corporation of the City of London under similar statutory restrictions to those to which other corporations in the Kingdom are subject."—(Mr. Firth.)
§ MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
said, the hon. Member for Dundee had, in the course of the last fortnight, substituted an entirely different Motion for that which he had originally placed upon the Order Book of the House, and which had remained there for something like four weeks. He supposed that the hon. Gentleman had in the interval read the Report on which his original Motion was to have been based, and finding that he could not make good out of that Report the very violent terms in which it was framed he had suddenly withdrawn it, and had now placed on the Notice Paper and moved that afternoon a totally different issue. It seemed to be rather a reckless and unfair way of making an accusation against either a public body or an individual to put a Notice on the Paper, and leave it there for four weeks, charging the Corporation with scandalous and corrupt expenditure, and then, after reading the Report and finding that he could not make good his accusations, to withdraw the Motion and substitute a totally different one. Why had not the hon. Member for Dundee stood to his guns? It was because he knew that on the face of the Report he could not make good the terms of his original Motion. If the hon. Member 1642 had never intended to take the opinion of the House on that Motion, he ought not to have allowed it to stand for four weeks on the Order Book. The hon. Member asked the House that afternoon to submit the management of the City estate to the restrictions of the Municipal Reform Acts of 1835 and 1882. There was in the City, as most hon. Members were aware, a trust estate, the disposition of which was strictly bound down by trust deeds which confined it to City purposes. There was, besides, an estate which brought in an income of £350,000 called the City Cash, which was spent at the direction of the Corporation. He would here observe that the Corporation were not answerable at all for the expenditure of that money to the House, but to their constituents, the ratepayers who elected them annually by a most democratic suffrage. What he wanted more particularly to impress upon hon. Gentlemen was that the Motion of the hon. Member for Dundee, if carried, would have precisely the reverse effect of that which he imagined the hon. Gentleman and the Members of the Municipal Reform League intended. Perhaps he did the hon. Member and his coadjutors injustice—perhaps he misconstrued their motives; but he had always imagined that the object of the Municipal Reform League was to get at the coffers of the City, or, at any rate, to diffuse the revenue of the Corporation over a wider area. But the effect of this Motion and the effect of applying the restrictions of the Municipal Reform Acts to the City estate would have exactly the opposite result. The effect of applying them to the City Cash and making the Corporation trustees instead of owners would be to confine the expenditure of the City Cash strictly within the limits of that celebrated "square mile," in which the distempered imagination of the Municipal Reform League had pictured a perpetual carnival. Under the Municipal Reform Act of 1882, by Sections 143 and 149 the whole of the income of municipal boroughs, whether derived from real or personal property, was carried to what was called the borough fund, and out of that fund was paid the expense of preparing the Burgess List, of maintaining the corporate buildings, and of defraying other expenses incurred under the direction of the Council for the public 1643 benefit of the inhabitants and the improvement of the borough. Now, the City was about to be made a Quarter Sessions borough, and the only effect of applying to the City estate the restrictions of the Municipal Reform Act would be absolutely to limit the expenditure of the present to the area of what was called the City proper. Was that the object of the hon. Gentleman opposite and the Municipal Reform League? It was certainly not his (Mr. Baumann's) object, nor was it the object of hon. Gentlemen who sat around him. As a Metropolitan Member, he frankly admitted that he was rather anxious under the new system of Local Government that the County Council for London should get some assistance from the City Cash of the Corporation, and he hoped that in the future the City Cash would continue to contribute as in the past to public schemes for the advantage of the Metropolis. The hon. Member had made very light of the charitable expenditure of the Corporation, but he would like to ask who it was who purchased and obtained for the London public the use of Epping Forest. The City Corporation out of the City estate spent more than £33,000 in fighting 12 Chancery suits, and in buying out the Lords of the Manor in Epping Forest, and it was that expenditure which established the rights of the London public to use that forest. Then again, the City Corporation, out of the City Cash, had purchased and presented to the public Burnham Beeches; they had, in connection with the Metropolitan Board of Works, freed the bridges over the Thames and erected Holborn Viaduct, and they had made themselves liable for the construction of the new Tower Bridge over the Thames; and the City Corporation, out of the City Cash, were, at this moment, spending over £6,000 a-year for port sanitary regulations over an area extending from the Nore to Staines. He maintained that these were all objects of public utility and advantage on which the City Cash of the Corporation had been expended. But if the House adopted the present Resolution and imposed the restrictions of the Municipal Reform Acts upon the City estate in future, all expenditure of that kind would be prevented, and the City Cash would be restricted to the area of the City proper. Turning to the Report of the Select Committee, he really 1644 wondered the hon. Member for Dundee had had the hardihood to refer to that Report, for a more crushing reply to the attacks made upon the Corporation last year than that Report it was difficult to imagine. The Report said that the question of malversation or whether the City had a legal right to expend the City Cash for the purpose of defending its own existence was one for a Court of Law. The hon. Member for Dundee said that he was not responsible for the word "malversation" in the reference to the Committee. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) was responsible for it, however, and the reply of the Committee was that the charge of malversation had not been established. In the final paragraph of the Report, the Committee said that in their opinion the charge of malversation had not been established, but that an improper use of a portion of the funds belonging to the City estate had been proved. That there had been an improper, foolish, and ridiculous expenditure of City Cash, he did not suppose that anybody would be found to deny. He did not believe that the hon. Members for the City would deny it. He quite concurred in the finding of the Committee; and in looking over some of the items nothing had surprised him more than to find the astonishingly generous patronage of literature in which the Corporation indulged. He found, for instance, on page 7, that Mr. Lea, as the author of a pamphlet, had received £50. £50 for a pamphlet on the Corporation of London! Why, he believed that that was more than an ex-Cabinet Minister got for an article on the gods of Olympus. Then he found that very versatile gentleman, Mr. Frank Hugh O'Donnell, formerly a Member of the House, contrived a double debt to pay, for having denounced the Corporation by day as devoted to the consumption of turtle and Madeira, he wrote a pamphlet in their defence by night, for which he received 40 guineas, the Corporation evidently appreciating the maxim that a soft answer in the shape of a large cheque turneth away wrath. Then Dr. Charles Mackay, the compiler, he believed, of a book called 1,001 Gems of Poetry, received 50 guineas. No doubt a poem on the hon. Baronet and the Corporation must be a gem of purest ray serene. All this expendi- 1645 ture every one admitted was very foolish, extravagant, and absurd; but surely it was not criminal or wicked, and he was entitled to ask who were the accusers of the Corporation in this matter? First, there was the hon. Member for Dundee who had registered an oath—he was afraid not in Heaven—to destroy the Corporation, and to divide its substance among the members of the Municipal Reform League. It was amusing to watch the deadly animus with which the hon. Member hunted the Corporation with mortal Amendments through clauses of the Local Government Bill. He really thought that upon any question in which the Corporation of London was concerned the hon. Member might be put aside as a fanatic and a zealot. Then there was the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), who, he was afraid, could hardly be regarded as a zealot, because it appeared from the evidence of the hon. Member for Dundee before the Committee that at the time of the transactions complained of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green was the organizer of the Municipal Reform League, and was receiving remuneration for his services. Therefore, he did not think the hon. Member was exactly the person to lead the attack against the Corporation of London in this matter. Then there were the two hon. Members for Northampton. With regard to the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), perhaps the hon. Member would forgive him if he said his blade was somewhat blunted by constant and indiscriminate hacking at everybody and everything; while the prestige of the hon. Gentleman's Colleague, the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), as a public accuser, had been a little dimmed by a recent decision in a Court of Law. He believed the hon. Member had promised to prove most astonishing things against the hon. Baronet the Member for the City, and he wondered whether the evidence of the hon. Member would be of the same kind as that by which he attempted to prove his charge that Lord Salisbury had subsidized rioters in Trafalgar Square. It was perfectly absurd and ridiculous to see these hon. Gentleman turning up their eyes in pious horror at the idea of packed meetings in London, as if they had never heard of "Dilke's Lambs," or of the 12 "honest but 1646 powerful "men described by the Report as constituting the body guard of the hon. Member for Dundee. Why the hon. Member for Dundee was the oldest hand at packing a meeting in London, and the most successful. There was no crime in packing a meeting that he knew of. It was a melancholy truth that all the agitation about the whole question of the reform of London Government on both sides, on the side of the Municipal Reform League and on that of the Corporation, with their hired stewards and Petitions at street corners—it was a melancholy truth that there was no real genuine opinion in London at all. With the exception of a few interested parties on both sides, and a few mercenaries, he was afraid that the large majority of Londoners did not care a row of pins whether they had one municipality or 10 or 20. When there was no genuine public opinion on a question of this nature there was always an irresistible temptation for interested parties to create a spurious public opinion by that kind of agitation which could always be bought for money, and both the Corporation and the Municipal Reform League had succumbed to that temptation. They had both been guilty of conducting an agitation which he ventured to say would have been impossible in any other town in the Kingdom. The only difference between the Municipal Reform League and the Corporation of the City of London was that the Corporation, being a quasi-public body, presented an easy mark for attack by a Motion of this kind. Three times the Legislature had refused on three historical occasions to submit the Corporation of the City of London to the restrictions of the Municipal Reform Acts. Lord John Russell, in introducing the Municipal Reform Act in 185, made no allusion whatever to the City of London, and when he was afterwards questioned on the subject by a Member of the House of Commons he said, that he would introduce a separate Bill for the purpose of dealing with the City of London. But he never did so, and, as far as could be gathered from Hansard, no subsequent allusion was made to the City of London. Then there was a Bill passed in 1872, called Leeman's Act, dealing with the expenditure of borough funds, and promoting and opposing Bills upstairs. The Party opposite was in power at that time, and for a second 1647 time the City of London was left outside the operation of the Municipal Reform Acts. Finally, there was a Municipal Reform Act of 1882, a consolidating Act introduced again by the Party opposite when they were in power, and for the third time the City of London was left out of the operation of these restrictive Acts. That being so, he asked the House, seeing that on three occasions the Legislature had refused to include the City within the purview of these Acts, not to place the restrictions proposed upon the expenditure of the City estate. He asked the House not to consent to the Motion at the instigation and interested suggestion of a disappointed rival, and to the general prejudice of the Metropolitan public.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, he had listened attentively to the debate, and could not altogether congratulate the Corporation upon the line of defence adopted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell (Mr. Baumann). He (Sir George Trevelyan) had carefully taken a note of the points of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he would proceed to deal with each of them in a very few words before he came to the substance of the Motion. In the first place the hon. and learned Gentleman charged the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth) with having altered his Motion. Now, he was bound to say, that he had not read the Motion until it appeared on the Paper that day; but taking the description given of it, by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the Motion in its original shape charged the Corporation with having been guilty of scandalous and corrupt expenditure, after the way in which the expenditure had been described he could not see that those epithets, if they had been applied to it, would have been very much too strong. The next point of the hon. and learned Member was that if this Motion were carried, and the City funds were brought under statutory restrictions, those funds could no longer be applied to anything but the absolute purposes of the City. He did not think there was anything in that argument. If the City funds were to be brought under statutory restrictions, it was obvious that that must be done by 1648 statute. Whatever scope Parliament wished to give to the Corporation in the public spirit and generous use they made of their funds, that scope would undoubtedly be given by the statute. At all events, when the expenditure of their funds was brought under statutory restrictions, there would be an end of the expenditure, which he would not call scandalous, but the nature of which he would describe in the course of his remarks. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman took to making fun of the Report and evidence laid before the House by the Select Committee; but he (Sir George Trevelyan) was inclined to think that this was a matter which must be met with something more than jokes. It was by no means a laughing matter, and he did not think it would be a laughing matter in the estimation of the great majority of the inhabitants of London. As a Londoner who had lived for two-thirds of his life as an inhabitant of the Metropolis, he protested against the description which the hon. and learned Gentleman had given of his own constituents and those of many other hon. Members of the House. The only defence of the Corporation made by the hon. and learned Member was that he had really nothing to say in its favour. He allowed that the expenditure, even in his eyes, was ridiculous, improper, and foolish; but he added that there was so little public spirit in London on the question of Municipal Reform, that the Metropolis deserved such a Corporation as it had got.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, the hon. and learned Member had said that there was very little public spirit in London.
§ MR. BAUMANN
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I did not say that. I said that on the question of Municipal Reform, there was no genuine public opinion in London.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, he would interpret that to mean if there was no interest in Municipal Reform in a great City like London, there was a sad lack of public spirit among the inhabitants. He (Sir George Trevelyan) did not belong to the Party which commanded the majority of the representation of London, but the reason why his Party was beaten at the Elections in London was that a genuine public opin- 1649 ion did exist there, and that genuine public opinion was Conservative. It was quite time to take this question up in the House of Commons. Half a century ago Parliament proceeded on certain lines. They reformed all the Corporations of the Kingdom except London. What led to this reform was the abuse of corporate funds; and therefore, in every town except the City of London these funds were placed in such a position that Parliament might have a supervision in regard to them, and every Member of Parliament had a right to know how every penny arising from municipal estates was expended, except in the single case of the City of London. There could be only two adequate reasons why the property of the Corporation of London should be excepted. One was that the amount was so small that it was not worth regarding. There were only four leading towns in which the income from corporate property reached five figures. In Bristol it was £24,000 in Liverpool £61,000, in Sheffield £17,000, and in Newcastle £24,000. But the annual income of the city of London derived from municipal property was upwards of £350,000. The only other reason for excepting the City which would hold water was that its property was managed with greater propriety and carefulness than that of any other Corporation. How the £350,000 was spent behind the scenes we had no means of judging. We had no Parliamentary supervision of control. All we could have was a side-light occasionally thrown in. Such a side-light we had now. There had been an inquiry which the City, through the mouth of its Town Clerk, had pronounced fair and impartial; and the result made it plain that the standard of public morality and the sense of responsibility in dealing with public money were not as high in the City as he was thankful to believe they were in all the open Corporations. A great deal had been made of the fact that the charge of malversation had not been proved. He supposed that meant that the Corporation in what they did were not acting in an illegal manner. No, they were acting in a perfectly legal manner; and that was the reason why the matter was brought before Parliament. If they were acting illegally it would have been brought before another Court. The report of the Committee 1650 was that, in view of the whole circumstances of the case, the charge of malversation had not been sustained, but that "improper use of a portion of the funds derived from the City's estate had been proved." If that would not justify the intervention of Parliament, he did not know what would. Immense sums of public money had been spent in falsifying and doctoring public opinion. He was not going to make any personal charges. The Committee allowed that the expenditure of a very large sum on getting up petitions was morally as well as legally in the right of the Corporation; the more so as it was alleged that the object was to ascertain that only genuine ratepayers had signed the petition; and they said that, although the expenditure on advertisements was extravagant and excessive, there were no serious evils connected with it which it was necessary for the House to take cognizance of. But they added—Your Committee are also of opinion that no proper supervision was maintained over the agents employed by the Corporation, and that much of the money which passed through their hands was used for improper and indefensible purposes.The Committee also considered the subsidies to so-called political associations, such as the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Protection Association, were improper, and they condemned the practice of placing funds at the disposal of irresponsible persons. The action of the committee of the Corporation in sending bodies of men in great numbers to form public meetings and to pass resolutions which would appear to proceed from the great body of the unpaid citizens of London was wholly indefensible. When the advocates of reform called public meetings, a great number of those hirelings were sent to them, and that important officer, the City Remembrancer, was cognizant of such infamous proceedings. That officer said there was one meeting in Kensington Town Hall to which they did undoubtedly send a large number of people. It was advertised as an open meeting to discuss the question of Municipal Reform, and Sir Charles Dilke was to be chairman and the principal speaker, and enormous numbers of hired people were sent from all parts of London to falsify the opinion of that meeting. The dangers of such a course were so obvious that he could not imagine how a respon- 1651 sible Body like the Corporation of London could have sanctioned it for a moment. Consider what must be the class of human beings who took shillings and half-crowns night after night, and who lived in idleness during the day and took this money at night for such a purpose, and think what chance was there that the business of public meetings could be carried on by them in the manner in which they were usually conducted by respectable citizens? Actually, sovereigns had to be paid at one of their own meetings, because such a row was made that they could not go on with the business until their own hirelings had been induced by higher pay to go away. What were the sums spent on this precious machinery? Upwards of £3,000 was paid to a Mr. Wragg alone, who got £500 for himself, and the business of this man was to get up sham meetings in defence of the Corporation. A sum of nearly £1,300 was also paid to a Mr. Stoneham, upwards of £1,600 to a Mr. Palmer, and nearly £3,000 to a Mr. Johnson. And the Select Committee reported that in his hands the practice of which he had spoken assumed proportions which were hardly consistent with public safety. This Johnson had endeavoured to persuade a gentleman to subscribe to the Ratepayers' Defence Association, promising that if he put down his name for £100, he (Mr. Johnson) would provide the £100 out of the Corporation funds. This had been under the notice of the Committee, and one member had spoken sharply to Johnson about it. But what were they to think of the Corporation who, when they knew that this man had been guilty of this indescribable action, still continued to employ him and entrusted him with large sums of public money? It was said that this money and this machinery had been employed in counteracting the Municipal Reform League, and that that body was as bad as the Corporation. He must say he had never heard of such a case of abusing the plaintiff's attorney when you had no case of your own as the charge made by the hon. Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell against the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) and the hon. and learned Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth). These charges had been so vague and were put forward in a manner so unworthy of this important 1652 and serious debate that he would prefer to leave them alone. Parliament bad no cognizance of the Municipal Reform. League, which was a private body, and one with which they had nothing to do; but the Corporation of London was a public Body, and in the disposal of its funds and the method in which it disposed of them, he maintained that it had forfeited the privilege, which up to this time it had retained, of being the only Corporation whose corporate property was not subject to the purview of Parliament. It might be said that the Corporation of London had not been in fault, and that they expressed regret when the matter was brought to their notice. He was sorry to say that that was not the case. In February last there had been a crowded meeting of the Common Council, and the Town Clerk had made a report which practically endorsed all the proceedings of the committee of the Corporation. That report had been adopted almost unanimously, with one single exception. It was stated in the Paper which had been laid before them that the City of London expended very great sums on objects of public use and munificence. Nobody believed that the Corporation spent £350,000 a-year exclusively on such purposes as they saw stated in the report of the committee. That was not the question; the point was that great sums of money had been expended upon improper objects through improper agents, and whether or not it was the duty of Parliament to do that which the Corporation had so clearly failed to do—namely, to show that they would have no longer the responsibility of allowing such a state of things to go on. In his opinion, the duty of Parliament was plain in this matter. When an instance, whether small or great, was brought before them, in which either a public man or a public Body had been guilty of improper conduct in relation to public money, then, in the highest interests of the country, they could not afford to pass it over. If they made light of this and said that public money might be spent on these objects and through these hands, then they confirmed by Parliamentary sanction an example which every municipality in the country and all the new authorities which the Government were going to set up would be justified in following. This was not a Party question; 1653 this sort of question never was a Party one in that House. In a matter involving personal conduct hon. Members on both sides of the House had always come forward and taken the side of purity and public spirit, and in this case they were bound to take action, because as a collective Body they had appointed the Select Committee of last year, and as a collective Body, therefore, they were absolutely bound to take cognizance of the revelations which had come out before the Committee. He ventured to say that in passing the Resolution of his hon. and learned Friend they would be passing the mildest censure that could be passed upon conduct which was absolutely indefensible.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, he wished to point out that the discussion of that evening had in no way been initiated by himself. He had not had until that evening any communication with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Mover of the Amendment (Mr. Firth). He (Mr. Bradlaugh) had last year put upon the Paper a Notice of Motion on this subject even in stronger terms than that upon which the House was now asked to express an opinion. The Government were then desirous of finding a night for the discussion, and were repeatedly pressed to give effect to that desire; but they were unable to do so, and the matter was, therefore, not discussed last Session, through no fault of his. He had expected that some comment might be made on himself if the present discussion arose; but he hardly expected that the comment would be of the special character of that with which he had been honoured by the hon. and learned Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell (Mr. Baumann). He would repeat the hon. and learned Member's words of challenge, and deal with them exactly. The hon. and learned Member asked—"If the evidence of the hon. Member for Northampton against the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler) would be of the same character as that which he brought forward against the Marquess of Salisbury of subsidizing agitators?" To that question he replied—"It will be of exactly the same nature." He had traced cheques in both instances, and he had traced them to the same individuals. Messrs. Kelly and Peters 1654 had been entrusted, as he had not expected they would have been entrusted by any wise man, with a work of charity; and, as the result showed, they were entrusted with a work of dishonesty. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) was, of course, bound by the evidence of the Prime Minister given in the witness-box; but he could not help wondering how that the noble Marquess lived so much out of the world as to be ignorant of the rascally character of the men whom he entrusted with money whose character was perfectly well known in London. Lord Salisbury stated that he was aware that they were getting up a meeting in Trafalgar Square; and he (Mr. Bradlaugh) was naturally misled, knowing whose hands the cheques had reached. One of the officials of the City of London knew the men; for, in conversation, he said at once—"Oh, you mean Kelly and Peters;" but it appeared that they had a better character in other circles than he knew of, and so it turned out that he was in error as to the application of one cheque out of six. That being so, he did not think the hon. and learned Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell would detract very much from what he was pleased to call his prestige as a public accuser by the remarks he had used, and which he could not in that House characterize by the language which he thought applicable to it. He would now examine the matter he had to deal with; and it was suggested that the Report of the Committee which, it was said, showed the charges he had made in that House—the full responsibility for which he accepted—were not proven. The hon. and learned Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell, who could certainly read, had been good enough to say there was no charge of wicked payment of money. But what did he think of the absolutely fraudulent payment—admittedly fraudulent, for there was no cross-examination of the witness—of £3,000 with the knowledge of the Committee? It was only just to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler) to say that he accepted his word fully that he knew nothing about the matter; but he (Mr. Bradlaugh) could not know that when be addressed him at the first meeting. There had been a great deal of difficulty in getting evidence, some of which, when it was ob- 1655 tained, was of a very peculiar character. Why, cheques were signed for thousands of pounds. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) had referred to the sum of £1,287 most scandalously paid by the City Committee to one of their own members, who was employed in getting up divisions at meetings. If that was not scandalous the word had no meaning. It was said that the Committee stated that there was no malversation. That was true; and he did not want to say one word with regard to the Committee, which listened carefully to the evidence, except that, having stated that no conclusive judgment on the question of malversation could be arrived at except in a Court of Law, it was a pity they raised the question at all. For his own part, he thought the action of the City Committee was so much like malversation that he did not know in what way it differed from it. On page 193 of the Report it would be found that he asked the witness questions as to the list of monies which he produced, and the reply was that he did not know in whose handwriting it was. He continued the conversation, and ended in obtaining from this frank witness the statement that he had dictated the list the night before to a confidential clerk who had been in his employment for many years and with whose handwriting he was familiar, and he accounted for saying that he did not know in whose handwriting the list was by the statement that he had forgotten the handwriting of this man. After this it did not lie well in the mouth of the hon. and learned Member for Peckham to say there was nothing in the charge of malversation. If this was not wilful perjury, and if this kind of thing was to be tolerated in the City of London, he was bound to say that it would not be considered maintainable by anyone outside who wished to preserve a reputation for truthfulness. The Report was very partially read by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had defended the City authorities; but it had in some of its points been so completely dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow that he need not trouble the House by 1656 reading from it any further. As he had said, he accepted to the fullest the statement of the hon. Baronet the Member for London that he did not know; but he must plead in self-defence not only that he was present at 10 meetings when cheques were drawn for large amounts, but he had himself spoken of his own knowledge of the association which was financed to the extent of £3,000, and which clearly never had any existence at all. The whole thing was practically a fraud, the result of conspiracy between the late City Solicitor and the man who concocted it; and it would not do to say that this was not true because there was not a word in cross-examination of the man who swore to it. In order to avoid the tracing of the money, they had gone to the length of changing the notes into gold and re-changing them into notes. Luckily, he (Mr.Bradlaugh) had been able to trace some of the notes; and from the new Solicitor to the City they had got a book in which every one of the payments were traceable, which, owing to the notes having been changed in the manner described, would have been otherwise exceedingly difficult. That course could not have been taken by anyone who knew that he was spending the money honestly; and although he accepted to the fullest the statement of the hon. Baronet that he thought the kind of warfare engaged in was justifiable, he asked the House to excuse him if he thought the transaction was scandalous and malversatory, and for saying that this was still the proper language to apply to it. It was almost a pity that this question could not have been discussed without personal comment; but the House would do him the justice to say that what had passed was not of his provoking, and that he was bound to make some answer to what had been said with regard to himself by the hon. and learned Member for Peckham. There was not one of the charges which had not been completely proved by the evidence given before the Committee; and if anyone should rise after he had sat down, and venture to repeat one phrase of his which be thought was not proven, he was ready to read chapter and verse for evidence of its truth; but until that was done he would not further occupy the time of the House.
§ SIR JOSEPH BAILEY (Hereford)
said, as a Member of the Select Committee which inquired into the charges against the Corporation of the City of London, he thought it a pity that the House should not know the exact amount of weight in the charges. When his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler) spoke of the matter as anonymous tittle-tattle, he felt sure that the House would agree that he had been misunderstood, and that what he meant to convey was that there was no name given at the time as authority for the charge. It seemed to him (Sir Joseph Bailey) that the accusation had been laid a little higher than it ought to have been. His right hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeten Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) had spoken of the estate of the Corporation as being £300,000 odd a-year, and of this being expended in an irresponsible way. But neither of those statements was exactly correct. It was true that the gross amount of the City estate was £300,000 odd; he believed it was reduced to the sum of £160,000 a-year for various outgoings. Now, out of that large expenditure £19,000 was the only amount which was called in question. The City of London Corporation found itself face to face with an organization whose one object was to make a single municipality for the City of London. He did not think it would be said by the Corporation of the City that there was no need of any reform whatever; but they were as strongly as possible opposed to the idea of one municipality for London, and they accordingly placed the matter in the hands of a special committee. He had understood the hon. and learned Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth) to say that the Committee made no report. But that was not the case. They made five reports, which were quoted in the Appendix to the Report of the Committee of last year.
§ SIR JOSEPH BAILEY
said, it was true that they had made no detailed report of expenditure; but, at the same time, he was prepared to say that 1658 the whole of the items quoted in the Report of last year were traced in the public reports of the City. They wore there for everyone to see, although time details of the various items were not given. Some of the £19,000 was proved to have been expended in making inquiries at home and abroad as to the matter referred to the Committee. A large sum was expended by the Corporation in defending themselves against the organization opposed to them. They had, he believed, a perfect right to defend themselves with their own money, and that could not be malversation, because the word indicated the misapplication of something in the nature of trust—money given for one purpose and devoted to another purpose—and he thought that in the minds of most men it would be held to involve not only application to a purpose other than that intended, but fraudulent application. But although persons had a perfect right to defend themselves with their own money, there were certain things which they might not do even with their own money; and they were not to pack meetings, attack other meetings, and make meetings at which there was not a single person present honestly representing public opinion. The House should understand how far it was proved that the Corporation of the City did this. There was one large item which he was extremely surprised that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had not pressed home. How the money was spent they did not know; they knew nothing about it, except that it was stated that if investigation were desired it might be seen by all the world. One person was concerned, as to whom he would only say that every word used on the other side was absolutely true, and of whom he hardly thought enough had been said. He was engaged by a gentleman who was a great officer of the City, who, not being alive at the time of the inquiry, was, of course, unable to say anything in his own defence. This person was engaged in January and discharged in July so that the expenditure in connection with him, which was proved absolutely up to the hilt to be improper from first to last, was incurred within six months of one year. This man Johnson did not present his account until two or three 1659 days before he was discharged; he took a shorthand copy of it, and that actually in the room where he was going to give it to Sir Thomas Nelson. What his motive was he (Sir Joseph Bailey) did not know, but in a short time that shorthand copy found its way into the hands of those who were attacking the Corporation. How far Johnson was acting straightforwardly by his employer he did not know; that he ought not to have been employed at all was quite certain; but, seeing that his employer was dead and could not defend himself, and seeing that the accounts were only placed before him a day or two before Johnson was discharged, he was unable to hold the Corporation responsible in this matter. Where he thought the Corporation were wrong was in not looking after their own affairs, and he was quite certain that, however little reform might be meted out to the Corporation of the City of London, it was absolutely necessary that their accounts should indicate something like a decent and proper audit. In this matter the Corporation had devolved their authority on a committee to whom they gave almost the unlimited power of spending money. That committee handed over its power to great City officers, who were themselves unable to undertake the business, and they in turn handed it over to electioneering agents, some of whom were honourable men and some of them exactly the reverse. The whole proceeding was in the nature of a political "house that Jack built." Although, in his opinion, this matter had been placed a little too high by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and although possibly they could not go the length of the Resolution on the Paper, so long as the Corporation spent its money for great purposes, he could not help thinking that the Corporation themselves would accept willingly something in the nature of reform.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)
said, he was ready to acknowledge the attitude taken up by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) on the present occasion, who had, of his own accord, stated that he accepted his word of denial of the charges made last year. This was a Motion which he apprehended was not binding without an Act of Parliament; it was of course 1660 necessary that to carry out the Resolution the hon. and learned Member should bring in a Bill to be passed by this and the other House of Parliament. He did not think it was necessary to detain the House at any length, but there was one observation made by the hon. and learned Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth) with regard to the meeting over which he (Sir Robert Fowler) presided at Guildhall, to which he would refer. That meeting, whatever might be said of others, was most enthusiastic in support of the Corporation against the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman. If the committee made any mistake with regard to the meeting it was that they thought their opponents might send men to make a disturbance, and took what they thought to be necessary precautions to prevent it. No one would dispute that the meeting was enthusiastic, and he believed the object on both sides was to ascertain the feeling of the Metropolis with regard to the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) and warmly supported by the hon. and learned Member for Dundee. The result of the meeting was fairly put before the Metropolis within two years afterwards at the General Election of 1885. He did not want to refer to the following Election, which might be said to have been still more decisive, but in the General Election of 1885, the issue before the country was the question of Confidence in Lord Salisbury on the one hand, and in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) on the other. The right hon. Gentleman just before the Election was the Head of a Government, one of the leading Members of which had brought in a very important Bill, and as there was no very important question before the country at that time beyond the conduct of distinguished statesmen, they might infer that this question was fairly put before the Metropolis; and the result was to send a larger number of Metropolitan Members to support Lord Salisbury as against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. The hon. and learned Member for Dundee was then an active Metropolitan Member, and he having been defeated at Chelsea in 1885, 1661 crossed the water in 1886, and contested a constituency in South London with the same result. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman being the apostle for the establishment of one great municipality for London, the result of his candidatures might very fairly be considered to show that his views with regard to the Corporation were not very popular in the Metropolis, and he ventured to think they would not be accepted by the country at large.
§ MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)
said, that having been a Member of the Select Committee of last Session, he thought that if the public opinion of the Metropolis was so decidedly in favour of the Corporation of London as the hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Fowler) stated, there was all the less necessity for the Corporation to indulge in the questionable practices which had been proved against them. He desired to call the attention of the House to the utterly delusive character of the audit of the Corporation accounts. The four auditors annually appointed by the Livery signed the accounts; but it came out that they satisfied themselves with ascertaining the fact that the large sums in question had been duly voted by the Committee to be spent by the high officials of the Corporation. Those auditors did not follow the money any further. They called for no vouchers. A proper auditor would require the production of receipts, stamped and signed by the persons who actually received the money. The Remembrancer, who gave Mr. Wragg £3,000 to spend, told the committee that no one but himself even saw Mr. Wragg's report of his proceedings. It was the Select Committee that by their inquiry elicited the information as to this expenditure that would otherwise have never come to light. The chairman of the special committee of the Corporation that supplied the money declared that he never asked the officials for any detail, putting it on the footing of a contested election in which he was engaged many years ago, when he freely supplied his election agent with the money he wanted, and never thought of asking him how he spent it. The inquiry disclosed the highest degree of looseness in relation to this expenditure, and showed that the so-called audit was a delusive pro 1662 tection to the public; and he heartily supported the Motion before the House.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
said, that the House had now listened to an exposition of the Report in their hands by two Members of the Select Committee which considered the charges made against the Corporation of the City of London. But most hon. Members of the House—if they had the responsibility of judging upon the matters in issue—would find themselves obliged to be content with the judgment to which the Committee arrived. It was impossible to examine in detail before the House of Commons the large mass of evidence which had been given. It would, he thought, be agreed that the Committee was perfectly competent to deal with the questions before it, and that the fullest opportunity of giving evidence was offered to all interested in the matter. By the Report laid upon the Table of the House the Committee expressed their judgment upon the questions submitted to them, and by that judgment the House itself might be well content to be guided. It would be extremely unfair to the Corporation of the City of London if in that debate Members were to pick out special passages in the evidence given before the Committee. That might have been a proper course upon a real Vote of Censure upon the Corporation of the City of London, but it was by no means fair to induce Members of the House to vote on the question now upon the Paper by making accusations against certain individuals. The Committee arrived at the conclusion that there had been no malversation of funds, but that there had been improper appropriation and unjustifiable expenditure of money, which would have been just as improper and unjustifiable if it had come out of the pockets of individuals as out of the City estates of the Corporation. It must be remembered that the Committee had to report upon the matter, and they gave their own description of the transactions. They said that the employment on both sides, by the Corporation and by the Municipal Reform League, of private police was advocated as a necessity, the Metropolitan Police not being permitted to enter buildings where meetings were held. They said that the Municipal 1663 Reform League had an organized body of 12 men in its employment who were called municipal policemen, and similar individuals were employed by persons subsidized by the Corporation of the City of London. Both the Municipal Reform League and the various associations subsidized by the Corporation packed their own meetings to a greater or less extent, and each side attended the meetings of the other. Of course, it was a matter of great regret and shame that the political life of this country could not be carried out without resort to the employment of persons to prevent disorder. It was a melancholy thing; but whether they were in the most crowded parts of the most Radical districts, or in the most remote district of the most Tory county, it would be found that some sort of measures had to be taken in order to prevent the speakers from being interrupted. [Cries of "No, no!"] It was useless to cry "No, no!" He had not been in political life for 20 years without having learnt the absolute necessity of taking measures to protect speakers from interruption by those to whom they were opposed. ["No!"] That was the state of the case all over the country, no matter how much hon. Gentlemen might deny it, and that was the state of the case in London, for the Committee found that the Municipal Reform League packed their own meetings, and attended the meetings of the other side, while their opponents did the like. Then there was the question of the large sum of money passing into the hands of Johnson from Sir Thomas Nelson—a copy of the report rendered to Sir Thomas Nelson being kept by Johnson, and from him finding its way to the secretary of the Chelsea Liberal Club, and from him to the hon. and learned Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth). It was hardly fair to the Corporation that an investigation should take place after the death of Sir Thomas Nelson, and that the word of the man Johnson should be taken with regard to all the matters in which he had been concerned. He (Sir Edward Clarke) was desirous of pointing out that if it were desired to bring charges of this kind and to drive them home, the original Motion should have been persisted in, when the House would have 1664 been able to express its judgment on the matters in question. But the course now taken, he ventured to say, was extremely unfair. Instead of a direct Motion the hon. and learned Member for Dundee placed on the Paper a Resolution to the effect that the expenditure of the Corporation of the City of London ought to be placed under statutory restrictions similar to those to which other Corporations in the Kingdom were subject. That was an innocent-looking enough form of words, but the supporters of the Motion were by it in reality asking the House to endorse the accusations against the Corporation, notwithstanding that the Committee had decided that there had been no malversation, though there had been an improper appropriation of money, but without any proof that any responsible persons in the Corporation were cognizant of these things being done. The Motion was supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) upon grounds entirely inconsistent with the acceptance of the Motion itself. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell (Mr. Baumann)—with whose advocacy the Corporation of London had every reason to be satisfied—had, it appeared to him (Sir Edward Clarke), made an absolutely conclusive answer to the Motion. He said that the Motion, if carried out by legislation, would defeat every object which its supporters chiefly had in view. Their object was that these great funds, which for centuries had belonged to the Corporation, and which he believed had been administered to the great advantage of the people of London, and to the great credit of the Corporation, should be used not merely for the advantage of the whole Metropolis, but subject in some way to the control and authority of the whole Metropolis. That was an intelligible object which it might be reasonable to keep in view, when changes were made, as they necessarily would be made, in the government of London. But as his hon. and learned Friend had pointed out, the effect of carrying out the recommendations of this Resolution by legislation would be to place the Corporation under legislative compulsion to expend the whole of its City Estate Fund on the 1665 small area of the City itself. Instead of going outside its own area and being able to expend money by opening Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches for the benefit of the Metropolis, it would be compelled to expend its revenues in the City itself. The right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division had contended that if the Corporation were placed under statutory restrictions they might make provisions in the statute to enable the Corporation to discharge those great functions for the public advantage which it now fulfilled. When Parliament came to deal with the whole question of London government, he (Sir Edward Clarke) had no doubt it would make provision—he would not say to extend the area of usefulness of the City—but would take care that those great matters which a Central Body would have to deal with should be reserved to the Corporation. That was entirely contrary to the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Dundee. It seemed to him that the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division were mutually destructive. One wanted to bring the Corporation within the recognized law as to other Corporations, while the other wanted to pass a new law. He understood the hon, and learned Member for Dundee to say that if the Government announced its intention of dealing with this question at an early time he would not press his Resolution upon the House. Her Majesty's Government had already told the House that, in their opinion, the question of London government was one to be dealt with at an early day. But the hon. and learned Member would not think it reasonable to ask him (Sir Edward Clarke) then to say anything which might limit or abridge, or be construed as limiting or abridging, the right of the Government to choose the mode in which the subject ought to be dealt with. It clearly could not be dealt with at that time as a separate matter, but must abide the decision of the House on the whole question of London government. Although the House had been informed that Her Majesty's Government looked upon this question as a subject for early consideration and legislation, it would be impossible for the Government to give any pledge on the subject. In the meantime, in his 1666 opinion, it would be extremely unwise of the House to pledge itself to a Resolution dealing with a small part of a large subject in a manner not involving any practical issue.
§ MR. FIRTH
said, he wished to say this before the Division was taken, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down was not under a correct apprehension as to the effect of his proposal. The effect would be to enable the City to give money for purposes for which it rightly gave it now. The hon. and learned Gentleman had adopted the language of the hon. Member for the Peckham Division of Camberwell (Mr. Baumann) as to what was done in the matter of the purchase of Burnham Beeches, but neither of the hon. Gentlemen had seemed to think it desirable to ascertain the correct facts. Burnham Beeches had not been bought out of the City cash, but from the Grain Duties, whilst of the cost of Holborn Viaduct not one penny had come out of the City cash, but had been paid for by the Coal and Wines Dues. With regard to the particular expenditure referred to in Question 511, they would see that the Special Committee were informed of that expenditure by Sir Thomas Nelson.
MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.) [who rose amidst loud cries of "Divide!"]
said, he desired to say a word or two before the Division was taken, as he intended to give a vote which would not be the universal vote on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, and it therefore seemed to him desirable that he should give his reasons for his attitude on the question. He did not intend to enter into the subject of the Committee on the Corporation of London. [Cries of "Divide!"] He thought, as a Metropolitan Member who was not satisfied with the way in which the City funds were expended, he was right in believing that the time had come when they ought to insist upon having a check placed upon the outlay, and upon an efficient audit of the accounts being made. Therefore, he did not see why they should not support a Resolution which declared that the expenditure of the Corporation of the City of London should be placed under similar statutory restrictions to those to which other Corporations in the Kingdom wore subject. [Renewed cries of "Divide!"] He 1667 thought the impatience of the House—especially on this side of it—augured badly for the position in this matter of hon. Members who took a different view of the subject to that which he took. [Continued cries of "Divide!"] He, with other Metropolitan Members on that side of the House, thought that the time had come when the large funds in the hands of the City Authorities should be devoted to some better purpose than that upon which they were at present expended, and administered in a way to give greater public confidence. He therefore supported the Motion.
The House divided:—Ayes 133; Noes 156: Majority 23.—(Div. List, No. 99.)