HC Deb 15 July 1910 vol 19 cc821-8

(1) An alderman of a municipal borough shall not, as such, vote in the election of an alderman of the borough, and an outgoing alderman shall not, as alderman, vote in the election of mayor.

(2) In the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, Sub-section (3) of Section sixty, and the word "outgoing" in Sub-section (6) of the same Section, and Sub-section (3) of Section sixty-one, are hereby repealed.


I beg to move the omission of Clause 1, which is practically to move the rejection of the Bill, because, it seems to me, there is no valid reason and no reason in past municipal life to justify the Government in making the proposed alteration in the law. It is a Government Bill, brought in with Treasury sanction and supported by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. It seeks to prevent an alderman of a borough from voting in the election of an alderman, and an outgoing alderman from voting as alderman in the election of mayor. What can aldermen have done to render them unworthy to exercise these functions which they have exercised for thirty or forty years without, as far as I know, any serious criticism, under the Municipal Corporations Act passed in 1882? This Act was passed on the initiative and with the sanction of a Liberal Government, and, therefore, it can hardly be said that this power was given by a reactionary Government, or one which wished to stand up for privilege and things which ought to be checked. On what grounds is it sought to take away this power? The office of alderman is still a post coveted by townsmen who have done well in municipal life, and who deserve well of their fellow-citizens; and they are elected to it by the municipal representatives. Why should the Government now say that in this respect aldermen should not have the same power as councillors? Have aldermen abused this power in the past? I have seen nothing of such a development in local municipal life. It, is a very great slur to cast on aldermen to deprive them of the power that was conferred upon them by the Act of 1882. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us some good reason why this Bill should pass. I am aware of the case of the London County Council. But, after all, the London County Council is not the whole of the municipal life of England and Scotland. Other parts of the country wish to carry on their traditions in the way they have carried them on in the past, and it does not follow that because those who arranged the London County Council thought that the suggested arrangement was a proper one, therefore the rest of England should follow it.


I beg leave to second the Amendment. My hon. Friend has said practically all there is to be said in favour of aldermen, and I think the Committee will agree that they have always discharged their duties in an able and proper manner. I know that the aldermen of Coventry, the constituency which has done me the honour to return me, are a body of men than whom none more worthy can be found. We have in favour of aldermen even the words of Shakespeare, who describes the alderman as having:— Fair round belly, with good capon lined. I should object entirely to seeing the privileges of aldermen taken away in the way proposed.


I do not agree with the statements of the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment, and if I may respectfully say so, as belonging to the county of Shakespeare, I strongly object to a quotation from him being misapplied. The two hon. Gentlemen say that it is very hard that aldermen should be deprived of the right of selecting other aldermen. The Mover of the Amendment said perfectly truly that this applied to the London County Council and other county councils where they have the power generally of selecting their aldermen. I think that is perfectly right. I strongly agree with the panegyric passed upon aldermen by the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment, and I have no reason to doubt that the aldermen of Coventry do their duty. But, after all, the aldermen are returned as a result of secondary selection by elected representatives. But it is held that those secondary representatives should have the power of selecting somebody on the top of themselves, as it were. It is a form of tertiary election which, I think, is contrary to representative principles. I, on that ground, cannot agree with my hon. Friend, who suggests that the people who have themselves been selected by elected representatives should have the further power of selecting other persons. I think very strong objection would be raised among elected councillors themselves if the right they consider they possess of selecting aldermen were watered down by the fact that the right is shared by people whom they have themselves selected. As to the second portion of the Clause dealing with outgoing aldermen, I understand that they are to be deprived of the right of voting for the mayor. When they have been once elected, I do not see why they should be deprived of any powers or rights that they possess. Of course, if it only means when the new council are elected, or when the mayor is elected, that the outgoing aldermen are still aldermen, and that the new aldermen are selected after the mayor has been chosen, and that, therefore, they have the power of selecting the mayor, not because they are going to be members of the new council, but merely because in the theory of the law they continue to be aldermen until the new aldermen are being elected—if that is all it means then I agree perhaps they ought not to have that right. It is only by accident, as it were, that they are present, and that the mayor is selected first. If it seeks to withdraw from them any power which they ought to have merely because their powers are going to cease then I object. On the larger point I think it is contrary to all proper representative theory, and that it is quite time that they should be placed on a level with what takes place in the county councils.


We are asked by this Bill to make a considerable change in powers of a body of men who from time immemorial have acted on borough councils, and against whom no complaint so far as I know has been made. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. W. Peel) that when an alderman has been once selected as a member of a borough council that he ought to be put in a different and superior position to other members, but if he is once elected a member I see no reason why he should not exercise all the powers exercised by his brother members. I would ask on what ground are we asked to make this change? We have not heard of any. As far as my experience of borough councils goes in the North of England, I have not heard any reasons suggested of any abuses in connection with the election of aldermen which would justify such a change as this. Is this a change brought in purely and simply from a child-like desire for change? We know such desires exist, and for my part I am not very anxious to effect such desires. Therefore I would seriously ask the hon. Member in charge of the Bill if there is any solid ground or reason why the change should be made that we should know of it. Has there been any representation from the great Corporations in the North or elsewhere or from the citizens of the great cities throughout the country that they find that their rights are not properly protected by the existing system. Unless some reasons of a strong character are offered why this change should be made in the constitution of boroughs I say it would be a great want of tact to interfere with a system which has come down to us with great antiquity.

Viscount MORPETH

I hope my Friends will not persist in their opposition to this useful Bill. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said that aldermen had come down from time immemorial, but the fact is they only come down since the Municipal Corporations Act of 1832. As far as I understand this Bill it is simply assimilating the method in municipal boroughs to that of the county councils. We are told the counties are reactionary, but in this matter they are acting under a better and more improved system than the boroughs. I should have thought the reason for the Bill was fairly obvious. Under a system under which aldermen elect brother aldermen, it is possible where the minority or majority is narrow that a particular side through the outgoing aldermen may have a majority which would not have been sufficient if left to the elected members of the council. I do not think anybody wishes to get rid of the system of aldermen. They are a valuable element in county councils and municipal borough councils, but if they are to be left they ought certainly to be left in such a position that those who are elected by the ratepayers have the controlling voice, and it is not possible to form in the borough a largely self-elected ring who continue to dominate the municipal politics of the borough after the ratepayers have declared against it. If my hon. Friends will reconsider the matter I think they will see that it is not a very serious change that is proposed. It is only bringing the standard of municipal government up to that which exists in the counties at the present time.


May I say with reference to the suggestion of a ring dominating the council that that is not at all the case? How can a minority dominate the majority? How can aldermen, who are naturally a small minority on the council, dominate the popularly elected representatives? Obviously, they cannot do it. If the council happen to take the advice of the minority of aldermen, my hon. Friend must quarrel not with the aldermen, but with the representatives who follow their advice.


I can assure the House that the very last thing desired by this Bill is to cast a slur upon aldermen. I am an alderman myself, and have been for twenty-one years, though possibly the House may require some assurance on that point, because my physical proportions certainly do no credit to that quotation from Shakespeare with which an hon. Member opposite has favoured us. The simple object of this Bill, as has already been explained, is to bring the law with regard to the election of aldermen in municipal corporations into harmony with that which prevails in county councils and Metropolitan borough councils. Reference has been made to the fact that in 1882, nearly thirty years ago, this system was established or perpetuated in the municipal councils by a Liberal Government. But in the year 1888, when the Local Government Act was passed by a Unionist Government, that precedent, after six years' experience, was deliberately set aside, and the principle of electing aldermen by the directly elected representatives of the ratepayers was put in its place. After eleven years' further experience of the working of the system, when the Metropolitan Boroughs Act was passed, again by a Unionist Government, the same principle was approved and adopted; so that we have two definite Unionist precedents to go upon. All we are asking the House to do is to carry to completion the work of two Unionist Governments in that respect. The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) said that aldermen are not in a majority on the council. That is perfectly true. Fortunately, or unfortunately, our municipal contests are largely conducted on political lines, and if you take a number of gentlemen belonging to one political party and throw them into the scale, the effect, as the Noble Lord opposite Viscount Morpeth) said, is to maintain power for an undue length of time in the hands of one political party. This Bill is not a party measure at all. It treats one party exactly the same as another. It is as great an advantage or disadvantage to one party as to another. I appeal to the House to regard it in that broad sense, and to complete the work of two Unionist Governments by passing the Bill into law. As a matter of fact, we know that there are towns in the country where it takes a political landslide to turn out the party in power. All we want to do is to give, as has been given in the counties and metropolitan boroughs, each party a fair chance. We think, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for South St. Pancras told us from the other side of the House, on the Second Reading of this Bill, that the system has worked admirably in London. He gave the Bill his hearty support, like the other hon. Member for one of the Divisions of London and the Noble Lord. It will give those who now can hardly look forward to taking an active part in the work of their respective municipalities an opportunity such as they have not hitherto had of doing so, because the present system in many cases does undoubtedly exclude these men from the work of local self-government. Representations have reached the Government from time to time with reference to the necessity for a measure of this kind, and I commend it to the House not as a party measure in any sense, but as one which will make for the bettering of local self-government.


May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether any representation has reached him from the Association of Municipal Corporations, or whether his attention has been directed to any abuses?


The attention of the Government has been directed to the

matter, and representations have reached us from time to time, of which I cannot discuss the particulars.


From the Association of Municipal Corporations?


As a matter of fact, I do not know of any representations that have been received from that association.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 113; Noes, 33.

Division No. 101.] AYES. [4.40 p.m.
Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour) Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Addison, Dr. C. Haworth, Arthur A. O'Dowd, John
Alden, Percy Hayward, Evan O'Grady, James
Allen, Charles P. Higham, John Sharp O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Anderson, A. Hodge, John Pearce, William
Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury E.) Hogan, Michael Pointer, Joseph
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Holt, Richard Durning Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Barran, Rowland Hirst (Leeds, N.) Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Pringle, William M. R.
Bathurst, Charles (Wilton) Hughes, S. L. Radford, G. H.
Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.) Isaacs, Sir Rufus Daniel Rea, Walter Russell
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Reddy, M.
Boland, John Plus Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea) Rees, Sir J. D.
Bowerman, C. W. Jones, William (Carnarvonshlre) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Bowles, Thomas Gibson Jowett, F. W. Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)
Buxton, C. R. (Devon, Mid) Joyce, Michael Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, N.) Kelly, Edward Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Byles, William Pollard Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.) Schwann, Sir C. E.
Cameron, Robert Leach, Charles Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Lewis, John Herbert Sherwell, Arthur James
Chancellor, H. G. Low, Sir F. A. (Norwich) Soares, Ernest J.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Luttrell, Hugh Fownes Tennant, Harold John
Collins, Sir Wm. J. (St. Pancras, W.) Lyell, Charles Henry Thomas, J. H. (Derby)
Compton-Rickett, Sir J. Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester} Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Valentia, Viscount
Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth) MacVeagh, Jeremiah Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)
Crawshay-Williams, Eliot M'Callum, John M. Watt, Henry A.
Cullinan, J. M'Kean, John White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)
Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan) M'Laren, Rt. Hon. Sir C. B. (Leices.) White, Sir Luke (York, E.R.)
Denman, Hon. R. D. M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe) Whitehouse, John Howard
Duncan, C. (Barrow-In-Furness) Manfield, Harry Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)
Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley) Meehan, Francis E. (Leltrim, N.) Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)
Falconer, J. Morpeth, Viscount Wing, Thomas
Flavin, Michael Joseph Murray, Captain Hon. A. C. Young, W. (Perthshire, E.)
Glanville, H. J. Muspratt, M. Younger, George (Ayr Burghs)
Hackett, J. Neilson, Francis
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Master of Elibank and Mr. Gulland.
Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Nolan, Joseph
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Adam, Major W. A. Kirkwood, J. H. M. Ronaldshay, Earl of
Bathurst, Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.) Llewelyn, Venables Sandys, G. J. (Somerset, Wells)
Bridgeman, W. Clive Locker-Lampson. G. (Salisbury) Sykes, Alan John
Burgoyne, A. H. MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh Thomson, W. Mitchell (Down, North)
Butcher, J. G. (York) Mackinder, H. J. Thynne, Lord A.
Carlile, E. Hildred Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas Tryon, Capt. George Clement
Cautley, H. S. Nield, Herbert White, Major G. D. (Lance., Southport)
Fell, Arthur Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Willoughby, Major Hon. Claude
Fisher, W. Hayes Pollock, Ernest Murray Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Foster, P. S. (Warwick, S.W.) Rawson, Colonel R. H.
Gretton, John Rice, Hon. Walter F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Ashley and Mr. J. K. Foster.
Hills, J. W. Ridley, Samuel Fords
Clause 2 added to the Bill.
Bill reported without amendments; read the third time, and passed.