HL Deb 22 August 1833 vol 20 cc821-5
The Lord Chancellor

rose to state shortly to the House the outline of a Bill which he proposed to bring in for the better government of certain boroughs when incorporated, and the first reading of which he intended to move this day. The Bill was intended to regulate the municipal affairs of those boroughs, thirty in number, which, under the provisions of the Reform Bill, had received the privilege of sending Members to Parliament, but which had not as yet proper municipal constitutions. There could be no doubt of the importance of the subject, or of the necessity for a system of regulation for the boroughs in question; and he was sure, that it would have their Lordships' full and deliberate attention and consideration. The whole population of the boroughs which this Bill was to regulate, amounted to upwards of 1,200,000, and the number of persons qualified under the late Reform Act to vote for the election of members of Parliament was between 58,000 and 60,000. The boroughs themselves were for the most part situated in parts of the country where some branches of trade were carried on; such were Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stoke-upon-Trent, Halifax, and Wakefield; but there were others, such as Cheltenham, Bright-helmstone, Chelmsford, Frome, Stroud, of less importance, and not connected with any particular interests. The general principle which prevailed in the Bill was, that the qualification which, under the provisions of the Reform Bill, gave to an elector the right of voting in the election for the Representative to Parliament, should, under the provisions of the present Bill, confer upon him a right to vote in the election of municipal Magistrates: and the boundaries under that Act would regulate the franchise under this Bill. Thus those who possessed the right of voting for Members of Parliament would vote in the election of Magistrates in these corporations, and the boundaries would be the same as those called the parliamentary boundaries. To the voters under those provisions, would be given the right of electing the Common-Council in each town; and for facilitating that object, each town would be divided into wards, on the same principle as regulated such division in the Scotch burghs, under the provisions of the Bill which he had had the honour of submitting to their Lordships a short time since. The next provision of the Bill which he thought it necessary to mention to the House was, that it was proposed, that the Common Councilmen, when elected in the manner he had stated, should choose from their own body the Board of Aldermen: and on this point he must observe, that the practice would be different from that which obtained in the election of Magistrates for the city of London, where the Aldermen were elected by the votes of the constituency, in the same way as the Common Council, instead of being chosen by the latter, as was proposed by this Bill. Differently from that mode, that the Common Council would now be first chosen by the electors, and they would then proceed to choose the Board of Aldermen. In addition to this, he should observe, that the Common Council were to be chosen for three years, while the Aldermen would, on being elected, hold their offices for life, except in cases where specified disqualifications should occur. The Common Council would also choose the Mayor, to hold his office for one year. There was one most important officer still remaining, the mode of appointing whom would differ from that pursued in nominating the others: this officer (the Recorder) would be nominated by the Crown; and there were many reasons, which need not be detailed, which had influenced him in providing for the appointment of that officer in this manner. The body of Magistrates chosen under the above provisions would be the municipal authorities of the town, and they would have two branches of duty to perform—the one would be the administration of justice, and the other the regulation of the police. With respect to the first of these duties, several regulations would be established by the Bill, some of which he would refer to. The Quarter Sessions would be holden in the same mode and at the same times as at present, and the magisterial body would consist of the officers above referred to, with the addition of the county Magistrates, who he (the Lord Chancellor) considered ought to have a concurrent jurisdiction with the town authorities. The Recorder would preside at these sessions, and would, of course, afford the advantage of the learning and ability which would be the necessary qualifications for his office; and that officer would, of course, not practise in his profession, either at the Sessions or the Assizes. The Sessions, instead of being confined to being holden once a-quarter, might, by the authority of his Majesty, be holden oftener, according to his pleasure, as to time; and the object of this enactment would be to do away with an inconvenience which now existed in the awarding of punishment to offenders tried at the Quarter Sessions. By the present practice, in consequence of the long interval between the several holdings of the Quarter Sessions, the length of time during which a prisoner was confined previously to trial, was subsequently deducted from the full amount of punishment awarded to him upon his trial. The results proceeding from this course were, that it frequently appeared to the public (not aware of the above-mentioned deductions) that crimes of a comparatively serious nature were followed by too trifling a punish- ment, inasmuch as the proposition inflicted after the deduction of the previous confinement was all which to their eyes was awarded: while, on the other hand, from the same length of interval, it unfortunately happened, that a prisoner, who might afterwards turn out to be innocent was visited with the punishment of imprisonment until the next sitting of the Sessions. To obviate the evils arising from this practice, the Bill authorized the renewal at the pleasure of his Majesty of these Sessions in the manner he had stated. It had originally been intended that the Recorders before-mentioned should sit as Judges in the Local Courts, according to the provisions of the Bill which he had the honour of submitting to their Lordships' consideration, but which they had rejected. He still hoped, that their Lordships would be prevailed upon hereafter to adopt the arguments in favour of the Bill, and that the event would be, that the provision as to the Recorders sitting as Judges would be ultimately adopted, by which means the two Bills would in that respect be fitted together, as had at first been intended. He next came to the other branch to which he had already alluded—he meant as to the police matters of the boroughs. It was proposed that an Alderman should sit in rotation, and that, at certain periods in every week, the Recorder should be present, so that any case might be adjourned from the Magistrate to the Recorder without inconvenience. Of these thirty boroughs, there were some which possessed Local Acts; now these Acts were numerous, but they had been most carefully examined, and the result was, that the measure itself had been framed in a manner which should meet the provisions of all these Local Acts, He purposely abstained from going more at large into the details of the Bill on the present occasion; what he had stated was a general outline of it, and he now moved, "that it be read a first time." He had already said, that he did not intend to press it another stage during this Session. He was quite persuaded, whether the measure was considered in relation to matters of police or the administration of justice, it would be admitted that a more important measure had seldom been introduced into Parliament than the present.

In answer to a question from Lord Wynford,

The Lord Chancellor

observed, that the Bill had two schedules, A and B; very different, however, from their namesakes in the Reform Bill—for the latter were instruments of abolition, while those in the proposed measure were instruments of enfranchisement. Schedule A contained a list of the thirty boroughs to which the Bill applied; without reference to the consideration of whether they had, or had not, Local Police Acts. Schedule B contained a list of those boroughs, twenty-seven in number, which had Local Police Acts. None of the thirty boroughs, however, had any local body of Magistracy at all.

Lord Wynford

doubted whether the Crown could not do all that it was proposed to do, without the intervention of Parliament. If the intervention of Parliament were unnecessary, was it not weakening the prerogative of the Crown to apply to it? As to the appointment of the Recorder, the Crown ought not to proceed in it without the consent of the borough; for the Recorder was the counsel of the Corporation, and might be its counsel against the Crown. His noble and learned friend talked of the Recorder as assisting in the superintendence of the police. But it must be remembered that Recorders were generally men eminent in their profession, who could not be expected to live constantly in the boroughs in question.

The Lord Chancellor

replied, that care would be taken in the Bill not to interfere with the Prerogative of the Crown respecting Charters. All that it was proposed to enact was, that as soon as the Crown had granted a Charter to a borough, the provisions of the Bill should attach to it. There were the levying of rates, and other matters, for which parliamentary enactment was necessary. As to the nomination of the Recorder, he should have no strong objection to allow the Corporations to have a veto in the case. All that was desirable was, that a fit and proper person should be appointed. What his noble and learned friend had said of existing Recorders was perfectly true; but it was exceedingly desirable, that means should be taken in the proposed cases to secure the residence of the Recorder, so that the Corporation might have the benefit of his assistance, both in their judicial and their police duty.

The Bill read a first time.

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