HL Deb 04 March 1834 vol 21 cc1036-8
The Earl of Durham

said, that there was another subject to which he wished to call the attention of his noble and learned friend. He held in his hand a Petition from the Council of the Birmingham Political Union, which related to the measure of Corporation Reform. The petitioners took several objections to that measure. They objected to the right of electing Common Councilmen being limited to 10l. householders; which, they said, would have the effect of limiting the franchise to one-fifth of the inhabitants of Birmingham. They made several other objections, in all of which he did not concur with them, and especially in that in which they spoke of the administration of justice in the borough being committed to the hands of the Aldermen. The administration of municipal affairs might be committed to them, but not the administration of justice; for, at least, so far as his experience in his own part of the country went, the persons likely to be in that situation were not likely, either by inclination or habit, to fit themselves for the performance of such a duty.

The Lord Chancellor

observed, that undoubtedly the subjects to which his noble friend had referred, were of the utmost importance, but they were not unattended with considerable difficulties. The measure which was brought forward last year had been framed after receiving the greatest possible attention, and was submitted to the House after having undergone a severe scrutiny. There were one or two matters which he (the Lord Chancellor) had then stated might receive a re-consideration, particularly as to the choice of Aldermen being for life or for years, and as to the appointment of a Recorder. There was one great difficulty in the way of choosing the Aldermen for years instead of for life; and that would be got rid of, if the Aldermen were not to be intrusted with judicial functions. It was thought that it was inexpedient that persons intrusted with judicial functions should be appointed to their places by popular election. At the same time, it was considered difficult to say, that these Aldermen should be appointed as Aldermen in other corporations, and yet deprived of the right to exercise those functions that were intrusted to other Aldermen. Another difficulty was in the choice of the Recorder, who would have to perform judicial functions—a circumstance which would form a strong objection to his being the subject of a popular election. The noble and learned Lord, the late Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, had suggested that the Recorder should be elected by those who had themselves been elected by the people—namely, by the Court of Aldermen. This was a matter that might be further considered. He had had a great deal of correspondence during the recess with various quarters, and with different classes of persons who belonged to the new boroughs, and the effect of that had been to make him pause in introducing the measure without one or two modifications. With respect to the main object of this petition—namely, the extension of the elective franchise in the new boroughs—that also was a subject that deserved considerable attention. There was a great inducement to keep to the limit already laid down, because the whole machinery of determining the right of election was now in existence under the Reform Bill, and the extent of the elective franchise for corporate officers had been, in the case of Scotland, advantageously placed on the same footing as that for Representatives in Parliament. However, this, with other parts of the measure, might be the subject of consideration.

Petition to lie on the Table.