HL Deb 18 July 1872 vol 212 cc1346-51

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that it had been sent up to their Lordships from the House of Commons, where it had been fully discussed; and he was therefore sorry to find that the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) had given notice of his intention to move its rejection. The object of the Bill was to facilitate the division of municipal boroughs into wards, to increase the number where wards already existed, and to re-arrange their boundaries; it proposed also to give power to alter the number of aldermen and councillors for the borough, or for the several wards; and to make regulations as to their continuance in office—and other similar purposes. The Bill provided that this might be effected on specified application and inquiry, and upon such conditions as might be thought fit by means of an Order in Council;—the order was to be laid before Parliament as soon as might be after it was made. The ground of objection he understood to be that, in the opinion of the noble Marquess and those who acted with him, it would lead to a principle known on the other side of the Atlantic as "jerrymaundering"—in other words, readjusting the boundaries of wards in order to suit the purposes of political parties. But the Government disclaimed anything like a political or party feeling in connection with, the measure.

Moved, "That the Bill he now read 2a."—(The Earl of Morley.)


said, the case against the Bill was simply this. By the Municipal Corporations Act, passed in 1859, the machinery for altering the boundaries of wards could not be set in motion except by the vote of two-thirds of the town council; and upon application the boundaries were arranged by a barrister appointed by the senior Judge on Circuit. Under such a system the boundaries were constructed in a judicial spirit, and not in furtherance of any political motive or object, and could not be altered without the consent of the majority of the governing body of the borough. The Government said this system did not work—if it were so, the reason was that two-thirds of the town councils had never been of opinion that it was desirable to put it in motion. But the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Morley), who had confidence in everything—even in the Privy Council—thought that a minority of the town council and the Privy Councils would be better judges in the matter than two-thirds of the town councillors—for by the Bill a minority of one-third of the town council could set the Privy Council in motion, and the Council would have uncontrolled power to alter the boundaries of the wards. If this was not a political matter, it was a very strange thing. To give the Secretary of State, at the instance of one-third of that body, power to re-arrange the boundaries in opposition to the wish of the majority, would be a dangerous increase of the power of that functionary, and a perilous step in the direction of centralization; but, considering how thoroughly political these municipal contests were, it was obvious that this power would be made use of to alter the boundaries of wards in such a way as to increase the power or to meet the views of one or other political party. Then if the principle of Government control in the arrangement of ward boundaries were admitted, why should it not be adopted in Poor Law matters and in the affairs of Quarter Sessions? If municipal elections were a mere matter of local interest, why was it that political organizers gave an attention to them but little inferior to that which they bestowed on Parliamentary elections? The fact was that municipal elections had an important bearing on Parliamentary elections. It was not necessary to prove this just after the passing of a drastic measure for the suppression of intimidation and bribery, in which measure Parliamentary and municipal elections were bracketed together. The Emperor of the French, by so arranging boundaries as to bring in rural populations, had been able to obtain majorities in towns which were known to be opposed to his dynasty. The noble Earl (the Earl of Morley) had made use of the word "jerrymaundering," which, owing to our smaller experience in political corruption, had not come into general use in this country—but he was afraid that this Bill would lead to "jerrymaundering." He had a high opinion of the political purity of his noble Friend the President of the Council (the Marquess of Ripon); but his noble Friend might not be an eternal institution, and some future Government, which, unlike the present, might not be free from all the weaknesses and prejudices of humanity, would perhaps yield to the entreaties of a minority of the town council and make a change of boundaries which would be particularly favourable to its own party. The consequence would be that the successors of such a Ministry would feel it to be their duty to redress the vitiated constitution of the borough. In that way a redistribution of ward boundaries would become as regular as a change in the Lords of the Treasury whenever a new Government took office. The result of this Bill would be to expose our municipal institutions to manœuvres which would bring scandal upon them. There was no grievance complained of under the existing system, and their Lordships ought to oppose the Bill because it would extend the system of centralization so as to make it interfere with our local institutions in a manner wholly at variance with the Constitution of this country. The noble Marquess moved that the Bill be read a second time this day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day three months.")—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


said, that some such measure as this had become necessary in consequence of the shifting of the population in many towns. It was well nigh impossible to obtain such a rearrangement under the present law, because the representatives of the wards, whose influence would be diminished if their boundaries were enlarged, always voted against any proposition in that direction. For that reason the requisite majority of two-thirds could never be obtained, however much the rearrangement might be desired by the majority of the inhabitants of the borough. He was personally inclined to agree with his noble Friend opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) in one part of his objection. He had no desire to have the responsibility of rearrangement of borough boundaries thrown on the Privy Council Office. He could assure the noble Marquess that the Government had no political object in view—no such object lurked behind this Bill; and if the noble Marquess wished, the Government would substitute the Judge of Assize for the Privy Council, and have the rearrangement made by a person appointed by the learned Judge.


said, that while he fully acquitted the noble Marquess of any sinister object, he ventured to doubt whether any large number of boroughs desired this Bill. He could not help thinking that the Bill, although it had the form of a public measure, really savoured of that class of Bills called "local and personal." He should like to know what number of boroughs had asked for the Bill? He thought the Preamble of the Bill might have been made to run in some such words as these—"Whereas a rearrangement of municipal wards in the borough of B"—he would call it by a letter—"would add greatly to the strength of the Liberal interest within this borough; and whereas, by the present law, before such rearrangement can be made, the consent of two-thirds of the Town Council is necessary; and whereas in the said borough of B the consent of two-thirds of the Town Council cannot be obtained; be it enacted that Her Majesty's Government, at the instance of one-third of the Town Council of the said borough of B may proceed to the redistribution of the wards of the said borough of B." That might represent the truth of the circum- stances which, in the present case, had led to the introduction of the Bill; although the noble Marquess opposite might be ignorant of those facts. The noble Marquess said that while in many cases the majority of the inhabitants of boroughs were anxious for a change in the boundaries, the majority of the Town Council would not consent to alter the existing state of things. On the contrary, he (Lord Cairns) maintained that if the majority of the inhabitants of the borough were of opinion that a redistribution of the wards would be of public interest, it must inevitably follow in the course of a very few years that a majority of the Town Council would hold that opinion, because, generally speaking, the persons elected would hold the opinions of their constituents. This Bill raised the very same questions as those to which so much importance was attached during the discussions on the Reform Act of 1867. Bearing in mind the close connection which always existed between the municipal and the Parliamentary elections this was nothing less than a Boundary Bill; but a Boundary Bill to be worked at the instance of a minority. He would ask their Lordships whether they thought such a power should be left to be worked by the political party that might happen to be in power?


said, he understood almost the entire of the argument of the noble and learned Lord to be against the machinery of the Bill, and therefore the offer made on behalf of the Government by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Ripon) seemed to him to have made the argument of the noble and learned Lord scarcely necessary. The noble and learned Lord said that if the majority of the inhabitants of a borough desired a change of the ward boundaries, their opinion must prevail before long, because they would elect the majority of two-thirds of the Town Council necessary to represent their views. But that would not be the case, because under the present system the same councillors would be elected by the wards. He must say that if the offer made by his noble Friend behind him were not accepted there would be some reason for suspecting that noble Lords opposite were actuated by the same political motives which the noble Marquess had attributed to the Government.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Contents 56; Not-Contents 77: Majority 21.

Resolved in the negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day three months.