HL Deb 26 July 1910 vol 6 cc429-34

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Liverpool.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[Lord BALFOUR of BURLEIGH in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.


My Lords, I have given notice to move the insertion of a new clause. I do not know bother the noble Earl in charge of the Bill wishes to make any statement with respect to my Amendment. Perhaps I had better move it pro formâ, and hear what he has to say.

Amendment, moved—

After clause 1 insert the following new clause:

2.—(l) In the election of aldermen of a municipal borough or county council a person entitled to vote Wray vote for one person and no more.

(2) The following subsection shall be substituted for subsection (4) of section sixty of the Municipal Corporation Act, 1882: Every person entitled to vote may vote for one person and no more by signing and personally delivering to the chairman a voting paper containing the surname and other names and place of abode and description of the person for whom he votes."—(Lord Courtney of Penwith.)


My Lords, I hardly think that my noble friend in moving this new clause and also later on proposing to move to alter the title of the Bill is -within the question of order, but perhaps I might, in a few words, state the reasons why the Local Government Board object to the insertion of this new matter. The Bill, as your Lordships are aware, simply desires to apply the principles laid down in the Local Government Act of 1888 to the election of aldermen and mayors in municipal boroughs. My noble friend's Amendment would go very much beyond the range of this amending Bill. The Bill, as it refers to the election of aldermen, is designed only to limit the persons who may vote for aldermen in municipal boroughs. The Amendment would alter the whole system of election. Secondly, the Bill is limited in its scope to the election of aldermen and mayors in municipal boroughs. The Amendment would affect the election of aldermen in the case of county councils and apparently also of metropolitan boroughs.

I think your Lordships will realise that these alterations go entirely outside the scope of the Bill. The Bill passed through another place with no Amendments at all, and, as I have said, it desires to assimilate in these two small particulars the procedure in municipal borough councils to that in county councils and metropolitan borough councils. On the Second Reading the noble Lord said he was in sympathy with the Bill, but I think his Amendments not only introduce entirely new matter into this very bumble and unpretentious Bill, but would cause a certain amount of difference of opinion with reference to the provisions laid down for county councils and metropolitan borough councils as regards the election of aldermen. In these circumstances I venture to hope that the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.


My Lords, in the observations I addressed to your Lordships on the Second Reading of this Bill I explained pretty fully the process by which I propose to enlarge the provisions of this Bill, and I stated the reasons which led me to believe that that process was quite legitimate. It is a surprise to me, therefore, to hear the statement, which the noble Earl has just made. I took some pains to consider the matter, and what I propose to do appeared to me to be perfectly in order. Nor do I understand from the noble Earl that he ventures the opinion that the Amendments are out of order. He says they are inconvenient, but nothing more. I think it would be unfortunate if your Lordships were to consent to the opinion that this proposal was out of order, because it would fetter your action very seriously in regard to other Bills which might be held to be of more importance than the present one.

What is the situation? This Bill proposes to deal with the election of aldermen in the provincial boroughs of England, and it provides that whereas at present aldermen and common councillors have equal rights in the election of aldermen, in future aldermen should be denied the privilege of joining in the election of aldermen and that it should be confined to common councillors alone. That is the scope of the Bill, and the title of the Bill as introduced into the other House was so closely prescribed that it was impossible by the rules to make any alteration there in the provision contained in the Bill as introduced. My noble friend said that no Amendment was made in the other House. But, as I have said, the adroitness of the draftsman of the Bill prevented the introduction in the other House of any Amendment such as I am now moving. What I propose to do is to continue the provision that only common councillors can elect aldermen by adding that each common councillor shall have only one vote in the election of aldermen, so that the aldermen elected should correspond to the composition of the common council.

What is desired in the election of aldermen is to bring in, if possible, expert knowledge and experience which cannot be introduced by the ordinary process of election. By my Amendment that would be secured in a full instead of in a partial way as proposed in this Bill. The alteration contained in the Amendment is a very simple one in the body of the Bill, and it is necessary to alter the title in order to correspond to that alteration. But that is not out of the power of your Lordships. It would be irregular to go entirely beyond the scope and purpose of this Bill, but you may enlarge it by adding to the provision that only common councillors shall vote a prescription as to the way in which those councillors shall vote. I am unwilling to go into the arguments regarding the merits of this Amendment because this embarrassing question has been raised. I do not wish to enter into conflict with the general opinion of your Lordships. It. may be that the subject I have raised in this Amendment is one which should be deferred for further consideration, and if I assented to the negativing of my Amendment it would be on that ground and on that ground only—namely, that it is desirable that the matter should be further considered by the municipal corporations throughout the country. It is unfortunate that in regard to an Amendment such as this we should be confronted with an official attitude of pure negation. I said in my speech on the Second Reading that the process of carrying a Bill through the Legislature now is a series of manœuvres, and the way in which this Bill was drafted and piloted through the other House of Parliament by the Department concerned was most adroit. I hope your Lordships will not assent to the suggestion that to insert my Amendment is beyond your Lordships' power. Negative it, if you like, on the ground that the question should be further discussed, but do not, I pray you, negative it on the ground put forward by the noble Earl.


My Lords, I should not have risen but for a remark made by Lord Courtney when he introduced this subject on the last occasion, and from which 1 am afraid your Lordships might derive an idea entirely at variance with the facts. The noble Lord based this Amendment largely on what he described as the recent action of the London County Council—


I mentioned that incidentally. I did not base the Amendment upon it.


As the noble Lord mentioned it incidentally, perhaps I may be allowed to show incidentally what the effect would have been in that particular case if the plan contained in this Amendment had been carried out. I will not trouble your Lordships with past procedure, though I could have shown that as long as the Progressives were in a majority in the London County Council it was their practice to attach to themselves aldermen more or less of the same way of thinking, just as was done by the other side recently. I quite sympathise with the noble Lord opposite, who would all through, if he could, have introduced the principle of proportional representation; but he is endeavouring now to build on a foundation a superstructure which really it will not carry.

The effect of the noble Lord's Amendment in the case of the last London County Council election would have been this. At the last election in March there was practically a tie, sixty members being elected on the one side as against fifty-eight on the other. But those sixty members were elected by a majority of 79,000 erectors. Yet bad the noble Lord's plan been in operation and had it been impossible for the sixty members to obtain more than a majority of one in the aldermen over the fifty-eight members, you would literally have had the government of London being carried On by two parties within two of each other in the division lobby, although a majority of 79.000 electors had supported the party which was supposed to be in power. That would have meant an absolute deadlock. I am not going to discuss what I believe to be the entire undesirability of these battles being fought out on Party lines, but the fact remains; and I urge that, unless your Lordships were prepared to go into the whole of this question, very serious inconvenience would be caused if at the last moment the noble Lord were allowed to take the ease of the aldermen as a single instance out of the rest and proceed to apply to them a principle which is entirely at variance with the majority principle established with reference to the rest of the representation.


The noble Viscount has brought in incidentally the question of what happened after the last election to the London County Council, and I understood him to say that the Progressives did very much the same thing in days gone by. Well, I have had the honour of serving on the London County Council for fifteen years as a member of the Progressive Party; I have fought five of, perhaps, the fiercest fights that were ever fought in connection with that body, and I most unhesitatingly declare that the statement of the noble Viscount is inaccurate in the highest degree. He said that very much the same thing was done by the Progressives in the past as was done by the Moderates on the last occasion. This year the election resulted in a tie, and on a recount the Moderates had a majority of two. And how was that obtained? It was obtained on a recount by a single vote-But, contrary to an acknowledged custom that has prevailed in the London County Council, the Moderates took to themselves all the aldermen. They did not give the Progressives one single aldermanic vote. The result was that this gave them a total majority of seventeen. So far from this having been anything like the policy of the Progressives in days gone by, w hat happened on the last occasion was one of the worst instances of political juggling that has ever discredited municipal life in London.


I am afraid that after that ebullition of feeling on the part of the noble Earl I must trouble your Lordships again. Will the noble Earl carry his mind back to his statement at the beginning of his remarks, that what I had said was inaccurate in the highest degree? Will he deny that when his party were in a majority in 1889 they took all the aldermen? And that in 1892 they again took all the aldermen? And will he deny that in 1895, when there was a tie and the Progressives were in a minority of 29,244 at the polls, they took such a number of aldermen as gave them a majority of seven in the council? Will the noble Earl say I am inaccurate in that statement? [No answer.] Then I hope he will withdraw the previous remark he made.


I was not talking about the number of votes in London, I was talking about the number of votes in the London County Council, and every word I said was absolutely accurate.


I do not wish to continue the animated debate which has arisen out of my Amendment, but in view of the situation in which we are now placed I think it would probably be better if I asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, and to be read 3ª To-morrow.