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LORD JOHN RUSSELL,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, 5TH JUNE,
THE BILL TO PROVIDE FOR THE REGULATION OF
[Taken, by permission, from “ The Mirror of Parliament.”]
“In conclusion, we report to your Majesty that there prevails amongst the inhabitants of
GENERAL REPORT OF THE MUNICIPAL CORPORATION COMMISSIONERS.
EFFINGHAM WILSON, ROYAL-EXCHANGE.
Price 6d., or £2 per 100.
LORD JOHN RUSSELL.-I now rise to perform the very important duty of asking, on behalf of his Majesty's Government, leave of the House to bring in a Bill, to provide for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in England and Wales. It was not until very lately that I expected such a task would have fallen tò my lot. In the course of last autumn, it was my hope and expectation, that the consideration of this important subject would have been in the hands of an individual, who I think will be admitted, on all sides of the House, to be eminently qualified for the task--of one who, in introducing it to the notice of Parliament, would have brought to it a degree of mature reflection, on account of legal knowledge and an intimate acquaintance with the constitution of the country, which would have recommended the measure to the country with a force and an effect that cannot belong to my arguments. I would say more, Mr. Speaker, were it not that I am now alluding to yourself, and that, therefore, it would not be proper for me to go farther. But since, by circumstances of comparatively recent occurrence, the duty of bringing forward the measure belongs to the station I now hold in the House, I shall only beg that it will give me that indulgence of which I stand so greatly in need, and make allowance for that inadequacy and those deficiencies which I am sure it will discover. I ask for that indulgence, because the question is one of the highest importance --one of considerable intricacy and detail-one which relates to ancient practices and privileges-and one which, by its right solution, must have a considerable effect on the body I have the honour to address. The number of persons under the government of Municipal Corporations to be touched by this
Bill, amounts to about two millions : I state it in round numbers, that the persons who will come within the provisions of the measure I propose to introduce, are not less in number than two millions. It cannot be said that this subject has been undertaken without consideration adequate to its extent and importance. It might have been allowable, and I think it would have been allowable, on the first meeting of a Reformed Parliament, to have taken a theoretical view of the subject-to have laid down certain rules and regulations which, in the opinion of the House of Commons, ought to govern municipal corporations, and to make those rules and regulations the standards by which those corporations should thenceforward be governed; but by the advice of the committee of which you, Mr. Speaker, were the chairman, another course was adopted. A commission was appointed by the Crown to inquire into the state of municipal corporations, and after a year and a half of laborious and minute investigation, the commissioners presented a report to his Majesty, in which they stated that they had inquired into the condition of two hundred corporations, and, after detailing the general nature of these corporations, they made the following remarks :-“ In conclusion, we report to your Majesty, that there prevails amongst the inhabitants of a great majority of the incorporated towns, a general, and in our opinion a just dissatisfaction with their municipal institutions; a distrust of the self-elected municipal councils, whose powers are subject to no popular control, and whose acts and proceedings being secret, are unchecked by the influence of public opinion ; a distrust of the municipal magistracy, tainting with suspicion the local administration of justice, and often accompanied with contempt of the persons by whom the law is administered ; a discontent under the burdens of local taxation, while revenues, that ought to be applied for the public advantage, are diverted from their legitimate use, and are sometimes wastefully bestowed for the benefit of individuals, sometimes squandered for purposes injurious to the character and morals of the people. We therefore feel it to be our duty to represent to your
Majesty, that the existing municipal corporations of England and Wales neither possess nor deserve the confidence or respect of your Majesty's subjects, and that a thorough reform must be effected before they can become, what we humbly submit to your Majesty they ought to be, useful and efficient instruments of local government.”
This report was agreed to by far the greater number of commissioners. One of them, a man of considerable talents and attainments, wrote and printed an elaborate protest against parts of it; and another, Mr. Hogg, I think, signified his dissent from the whole, but, with these exceptions, it was the report of the entire body. They were men eminently qualified for the task: they were selected by the Crown for the purpose, and after their appointment they bestowed the utmost pains and diligence upon it. I might undertake the duty of proving that the abuses which they declare to exist, are to be ascertained from the separate reports contained in the various volumes of Appendix presented to his Majesty, and subsequently laid upon the table of this House; but as it is my purpose to propose a practical measure, and a practical measure of the highest importance, and as going into separate details of all the different abuses would render my speech much longer than the House, I apprehend, would like to listen to from me, it will be better to touch on only two or three heads, in order to show that the
present bodies are unfit for the purpose for which they were appointed, and that they are not good depositaries of local government, and to leave the rest to the statements of the commissioners which may be discussed on future occasions, during the various stages of the Bill, and either agreed to or refused as Hon. Members may think the truth requires. There are two or three points, which appear to me so striking as facts, that I cannot altogether refrain from bringing them before the House. A great number of these corporations govern populous towns, but there are others, where the municipal body is so small that they are, in fact, not corporations in the ordinary sense of the word. I will speak, in the first instance, of places which are considerable boroughs, where a municipal council is required, but where it does not properly represent the property, the intelligence, or the population of the town. One of these instances is contained in a report which I believe is not yet be