Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

22. So many witnesses have concurred in the great evils arising from the immoderate use of spirituous liquors, and the difficulties which exist of controlling persons who assemble in public-houses at periods of disturbance, that the committee strongly recommend this subject to the early consideration of the Legislature. They are of opinion, that, however desirable it may be to facilitate the sale of spirits as a source of revenue, due care should be taken, in the issue of licences, and the police of public-houses, that they may not be made the cause of crime, which it is so much the object of the Legislature to prevent. The committee more particularly allude to the class of persons usually select

ed for licenses, and the practice of increasing the number in retired parts of the country, where they are not required for public convenience; and also to the defects in the present state of the law, which deprives the magistracy of the control which should be exercised over public-houses. In future, where a county shall be declared by the lord-lieutenant to be in a state of disturbance, the publichouses of all kinds should be placed wholly under the control of the magistrates.

23. The committee are of opinion, that this licensing system is so defective, that, even without reference to the general disturbances, it ought to be completely reformed.

REPORT of the SELECT COMMITTEE appointed to inquire into the State of MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS in ENGLAND, WALES, and IRELAND.

The select committee appointed to inquire into the state of municipal corporations in England, and Wales, and Ireland, and to report whether any and what defects exist in their constitutions, and what measures it may be in their opinion most expedient to adopt for remedy thereof, and to whom several petitions respecting municipal corporations presented in the present session of Parliament were referred, and who were empowered to report the minutes of evidence taken before them, proceeded at some length into such inquiry, and have agreed upon the following report:

The committee were of opinion that they should best discharge the duty imposed upon them by inVOL. LXXV.

quiring how far the municipal corporations in England, Wales, and Ireland, as at present constituted, were useful and efficient instruments of local government, rather than by seeking to detect past abuses, with a view to their exposure or punishment. The committee were required to ascertain whether any and what defects existed in the constitution of corporations, and what measures were expedient to be adopted for the remedy thereof, and with that view they required, in the first instance, the attendance of the Chief Magistrate and the Town-clerk, as being the officers best capable of giving information respecting the constitution of the different corporations with which they were respectively connected. The committee state with pleasure, that they have found

a general readiness on the part of the municipal officers whom they have examined to afford the information they have required, and they have, in no instance, been obstructed by captious or formal objections. It was, however, impossible not to be aware that from the absence of local information the inquiries of the committee must be defective, and that many facts material to be known, must escape unnoticed. In some instances, persons unconnected with the corporations, were examined; but this course led to a conflict of testimony which could only have been met by summoning witnesses from a distance, with inconvenience to the parties, at a great expense to the public, and would have involved the committee in a most protracted inquiry, and with no certainty that in the event the result would have proved satisfactory. The conseThe consequence is, that the information which the committee have received has been mainly derived from eorporate officers; but even on their testimony they have no hesitation in expressing a decided opinion that the defects which have been disclosed are such as to require that a further and a searching in quiry should be instituted, with a view to the adoption of a sufficient remedy. Having come to this conclusion, the committee are not enabled to offer any final suggestions as to the remedies which ought to be adopted; and being further of opinion that, from the defective nature of their inquiry, even those cases which they have examined ought to be subjected to further scrutiny, they have thought it desirable, with very few exceptions, to abstain from pointing out particular defects, or animadverting on individual testimony, while

there is a possibility that a different colour may be given to the case by future investigation. They purpose, however, to state in general terms some of the leading points which they think justify their recommendation that a further inquiry should be instituted, and to suggest some remedies which they deem to be entitled to consideration.

The jurisdiction of corporations is defective in some cases in consequence of the town having been extended beyond the limits of the ancient borough; and in other cases it is objectionable from extending to places that are distant, and more properly falling within the jurisdiction of county magistrates.

a

The principle which prevails of small portion of corporators choosing those who are to be associated with them in power, and generally for life, is felt to be a great grievance. The tendency of this principle is, to maintain an exclusive system, to uphold local, political, and religious party feelings, and is destructive of that confidence which ought always to be reposed in those who are intrusted with control, judicial or otherwise, over their fellow-citi

zens.

One of the consequences of this system of close election has been, that publicity has been rarely given to the amount aud application of the funds belonging to the different corporations. It is probable that if in this respect the corporators had acted under the influence and control of public opinion, their debts would have been less in amount, and more benefit would have been conferred on the community. It is desirable, therefore, that the management and expendi

ture of corporate funds should be subjected to a systematic and efficient control.

The powers vested in corporations for the administration of justice, both criminal and civil, are various and extensive, and are among the most important objects of inquiry. In some cases the choice of recorders has been, both in practice and in principle, highly creditable to the corporations: in other cases recorders have been chosen of unexceptionable character, but selected rather on account of their rank and station than from a regard to their fitness to discharge the duties of the office. The way in which the juries are summoned seems to be left too much to the discretion of the parties whose duty it is to summon them. There are no regular lists of those liable to serve on juries, and there is no control over the discretion of the officer, who selects, from among those qualified by law, such as he pleases. The civil courts appear either to have fallen entirely into disuse, or to have been but little resorted to. According to the evidence given before the committee, the Admiralty jurisdiction belonging to the corporation of Yarmouth is one which has not been administered advantageously or usefully, and that, and others, if such there be, are very fit subjects for future inquiry and improvement.

The privileges and exemptions from tolls and dues which are enjoyed by freemen, give them, in some cases, very considerable advantage in the conduct of the ordinary affairs of life over those who are not freemen. It is stated that two persons engaged in trade in Hull, and in all other respects being equal, except that the one

is, and the other is not, a freeman, the exemption from port and other dues will give an advantage to the freeman to the amount of 1001. per annum. It may well be questioned whether such exemptions rest on any public principle sufficiently strong to compensate for and justify. an interference with that equality of rights which ought to be enjoyed by members of the same community. In most considerable places private acts of Parliament have been obtained for the purpose of watching, paving, and lighting the towns. Thus some important functions of police have been transferred to bodies independent of, and unconnected with, the corporations, and as the committee did not consider, that, under the reference made to them, they had power to inquire into the efficiency and administration of those acts, as regards the police of the respective towns, they have abstained from the inquiry. It may be remarked, however, that it is probable, that if the corporations had been more popularly constituted, and had enjoyed a larger share of public confidence, they might have been invested with a greater, if not an exclusive, control over the execution of these acts. of Parliament. The rates levied by the authority of the corporations for public purposes, and which in some cases have been to a considerable amount, constitute another fit head of inquiry. Complaints have been made on this subject, and even if no complaints had been made, it seems to be expedient that some better and more efficient checks than exist at present should be established for the benefit and protection of those who are to pay rates.

the

Only two corporations in Ire

land have been inquired into, those of Dublin and Belfast. It may, without exaggeration, be said, that Dublin has been hitherto an exclusively Protestant corporation, and consequently cannot be supposed to have commanded the respect, or obtained the confidence of those who are systematically excluded on account of their religious opinions. This state of things is the more to be deprecated when it is recollected that this corporation is invested with large and extensive influence and power, and that, Dublin being the seat of the courts of law, juries in all cases are summoned by the officers of a body so exclusively composed. Belfast is a corporation entirely close, and now that the sovereign and his colleagues have ceased to choose the representative to Parliament for the town, they do not appear to exist for any public or useful purpose. In England the committee did not enter into any particular inquiry respecting the charitable funds belonging to the corporations, because they came within the scope of the inquiries now making by the commissioners appointed for that purpose. In Ireland there are no such commissioners, and the evidence given with respect to the charitable funds which have come into possession of the corporation of Belfast proves how imperiously inquiry is demanded.

In the selection of the cases that have been inquired into, an effort was made to obtain examples of towns varying in their size, circumstances, and the constitution of their corporations. In a majority of cases the principle of self-election prevails; Berwick is the most popular in its constitution, but not the most faultless in its practice.

Bradnich is an agricultural

parish in Devonshire, which has been incorporated by charter. No reason appeared why it should have been separated from the other parishes that surround it; but, on the contrary, the committee cannot hesitate to express their opinion that the condition of the parish would be improved by being placed under the ordinary jurisdiction of the magistrates of the county. The inference which the committee draw from the cases into which they have inquired is, that little difficulty will be found in suggesting a remedy for the defects which appear to exist in the towns where there is a large population. The remedies, however, which might be applicable to large towns might not be capable of being applied with equal success to those that are small. This consideration appears to furnish an additional reason for further inquiry, in order that an attempt may be made to arrange the different corporations into classes, and to devise some measure to cure the defects, or to remove the evil, of small corporations.

The committee are further led to infer, that corporations, as now constituted, are not adapted to the present state of society; the corporate officers are not identified with the community, who have rarely any influence in choosing them, and have no control over their proceedings; corporate offices, even the highest in rank, are not always objects of desire, and are likely to be less so now that the political influence of corporations has been so much diminished. To make corporations instruments of useful and efficient local govern ment, it seems to be essential that the corporate officers should be more popularly chosen; that the offices should be accessible to all

that have entitled themselves by their conduct to the good opinion and confidence of their fellowcitizens; that their proceedings should be open and subject to the control of public opinion; and that it should be felt by the community that the maintenance of order, and the equal administration of justice in all things, depend on the energy and principle of the corporate officers. If these objects could be obtained, there seems to be no reason to doubt, that the wholesome influence and authority of corporations would be increased, that their powers of usefulness would be extended, that public confidence would be established, and that the desire of honourable distinction and the sense of duty would call into the service of the community those who are the most capable of discharging the duties of the corporate offices with ability and integrity. Such are some of the results which the committee anticipate from a zealous and honest prosecution of this most important inquiry, and they have accordingly considered with care the best means of attaining the end. For the reasons which have been already stated, the committee are of opinion that it is not in their power to bring the inquiry to a satisfactory conclusion. Two plans were suggested -the one to circulate queries addressed to the different corpora

tions, the other to recommend the appointment of a commission. The first plan was rejected on the ground that queries could not be framed so as to meet all the various circumstances of the different corporations; that they might have been easily evaded; and that the information must have been partial.

The proposal to recommend the appointment of a commission has met with the almost general concurrence of the committee.

If the country is divided into districts the labour will be abridged; the commissioners, being on the spot, will be accessible to those who have important facts to communicate; they will be enabled to command the evidence necessary to decide on the weight of conflicting statements; and they may in a short space of time collect the necessary information more easily and more accurately than it could be obtained by any other proceeding. The committee, therefore, deeply impressed with the importance of the subject, earnestly recommend that no time should be lost in taking the necessary measures for appointing commissioners to prosecute the inquiry with promptitude and vigour, so that the materials to be collected may be arranged and brought under the consideration of Parliament early in next session.

REPORT of the SELECT COMMITTEE on AGRICULture.

The Select Committee appointed to inquire into the present state of agriculture, and of persons employed in agriculture, in the United Kingdom, and to whom several petitions presented on

the subject of agriculture to the House were referred, have, pursuant to the order of the House, examined the matters to them referred, and agreed to the following Report:

« VorigeDoorgaan »