Front Page Titles (by Subject) 56.: The Municipal Corporations Bill 21 MAY, 1867 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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56.: The Municipal Corporations Bill 21 MAY, 1867 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The Municipal Corporations Bill
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 187, cols. 882–5, 891. Reported in The Times, 22 May, p. 7, from which the variant and response are taken. Mill spoke in moving for leave to introduce “A Bill for the Establishment of Municipal Corporations within the Metropolis,” 30 Victoria (21 May, 1867), PP, 1867, IV, 447–66.
mr. j. stuart mill said, he did not do so in any spirit of hostility to the Report of the Committee relative to the Local Government of the Metropolis, of which Committee he had the honour of being a Member.1 It was true he had disagreed from the majority of the Committee on several of their Resolutions, but as a whole their Report had his general concurrence, and he considered it a great step in the progress of this question. The Committee, in the first place, freely acknowledged existing defects; and, in the second place, it recognised the general principles upon which, in his opinion, a reform of those defects should proceed. It recognised that good municipal institutions for the metropolis must consist of two parts—namely, local bodies representing districts, and a general body representing the metropolis at large—the latter to take the place of the present Board of Works. Neither was his Motion framed in hostility to the Board of Works. It might at least be said for the Board that it had been appointed to perform a great and laborious work,2 and that it had actually done that work. The Report proposed increased powers and an improved mode of election for the general Board; and with regard to the local district bodies, the Report considered the present districts to be too small, and virtually recommended the abolition of hole-and-corner local government. The Report might be considered in that and other respects as an outline of what municipal reformers desired; and the Bill he proposed to introduce would do something towards filling up that outline with regard to the local bodies only. He had given notice of his intention to ask for leave to bring in a Bill for the establishment of a central federal municipality for the whole of the metropolis,3 but he was not yet prepared with that Bill, and he should not ask the House to read the present Bill a second time until he was able to lay before them the entire plan. The plan he was now about to propose was not his own, but originated with one of the most important vestries in Westminster,4 and it had obtained the warm support of many of the leading vestrymen of the metropolis. He had no hostility to the vestries. Our parochial institutions, with all their defects, had done great things for the country. They had carried down to comparatively low grades of society a familiar acquaintance with the forms of public business and the modes of carrying it on, and in consequence this country possessed an advantage which, perhaps, no other country (except the United States) enjoyed—namely, that when circumstances call for the expression of an opinion by a collective body of citizens, there are numerous persons who know how that opinion should be collected and expressed. These merits could not be denied to our local system; but that system, as established in the metropolis, appeared to him to be on too small a scale. The Report of the Committee did not recognise that fact to so great an extent as he could have wished, and therefore he ventured to propose his plan. The Committee said that the districts of the metropolis were too small and inconvenient in some cases.5 He (Mr. Stuart Mill) believed they were too small in all cases, and that the municipal boroughs of the metropolis ought to be conterminous with the Parliamentary boroughs. He thought it necessary that the municipal districts should be of considerable extent, and highly desirable that they should also be units in themselves. Unless the districts were considerable they were always more or less a kind of hole-and-corner government. It was a common fallacy, now going the round of Europe, but still a fallacy, that the mere circumstance of a body being popularly chosen was a guarantee that it would conduct its proceedings on popular principles. His faith in popular governments did not depend on their being popularly elected. The real value of popular institutions consisted in the popular power of correcting mistakes, and enforcing responsibility to the people. Owing to this responsibility, it would not be possible for any body long to retain its position if it habitually exercised its powers contrary to the public interest as generally understood. Another point was that the greatest attainable publicity should be secured to the business transacted by these bodies; but when the business was on a very small scale it did not excite much attention. The check was not effectual unless the business was of such a nature that the public eye would be fixed on it. It was further desirable, for the sake of greater publicity, that not only should the district be of considerable magnitude and the business important, but that the districts should, if possible, be natural units in themselves, or at least, should be units for other purposes than this special one. The importance of this was, that it would tend to induce a higher class of men to enter these bodies. Three of the metropolitan boroughs (the City, Westminster, and Southwark) were, if not natural, at least historical units; the other districts, though of more recent origin, were gradually acquiring an esprit de corps, and a sense of common interest. It had been at first thought desirable that an additional district should be created out of parts of Marylebone and Finsbury. The great importance, however, of making the municipal and Parliamentary boundaries coincide, had led to the abandonment of this idea, except so far as regarded the formation of a new police district, there being at present no police-office between Marlborough Street and Worship Street in the extreme east. The Bill provided for the division of the Tower Hamlets; but this would be dealt with by the Bill for the Representation of the People. aThere would also be a district for Kensington and Chelsea.a6 He should not ask the House to read the Bill a second time till he had introduced the remainder of the plan of which it formed a part. Whatever merit the plan had, and that merit appeared to him to be considerable, it belonged entirely to his constituents who originated the plan. He himself had no part in it except that, at his own special request, he was permitted to introduce it to the House. (Hear, hear.) He now begged to move for leave to bring in a Bill to establish Municipal Corporations within the Metropolis.
[Mill was followed, inter alia, by Ayrton, who had chaired the committee on the Metropolis that Mill refers to, and Locke, who had served on the committee; Gathorne-Hardy said the Government would not oppose the introduction of the Bill, but indicated hesitation over such a complex matter, on which the Metropolitan members were not themselves agreed. Mill’s concluding sentence follows on Gathorne-Hardy’s remarks.]
Mr. J. Stuart Mill, in reply, observed, that he believed the Bill would be approved of by the City when its provisions became known.
[The Bill was given first reading.]
[1 ]“First” and “Second Reports from the Select Committee on Metropolitan Local Government” (16 Apr. and 30 July, 1866), PP, 1866, XIII, 171–628. For Mill’s part in the Committee, see App. B.
[2 ]By Sect. 31 of 18 & 19 Victoria, c. 120 (1855).
[3 ]Eventually brought in as “A Bill for the Better Government of the Metropolis,” 30 & 31 Victoria (6 Aug., 1867), PP, 1867, IV, 215–56 (see No. 82).
[4 ]See “Memorial to the Home Secretary, from the Vestry of St. James,” App. 1 in “Second Report from the Select Committee on Metropolis Local Taxation” (24 June, 1861), PP, 1861, VIII, 321–2; and “A Bill Intituled ‘An Act for the Establishment of Municipal Corporations within the Metropolis,’ ” App. 9 in “Second Report from the Select Committee on Metropolitan Government,” pp. 619–28.
[5 ]For such views, see “Third Report from the Select Committee on Metropolis Local Taxation with the Proceedings of the Committee” (26 July, 1861), PP, 1861, VIII, 383. From the context, it would seem that Mill is referring to the two Reports on Metropolitan Local Government cited in n1 above; though neither contains such statements by the Committee, Mill himself voices them in his questions (see below, App. B, Questions 1866–71 and 2163 ff.)
[6 ]30 & 31 Victoria, c. 102, in Sect. 19 provided that Chelsea should return two members (under Schedule B, Kensington was included as a parish of Chelsea), and in Sect. 21 Tower Hamlets was given two members for each of the two divisions.