Front Page Titles (by Subject) 105.: The Municipal Corporations (Metropolis) Bill  17 JUNE, 1868 - 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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105.: The Municipal Corporations (Metropolis) Bill  17 JUNE, 1868 - 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 (Metropolis) Bill 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 192, cols. 1730–5. Reported in The Times, 18 June, p. 6, from which the variants and responses are taken. Mill was moving the second reading of one of the Bills he had introduced on 5 May (see No. 93). As he indicates, he had been prevented from proceeding with the other, establishing a Corporation of London.
the house is aware that this Bill is only one of two which have some claim to be considered as one, inasmuch as they are parts of a combined plan for the local government of the metropolis. The most important of them, as the House is also aware, I have been unexpectedly prevented from proceeding with. It has been decided to be a violation of the Standing Orders.1 It appears to me a subject well worthy the consideration of the House under what circumstances this difficulty has arisen, and that I should have been unable to propose to the House a plan for the general municipal government of the metropolis because due notice has not been given to the Corporation of the City of London. The Bill is not of private, but of public interest; the Corporation is solely interested in it by reason of the property it holds for public purposes; the City of London is perfectly aware of all that is proposed, and has made no complaint of not having received notice. The promoters of the measure do not expect to make money by it, but may have a great deal to spend in carrying out its objects; and it appears to me worthy of consideration whether the forms required by the Standing Orders were ever intended for such a case as this, and whether the promoters of the Bill ought to be required to spend several hundreds of pounds out of their own pockets to give formal notice to the Corporation. Since the House did me the honour of permitting me to introduce the former measure,2 a great change has taken place in the situation of this country as respects its institutions. aThe great measure of last Session has been passed ,3 and our Constitution has been materially altered in a democratic direction. This new state of things imposes new duties; it requires the House, on the one hand, to do more than it was previously obliged to do; and, on the other, to consider the inconveniences, whether great or small, that may be created by the new direction in which we are proceeding, and to guard against them as far as possible.a It is well understood what is the special danger of democratic institutions: it is the absence of skilled administration; and I strongly recommend to the consideration of the honourable Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Bentinck), who I believe intends to move the rejection of the Bill,4 that the great political problem of the future, not only for this country, but for all others, is to obtain the combination of democratic institutions with skilled administration. It is extremely desirable that this House without either idle regret for the past or vain confidence in the future should apply itself to find out how these two things may best be united. I am anxious to impress on the House the importance of reviewing our institutions in this particular point of view, and to induce the friends of democracy to appreciate the advantages of skilled administration, and the admirers of skilled administration to appreciate the merits of democratic institutions. As regards the general principle on which municipal institutions should be founded, the established practice with us is that all the ratepayers should have a voice in the expenditure. In the democratic direction, nothing further than this can be desired. But in the matter of skilled administration there is much to be altered. All the defects of democratic institutions are great in proportion as the area is small; and if you wish to work them well, I do not know any rule more important than that you should never have a popular representative assembly on a small area, for if you do, it will be impossible to have skilled administration. There will be much less choice of persons; a much smaller number, and those less competent for the task, will be willing to undertake the conduct of public affairs. And here I must direct attention to a principle of great importance. The value of a popular administrative body—I might say of any popular body—is measured by the value of the permanent officers. When a popular body knows what it is fit for and what it is unfit for, it will more and more understand that it is not its business to administer, but that it is its business to see that the administration is done by proper persons, and to keep them to their duties. I hope it will be more and more felt that the duty of this House is to put the right persons on that Bench opposite, and when there to keep them to their work. Even in legislative business it is the chief duty—it is most consistent with the capacity of a popular assembly to see that the business is transacted by the most competent persons; confining its own direct intervention to the enforcement of real discussion and publicity of the reasons offered pro and con; the offering of suggestions to those who do the work, and the imposition of a check upon them if they are disposed to do anything wrong. People will more value the importance of this principle the longer they have experience of it. This principle, when applied to local popular administration, shows itself in a very strong light indeed. A popular assembly that has only a little work to do in a little area, tries to do it itself, and to transact public business by making speeches—the most ineffective way in which public business can be done. In proportion as the local body approaches to the position of a great assembly like the present—though at a great distance—and has to represent a large area, and has a great deal of various work to do, in that proportion it will feel that its business is not to do the work itself; its business is to set the right people to do it, and to use for the purpose of controlling them all the lights which the collision of opinion amongst their own members may produce, but not to take the work out of the hands of the administrators. The adoption of that principle absolutely requires that the popular democratic representative bodies, such as those by which our local administration is carried on, should not be on the small scale of a local board, but should be on a larger scale—as large a scale as is consistent with unity of interest in the body whose affairs they have to administer. The local business of the metropolis is now divided, in kind, amongst a variety of administrative bodies, and is likewise divided, in a most minute manner, geographically. The various parishes carry on their business by means of vestries and local boards, and there are duties besides, that do not belong to the vestries, which are of the most multifarious description possible. There are 37 districts for the registration of births, 56 for the purposes of the Building Act, 19 divisions for police purposes, 30 County Court districts, and 15 Militia districts.5 There should be for the administration of all this business a consolidation of those very small districts. Among the advantages to be derived from consolidation would be greater efficiency and economy. Nothing can surprise me more than to find any petition presented against this Bill on the ground that its effects will be to raise the rates; that is not only impossible, but it must have the contrary effect, because in proportion as the present divisions approach the size they would all reach when combined under the plan I propose, economy has been effected. Compare the two districts, for example, of Marylebone and Westminster, which are about equal in population. Marylebone is all one parish under one local government, and is an approximation to the system I would establish, and its administrative expenses amount to £8,000 a year. Westminster is divided amongst five boards, and the five boards cost £20,000 a year. Probably not more than a third of the number of officers employed in Westminster is employed in Marylebone. In fact, the more an area is divided into independent districts, the more paid officers there must be, and the less skilled they will be. The small districts cannot afford to pay for the greatest skill, and the smallness of the districts prevents the officers from acquiring it. Add to this the expense now arising from quarrels and litigation, which, of course, would not exist if these boards were fused into one. I find that no less than 4,000 persons are engaged, in some capacity or other, in the local government of the metropolis. I cannot help asking, would any person now think of establishing the present system of administration in the metropolis if it did not already exist? Would it exist at all except for the accidental growing up of arrangements that have never been reviewed? In a great metropolis, who cares about his parish, except for its church? and, as we are going to get rid of church rates, the parish will have no common interest at all in future. If we are to have a body that can do the work well, the first condition must be unlimited publicity—publicity which must not be theoretic, but real. It is not only that the people should have a right to know what is done; but that they should really and actually know what is being done. You must get them to give their attention to it; and that is not accomplished on the present system, because the area of administration being on so small a scale, the public does not take sufficient interest in the subject to inquire into what is being done. bNo one troubles himself either to be a candidate for a seat in the vestry or to read the debates. But, while the ratepayers will not look after their own interests, the power of those who take a part in parish affairs from private and interested motives is increased, because they have an opportunity of promoting their ends by unseen modes.b Except in a large parish, no light is thrown on what is going on. I am far from undervaluing what the local institutions, imperfect as they are, have done; but they are doing much less every day, as the conditions on which they were established become less adapted to existing circumstances. It is very generally believed that it is an extremely frequent thing for persons who sit in vestries of the metropolis to be landlords of small tenements utterly unfit for human habitations (hear, hear), men whose interest—I do not say they always yield to that interest—is not to promote those sanitary arrangements for the improvement of the dwelling places of the great mass of the community which it should be our object to promote. (Hear.) In the Bill of my honourable Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. M’Cullagh Torrens)—the Labourers’ and Artizans’ Dwellings Bill—it was desired to give greater powers in dealing with that class of property,6 but no authority could be found that was deemed fit to exercise those powers. cThe Bill proposed to give powers to the vestries, but this was struck out in Committee, on the ground that they were not bodies of sufficient importance, and that they could not be trusted. But when the Metropolitan Board of Works was substituted7 and the Bill came on for discussion in the House, objection was taken to the Metropolitan Board as not being a sufficiently representative and popular bodyc;8 and I have received repeated applications to oppose the Bill on that ground. It may be said that, acting on the principles I have enunciated, I ought to have proposed one municipal government for the whole metropolis. There is a good deal to be said for such a course. But on the other hand, it might shock settled ideas to propose at once to entrust the whole local government of so vast an area, with about 3,000,000 of inhabitants, to one local body. The business to be intrusted to their management would, moreover, be too great, and it would give them the control of too large an amount of revenue; and it would have been useless to attempt to obtain the consent of the House to such a measure. Probably it is better to have local municipal bodies for the different Parliamentary boroughs, and that the central Board should not be troubled with any business but such as is common to the whole metropolis. The Parliamentary boroughs offer a medium between the contemptibly small size of an ordinary parish and the inordinate size of the whole metropolis; and in them there has grown up, from the circumstance of their being Parliamentary boroughs, a certain feeling of local connection amongst the whole of the inhabitants. This feeling exists in a very great degree in the old Parliamentary districts, the City of London, Westminster, and Southwark; and some amount of it has grown up even in those which were created by the Act of 1832.9 I therefore propose by the Bill which I ask you to read a second time, to create municipalities for the Parliamentary districts, which shall exercise the powers of the municipalities under the Municipal Corporations Act.10 and also those of the vestries and local boards of the metropolis, except so far as Parliament shall otherwise dispose. It may be said that the Metropolitan Board of Works meets the idea of a central Board. The Metropolitan Board is a clumsy creation, arising from the felt want of some body to represent the whole metropolis. It was at first called into existence to dexecute the great work of main drainaged which is now nearly completed, and its existence would in consequence have soon expired, but that Parliament in the meantime found out the necessity of some such central body, and threw upon it a great variety of duties, which originally were not contemplatede, down even to the naming of the streetse . It never was intended that the Board should be a municipality for the whole of London; and I cannot conceive that that body can continue to discharge those duties without its construction being at least greatly modified. (Hear, hear.) I could not expect that this Bill would pass at this period of the Session, even if the Government were to adopt it; but I think it is right to remind the House of this question, and to prepare the public mind for a more mature consideration of it. On these grounds I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. (Hear, hear.)
[After some debate the matter was adjourned until 30 June when, after more discussion, the Bill was lost.]
[1 ]The Bill had been referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, who passed it on to the Committee on Standing Orders, noting that it violated Standing Orders because insufficient attention had been paid to publicity of its provisions to all affected by it. The Committee then ruled that the Standing Orders should not be dispensed with, and so the Bill could not proceed. (Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 123 [1867–68], pp. 158, 188, and 211.)
[2 ]In its earlier form; see No. 56.
[a-a]TT By passing the Reform Act the House had given a pledge that it would inquire into and revise all the local institutions of the country.
[3 ]The Reform Act, 30 & 31 Victoria, c. 102 (1867).
[4 ]George Augustus Frederick Cavendish Bentinck (1821–91) spoke against the Bill after Mill’s speech (cols. 1735–7).
[5 ]For statutes bearing on these matters, see, respectively, 6 & 7 William IV, c. 86 (1836) (registration); 18 & 19 Victoria, c. 122 (1855) (building); 10 George IV, c. 44 (1829) (police; the divisions were an administrative responsibility); 9 & 10 Victoria, c. 95 (1846) (county courts); and 15 Victoria, c. 50 (1852) (militia).
[b-b]+TT [in past tense]
[6 ]Torrens introduced the latest version of his “Bill to Provide Better Dwellings for Artizans and Labourers,” 31 Victoria, PP, 1867–68, I, 21–42, on 20 November (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 190, col. 103). The first version, to which Mill here refers, is 29 Victoria (20 Feb., 1866), PP, 1866, I, 43–52; see Clause 4 for the powers of the vestries. (Cf. No. 93.)
[c-c]TT] PD At first the Bill intrusted those powers to the vestries; but the vestries were not trusted, and the Select Committee preferred intrusting them to the Metropolitan Board of Works: and then it appeared that the Board of Works was not trusted either
[7 ]See the second version of the Bill, as amended by the Select Committee, ibid., pp. 53–72 (18 June, 1866), First Schedule, Table A. The Bill was withdrawn on 31 July without debate. As reintroduced in the next session, 30 Victoria (12 Feb., 1867), PP, 1867, I, 109–28, this third version retains the provision of the second version. It was withdrawn on 4 August. For the Board of Works, see 18 & 19 Victoria, c. 120 (1855).
[8 ]The objection came in the debate on the second reading, from John Harvey Lewis (1814–88), M.P. for Marylebone, Speech on the Artizans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Bill (27 Mar., 1867), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 186, cols. 697–8.
[9 ]The constituencies of Finsbury, Greenwich, Lambeth, Marylebone, and Tower Hamlets were created by the first Reform Act, 2 & 3 William IV, c. 45 (1832).
[10 ]5 & 6 William IV, c. 76 (1835).
[d-d]TT] PD carry out a great sanitary improvement