City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.
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PROTEST BY MR. ALDERMAN COTTON.
To The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.
May it please Your Majesty,
Being unable to agree with the report of the Commissioners appointed by Your Majesty to investigate the affairs of the Livery Companies of the City of London, I beg most humbly to be allowed to present to Your Majesty a protest against the same, upon the following grounds.
1. That no evidence has been produced against the honour, honesty, or integrity of the Livery Companies; it is true that opinions have been expressed against them, but no facts have been before the Commission which in any way affect their high character, and the estimation in which they have always been deservedly held by the public.
2. Many opinions have been given to the Commission as to the manner in which the funds of the Companies should be used. I think the purposes of this Commission will be answered if their recommendations were presented to the Livery Companies as "suggestions." This would make the Commission far more fruitful than any arbitrary Act, as the Companies have always shown themselves ready to appreciate and to give effect to any practicable suggestions tending to increase their public usefulness, and would leave the management of the properties to those who thoroughly understand it. The appointment of any new body or bodies must result in many blunders, much waste, and much cost.
3. That the suggested interference by Parliament through the House of Lords, or otherwise, in "restraint of alienation" must be unnecessary, as the experience of centuries shows that no Company has ever contemplated or suggested the realisation of its property for the purposes of dividend or division.
4. That the Parliamentary franchise enjoyed by liverymen is held by men, some of humble and some of the highest position, thus forming a constituency as representative as any in the realm. It numbers over 7,000 members, who obtain their privileges irrespective of their political opinions. The abolition of the livery vote would not of necessity disenfranchise the man, as the large majority have votes through other holdings in addition to that given them by their livery, and as no one can enjoy two votes, the one which they may use is decided by the revising barrister. Admission to freedom only does not confer any Parliamentary Franchise.
5. The Common Hall is attended by the most active citizens, who take an interest in municipal affairs, it annually selects two aldermen who are returned to the Court of Aldermen to elect one as Lord Mayor, it also elects the sheriffs and some of the high officers of the Corporation. Common Halls can also be called together to discuss any question of public interest or emergency, and should not be abolished.
6. That interference by Parliament with the private property of the Livery Companies must be an act of oppression and spoliation, although disguised under the terms of "restraint of alienation" or "allocated to the support of objects of acknowledged public utility," and that no new Commission could possibly manage the affairs of the Companies so successfully, usefully, or more honestly than the present members who represent a long line of illustrious ancestors.
7. That no public audit or other outside interference with the private accounts of the property of the Companies is necessary or justifiable, the lands and the properties of the Companies having been acquired either by purchase, the money for this purpose being derived from the accumulations of fees paid by, or fines inflicted upon their members, or by gifts and legacies, also from members of their own body.
8. That the returns made to the Commission show conclusively that the members of the Livery Companies were never exclusively of the trade the name of which was borne by their Company, and that for about 400 years the larger proportion of the members have not pretended to follow the crafts of their Companies, hence any forced devolution of their funds in aid of such trades would be a gross injustice. It cannot be pretended that any Company was established solely to promote the interest of the trade whose name it bears.
9. The Livery Companies are not to be classed with friendly or benevolent societies, with monastic institutions, or with political or other clubs. They are institutions peculiar to themselves, approaching most nearly to the masonic body, being composed always of members of the highest honour. They are and always have been foremost in promoting education, charitable and kindly acts, and other worthy eleemosynary objects. It is only possible to become a member of a Livery Company by patrimony, by apprenticeship, or by redemption (which last means by purchase or gift). Redemption is allowed by vote of the Court only after strict investigation as to the character and position of the applicant. Freemen and liverymen, even if they become members at the age of 21 years, would not be placed upon the Court in some Companies for at least 15 years, and in the majority for a much longer period. They are only admitted on payment of a large fine and after a second investigation as before. The average duration of the life of members in the Court is 12 to 14 years, during which time and for this period of their life only they enjoy the full advantages of the Company. To attain this position and to serve the offices of wardens and master is the ambition of all men connected with any Company, and I unhesitately affirm that the Livery Companies have exercised in the past, and do in the present, a very good and important moral influence not only upon citizens and city life, but upon public life generally.
10. The available annual corporate or non-trust income of the Livery Companies, without taking any allowance in respect of halls and other buildings used by the Company, or the plate, furniture, and other property not producing income, may fairly be estimated at about 510,000l. This sum is to be enjoyed by about 7,000 liverymen and 13,000 freemen, who in time, when qualified, become liverymen, making a total of about 20,000. Their annual expenditure may be estimated as follows:—
11. It cannot be of any real importance whether the Courts of the Livery Companies be composed of 10, 20, 30, or 40 members, when their surroundings and social positions are considered. It must be remembered that every liveryman aspires to attain the Court of his Company, and that to enable a fair proportion of the livery to do this, it is absolutely necessary that the Courts be large in number. It may also be pointed out that each member has paid a sum according to the status of his Company for his seat, and that he does not reach this till he is far advanced in life, that some die before and some soon after their election on the Court before they have received even a return of the fines and fees paid by them to their Company.
12. What is called colourable apprenticeship is no wrong, it being one of the modes of admission, and enables a man of moderate means to obtain for his son a position in the Company, which otherwise he would not have been able to do, and which may be to his advantage in after life. It must be remembered that this has been the custom of centuries.
13. The administrative control of charitable and all trust estates has long since passed away from the Livery Companies, and they are only now administered by them under the order and approval of the Charity Commissioners at cost and trouble to themselves, and undoubted advantage to the trusts.
14. It is true that only 1,500 of the livery out of a total of about 20,000 liverymen and freemen are members of the Courts of the Companies at any one time, but each qualified liveryman and freeman in rotation, if life allowed, would become a member. The whole of the remaining 18,500 members have a vested interest in the properties of the Companies, and enjoy advantages and privileges as such. There is no evidence and not even a suggestion of any contemplated payment of any dividend or any misappropriation or division of the funds, and nothing of the sort could legally take place without the consent of each and every member, be he liveryman or be he freeman.
15. The present administration may be said to be in almost thorough accord with the feelings of every member of the Companies; the only two adverse opinions given before the Commission were contradictory, one being of opinion that his Company did too much, the other that his did too little.
16. It has been stated that the liverymen only pay 1l. a year for their privileges. They do not pay any annual subscription (except quarterage in some Companies, which amounts from a few pence to a few shillings per annum), but each pays down on admission sums varying from 150l. to 200l. in the more important, and from 15l. to 50l. in the lesser Companies, for which he practically receives no return until he is admitted on the Court, when a further sum of from 25l. to 250l., according to the position of the Company, has to be paid. All admissions being very carefully made as stated in paragraph 9 of this protest, it follows that but very few are admitted in any one year, and thus the united payments for admission may only amount on an average to the sum mentioned. I beg to enter a most emphatic protest against the partisan spirit which has prompted the publication of misleading statements.
17. Finally, I respectfully submit to Your Majesty that the Livery Companies are middle-class institutions, and have always been well, honourably, and honestly managed; (against this assertion no evidence has been adduced) and any attempt to destroy them will seriously affect the middle class of the City of London and the Metropolis, and, possibly, hereafter, through them, the whole of this class throughout the realm; it would be one more advance towards centralization, which, if established, will ultimately divide the people of this country into two classes, the highest and the lowest, or aristocracy and serf; a state of affairs which, by preventing union in a common cause, led to the subjection of Poland to Russia. That they pay all rates, taxes, &c. ordinarily paid by landlords and tenants, including income tax on all moneys annually received by them. That the pensions, gratuities, and doles, which are curiously objected to by some parties, as previously stated, save the rates, by keeping the recipients from applying for parochial relief, as by so doing they would forfeit all claim to any gift from their Company. Almost every object brought before the Commission as worthy of being assisted from or through the funds of the Livery Companies, such as education (general and technical), hospitals, public playgrounds, accidents of moment, in short, everything that charity, philosophic, or scientific bodies can suggest, has from time to time been profusely assisted by the Livery Companies. Their income, as stated in paragraph 10 of this protest, may be estimated at 510,000l. per annum, out of which under 35 per cent, is spent on the members, including in this amount 60,000l. for salaries, wages, &c., a position which I humbly venture to think very few bodies of men in similar circumstances could improve, leaving 335,000l., of which 70,000l. is applied towards the improvement of estates in England and Ireland, and in the maintenance of halls, &c., 30,000l. in payment of rates, taxes, &c. the balance being applied in supporting good, useful, and charitable objects. That the agitation against the Livery Companies is but small, and must be so as their work, constitution, and uses must be seen, felt, and known to be appreciated, and this every man in the kingdom can now do upon a reference to their returns. To upset the existing order of things by the appointment of new and most probably more expensive bodies of management, would, independently of the great injustice done to the rights of property, produce, as very many pretended reforms in the past have done, no better, and most likely far worse results. No public bodies of importance (not even those who appeared before the Commission) have advocated or sought for a distribution of the properties of the Companies. They have very naturally expressed a hope that they might, in the event of any distribution, be allowed to share, in order that what they must lose under the altered position of the Livery Companies, might, in some way be made good. The Livery Companies have no money in hand, the whole of their balances being applied, as has been previously shown, to works of acknowledged public utility and goodness. The Charity Commission have in all cases reported most favourably of the Companies, showing that they are most excellent trustees, who spend a much larger amount than they are bound to do on all the charities they administer; and I would also humbly beg to call Your Majesty's gracious attention to the fact that nearly all important civil actions attacking the private properties of the Companies have been decided in their favour. Any interference with the property of the Livery Companies must tend to create mistrust and destroy confidence in all benefit and other societies which tend to inculcate habits of saving and thrift.
18. Lastly, may it please Your Majesty to allow me humbly to call your gracious attention to the protest against the abstraction of the private properties of the Livery Companies which accompanied each return to the Commission.