Memorandum by Mr. Firth

Pages 87-88

City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.

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I have signed the preceding report subject to the following observations:—

With the main scope and proposals of the Report I entirely agree, but I think one or two of the recommendations of the Commission fall somewhat short of the necessities and justice of the case. I agree with the propriety of State intervention and the grounds on which such intervention is justified, as set out on page 42. I agree that the funds of these Companies are rightly available for public purposes. It is admitted that any satisfactory scheme of Municipal Reform must abolish the Municipal franchise of liverymen, and the report recommends the removal of the parliamentary franchise of liverymen. Further, the report conclusively shows that with a very few exceptions the Companies discharge no useful functions in connexion with trade.

I therefore fail to see what useful purpose can be served by the continued preservation of such Companies as are disassociated from trade, and I think that the best course to pursue will be to dissolve them and to vest their property in an Official Trustee unless or until a Representative Municipal Authority be established in London. Until the establishment of such an Authority the property might be managed by a Special Commission, but after the establishment of such Authority it would be transferred to such a body representing all the people of London, and subject always to such uses as Parliament might prescribe.

I think that the Municipality of London is a much more desirable body to settle the re-appropriation of these funds than a Special Commission, which must of necessity have a more restricted knowledge of the requirements and the wishes of the London people. I think that the suggestion as to schemes being framed by the Companies is not a desirable one, inasmuch as there would be no guarantee for the equitable appropriation amongst the "objects of acknowledged public utility" set out in recommendation 5. The funds being admittedly available for all or any of these objects, it seems to me most desirable that they should be appropriated amongst them in such manner as is most satisfactory to the people of London for whom they exist.

Even if the Companies were not formally dissolved, it would be needful to devise some new method of admission. Patrimony and colourable servitude are already condemned, and as for admission by redemption (or purchase) it is, as shown in the accompanying Memorandum, the least defensible of all. There would remain admission by bonâ fide apprenticeship, but this only exists to an extremely limited extent. Moreover, as the new members would be merely Trustees of public funds the pecuniary advantages which now exist in connexion with membership could scarcely be continued. On the whole, therefore, I think that the most logical and practical course is to dissolve such Companies as are disassociated from trade.

In case of such dissolution it would be necessary to deal with the question of Compensation to persons injuriously affected. In this category would be:—

(a.) Paid Officers.—Where such office is a freehold and is abolished, and where no analogous duties in connexion with the property of the Companies is found, they would probably be compensated on the actuarial value of the lives of the holders. Where not a freehold but an annual office, say five years' payment in gross.

(b.) Members of Courts of Assistants.—If the Companies were abolished these would have no compensation if the precedent of the suggestion of the Parochial Charities Commission as to City Parish Trustees were followed. They would then cease to manage the property, and fees given on the basis of such management for attendance at Court, &c., could scarcely form a proper basis of compensation. As to compensation for loss of dinners, if this were entertained as an equitable right, then the present value per head might be calculated and paid to them yearly during life or the actuarial value paid in gross. A tontine system would be indefensible.

(c.) Liverymen.—The only compensation payable to Liverymen would be in respect of Livery dinners. These could be compensated in the same way if this were considered a proper subject for compensation.

(d.) Freemen and Pensioners, &c.—Pensions now paid to these might continue during life, or be compounded for on fair terms.

As to the Irish Estates.—I think some recommendation should be made as to these. The costs of management of these estates is extravagantly high. They were bought with money levied by the Lord Mayor on the Companies of London, in reality a municipal tax. I think that they should be disposed of upon equitable terms, and to the tenants, if possible, and the money made available for the new Municipality of London, subject to any equitable claims on the part of the districts.