HC Deb 02 April 1830 vol 23 cc1209-14
Mr. Hobhouse

said, that in consequence of what had passed in the House on the previous evening, a meeting of the Parishioners had been held this morning, and a Petition against the Saint Giles's and Saint George's Vestry Bill was immediately agreed to. It was signed by upwards of one thousand inhabitants, with their names and addresses, so as to bear the closest scrutiny. The Petition entreated the House, that if they persisted in disfranchising 1,856 of the inhabitants, they would, at least, not allow a gradation of voting, the consequence of which would be—giving to 400 of the higher ratepayers the same powers as those possessed by 1,600 of the lower rate-payers. The petitioners also stated, that if Parliament would consent to lower the rate one-half, so as to give a vote to those who were rated at 15l. a year, though they would be more willing (though they should still think the principle of the Bill incorrect) to acquiesce in the decision of Parliament, and to entertain the hope that the measure, as it would then stand, would give comparative satisfaction to their fellow-parishioners. He also begged to observe, that at a late hour last night, or rather at half-past two in the morning, he brought up the Report of the Committee on the General Select Vestry System; and in that Report it was agreed that the elective principle ought to be acted upon in any bill that was recommended to the notice of Parliament—of course with certain modifications. He therefore thought that it would be due to those petitioners, either to wait for a general measure, or else to grant one or other of their prayers. In addition to this Petition, he had another signed by an individual, (Mr. Wakley) who, as he was Churchwarden, added to the prayer of his fellow-parishioners one against that provision of the Bill by which the inhabitants were deprived of choosing their own Churchwardens—a privilege which they had hitherto enjoyed from time immemorial. He had likewise been informed, that the statement made by the hon. Member for London (Mr. Ward), on the previous evening, was incorrect, when he asserted that many of the parishioners had relaxed in their opposition to the Bill. The fact was, that but four or five expressed more than a very qualified assent to the provisions of the present measure.

Mr. Ward

observed, that his only wish was the restoration of the harmony and good feeling of the parish. When he had stated that nine of the parishioners had relaxed in their opposition, he had founded what he said on what he had observed in the Committee up stairs; and he certainly had, on the occasion to which he alluded, understood that several gentlemen, when the rate entitling parishioners to a right of vote was reduced to 30/. had withdrawn that opposition which they had formerly entertained towards the measure.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

had kept himself free from all parties in this question, though he lived in the parish, in order that he might be able, in the House and in the Committee, to give an unbiassed vote. His feeling, however, was, that these parishioners had a right to what they asked; because he should ever contend, that every man had a right to vote what should be done with his own money. This was the very spirit of the Constitution, and they were bound to support it as long as they pretended to care for freedom or justice. It had been said that, as the trustees or responsible managers of those rates were highly respectable, and oftentimes noble persons, there need be no fear of abuse in the application of those rates. To this he should say in reply, so much the worse; for he found that those highly respectable, as in the instance of the late Joint Stock Companies, were only used as a shield to protect the less respectable and loss principled. He considered the clause, allowing no person to have a vote who was rated lower than 30l., most invidious and unjust, and he should oppose the Bill at every stage.

The Petitions were read; they prayed that they might be heard against the Bill, by themselves, their counsel, and agents.—Ordered to lie on the Table.

Lord John Russell

moved the third reading of the Bill.

Mr. Hume

would at that eleventh hour endeavour to have a Bill, so objectionable in its nature, if not re-committed, rejected by the House. The Petition which had been the result of the meeting held that morning, and which had been signed, as his hon. friend had stated, by upwards of 1,000 respectable bonâ fide inhabitant householders, in itself should induce the House to pause ere it gave its assent to a measure by which 1,850' rate payers, out of a total of 4,819, would be deprived of their constitutional right. All that the petitioners prayed for was, the recognition of the principle established by Mr. Sturges Bourne's Act. By that Act, every person rated under 50l. and who had paid the last assessment, was entitled to one vote in parish affairs, the number of votes rising gradually in favour of those who were rated above 50l. till they reached five or six. But the object of the present Bill was to deprive the parishioners of that right. He trusted, however, that the House would be of opinion, when it was informed that the poor-rates of these united parishes amounted to 40,000l. a-year, that men rated at 20l. a-year had as good a right to be able to look after their interests as those who were rated at 400l.; for it was of great importance that those who were only a little above coming upon the poor-rates themselves should have a right of control on the subject. For himself, he should not have believed it possible that the noble Lord, who had always so strenuously advocated the cause of reform, would have agreed to such propositions as those advocated by the Bill which he had introduced. It was true that the noble Lord's family had a great stake in the parish, but he thought that that was no argument on which to ground such a measure. He, however, trusted that the noble Lord would consent to fix the rate at 15l. or 20l., as even such a concession as that would afford considerable satisfaction to the parish. At all events, in order that there might be time for re-considering the question, he should move the re-commitment of the Bill.

The Speaker

said, that course could not now be adopted. There were three modes of proceeding open to the House. Either the third reading might be negatived; or the third reading might be postponed to that day six months; or an Amendment of any clauses might be proposed, but that must be after the Bill had been read a third time.

Mr. Hume, with a view of giving the parties concerned in the Bill time to come to an agreement, moved as an Amendment, that the third reading be postponed to the 27th of April.

Lord J. Russell

observed, that his only reason for having anything to do with this Bill was in the hopes of restoring the peace and quiet of the parish That was the only interest either he or his family could have in the matter. In the commencement he had been anxious to have nothing at all to do with the Bill; but it was stated to him that his undertaking it would open the chance of a reconciliation between the parties, and he therefore thought that it would have been wrong in him to refuse. He had, therefore, undertaken it; but on this understanding, that he would not be bound by the principles of the Bill. AH the differences between the parties were settled before the Bill came under the consideration of the committee, and those three points were laid before the committee for their decision. He himself abstained from giving any opinion on the subject, and only laid the facts before them. The committee decided in favour of the principle as it stood in the Bill, and against that contained in Mr. Sturges Bourne's Act. That that so happened was the fault of those hon. Gentlemen who did not attend in the committee, and now came down to the House to complain of the step that had been taken. By the decision of that committee (all the petitions having been investigated by it) he felt bound, though, perhaps, it was not exactly what he himself should have approved. At the same time he thought that it was generally calculated to produce the good government of the parish, and final harmony and satisfaction between all parties. On these grounds he should persist in moving the third reading of the Bill; at the same time leaving it to the House to do exactly as they pleased with it.

Sir F. Burdett

thought it was desirable that the House should assent to the Amendment of his hon. friend, and give all the parties an opportunity of coming to an understanding with each other. He disapproved of the Bill, and thought it would have been better to abide by the principles of Mr. Sturges Bourne's Act.

Sir Thomas Fremantle

opposed any further delay. Sufficient concessions had already been made in the committee, and further delay would only increase the disagreement of the parties. There was no chance of their agreeing together, and therefore he hoped the House would at once decide the question. The Bill as it then stood was a very fair measure.

Mr. Baring

declared that it was his intention to vote for the postponement. It was very desirable that some uniformity should be introduced into the proceedings of that House in relation to the parishes of London. Last year they had passed a bill for St. Paul's, Covent-garden, with one qualification, and now they were going to pass one for St. Giles's with another qualification. The House was bound to look that its enactments conformed to each other, and he should vote for delay, with a view to making this. Bill like other bills.

Colonel Davies

remarked, that in St. Paul's, Covent-garden, already one principle prevailed; in St. Andrew's, Holbom, another; and in St. Anne's a third; so that it was impossible for the House to introduce a uniformity of enactment into the several parishes; if any hon. Member would move to substitute 20l. for 30l. as the qualification, he should have his support.

Mr. Byng

hoped the Bill would be postponed till after the Easter holidays. The concession spoken of by the hon. Baronet opposite was only on one point. There were four points in dispute, and one only had been conceded to those who opposed the Bill; and that was the least important, viz.—that the election of the vestry should be annual, instead of biennial. If the Bill were not postponed till after the Easter holidays, he should feel it to be his duty to vote against the Bill altogether.

Lord Nugent

supported the Amendment.

Mr. Tennyson

said, he did not know what was meant by concession; but the Bill, as it then stood, contained one of the most monstrous propositions he ever remembered. Almost 2,000 persons were disfranchised by it, and 400 individuals were to have as many votes as 3,000. He hoped the Bill would be postponed.

Mr. Bramston

denied, as it was only a question of degree, that the principle of disfranchisement was at issue; at the same time, as he wished to see the House unanimous, and all parties satisfied, he should like to see 20l. substituted for 30l.

The House now grew impatient, and called loudly for the Question. The gallery was accordingly cleared, and on the division the numbers were—For the Amendment 36; Against it 70; Majority 34.

Mr. Hume

next proposed, as an Amendment, that every person rated at the sum of 25l. should be entitled to a vote, precisely in the same manner as in the parishes of Marylebone and St. Paul's, Covent-garden.

The Speaker

stated, that from the manner in which the Amendment was worded, the effect would be, that no person could possess more than one vote.

Lord John Russel

said, that the friends of the Bill had reduced the qualification for a vote from 30l. to 25l., on the understanding, as they thought, that the Bill would not then be opposed in the other parts; and as the hon. Member pressed this Amendment, he must vote against it.

Mr. Hume

declared he had not heard of any such agreement as that alluded to by the noble Lord.

The House divided on the Amendment—Against it 48; For it 26; Majority 22.—The House also divided on another Amendment, the object of which was to limit the number of votes possessed by any individual to three, which was lost by the same majority.

Bill read a third time and passed.