HC Deb 12 June 1839 vol 48 cc153-7

On the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Rating of Tenements Bill,

Mr. J. Jervis

stated, that his objections, and those of his constituents, to the present measure were so strong, that he felt hound to move, as an amendment, that the bill be committed that day six months. The main principle of the bill was, not that the rates of all houses were to be paid by the landlords—not that any general laws should be applied to that species of property—but that the law be directed against one class of persons occupying houses under the value of nine pounds per annum; and that the rates in those cases should be paid by the landlords, in three classes. First, when the rent was paid from year to year; second, where there was a less interest than one year; and, thirdly, where there was a greater interest than one year. It was further provided, that where the tenement was unoccupied for any period less than three months, the landlord was liable for the rates during the period the house remained unoccupied. Now, that principle conflicted with many of the rights and franchises conferred by the Reform and Municipal Bills. By way, however, of giving its due preponderance to property, that most objectionable and obnoxious principle of plurality of voting was conferred. The provisions were extremely hard upon the holders and owners of such property. It should, he thought, be the policy of the country to encourage a spirit of independence among the labouring classes, but the present measure would have a directly contrary tendency. Had they known they would have been liable to pay those rates, they would not have invested money on such uncertain security. This Act, too, would have a retrospective operation, and consequently compensation to these persons would become necessary, which this bill offered them by authorising a reduction in their rates of fifty per cent. This would not satisfy persons thus situated, and besides was an injustice to the other rate-payers, and moreover offered no compensation to the occupiers, who would be equally aggrieved. This bill would have the effect of huddling together various families in one house, and deprive the labourer of that boast that every Englishman's house was his castle. There were many labourers who could not afford to pay 9l. a-year rent, and who, being excused from the rates, thus received relief without degradation; but now, the landlords would charge the rates in the rent, and more than the rates, to secure themselves against the uncertainty. No men of liberal principles could support a measure which went to disfranchise occupiers and to give to landlords the right of voting in place of the occupiers. It was attempted to obviate this by giving persons the power to demand being rated; but he thought it the duty of the House to compel every one having a right to the franchise to exercise that right, and not to leave it as a matter of volition, whether it should be exercised or not. These objections he considered to be conclusive against the bill. It had been said, that no place could come under the operation of this bill, unless two-thirds of the ratepayers consented. That might be a partial protection to some extent; but that seemed to him to make the measure more objectionable. Upon these grounds, he would move, that the bill should be taken into consideration that day six months.

Mr. Gordon

said, that the course adopted by the learned Member for Chester, and others in this Parliament, convinced him that all attempts to conciliate your friends was a most fruitless thing. An hon. Friend behind him had said, he did not care for Parliament, and that Mr. Scrope's Act should never come into operation in Merthyr Tidvil. Under the present system, if a man had five acres of land, and covered it with small cottages, he paid no poor-rates; but if he built only a barn on the land, and employed the land for the purposes of agriculture, he had to pay the poor-rate. This, he conceived, to be most unjust; and the present bill would go far to remedy this evil. But his hon. Friend, the Member for Chester, had endeavoured to excite the feelings of the House by saying, that this bill would operate harshly on the poor. He begged to say, that the bill was in favour of the poor; and it was on that ground that he supported it. He hoped the House would allow the bill to go into Committee.

Mr. G. Palmer

said, that three years ago cottages were of a very different description from what they were at present. Now they had up-stairs rooms, to which the health of poor people was mainly to be attributed. It was well known, that many of them paid no rent at all to their landlords, whose only chance of getting rid of such tenants was to allow them to go out at the end of the year without paying anything. If the landlords were compelled to pay the rates, cottage property would soon be destroyed altogether, and the poor would be the greatest sufferers.

Mr. Williams

was not surprised, that the hon. Member for Windsor had failed in his attempt at conciliation when the principle of the bill was so wholly objectionable It would affect materially the municipal franchise, for in corporate towns a large number of voters were rated to the poor under 9l., and the present bill would disfranchise them to a considerable extent. In the cottage there was generally seen cleanliness, comfort, and health, while in large houses, which were divided into a number of dwellings, there was generally seen the reverse, and if that bill passed, it would decidedly prevent persons from investing their money in a mode so desirable as cottage property. The plurality of voting was also a highly objectionable feature in the measure; and on these grounds he should support the amendment of the hon. Member for Chester.

Lord Sandon

felt himself, although reluctantly, obliged to oppose the Bill. It would seriously affect the constituency of large towns, and tend to prevent the building of cottages. The comforts of the poor would be greatly diminished, if such a measure were to come into operation; they would be crowded into small and ill-built dwellings; and, in such a case, it would be impossible for them to give that attention to cleanliness which was necessary to insure their health and comfort. He should, therefore, vote against the bill.

Mr. M. Phillips

supported the bill, but he begged to assure the House, that he did so from no feeling of private interest. When thousands of pounds were yearly laid out on the building of cottages, from which large profits were derived, he could not help thinking, that such property ought to be made to contribute to the poor-rates. The principle of the bill seemed to him to be fair and just; and, although he did not approve of some of its details, yet upon the whole it came so near to his views, that he should give the measure his most cordial support.

Mr. Pryme

would oppose the bill, because it went to impose a house-tax on the poorer classes of the people.

Mr. Briscoe

said, the present law was remarkable for its severity. Under the Poor-law Amendment Act, the rate was not remitted, as heretofore, by consent of the Overseers before the Magistrates in Petty Session, but it was necessary to have the consent of the Board of Guardians, as well as of the Magistrates, before those who were unable to pay poor-rates could be relieved. He felt it necessary to urge the House to take this question into serious consideration, because it was not one which affected the owners of cottages only, but the welfare of millions of the poorer classes of the community. The House was little aware of the wide-spreading dissatisfaction of the working classes, at the present time, at the working of Mr. Scrope's act. In a parish in which he had property, there had been an increase, under that act, of from 427 to 1,018 ratepayers, while rateable property had increased in the same ratio, the augmentation in the amount of rates being from 16,000l. to a sum exceeding 20,000l. Consequently, a very large number of day labourers, who earned not more than 10s. or 12s. per week, were called upon to pay poor-rates, they not having been rated before. A collector of poor-rates, in speaking of these poor people, had said to him, "If you had witnessed the distresses of the poorer classes which I have seen, your heart would bleed; I am often compelled to come out of their cottages, by the spectacles of misery I find there." There was, in fact, the greatest difficulty experienced in collecting the poor-rates. A most respectable clergyman of the Church of England told him, a short time ago, that the sacrament money which he gave to a poor widow, being only 2s., was immediately paid to save her little goods from being taken away by the collector of the poor-rate. He was quite at a loss to understand how this bill would prevent the building of such cottages as were suitable to poor men, or how it would injure the pro- perty; because the tenement which was Free of this charge to the occupier, must, of course, be more desirable to him, and therefore would be more valuable to the owner.

Mr. Slaney

thought, that as this bill had been repeatedly under the consideration of committees, and great pains had been taken to prepare it, it would be but fair to the promoters of the measure, that it should now be suffered to go into Committee. Would the House throw out the bill without affording an opportunity of showing what improvements had been made in it? By Mr. Scrope's act, all property was assessed to the poor-rate; and no person could be excused, except on the ground that he bad been a recipient of relief out of the rate. Therefore, the rate was to be gathered from all persons not so excused— a regulation which necessarily included an immense number of poor persons, who, though not actually receiving or asking parochial relief, were totally unable, out of their small incomes, to pay poor-rates. Every possible means were resorted to, in order to exact the rate from them; they were summoned over and over again, and very frequently their little household furniture, comprising only bare necessaries, were sold, under distress, for them. He believed this bill would have the effect of bringing back a considerable portion of property that ought to be rated, while it would relieve many poor persons, and prevent them from becoming burdensome to their parishes. He thought the excitement and dissatisfaction existing among the lower classses, in relation to this subject, were a strong reason why the House ought to suffer this bill to pass, or, at least, to go into Committee, that it might be made an efficient and beneficial law.

Mr. Scrope

said, that all that this act provided was, that if tenements were rated, they should be rated at their full value. It did not compel property to be charged which had not been previously rated. He thought this bill would have the effect of preventing a better class of dwellings being built for the occupation of the labouring classes, and that it would be injurious, in other respects, to the poor man; and, therefore, he should strenuously oppose it.

The House divided.

Ayes 70; Noes 94; Majority 24.

List of the AYES.
Alsager, Captain Archbold, R.
Baines, E. Miles, W.
Barneby, J. Packe, C. W.
Barron, H. W. Philips, M.
Bethell, R. Plumptre, J. P.
Bramston, T. W. Rice, E. R.
Brodie, W. B. Rice, right hon. T. S.
Brotherton, J. Rundle, J.
Buck, L. W. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Burroughes, H. N. Russell, Lord J.
Busfield, W. Rutherfurd, rt. hon. A.
Chute, W. L. W. Sanford, E. A.
Clive, hon. E. H. Slaney, R. A.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Smith, R. V.
Darby, G. Somerset, Lord G.
Egerton, W. T. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Farnham, E. B. Stanley, E. J.
Fleming, J. Stanley, W. O.
Fremantle, Sir T. Stuart, Lord J.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Stock, Dr.
Hayter, W. G. Styles, Sir C.
Heathcote, Sir W. Sugden, rt. hon. Sir E.
Henniker, Lord Thompson, Alderman
Herbert, hon. S. Townley, R. G.
Hobhouse, T. B. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hodges, T. L. Verney, Sir H.
Hope, hon. C. Waddington, H. S.
Hope, G. W. White, A.
Howick, Viscount Williams, W.
Ingham, R. Wodehouse, E.
Jermyn, Earl Wood, C.
Knatchbull, Sir E. Worsley, Lord
Lascelles, hon. W. S. Wrightson, W. B.
Lynch, A. H.
Mackinnon, W. A. TELLERS.
Manners, Lord C. S. Gordon, R.
Maunsell, T. P. Briscoe, J, I.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, Major Grimsditch, T.
Ainsworth, P. Guest, Sir J.
Attwood, T. Hastie, A.
Bailey, J. Hawes, B.
Barnard, E. G. Heathcoat, J.
Barrington, Viscount Hector, C. J.
Bell, M. Hinde, J. H.
Bewes, T. Hodgson, R.
Blackett, C. Hope, H. T.
Bowes, J. Howard, P. H.
Buller, C. Hughes, W. B.
Burrell, Sir C. Hutt, W.
Cayley, E. S. Hutton, R.
Christopher, R. A. Langdale, hon. C.
Collier, J. Leader, J. T.
Collins, W. Lincoln, Earl of
Douglas, Sir C. E. Litton, E.
Duffield, T. Lowther, hon. Colonel
Duke, Sir J. Lowther, J. H.
Duncombe, T. Lygon, hon. General
Dundas, C. W. D. Mackenzie, T.
Egerton, Sir P. Macleod, R.
Ellice, E. Marsland, H.
Ewart, W. Martin, J.
Fazakerley, J. N. Molesworth, Sir W.
Fielden, J. Moreton, hon. A. H.
Finch, F. Muskett, G. A.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Norreys, Lord
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Pakington, J. S.
Palmer, C. F. Stewart, J.
Palmer, R. Strickland, Sir G.
Palmer, G. Strutt, E.
Parker, R. T. Talfourd, Sergeant
Patten, J. W. Thornely, T.
Pattison, J. Turner, W.
Pechell, Captain Vigors, N. A.
Richards, R. Villiers, hon. C. P.
Roche, W. Wakley, T.
Roche, Sir D. Walker, R.
Salwey, Colonel Ward, H. G.
Sandon, Viscount Williams, W.
Scarlett, hon. J. Y. Wilmot, Sir J. E.
Scholefield, J. Winnington, T. E.
Scrope, G. P. Winnington, H. J.
Seale, Sir J. H. Wood, Colonel, T.
Sheppard, T.
Smith, A. TELLERS.
Stanley, Lord Jervis, J.
Stansfield, W. R. C. Pryme, G.
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