HC Deb 03 April 1860 vol 157 cc1793-805

said, he had no intention of dividing the House upon the Motion of the noble Lord, but he wish- ed to ask the President of the Poor Law Board in what manner the number of houses at various amounts of "gross estimated rental" in the cities and boroughs of England as given in the Return upon the Table of the House were ascertained, and he begged to introduce the question with a few words explaining his reasons for asking it. He thought it was desirable before they broke up for the Easter holidays to know how far the Government Returns were really reliable as an indication of the number of voters which would be added to the cities and boroughs of England under the new Reform Bill. When he addressed the House on the second reading of the Bill, he stated his opinion that these Returns were not only delusive, but that they had actually deluded every Member who had addressed the House, including the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs himself, and he also stated the grounds of that belief. No doubt the noble Lord intended that the figures shown on the statistical Returns should be a bonâ fide indication of the number of voters who would be added to the constituency under the new measure; but he believed that the mode of proceeding was this—not that the number of tenements in each city or borough which were actually rented at the amount stated was shown, but that the Return was founded upon a statement of the number of houses in different places which had been estimated by local valuers at different amounts for the purpose of rating. The difference was very material, because it was notorious that the rateable value was always put at a much lower figure than the actual rent of the premises. He thought it most desirable that they should have this point cleared up. He was followed in debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who said that he believed that he (Sir John Pakington) was mistaken, and gave as his reason that although the Returns showed the numbers of freemen in each place, they did not show the scot-and-lot voters. In support of his opinion he (Sir John Pakington) had named the towns of Pomfret and Newark, for this reason, that they showed more strongly than almost any other the great anomaly, that the number of £10 voters on the Register were actually more numerous than the £10 houses returned. At first he did not understand that anomaly, but he believed that the explanation was that which had been given, that they did not repre sent the actual letting value but the rating value. The right hon. Gentleman had told him that the explanation was to be found in the admission of the scot-and-lot voters; and as in those two towns there were a number of scot-and-lot voters, he was not prepared to dispute that he had good reasons for making that statement. He knew nothing about those two places, but he thought it was a great pity that the Returns professing to give information, and which were supposed to be correct, should show the freemen and not the scot-and-lot voters. The right hon. Gentleman was probably not aware of the fact that there were no less than forty-four boroughs in those Returns which all presented the same anomaly—namely, that the numbers of £10 registered voters was greater than the number of £10 houses in the borough. There were no scot-and-lot voters in the borough of Droitwich, which he had the honour of representing; and yet hon. Gentlemen would find that the number of £10 registered voters at Droitwich was 392, while the number of £10 houses was only 327. It was therefore but reasonable to entertain alarm on account of the large number of voters of one class which could be added to the register beyond those shown by the Returns; because his observation did not apply to the forty-four boroughs only, but to every place in the list—because no doubt everywhere, in a varying ratio, the custom had been to estimate property for rating purposes at a lower amount than the actual rental. He believed also that in cases in which an owner compounded for the rates of a number of houses, small tenements, the person so compounding was entered as a unit instead of the number of houses for which he was rated being entered. He wished to know whether this was so, because that would make a still greater addition to the estimated number of voters.


said, he believed he was in a position to allay the alarm of the right hon. Baronet, and to assure him that the Returns were not incorrect in the points to which he had referred. He believed they were the most complete and accurate Returns which had ever been presented to the House upon a similar subject. So far as he understood the observations of the right hon. Baronet, they had reference to two grounds of error. One he inferred from discrepancies in the electoral lists with reference to £10 householders, and the other from an assumption that the property had been taken as the means of ascertaining the number of persons to be entitled to vote. It was very likely to be the case, as the right hon. Baronet had observed, that in a great number of boroughs there was a larger number of persons on the electoral list than there were £10 occupiers. It depended upon the revision of the electoral list in what state the list was left in the possession of the overseer, and that state would determine the return he made. There were many places in which, owing to there having been no contested election, the register had not been properly revized for many years, and therefore there would remain upon it the names of persons who were dead or disqualified, or who had ceased to live within the borough. The Return which was called for, and usually presented, was a £10 occupation, a £10 tenement return; but many persons got upon the list whose qualifications were made up partly of land and partly of houses, and who, therefore, would not appear in the £10 occupation list; and there would be in addition in some places the scot-and-lot voters. That would account in a great measure for the discrepancies. The right hon. Baronet supposed that the Returns to which he referred merely represented the property, and therefore gave no idea of the persons who would be entitled to vote. That, however, was foreseen when the Returns were ordered; and therefore a special circular was sent to the clerk of every union to institute the most careful inquiries in all cities and boroughs within his union as to the persons who would be entitled to vote under the particular qualification referred to; and the Returns had been made on that principle. The right hon. Baronet was aware that under the Reform Act the overseer was the person who was directed to make out the electors' list. He made out that list from a column in his book entitled "Gross estimated rental." The overseer was directed under the Act of Parliament as to the form in which to make his entries. He had two columns "Gross estimated rental," and "Rateable value," and he made out his list from the former. The Returns, therefore, were made from the very lists which were now submitted to the Revising Barristers, and upon which the present House of Commons was returned; and they were drawn up also, as he had stated, with special reference to the persons who would be entitled to vote. With respect to the Compounding Act, the right hon. Baronet seemed to be under the impression that where a landlord compounded for several places they were all entered as a unit, and the occupiers of those houses were not put down as entitled to vote. There certainly had been considerable difficulty in obtaining the Returns of all the occupiers of houses, because in some cases only the name of the owner who had compounded appeared in the rate-book; but great pains were taken in those Returns to procure the names of all occupiers; and he believed that when the House resumed the consideration of the Reform Bill there would not be any fact, required to give information on the subject, of which they would not be in possession.


said, he had not got a distinct answer to his question, which was—What the figures in the various columns of the Returns really represented? Did they represent the number of tenements actually let at a certain rate in those places, or did they represent the number of tenements which appeared upon the rate-books as estimated for the purpose of rating?


That is precisely how I understood the question, and I have answered it. I stated that the Returns represent the persons, and not only the property which is available to the charge for rates. Care was taken that they should not merely represent the property which is entered on the overseer's book, but also the persons who would be entitled to vote having the property.


did not think there would be the least blame due to the Government if it should turn out that the Returns were fallacious, because the difficulty of obtaining correct returns must be known. But at the same time the House ought to know to some extent the increase of voters which would be added by the Reform Bill. When the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) stated that the Bill would not add more than 210,000 new electors to the existing constituencies, he (Mr. James) believed him to be in error by at least 200,000 or 250,000. Every effort was used, no doubt, to get the actual occupiers; but the great difficulty arose from the owners compounding and being rated instead of the occupiers, who, consequently, were not included in the Returns. A foot-note to the Return itself stated that in Norwich alone there were 12,162 tenements rated to the owners instead of the occupiers, which were not included in the Return, as the rate-hook did not afford the means of dis- tributing them under the several heads of Returns. In the metropolitan borough which he represented, the return showed that somewhere about 500 would be added, but he believed the addition would be from 5,000 to 6,000 persons, none of whose names appeared on the rate-books. In Finsbury, the returns of the parishes of Islington and St. Luke's, which formed part of that borough, did not contain the numbers of persons occupying tenements rated to the owners instead of the occupiers; but he was told that there they would have between 8,000 and 10,000 occupiers entitled to the £6 franchise. A landlord might have a whole street of houses, each sub-divided into two or three lettings. If the landlord did not himself live in it, there might be four or five voters in each house. It had been decided that it was immaterial what amount of rate the tenant paid—that if he paid but 2s., and that was all the rate as assessed upon his tenement, he paid all the rate assessible, and therefore was entitled to the franchise. He was convinced that when the Returns were narrowly examined, it would be found that a £6 franchise would extend the right of voting to between 200,000 and 300,000 persons in addition to the number stated by the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs.


said, that the future occasion referred to would be the proper time to examine the validity of the proofs which the hon. and learned Gentleman had brought forward, and to state the reasons for the conclusions at which the Government had arrived. At present he would only say that he believed the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement was very much exaggerated. It proceeded on the assumption that every man who was included in a composition would be entitled to vote under the Reform Bill. But that measure would enfranchise only those tenants who occupied houses of a certain value, and who should not only become liable to the payment of rates but should actually tender the payment of them. As to the observations of the right hon. Member for Droitwich, the Return itself called attention to the facts referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, and showed that the point to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred had not been overlooked by his noble Friend. There was another Return to which he would call the right hon. Gentleman's notice, presented on the 5th March, of the number of registered electors on the register in each county and borough in England and Wales for the year 1860, in proportion to the population, showing the number of scot-and-lot voters, and according to that Return it appeared that in about fifty boroughs there were scot-and-lot voters, the number being in some very few, but in many very large, and he was inclined to think that in most of the forty-four boroughs to which he alluded the number of scot-and-lot voters was large enough to account for the apparent anomaly to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred.


said, it was impossible to overrate the importance of this matter, and he did not think that any satisfactory information had been given to the House by the Government. He had submitted the Return on the table to a good authority, who stated that the Returns showed that the numbers rated between £10 and £6 were much less than the numbers whose estimated rental was between £10 and £6; but as the franchise was to be fixed on a £6 rental, the Return stopped short at a point where it was most desirable it should be continued; and the question was raised whether the £6 rental franchise would not give the right of voting to a large number who were not rated at £6, and perhaps not at £5; so that it would be desirable to know how many were rated between £4 and £6, and how many who inhabited tenements of £6 rental were entitled to vote under the new Reform Bill. As far as he was able to understand the Returns presented to the House, he believed that the noble Lord the Member for London was wrong in his calculation about 100 per cent. It was indispensable that the House, before coming to a decision on the Reform Bill, should have in its possession reliable Returns, so that the House might know what it was doing, and not legislate in the dark.


said, that it was perfectly certain, from the extract which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bentinck) had read, that his correspondent either did not understand the subject of rating, or had not carefully examined this Return, inasmuch as his criticism was wholly inapplicable to it. The Government did not desire to take credit for doing that which was their manifest duty; but he wished the House to observe that the Return which was now on the table was the first attempt which had ever been made to lay before the House a complete statistical account of the basis upon which it was proposed to found the new extension of the franchise. The Return had been prepared with the greatest care and he hoped the House would understand that the efforts made by the Government to obtain accurate information were honest and sincere. The House would certainly not believe that they had any sinister object in seeking for this information. The Return which had been laid upon the table, unquestionably, as he believed, exhibited an accurate abstract of the poor-rate books in the different towns to which it related, and that was all which in the nature of things could be obtained. He wished the House clearly to understand what was the nature of that information— because it was certainly not understood by the correspondent of the hon. Gentleman. According to the existing law the ratebooks contained two columns, and one was the gross estimated rental. That column showed, or ought to show, the rent really paid by the tenant. ["No, no!"] That was the supposition, and his belief was that in the great majority of instances it did fairly exhibit the real rental. Perhaps the right hon. Baronet had confounded two different things. In the first branch of this Return would be found abstracts of that column of the rate-book. The second column of the rate-book contained the rateable value— the amount upon which the rate was actually assessed. That column, in the first place, was liable to certain legal deductions; it was considerably reduced from the gross estimated rental, and sometimes it was further reduced by improper deductions made by the overseers. Therefore, he quite admitted that the rateable value did not exhibit the rental; but what he said was that the first column of the rate-book in the great majority of cases did accurately represent the gross rental. The second branch of this Return showed the rateable value. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bentinck) said that this Return did not go low enough, and that they did not know the total number of persons whose rental was £6, because, he said, the rateable value was lower than the rental. Undoubtedly, the rateable value was lower than the rent; but the rateable value here was given distinct from the gross estimate of rental, and it was only by comparing the two, that Gentlemen could see the difference between the number of persons at the rateable value of £6 and the number of persons at the gross estimated rental of £6. He could not but think it would turn out upon investigation that the figures contained in this Return for the gross estimated rental of £6 —with the exception, no doubt, of tenants compounding for their rents—would accurately represent the total number of occupiers at that amount, subject, of course, to the further reduction which would have to be made for various causes connected with the occupation. He thought it would be found that the column, £6 rental, in those cases in which there was no composition for small tenements, accurately represented the maximum number of persons enfranchised under the new Bill. With regard to those cases adverted to by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington), in which he said the number on the register was greater than the number of £10 householders exhibited on the Return, he would find that explained, in the great majority of instances, by the addition of scot-and-lot voters. If the scot-and-lot voters were deducted the discrepancy would disappear. The excess in other cases might be owing to the causes which bad been already suggested.


stated that in the borough which returned him to Parliament the increase of the constituency, as calculated in the Return before the House, would be 50 per cent; but the result of careful local inquiry showed that the increase would be from 90 to 100 per cent upon the existing constituency.


thought it quite evident that the Returns were made on a principle, calculated to be very fallacious. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone stated that after careful examination the proposed Bill would add 450,000 electors, instead of 220,000 to the borough constituencies; his right hon Friend, (Sir J. Pakington) had received letters from various boroughs informing him that the number of electors under the Bill would be much larger than that stated in the Return; and the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) had declared that, instead of 50 per cent, the number of electors in his borough would be increased from 90 to 100 per cent. When by the side of these statements it was remembered that the Foreign Secretary had made a strong impression on the House by affirming that his Bill would only add 220,000 to the borough constituencies, he asked whether the point now under discussion did not raise considerations of the highest possible importance in connection with the subject of Reform. Could any hon. Gentleman say that under such circumstances they could take such a step as that of reducing the county franchise from £20 to £10, and that of boroughs from £50 to £6 without apprehension? The Government were making an experiment upon the constitution of the country which, as men of all parties acknowledged, was fraught with the greatest peril. ["No!"] The hon. Member for Birmingham, and those who agreed with him, might think that there was no danger in intrusting the representation to mere numbers, without regard to education or property; but it was impossible to go into society or to converse with hon. Members generally without finding a widespread apprehension of the consequences which would follow from the admission of such a horde of voters. If, then, there was danger in giving the franchise to 220,000 additional voters, what was the peril when they found that the total number enfranchised in boroughs would be nearer 500,000? The Government had, no doubt, acted with fairness in making these Returns, but the fact that it was the first attempt to obtain accurate information on the subject afforded conclusive evidence that the Returns could not be depended upon. He hoped the House would not be induced to take this leap in the dark on a subject in comparison with which all others that could come before them sank into insignificance.


thought that much of the difference of opinion which had been expressed arose from confusing two things which were really quite distinct. One question was as to the number of persons in the towns of England who occupied houses of £6 value. Now, in point of fact, every working man in the least degree skilled in his calling paid a rent of 2s. 6d. a week, or over £6 a year. Theoretically, therefore, all these persons would be entitled to vote, but in point of fact, none of them would. Take the Tower Hamlets as an example. In that borough there were 84,000 houses, and theoretically there were now 60,000 persons entitled to vote, but in reality under 30,000 were on the register. This was owing to the difficulties which the Bill of 1832 threw in the way of a vote, and which the present measure perpetuated; the result being that while, if you adopted the theoretical view of the case, you would find 500,000 or 600,000 persons entitled to vote in boroughs, practically that number was restricted to one-fifth or one-sixth. Under the existing law no man who lived in a compounded house could get a vote unless his landlord chose; and altogether a very large number of persons were and would be unable to get the votes nominally conceded to them by the Act of 1832 and the present measure. It was a mere matter of speculation how many persons, more or less, would be entitled to vote under the present Bill.


believed, from inquiries he had instituted, that the Returns in question had been prepared with greater care, and were distinguished by greater accuracy, than any before made on this question; but they could only be Returns of the first column of the ratebook, which in different parishes necessarily varied much, according to the construction of the person who levied the rate. There was no doubt a discrepancy in some of the Returns, but that arose in a great measure from persons who occupied houses also occupying land. In some of the smaller boroughs the difference was striking. Thus in Wallingford there were 369 persons on the register, but only 357 occupiers of £10 houses. At Cricklade there were 470 persons on the register, but only 385 £10 occupiers. The subject of compounding was an important matter, and he hoped the House would obtain full information.


wished to know when a Return upon this subject which he had moved for some weeks since would be produced. It was most important that the House should know the real number of persons occupying houses the rates for which were compounded for by the landlord, because every one of them could claim to be on the register. With regard to another point, he should like to know how the Government made up their calculations. As regarded the borough of Southwark, the Government Returns were tolerably accurate, except that they had taken the register of 1858 as their guide, instead of the register of 1859. The number of electors in 1858 was 10,600; but in 1859 it was upwards of 11,000. In the column showing the number of houses rated at £10 and upwards, 16,000 was inserted, leaving a difference of 6,000 between the number of electors and the number of qualifying houses. The expected addition to the constituency by extending the franchise to £6 occupiers was 3,000; so that the real addition to the constituency might be about 9,000. He wished to know whether the 200,000 increase spoken of by the noble Lord was expected to arise only from the new £6 voters, or whether on the calculation of the number of those who were at the present time entitled to be upon the register but were not there? The compound householders seemed to be entirely left out of the calculation; yet in the borough of Southwark there were whole streets occupied by compound householders. He hoped that the Government, during the recess, would turn their attention to providing a proper machinery for the working of a new Reform Bill. There were several Corrupt Practices Bills introduced by private Members before a Committee, and it was absolutely necessary that a Reform Bill should be accompanied by something of that kind to make it work. It would be impossible to add so many electors to the constituencies and leave them without any assistance to enable them to vote. In the Reform Bill of the late Government there was a provision for additional polling places; but in the present Bill there was nothing of the kind.


intimated that as the Corrupt Practices Bill and the Reform Bill were measures before the House to be discussed upon a future occasion, the hon. Member was irregular in commenting upon them at present.


said, he was not aware he was out of order; and it appeared to him that the observations he was making were in some way pertinent to these Returns. He was only following the example of other hon. Members. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford not only made a long speech of his own on the subject, but repeated the speech of everybody else.


observed, that the Returns before the House were extremely vague. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark had pointed out some of their manifest absurdities, so that he (Mr. Newdegate) would not go further into that matter. He rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the Government to the fact, that the House had no information at all as to the numbers which might be added to the county constituencies by the Reform Bill, with the exception of a Return which he had moved for in 1854, which was of rather old date now. He had intended to move for a further Return; but he believed his hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire had given a notice on the subject, and that the Poor-Law Board were at present preparing a Return in consequence of the Motion of his hon. Friend. He (Mr. Newdegate), however, hoped the House would not find themselves in this position — that when they were asked to proceed with the Reform Bill after Easter they should be told that the Returns were not prepared. He objected to their proceeding to pass an important measure without being in a position to judge of the effects of it; and he therefore asked an assurance that the House should not be asked to consider the important change in the county constituencies proposed by the Reform Bill of the Government without further information. The House wanted the bases of the calculations made by the Government, and for this they ought to have Returns of the numbers rated at £10, £20, £30, and £50 respectively. Indeed, they ought to have a Return of even those rated so low as £6, inasmuch as the rating valuation was much below the rental. He hoped the House would receive the reasonable assurance which he now begged to ask for.