§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ New Clause (Mode of demanding Rates).
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that, on a former occasion, it appeared to be the general feeling of the House that some provision of this kind should be introduced, and the Government had therefore consented to bring up a clause on the subject, the effect of which would be that no elector would be disqualified for not having paid the rate unless the rate had been duly demanded of him:—Every poor rate payable from an occupier in respect of any premises capable of conferring upon him the Parliamentary Franchise under this or any other Act, shall be demanded of him by a requisition or demand note wholly or partly in writing or print, which requisition or note shall be deemed to be duly served if the same is delivered to the occupier, or left at his last or usual place of abode, or with some person on the premises in respect of which the rate is demanded; and no rate shall be deemed to be payable within the meaning of this or any other Act as aforesaid, until the expiration of seven clear days from the service of such requisition or note,"—(Mr. Attorney General,)—brought up, and read the first and second time.
§ MR. DENMAN
remarked that when he brought the subject forward the other night the Committee were of opinion that some such clause should be introduced, and the Attorney General undertook to prepare one. This clause fairly meets the object of the Committee.
§ MR. MARSH
opposed the clause, contending that one effect of it would be that the overseer could enfranchise if he liked the very residuum of the population. The Committee ought also to take into account the inconvenience and expense of the proposed proceeding. There were in most places six rates a year, and the sending of a letter by post in each case would therefore cost 6d. If a man had money to receive he would gladly go for it; was it not 669 the duty of a man who had money to pay to go and pay it? Another inconvenience would be that electioneering agents would ferret out those who had not paid the rates; and the revising barrister, who in ordinary cases had only to decide whether a man had paid his rate or not, would have now to inquire also whether the rate had been properly demanded?
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that the consideration of the Committee ought to be directed to this point—namely, what class of persons would be admitted by this clause? Why, they would be persons who did not pay their rates; for if the overseer favoured a particular party he would not call upon them to pay. They could say then that they paid all the rates demanded of them, and would therefore be entitled to vote. But what happened under the present system? The only persons kept out were unworthy. When hon. Gentlemen said that this was an enfranchising clause he accepted that statement. It was a clause that would enfranchise the worst part of the population.
§ SIR EDWARD BULLER
thought that the clause was improperly worded. He did not see how it was possible that a rate should not be payable until seven days after the demand, and yet that the demand could not be made until the rate was payable.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
observed that there were a considerable number of small occupiers upon whom it had had not been the practice to serve any notices, inasmuch as the rate was paid by the owner. He believed that whatever arrangement they might make in that House, some such system would be continued from the facilities it afforded parishes to collect the rates. There would be many people from whom it would be idle for the overseers to expect payment, and whom they would not therefore serve with any demand; and yet those persons would obtain the franchise under the clause—not by reason of payment of rates, but from their inability to pay. That would be inconsistent with what was said to be the principle of the Bill, which made the personal payment of rates the qualification for the franchise.
said, he believed that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) was responsible merely for the principle of the clause, and not for the mode in which it was proposed that that principle should be carried into effect. It seemed to him that there was great force in the objections which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Milner Gibson) had stated to the clause as it stood; while, at the same time, he could not help thinking that it was only fair to recognize the general principle that a man should not be disfranchised for the non-payment of a rate which had never been demanded of him. They might get rid of that difficulty, either by omitting in the Report the words in the previous clause which declared that the demand should be mode in the manner afterwards to be provided, or else by framing the present clause in the mode which had been originally proposed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
suggested that it should be provided that the posting of the notice of a rate on the church door should be deemed a sufficient demand of it. He candidly confessed that he was not prepared to afford special facilities for the attainment of the franchise by the class of voters to whom the clause, as it then stood, would mainly apply. There existed, he thought, some danger in that respect, and he wished to see every possible safeguard established against that danger.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, that the objections which had been made to the clause had not occurred to him in reading it over, neither had they occurred to those among his constituents whom he had consulted upon the subject. He should, however, be prepared to adopt any modification of a proposal which might be thought necessary for the attainment of the object for which it had been made.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
said, he hoped the Government would adhere to the clause, for otherwise overseers might intentionally disfranchise persons by omitting to demand the rate.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
pointed out that if a notice on the church door was declared a 671 sufficient demand, nothing would be left to the nonfeasance or malfeasance of the overseers, since they were bound to put up such a notice. Insolvent persons might thereby be disfranchised, but no solvent person would; for, knowing that the parish wanted the rate, he would take care to pay it.
said, he thought that the posting of a notice on the church door could hardly be considered a legal demand, and he would therefore suggest either that the words in the former clause, which declared that the demand should be made in the manner to be afterwards provided, should be struck out on the Report, or else that the demand should be clearly defined in some such manner as that proposed by the present clause. He should rather for his part see the former course adopted, and compel every person who claimed the franchise to pay the rates.
§ SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE
said, believed the best course would be to amend the previous clause on the Report, there being much force in the objections which had been taken to this clause by Members opposite. Hitherto no demand had been required, and this had worked exceedingly well, ["No."] At the beginning of the Session it was not thought an extravagant demand upon the compound-householder that he should go and make his claim, that he should sustain it at a considerable loss to himself before the revising barrister, and that he should obtain the vote at a pecuniary sacrifice. Now, however, it was thought too much to expect him to go and find out whether he had to pay a few shillings or not. He certainly thought that the sacrifices demanded from the compound householder were unreasonable, but, now, they were about to be unreasonable in the other direction. The Bill would only disfranchise those who would not take the very little trouble required to obtain the votes, while, under the clause, the class who would retain their votes would be precisely those whom the Government did not want on their rating principle, and who would defeat it, for they would be the men whose rates the overseers knew it would be perfectly useless to ask for.
§ MR. M'LAREN
remarked that he had occasion to know a good deal about the collection of rates on the system described in this clause, and he held that the clause was one of the very best clauses which any man could frame for a Bill of this kind. If the overseers went to make a demand 672 for rates from the very poorest classes they might go ten times and always find the house shut. They would find nobody at home unless a call was made at six o'clock in the morning or eight o'clock in the evening. A personal demand was therefore out of the question. If, however, they left a slip of paper of this kind, containing the amount of poor rates that was due, it could be slipped under the door or given to one of the children. Causing a notice to be affixed on the church door would be only a notice to those persons who went to church; and it was a notorious fact that a large number of the poor people did not go to any place of worship at all; while a large proportion of those who did attend worship on Sunday, went to other places of worship than the parish Church. It would be necessary, therefore, to provide that the notice should be affixed upon the doors of all places of worship. The system of sending slips was a good deal better for this among other reasons, that the overseers would collect a good deal more money by it.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, it was not his duty to defend the policy of the clause. To that policy he had on a previous occasion offered his opposition. It was not supported by Her Majesty's Government; but there was a general feeling that there should be a demand of the rate, since it was proposed to make the payment of rates the qualification of the voter. The Government undertook to prepare a clause, and he had done so. He was glad to hear an hon. Member opposite express his belief that it was an honest clause. He believed, also, that it was accurate, and it provided that rates referred to in Clause 6 should not be deemed payable within the meaning of the Act unless after a certain notice. He took upon himself the responsibility of the clause, and he did not think hon. Members would mend it. However, he left the clause in the hands of the Committee.
hoped the Committee would not re-open the discussion as to whether there should be a demand or not for the payment of the rates, as that matter had been disposed of, and they ought to adhere to that principle.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that if the principle of demand were admitted, then came the question, what sort of demand? If they said a demand should be that which 673 was published upon every church and chapel door—["No, no!"]—then that might be considered a legal demand, and it would get rid of all the difficulties which had been suggested.
§ MR. WATKIN
said, it was the right of every man to know what he was assessed, and what his rate would be. Notice on a church door was simply a notice that a rate had been made.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, that the principle upon which they had hitherto gone was enfranchisement by payment of rates. They were now about to introduce a new principle of enfranchisement by neglect of the overseer. If the overseer did not choose to leave this paper upon people whom he knew would never pay the rates, they would have men who could never pay their rates put in shoals upon the register. He quite agreed with the right hon. Member for South Lancashire that notice ought to be given; but let them not say that everybody whom the overseer should neglect to visit should ipso facto become a voter.
wished to know whether the noble Lord had considered what they had already enacted. The Committee had already agreed that the rate should be demanded. Now, he should like to ask the Attorney General, whether the notice of the rate on the church door would be a demand; because, if it be not, then they ought to define what should be a demand.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that if the Act declared that the publication of the rate on the church door should be a demand, it would become a legal demand.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that notice on a church door was not a demand; but they make that Act say it should be, or if it were sent through the Post Office.
§ MR. MONTAGU CHAMBERS
said, it was the rarest thing in the world for a person entering or coming out of the church to stop to read the publication of the rate. It was but fair that the persons whom this Bill would enfranchise should receive notice that they were assessed at a certain rate, and that there was a certain time within which it should be paid. If then they did not pay the rate, they themselves would Buffer.
§ LORD JOHN BROWNE
said, that the objections raised to the clause would be removed if they were to enact that, in the event of the overseer not demanding the rate from the householder within a certain specified time, he should incur a penalty. Unless that were done, great political power would be placed in the hands of the overseer, who might qualify a great number of the most wretched class of the community, who never had any intention of paying their rates.
MR. SERJEANT KINGLAKE
said, the difficulty in which the Committee was placed arose from their having altered one of the clauses already passed by inserting the words "which have been demanded of him in manner hereinafter mentioned." That involved them in the necessity of defining some specific mode in which the demand must be made. He thought the suggestion that the overseer should be liable to a penalty for not making a demand was a very good one, and, if adopted, the vote of the elector would not depend on the caprice of the overseer, or on whether he chose to make a demand or not. The words "in the manner hereinafter mentioned" should be struck out of the clause to which he had referred on the Report.
said, he thought every facility ought to be afforded the voters in that matter, and that there should not be a mere notice posted on the church door, but that the overseer should inform each person what he had to pay.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, that the Committee were greatly indebted to the Government for having brought forward this clause, and he hoped that they would not be induced to withdraw it. A notice on a church or chapel door did not mean that the rate book, with the amount due from each ratepayer written against his name, was hung up for anybody to read it, but it was simply a notification that a rate had been made.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he could not help thinking they were in some danger of re-opening the most important part 675 of the Bill, making the franchise dependent upon the personal payment of rates on demand for them being made. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) seemed now to propose a perfectly fresh interpretation for the word "demand," by making second notice equivalent to demand. This was contrary to the common-sense view of the matter, and, if adopted by the Government, would be no better than breaking faith with the public and the Opposition, which had supported the measure on the contrary understanding.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he thought the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had correctly interpreted the effect of the clause; but he doubted whether the Government were aware of what they were doing. Consciously or unconsciously, they were giving up the whole question of the personal payment of rates, and were, in fact, placing the question in precisely the same position as if they had accepted the Motion of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire. It was important that the House should know the view they really took of the question; but it looked very much as if they were throwing dust in the eyes of their supporters.
said, he did not think the Government had done anything to render themselves liable to the construction put upon their conduct by the hon. Member for Devizes, and was of opinion that they had taken the simplest way of effecting the object in view.
§ MR. HENDERSON
thought the clause a very good one, and suggested that, in order to make its operation complete, the overseer should be liable to a penalty of 40s. if he did not make the demand within a month.
§ MR. SCHREIBER
said, he could not support the clause without the addition of words imposing a fine on the overseer in the event of his omitting to make the demand.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
moved the omission of the last portion of the clause—No rate shall be deemed to be payable within the meaning of this Act, or any other Act as aforesaid, until the expiration of seven clear days from the serving of such requisition or notice.He said he was perfectly ready to accede to any machinery that could be devised for securing that due notice should reach the individual of any rate to which he was liable; but he wished that this should be effected by a penalty on the overseer in 676 case of his failing to send notice, and not by the loss of the franchise to the voter in case of his failing to pay the rate. His object was that the franchise should not be made dependent upon the failure to give notice.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out all the words after the word "demanded," in line 7.—(Viscount Cranborne.)
said, that the objection taken to the clause as it stood was that the overseer might have an illegitimate power of enfranchising; but if the words now proposed to be omitted were left out, the overseer would have an illegitimate power of disfranchisement, subject to a penalty. Why not rather leave him the illegitimate power of enfranchisement, subject to a penalty?
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he thought that the House was entitled to have the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on the questions that had been raised in the course of the discussion.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and agreed to.
§ LORD JOHN BROWNE
then moved an Amendment to the effect that the overseer should be bound to make the demand of the rate within one month after the publication of the rate; and should be liable, in the event of neglect to do so, to a penalty of £1 in each case.
At the end of the Clause, to add the words "it shall be the duty of the overseer or collector to make such demand within one month of the publication of the rate, and, if he should neglect to do so, he shall incur a penalty of one pound in each case."—(Lord John Browne.)
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
thought it would be hard to fine the overseer £1 if he forgot to demand the rate within a month. He recommended that the whole clause should be got rid of.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
suggested that the overseer should only be subject to a fine in case of "wilful" neglect.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that it was quite clear that bribery would now be the simplest thing in the world. Candidates disposed to bribe needed no longer to bribe the constituency, but only the overseer.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that the House had been got into a difficulty by the Amendment 677 of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton, and perhaps the best thing they could do would be to retrace their steps altogether.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 48; Noes 327: Majority 279.
§ On Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill,"
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, the last division showed the result of hon. Members voting upon a question which they had not heard discussed — but he wished to make another appeal to the Committee to consider the importance of the matter they were now discussing. What this clause enacted was, that every overseer in the country should have the power, by the simple act of neglecting to send the papers round, of enfranchising persons who could not pay their own rates, and who therefore according to the principle of the Bill, were ineligible for the franchise. There was no motive of a local or pecuniary kind to induce the overseer to send round the papers, because the very people who would be enfranchised by his neglect were the people who could not pay their rates; to whom, therefore, for the purposes of the parish, it would be utterly useless to send the papers. The passing of this clause would therefore be the establishment of household suffrage without the personal payment of rates. Nothing in the late debate had surprised him more than the absolute silence of the Government on the proposal. Not a single Cabinet Minister had spoken. The intentions of the Government had varied so much from week to week and from month to month—or perhaps, to speak more accurately, their plan had been unfolded so gradually—that he wanted to know whether this was a consecutive part of it, and whether the Committee was now to learn that household suffrage without personal payment of rates, was really their original plan—but that they did not like to load the ship containing such valuable cargo, with that which might have sunk it at the first. The Session began with a Bill which seemed to promise a very limited addition to the number of electors. Compound householders, they were informed, were erected into a barrier, in which he never believed, but which was to limit the number of admissions to the franchise. A great division 678 was taken on the question, whether the compound householder should be admitted or not. Suddenly, however, the compound householder disappeared, on a Motion from the opposite side of the House, and all who personally paid rates were admitted. They were now taking another step in the same direction. A clause had been accepted, apparently in conformity with a suggestion by the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman), of which the inevitable tendency must be, and the effect would be, in a great number of places, to admit precisely that residuum which so many Members on both sides of the House had deprecated—those who could not pay their rates, and to whom the overseer would never care to go. He was perfectly willing to concur in any arrangement for bringing home to the knowledge of the ratepayers the amount of the rate for which he was liable; but he would entreat the House to pause before sanctioning the plan of giving to every overseer the power of putting upon the register those who, occording to the principle of the Bill, were ineligible for the franchise.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, it appeared that there was a great deal of difficulty with regard to legislating upon this clause, and he thought the best course for them to pursue was to leave the electors, enfranchised under this Bill, in the same position as the £10 householder occupied under the present law. If they negatived this clause no very great inconvenience would result. The only thing that would occur would be that the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton would be shown to be a false prophet, he having introduced into a preceding clause certain words to the effect that a demand should be made upon the voter "as hereinafter mentioned." But suppose they mentioned nothing at all hereafter? In that case things would stand very much as they were; but if it were desired that the Bill should look well, and should not contain unnecessary words, they might strike out the hon. Member's words on bringing up the Report.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I will make a very serious appeal to the Government; I think I have never taunted them in any way for their changes or their difficulties, for they have had great difficulties to contend with, and I think that the conduct of this Bill does the highest honour to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore he will get no taunt from me; but I must warn him now that I find no standing place in this 679 Bill between the £10 franchise and the point at which we have arrived. We have surrounded that point with certain safeguards, those of residence and payment of rates. By these means you will eliminate from the constituencies those whom I desired to see eliminated. I make no pretence about the matter. I have never talked as if I meant to "palaver" the people, and then turned round in a fright and become a prophet of evil. That has been done by many persons. Now, if we do away with these safeguards what will occur? In the first place we throw a large, important, and terrible power into the hands of uneducated men. In their hands we shall place the determination of many important elections in this country. That is the first thing. But what will be the second? Why, that we shall expose those men to the greatest possible temptation. There is the greatest difficulty at present in bribing. There will be no difficulty, then for when you get this power concentrated in the hands of one man, and that power is open to temptation, you know what will happen. What would be to one man a fortune would not be able to bribe a constituency. That is no fanciful supposition; it is only too likely to be the fact. I appeal then to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I appeal to the right hon. Member for South Lancashire—I may really make an appeal to the Gentlemen on both sides. We are a great people, and have lived a long life as a nation, and we are now taking an important, and, as some think, a very dangerous step. I am and have been prepared to take that step, and to support the Bill; but upon this occasion I must confess that the matter is so serious that I am terrified at the prospect before us. I do not want to live to see the greatness of my country ruined. I do not want to hand over the reins to ignorance and vice; and ignorance and vice will rule if the rabble are let in, as they will be if this clause is carried.
§ MR. DENMAN
was little prepared, when he made his proposition, to be afterwards told by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) that it would be ruinous to the country; but as they had been told so, of course they must all bow to the ipse dixit of the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) took a narrow and disfranchising view of a question with respect to which he had always entertained Liberal opinions. How did the matter stand now? 680 It was well known that in many parishes the overseers were purely political partizans, and were frequently in the habit of letting the day go by without any notice to those who happened to disagree with them, and those persons, of course, were disfranchised, while due notice was given to those who were of their own political opinions, and they were put on the register. It was under that state of circumstances that he proposed that the voter should not lose his vote unless the rate had been previously demanded of him. If the Government now shrunk from supporting the clause, they would have deceived him, and have deceived the country; and, if this clause were rejected, he should feel it his duty to bring up a clause upon the Report to carry out the object.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
thought that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark was not quite right, for the fact was that if they rejected this clause and did nothinig more, then everybody would be entitled to vote, whether he had paid his rates or not. The provision was that a man should have his vote when he had paid the rates which were due and had been demanded; and if they had not been demanded he would be entitled to be put upon the register whether he had paid them or not.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) that this question is one of a very serious character as affecting the principle of the Bill. So much, indeed, do I feel that to be the case, that even if I had had a strong feeling in favour of the course proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman), and had been convinced in the course of the debate that I was wrong, I should have no hesitation in avowing my change of opinion. We did not, however, on a former occasion, accept the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman further than this—that the Attorney General undertook to put the clause in shape and bring it before the Committee, and in introducing it this afternoon he said he left entirely in their hands. For my own part, I very much prefer the plan which is adopted under the present state of law, and I am fortified in that opinion when I look at the Act of 6 Vict. Not only is there the original publication of the rate, but a precept is sent by the clerk of the peace to the overseers requiring them, on or before the 20th of June, to affix a notice 681 on the outer door or wall of every church and chapel, whether belonging to the Established Church or not, and in case of there being no such building, in some public or conspicuous place in the parish. That notice is to remain there during a period including two Sundays at least, and it is to this effect:—That no person shall be entitled to have his name inserted in any list of voters, in respect of the occupation of any premises, unless he shall pay on or before the 20th of July all poor rates which have become due in respect of such premises during the twelve calendar months next before the 6th of April last.—This warning is given just before the registration comes on and is well known in every parish, and ample publicity therefore is given. Under these circumstances, I do not hesitate to say that this clause is not required, and that it would not have a beneficial effect.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I only wish to make a remark in consequence of the silence which has been imputed to me during this discussion. It seems to me the position of the Government with regard to the clause has been altogether mistaken. There can be no doubt that some time ago when the Amendment of the hon. Member for Tiverton was before the Committee, the influence of the Government with the Committee was at that time somewhat slight. There is no doubt, on that occasion, the opinion of the great majority of the House was in favour of the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, though the opinion of the Government was not in its favour. The Attorney General and others expressed an opinion against the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman; but there is no doubt the predominant opinion of the Committee was, to a very great extent, in favour of the suggestion; and had the opinion of the Committee been called for on that occasion, a very large majority would no doubt have sanctioned the proposal. Under these circumstances, there was no division, and there was an understanding that the clause should be brought forward, and we were asked that the Attorney General should undertake the duty of bringing it forward. We considered ourselves bound in honour 682 to bring forward this clause, and not only to bring it forward merely to fulfill the letter of our engagement, but so as to place the hon. and learned Gentlemen (Mr. Denman) in the position he would have been in if the division had taken place that night. I myself have the same objection now to the policy of the clause which I felt on the previous night; but I think that a Parliamentary engagement ought always to be sacredly kept. Having taken that course, we hold ourselves at perfect liberty on a future occasion, such as the Report or some future opportunity, to ask the opinion of the House on the subject. The opinion of the Committee is now very different from what it was when the hon. and learned Gentleman first called our attention to the matter. The Committee will have an opportunity hereafter of discussing this question, but I hope they will admit that the Government have fulfilled the public engagement into which they entered.
Sir, I understand it to be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to vote for the clause which is now in your hands. That is a very important declaration, and the speech in which it was conveyed is much more satisfactory, and, as I think, more consistent with the spirit of the engagement entered into on a former occasion, than the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. There are involved in this discussion principles of the utmost importance, not with regard to this Bill merely, but with respect to the terms on which the Executive Government, when in charge of important measures, deal with Members of this House. If I may trust to my recollection of what took place on the previous debate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer confined himself to criticising the language of the proposal, and said he thought that some difficulty might arise out of the word "duly," and the Solicitor General objected that we ought not to place the voter under £10 in a more favourable position than the voter above £10. This objection was met on this side of the House by the reply that it was very easy to provide for both, and that the demand should be a condition before the obligation of paying the rate. Perceiving the sense of the Committee on that occasion, the Government, not having committed themselves in opposition to the principle of the clause, and having only expressed doubts with regard to accepting it, did, notwithstanding, 683 accede to the principle of the Motion, and made that Motion their own by promising that a proper clause should be drawn to give it effect. That promise the Attorney General has carefully and honourably fullfilled; but it was doubtful whether it was consistent with the spirit of that promise, that when the clause was under discussion the Secretary for the Home Department should rise in his place, and say, he was perfectly indifferent whether the clause was accepted or not. On all such occasions it is, as far as I know, the practice of Members to trust implicitly to such an acceptance on the part of the Government. I am far from saying that it is a binding acceptance under all circumstances whatever, but it is a binding acceptance—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has so recognized it—to the extent of giving a bonâ fide support to the proposal when it is made in their own terms; and it is not compatible with that engagement that a Cabinet Minister should say he viewed its acceptance or rejection with perfect indifference. I have, I must say, heard with surprise the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, because, in this matter, there is involved the question whether there shall be a demand for rates, and whether that demand shall be the absolute condition before the voter forfeits his privilege of the franchise for the non-payment of rates, and also the question of the form in which the demand should be made. With regard to the form, it is not for me to give a strong opinion, but I do venture to give a strong opinion on the principle of demand, and, whether the Committee be favourable to the form of proceeding or not, I give notice that I shall regard no vote of the Committee as having the slightest effect with respect to those words, which, at the most critical period of this Bill, were inserted in the 3rd clause, and in which the principle of demand was solemnly asserted. The Committee may retrace their steps, and may efface the principle of demand from the 3rd clause; but do not let it be supposed by the hon. Member for Southwark that this will be accepted as a matter of form, or regarded as other than a matter of the gravest moment. For, if that principle of demand be struck out, in my opinion the whole question of personal rating is re-opened, and this Bill will have to be fought over again.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he wished to explain the position in which he stood. He felt bound to place his hon. 684 and learned Friend (Mr. Denman) in the same position in which he would have been if he had carried his Motion on the previous occasion. Beyond that he regarded himself as in no way bound. If his hon. and learned Friend had carried his Amendment on the previous night, he should have felt at liberty to oppose the proposition upon the Report, and even if the clause were carried on the present occasion with his vote, he should still feel at perfect liberty to oppose it upon the Report. The principle of the proposal had been acceded to by the House; and all that he had undertaken was to put it into more accurate language than had previously been used, and certainly he had not expressed any approbation of the clause.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he had no doubt that the Attorney General would consult his own feelings and those of other persons in every step which he took in reference to this Bill. If the Attorney General had not consented to the course he had undertaken to take on the 3rd clause, he (Mr. Denman) would never have permitted that clause to stand part of the Bill without a division; and in many things which he had done or left undone in the course of this Bill, he had been guided by the belief that the Attorney General would take the course which he had now taken.
§ Question put, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 205; Noes 207: Majority 2.
I rise to move, Sir, that you report Progress. ["Oh, oh!"] I do this, Sir, not for the purpose of cutting off what remains of this day's sitting from the prosecution of its business when the usual time for resuming it arrives, but in order to enable me to make the remarks for which, I think, the occasion calls. We heard, in the discussion which, preceded the last division, three speeches from Members of Her Majesty's Government. On the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department I have already taken the liberty to comment. The speech delivered by the hon. and learned Attorney General went further even than the speech of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I wish to call attention to the character of the learned Gentleman's declaration, as affecting the relation between the Executive Government and the House of Commons. The hon. and learned 685 Gentleman stated that when the Government had accepted a Motion made in this House, and had undertaken to give it effect, the obligation which he felt to be incumbent on him, as the organ of the Government for the purpose of giving it effect, was to sustain it with his personal vote on the first occasion, and to do no more. I wish to know, Sir, whether it is to be established as a rule, for all times and all subjects, that this is the extent of the significance which is to be attached to the proceedings of a Government when, after debate, and for the purpose of avoiding defeat, the Government accept a suggestion from an opponent; because I tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that, in the declaration which he has made, he strikes a deadly blow at all those principles of confidence between the Executive Government and the various portions of this House, by which alone, amidst all our controversies and all our differences, it becomes practicable to carry on the public business. Sir, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was susceptible of a very different interpretation, and I certainly thought it my duty to give that speech a fair and candid interpretation. I understood that speech to imply not that the Government, by accepting any proposition, bound itself for all times and all circumstances, because changes might take place in the whole body of the House with regard to a proposition of that kind, and it would be absurd to strain the obligation to such a point; but I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say—and I took his words as I believe them to be meant—that it was the duty of the Government to give a bonâ fide support to a proposition so adopted, and to recommend it by the use of its fair and legitimate influence to the acceptance of the House, I wish to know, Sir, whether that pledge has been fulfilled; I wish to know whether that influence was used; I wish to know whether the Members of the Government itself who were present in the House during the discussion voted for the clause which they, as a Government, promised to propose, and by the promise to propose which they escaped from defeat on a former occasion. I wish to know what I course was taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will kindly inform us, with regard to his Colleagues in office, whether he, and whether they, without exception, set that example to their party 686 —which was the very smallest thing that we had a right to expect and demand—that they should vote uniformly in support of that clause. For the purpose of obtaining those explanations it is that I make the Motion which I have just submitted to the Committee. With respect to the subject of the division itself, I need not enter upon it at this moment, because there are there mixed up the question with regard to the principle of making a demand on the ratepayer for the payment of his rate, and the question of the particular form of giving effect to that principle. It is quite plain that if the majority of two which has just been declared intend to give effect to their views, it must be by ulterior steps. With respect to those ulterior steps, I have already taken the liberty of giving fair notice that I, for one, regard them as re-opening every question relating to the principle of the borough franchise. ["Oh, oh!"] Those who think fit to unsettle decisions solemnly arrived at by the Committee—arrived at, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer very fairly stated, with an evident and general concurrence—on the most vital clause of the Bill—those who feel themselves at liberty to unsettle such decisions set an example which other Members are at liberty to follow. It is not in the exercise of an abstract right that I should think of following an example which I conceive to be so mischievous and injurious; but it is because my apprehension is, that the effect of such a proposal as that of simply erasing the condition of a demand for payment from the 3rd clause of this Bill would be to convert the household suffrage which you have given into little better than a mockery as regards the great majority of the boroughs of this country; and to such a delusion being practised on the people of England, I, for one, will be no party.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
While Sir, I desire not to lay down any general rule for the guidance of this House in the matter of arrangement between opposite parties, I claim the right of vindicating the course which I took on a former occasion, and which I have taken to-day; and I say it is consistent with every principle of honour and every principle of fair action. Sir, we did not accept the vote, or rather we did not obtain the vote, of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton on the 3rd clause by offering to make a concession to him in return on the question as to the demand of payment of rates. [Mr. DENMAN: 687 I beg my hon. and learned Friend's pardon.] As far as my recollection goes, and as far as I have taken part in the transaction, it was simply this, that there was a proposal made for demanding rates as a separate and independent question, and the feeling of the majority of the Committee was that such a demand should be rendered necessary. The Government acceded to that as being the view of the Committee on that point, but that was not a concession by the Government in order to obtain something in return. It stood as a simple, independent question whether there should be a demand for payment or not. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton introduced words for the purpose of requiring that there should be such a demand. It was thought by the Committee that his words were not satisfactory; and I was willing merely as the Minister of the House in reference to this matter, to draw up a clause. It was in that spirit that I undertook to draw up the clause, and in that spirit it was drawn up accordingly. Having done that I did all I was bound to do; I did what was necessary to enable my hon. and learned Friend to put himself in the position he would have occupied if he had carried his proposal on the former evening; and I say that the only position he could then have been in if he had carried his proposal would have been this—that a demand of payment would have been required. That I sought to effect by additional words making it clear to my hon. and learned Friend's satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of the Committee, and I believe I have done it. Therefore, I have discharged every obligation into which I entered, and I feel free to act in regard to the rest of this Bill, as I think fit. It is as open to me as to every other Member of the House to take what course I may deem right in the further discussion of this measure. In so doing I am not affected by the circumstance that I did offer to be the instrument of the Committee in drawing up that clause. Not having taken such an active part in the business of the House as some of my Colleagues, I will not speak as to the ordinary mode of proceeding; but the course I have taken in this matter is, I maintain, consistent with every principle of personal honour and of just proceeding. I have taken the course which I think is fully justified, and I do not mean for one moment to recede from it.
§ MR. DENMAN
did not wish to enter into any question regarding the personal honour or conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman. With that he had nothing to do, for every Member of this House was the guardian of his own character and honour. But when his hon. and learned Friend said that he (Mr. Denman) was not influenced in his conduct in reference to the 3rd clause by what took place in the discussion on his proposed Amendment, he entirely joined issue with his learned Friend. It seemed to him that this principle of personal payment of rates, as adopted by Parliament, with the existing law in force, was a cruel mockery of many of the poorer class of voters, who, sometimes living a long distance from the overseer, had often to hunt him up, in order to pay their rates, and go to the church door from time to time, for the purpose of ascertaining whether there was a rate due or not. Seeing that the result would be wholesale disfranchisement of the best and most industrious of the new voters, he insisted upon the insertion of the words referred to. It appeared to him that the whole value of the 3rd clause—waiving all other questions as to whether he could regard it as acceptable or not—turned upon the insertion of those words, and it was obvious that they would have been carried upon a division had not the hon. and learned Gentleman interposed on behalf of the Government by undertaking to frame a clause which would have the same effect he (Mr. Denman), by his proposal, wished the 3rd clause to have. He (Mr. Denman) sincerely declared that if his hon. and learned Friend had not then accepted the Amendment or given a promise to frame a clause to carry out the object he had in view, he should have felt it his bounden duty to divide the Committee on the question whether the 3rd clause should be accepted or not. The Government agreed to the principle of the Amendment, and it was a matter of compromise from the first to the last, the main element of which was that his proposal was accepted by the Government. ["No!"] To his mind it was a most important compromise, tending favourably to the views he entertained. Therefore let not the hon. and learned Gentleman go away under the impression that he (Mr. Denman) did not hold both him and the Government to the Amendment. If the Government now retracted the compromise by which they had been 689 enabled to carry their 3rd clause, they could not expect the Committee to abstain from opposing the Bill in every way, and in every stage, by delay or otherwise, so as to prevent its becoming law, for the withdrawal of this Amendment would materially alter the rights which the Committee had, by the 3rd clause, intended to confer on their fellow-citizens.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton is perfectly at liberty to take whatever course he may deem proper to prevent the passing of this Bill. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, who has thought fit to challenge and to ask me what course I took in reference to the clause on which the Committee has just divided, I will tell him that I have done that which anybody who heard me speak in the House might have imagined I should have done. I did not rote in favour of a clause which I condemned, and which was contrary to my opinions. Had it not been, I may add, for the peculiar circumstance that the clause was proposed by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General I should undoubtedly have voted against it. The right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that the question of adherence to implied engagements is one of degree; and that he did not wish to strain the point so far as to contend that we are always, and under all circumstances, bound to give effect to understandings which may be supposed to have been arrived at, and I would confidently ask whether an hon. Member is to yield everything to the opinion of the House and nothing to his own? For my own part, I must confess that had I formed no idea of this clause before I came down to the House this morning, I should have been convinced by what has taken place in the course of the discussion that it was one of a prejudicial character. Having come to that conclusion, I should, had it not been framed by my hon. and learned Friend, have said "no" to it; as it was, I retired from the House, and did not vote at all. I should be deeply grieved if I thought that, in acting as I have done, I violated any confidence between myself and the House, or any individual Member of it; but I do not think that any stipulation was made with the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton, further than this, that, when the point again came before the Committee, words should be introduced that would be calculated to carry out and deal with the 690 question as the Committee thought fit. I consider that the hon. and learned Gentleman was, at the time when that stipulation was made, perfectly free to oppose the 3rd clause, and that he is perfectly free to do so now. If I have erred in the view which I have taken of the matter, I am not conscious that I have done so. What I have done has been done in accordance with my own convictions, and thus far I maintain no apology is due from me to the Committee.
felt, as an independent Member of the House, and one not in the habit of often trespassing upon its attention, anxious to say a few words on the present occasion, especially after the lecture from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, to which the Committee had just listened. The right hon. Gentleman had commented upon the circumstance that the Committee had reversed a decision at which it had previously arrived. ["No, no!"] But was that, he would ask, a circumstance of very unusual occurrence? If he was not mistaken, decisions of that House had very recently been reversed on the Motion of hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves; and when the right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government had used its influence or example to induce their party to support the views which he took upon the point at issue, he, as an independent Member, begged to reply that he had come down to the House with the intention to support the Government as far as he could. He listened with great attention to the debate, and it appeared to him that the Amendments were not satisfactory; but he thought the Amendment of the hon. Member for Southwark did get the Committee into a considerable difficulty. There could be no difficulty in negativing this clause, and of introducing another on the Report which should carry out the wishes of the Committee. He did not regret that the House had shown itself sufficiently independent to put into a minority the two front benches. He, at all events, had taken the course which he thought right in the matter; and he did not hesitate to say, without wishing to give offence to the right hon. Gentleman, that he believed he had been left in a minority owing to the tone which he adopted, and the threat of re-opening the whole question of borough franchise which he held out.
§ MR. CARDWELL
I wish to say that in my judgment this is not a question of 691 whether the Committee in one stage of a Bill can reverse a decision at which it has arrived at another stage: nor is it a question as to the votes which independent Members are at liberty to give at any stage of a Bill. I wish to say to my right hon. Friend opposite, and to the Attorney General that I shall not make it a question bearing personally on their conduct—of that they will best judge for themselves; but there is, I think, no question more important, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has repeatedly admitted it to be so in the course of these discussions, that we should have a distinct understanding between the Government and the House of Commons as to what is meant by the assent of the Government to any proposition which may come under our notice. I have, since I have had the honour of a seat in this House, been under the impression that if the Government proposed a clause and an hon. Member moved an Amendment to it, they might take either of two courses. They might oppose the Amendment, whatever may be the consequence, and, if unsuccessful, they would be perfectly at liberty to oppose it again at a future stage; or they might, on the other hand, assent to it and undertake to give it effect on a subsequent occasion. If they took the latter course, it would, I apprehend, not be open to them to treat it as a proposal other than their own—they must treat it, not, indeed, as their begotten, but their adopted child to which they were bound to extend all the protection in their power. How stands the present case? Into the 3rd clause of this Bill, which is the principle clause, the clause regulating the borough franchise, and the adoption of which has, I venture to say, carried the Bill to the stage at which we have now arrived, the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton proposed to introduce an Amendment. At the time the hon. and learned Gentleman might, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, have commanded a majority if his proposal were pressed to a division; but the right hon. Gentleman, as I find from the record which has been put into my hands, on that occasion said—If, however, the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton would frame a clause applicable alike to the old and the new constituencies, the Government might be able to assent to it without difficulty.The Attorney General thereupon undertook to prepare a clause to give effect to that 692 statement; and my object in rising now is not to make any personal statement, but to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of this House, and to ask him whether, under these circumstances, the Government having adopted the proposal of an independent Member, and undertaken to carry it into effect, they are not bound to give it their cordial support when the time comes for putting the proposal to the House?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
If the circumstances of this case were exactly as the right hon. Gentleman has represented them to be, I should certainly concur in the opinion which he entertains. I am sure the Committee will do me the justice, if they will condescend to remember the particulars of the several divisions which have taken place on the measure before us, to say that I have endeavoured scrupulously to fulfil any engagements into which I may have entered with the House. It was only a few nights ago that a division was taken in which the right hon. Gentleman himself was particularly interested. I am not bound to give my opinion upon the subject of his Motion; but I can truly say that no sooner was I acquainted that an engagement had been entered into with him than I immediately, under the circumstances, gave him my support. I have always sought scrupulously to carry out such engagements, because I look upon that as being the only satisfactory way of conducting the business of the House. I feel, at the same time, bound to say — though I supported the clause brought forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General; and, as far as I could, used my influence with those around me, requesting the four or five Gentlemen with whom I could communicate to support the clause also—that there was not, in my opinion, that complete understanding which the right hon. Gentleman assumes to have existed between the Government and the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton with regard to this matter. It is some time ago since the circumstance occurred, and I cannot speak so confidently with respect to it as about that which happened yesterday or only a few days previously; but it seems to me that the engagement entered into with the hon. and learned Gentleman was of a somewhat vague character. I cannot concur, too, with those who appear to think that the important clause in the Bill to which the Motion of 693 the hon. and learned Member related depended on the success of that Motion. That I look upon as a perfectly preposterous view to take of the question. But the point was certainly mentioned at the time, and to facilitate the progress of the Bill the Attorney General did undertake to prepare the clause which has just been rejected. There was, however, as far as my memory serves me, no formal and full engagement made that we were, under all circumstances, to support the policy which the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton indicated. I cannot say, therefore, that I was surprised that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, especially after the frank manner in which he stated his views to the Committee before the division took place, should decline to vote for the clause. I do not think it was an instance of that clear and full engagement which has been very often entered into by both sides of the House. To my mind it was a very imperfect understanding. When I first rose this evening, I felt it to be my duty not to hesitate in the course I should take, because I would rather err on the side of scrupulosity on this matter. There certainly was not that clear understanding from which no misconception could arise, which is necessary to facilitate public business by mutual understandings. The understanding was that the Attorney General should produce a clause that would express the feeling of the Committee, not so much in the capacity of a Minister bringing forward a policy, but as a public officer who, under all the circumstances, would have the best opportunity, from his learning and acquirements, and be best qualified to offer a clause that would express the feeling of the Committee. I do not think that Gentlemen on this side of the House are bound to a complete and absolute adhesion to the policy of the clause. I very much regret there should be any misconception upon a subject of this kind; for it is of great importance that any understanding which might be arrived at should be kept. At the same time, it would be a very great evil if, from a misconception or misunderstanding, right hon. or hon. Gentlemen should be supposed to be bound to support a principle or policy which they do not really approve. I am sure no one will desire it; and it is not for a moment to be encouraged that because some arrangement was made four months ago that the party on this side of the House is bound to support the consequences 694 of such an arrangement, which many of them could not have foreseen, and of which many did not clearly understand. I consider that I have personally fulfilled the engagement into which I entered; and with regard to what I will not call the insinuation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, but the delicate inquiry which he has made, I can most sincerely and truly answer that such influence as I could exercise in the hurried moments of an impending division I exercised in favour of the Motion.
I wish simply to say that I think great inconvenience will arise to the Committee from the unfortunate incident which has just taken place, and especially after the kind of explanation which we have had from three Members on the Treasury Bench. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford read a paragraph from a report of what I presume was said on the night in question. I have here what appeared in the paper, the reports of which, I believe, are generally considered to be most reliable — The Times newspaper, which gives what was heard and understood by a Gentleman who had a very favourable opportunity of hearing everything which went on. ["Order!"]
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that it is contrary to the rules of the House to read the reports of debates from the newspapers.
I shall state to the Committee what I understood was said, and what I believe the House understood was said, on that occasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department did not vote in the division. He stated that if the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton would frame a clause applicable both to the old and new constituencies, the Government might be able to assent to it without difficulty; but that if he insisted on pressing the Amendment then before the Committee, he should feel it his duty to oppose it. There is nothing, I submit, that anybody can find fault with in that. Then the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton, after that, expressed his willingness in accordance with the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, to bring up a clause applicable both to the old and the new constituencies—that is, those above £10 and those below £10—but he said it would be necessary to add to the clause under discussion 695 the words "in manner hereinafter mentioned," and the manner in which the object was to be attained might be inserted in the next clause. Well, what did the Attorney General say then? It will be in the recollection of the Committee that he actually suggested the addition to the clause of the words "and which have been demanded of him in manner hereinafter mentioned" — and he recommended that other words should be omitted—namely, the words, "by the overseer, collector, or other officer." Now, in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton, the Attorney General stated that the Government would undertake to bring up the necessary clause. To this arrangement the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton assented, and withdrew his Amendment. I do not know much about the importance of this question; but I do hold it to be very important — and hon. Gentlemen opposite may not always be on that side of the House—that when a distinct arrangement of this kind is made—and one more distinct I think I have never heard made in this House—it should at least be fairly and honourably adhered to by the Government, because the Government has always, as we know, great influence in the House; many Members are anxious to support it; and somehow or other they seem to find out what is the view of the leading Members of the Government; and though nothing is said, men often find themselves in the lobby which is agreeable to the Members of the Government. Now, on this occasion, I understand that two Members of the Government and of the Cabinet absented themselves on the division, and if they had voted, probably the decision of the Committee would have been different. I do not know what is to be done in the matter now; I have merely risen for the purpose of saying that there is a question even more important than that of this particular clause, and that is, that there should not be that scrupulousness in words which the right hon. Gentleman has dwelt on so long in his recent observations, but that there should be a fair and frank adherence to every agreement that is made of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he spoke to four or five Members near him. Well, if he had spoken to two of those nearest him, and with whom certainly his influence could not have been less than with those to whom he did address himself, perhaps the result of the division might have been different, and a very unpleasant 696 altercation or contention might have been avoided. A short while ago there was an unpleasantness on the Treasury Bench between the Judge Advocate General and the right hon. Gentleman. I should be very sorry if, during the progress of this Bill, there should be any dislocation and enfeebling of the Government which might in any degree endanger the passing of so great a measure as that which is now before the House.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, the course which the discussion had taken had brought back to his mind the exact words which he used, and which produced that answer of the Attorney General to which reference had been made. The Attorney General, he was sure, would recollect that he (Mr. Denman) asked him whether he intended to throw upon him the onus of proposing a clause, or whether he would himself bring up a clause, and the Attorney General gave that answer which had just now been read by his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. He (Mr. Denman) put it to the Committee whether, under the circumstances, he could have had any other notion than that the Government intended to propose a clause in the sense agreed upon, and to try to carry it? It was, indeed, only by accident that he (Mr. Denman) had come to the House that afternoon, as he had fancied the matter was so thoroughly agreed upon that there could be no question about it, and that the clause, being in the sense he had understood, would be supported by the Government, and agreed to without a division.
§ MR. HIBBERT
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, as the clause of the Attorney General had been lost, it was possible for the Government to bring up a new clause to carry out the understanding into which the Government had entered? He thought it must be the desire on both sides that the understanding should, as far as possible, be carried out.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that he should be very willing, and, indeed, it would be his duty, after what had occurred that day, to consider the suggestion of the hon. Member; but in his present position he must make it a first object to see whether, in bringing forward a new proposition on the subject, he had any chance of success. From what had reached his ears since he last addressed the Committee, he feared the opposition to the proposal was so decided on the other side of the House as, with 697 the assistance of Gentlemen on the Ministerial side, to afford little hope of bringing forward anything of the kind with success. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire was wrong in supposing that the clause was solely defeated by the action of Members on the Ministerial side, for there were many Members on the right hon. Gentleman's own side of the House who sympathized with them. At the first blush this must seem manifest; for if the majority of the House sitting on the other side had resolved to support the policy of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton, the late division could not have resulted in the manner it actually had. If the hon. Member for Oldham appealed to his own friends, the result in future would probably be different.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought the fate of this Bill, and the earnest desire manifested on both sides of the House that it should become law, were of far greater importance than how the Government should carry out an understanding. But he was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, considering how important this clause was, had not sufficiently inquired into it before it came on for discussion to find out that his opinion was against it. But what was of more importance was that the House should not on account of the recent decision endanger the progress of the Bill. It certainly was the understanding on both sides of the House—at least, so he felt, that the borough franchise was settled on these two conditions—the payment of rates, and that payment should be demanded. He was by no means anxious that the special mode expressed in the clause should be carried out, but he hoped the Government would not be misled by the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark did not think it of importance that demand should be made a condition of payment. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the condition of demand was not felt very strongly by many Members on that side of the House, and he believed by the country. No one was more anxious than he was—very few so anxious—that this Bill should pass, particularly as regarded the borough franchise; but undoubtedly the settlement was accepted on the condition that the vast numbers of poor ratepayers should not have, as the sole condition of their franchise, the payment of rates without means to insure that demand was made by the officer to 698 whom that was intrusted. In the interest of the Bill, and in their own interest as the Government that would have the credit of passing this great measure, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Colleagues would take the opportunity of seeing whether they could not carry out the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham.
§ MR. LOCKE
was really not aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) did feel such very great anxiety for the passing of this Bill. He did not say that demand was of no importance; what he did say was, that it would be impossible to agree upon this clause. Amendment after Amendment was moved in the sense of the hon. Member's for Oldham — namely, that the overseer should be compelled to make a demand, and that he should be liable to a penalty of £1 for neglecting to make it. He thought that was harsh. So did his right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire. The right hon. Gentleman thought it was wrong, for he went into the same lobby with him and voted against it. There was great difficulty in coming to a conclusion upon this clause, because it left the overseers to do precisely what they chose with the electors, putting some on the register and leaving others off. The clause seemed to give no satisfaction to either side of the House, and therefore he had suggested that it should be negatived. He thought if a clause could be prepared that would be satisfactory to the Mouse and workable, it would be a great advantage.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to any that it would be better that the new voters should be put in the same position as the present £10 householders. Now, in looking at the Reform Bill, he found that no demand in that case was required; therefore he naturally concluded that his object was to take out of the Bill the necessity of a demand being made.
§ MR. HENRY BAILLIE
recommended the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton to bring up a clause of his own on the Report. He would then be supported by those who entertained the same opinions, and not run the risk of having a clause introduced by those who were not favourable to his views. The clause was thrown out because it was absolutely impracticable 699 and unworkable; and because they would not place so much power in the hands of the overseer as would leave him complete master of the situation in all the boroughs of the kingdom.
§ MR. DENMAN
was very much obliged for the advice which had been given him. He would look into the matter and try to draw a better clause than that of the Attorney General, although he thought that a very honest and well-framed clause, and doubted whether it could be improved. He did not know that he should be able to do better. He would rather, however, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark should undertake the duty, to show that he was really in earnest in this matter, for he was quite sure that his hon. and learned Friend would find that great mischief would result in the direction of wholesale disfranchisement if some similar provision were not inserted. He suggested that his hon. and learned Friend should prepare a clause, which he would be happy to consider; and that the clause should be settled with the Attorney General so as to carry out the original undertaking of the Government.
§ MR. LOCKE
quite confessed that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton had caused a great many discussions on this Bill, and he did not mean to say that he had not done great good service to the Bill, but he was at a loss to know exactly what that good was. At the same time, he should be most happy to ask his assistance or to tender his own with a view to draw such a clause as might give satisfaction to everybody.
wished to apologize to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark, because he was very glad to find that he was favourable to demand on the voter. That demand on the voter he thought most important; and, as far as he could judge, it appeared very intimately associated with the practicability of the system of personal rating, As to the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the votes on that side of the House, they were delivered in great good humour, and they were received entirely in the same spirit. They might be perfectly justifiable under the circumstances; but quite independent of that, he begged the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Member for Bedfordshire (Colonel Gilpin) to observe that he never said a word as to the votes of independent Members. All he did was 700 to impugn and challenge the conduct of the Government unless they had used such influence as they could—and he was quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman had done so—to obtain for the clause the votes of his own supporters, and in regard to that he spoke of no personal honour as involved in the engagement of the Government not being fulfilled when he said he understood that a Member of the Government had voted in the majority.
said, he received a "whip" to be present and support the Government to-day, and he had reason to know that hon. Gentlemen opposite had received a "whip" to oppose the Government. ["No!" from the Opposition.] He had seen it. He should have supported the Government if he had thought them right; but, as he did not think them right, he had voted against them.
hoped that whoever drew up the clause would meet the difficulty which had come strongly upon them in the course of that debate—how they were to take the power of enfranchising and disfranchising out of the hands of the overseers. He could fairly say that this was what turned his vote. Hearing no answer to this question he had thought it better to vote against the clause and leave the whole thing open rather than leave enfranchisement or disfranchisement to the caprice of the overseer or to accident. He thought it well worthy of consideration, whether the framers of the Bill of 1832 had not foreseen the difficulty, and therefore left the question of demand out of sight altogether. If you had a demand, you left it absolutely in the hands of the overseer to enfranchise A and disfranchise B at his pleasure.
§ Motion negatived.
§ COLONEL DYOTT
then moved to insert, after Clause 3, a clause giving to freeholders, copyholders, and leaseholders within Parliamentary boundaries of boroughs, or residing within seven miles thereof, a vote for such boroughs. The clause was similar to, if not identical with, a clause in the Reform Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced in 1859, and which led to the break up of the Government at that period. Household suffrage under the present Bill would confer the franchise on a vast number of the lowest class of occupiers; in the opinion of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire it would be double the present number of borough voters. 701 The hon. Member for Stockport, by way of limiting the franchise, proposed that the occupation should be at least an occupation of two rooms, and another hon. Member proposed that these rooms should be of a certain size; but these remedies did not meet the approval of the Committee, he therefore proposed to introduce upon the register the freeholders, copyholders, and leaseholders, as the case might be, residing in boroughs as an independent class of electors, to balance the more dependent class that this Bill proposed to introduce; for there would be no more independent class of voters than the men who voted in respect of their own property. It was said that this would be a measure of disfranchisement, but it was really nothing of the kind; it was only a transfer of their names from one borough to the other. Then it was said that it would deprive the borough freeholder of his ancient rights. Now, there was no man who had a greater respect for ancient rights, or would bow with more reverence for prescriptive authority than himself; but if the argument were to be carried to its farthest extent it would be impossible to pass any Reform Bill. They proposed partially to disfranchise several of the small boroughs, whose rights were as ancient as those of the freeholders. His object was to put every class of voters upon an equality. They heard much of the evils of class legislation, but surely this plan of giving a vote for freehold property, both for the town and the country, was to make the owners a privileged class. It was not exactly giving them a dual vote, though it was something analogous; it was exactly the same as the proposition to give undergraduate votes for the University towns, which the whole Liberal party had opposed. Then it was said that these votes ought not to be taken from the counties, because the counties represented property, That was so at one period, no doubt, but it had long ceased to be the case; and now that the occupation franchise had been reduced so low as £12 it had become less so than ever. He begged further to remind the House that the total number of county electors qualified by property within the borough boundaries was 91,000, while the total number of county electors was 540,000; so that the county voters within boroughs amounted to one-sixth of the whole. He did not bring this question forward from any personal motive, because he represented a borough where the freeholders 702 already voted in the borough, so that the change would not affect him; but he believed that the change would improve the borough register, would do no harm to the county register, and would carry out the object which every man professed to have at heart—to improve and amend the representation of the people. The hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by moving the following clause:—That any person, possessing a freehold, copyhold, or leasehold qualification within the Parliamentary boundary of any borough, and residing within seven miles thereof, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for such borough, and to vote at the election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for such borough in respect of such qualification, and not for the county in which such borough is situate.
§ MR. VANCE
said that the proposition was a very reasonable one. He had represented for thirteen years a constituency in which such a franchise existed. Anyone could have a freehold or leasehold qualification and vote for the city of Dublin, without the necessity even of residence; and he could assure the Committee that that constituency was very much improved, not only in intelligence, but in rank and station, by the existence of such a franchise. In Dublin the franchise was limited to freeholders who possessed a freehold of £10—there being no freehold of less value in that city. He was satisfied that the proposed clause would be an improvement and therefore he gave it his hearty support.
moved that the Chairman report Progress. The question involved by the clause was one of considerable importance, and should be fairly discussed.
Perhaps the Committee might dispose of the clause now. It would facilitate our progress when we meet again to discuss this Bill, and it would be the wisest course to take.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, it was a broad and important question, and was recommended to them by the consideration that it formed part of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill in 1859. It ought therefore to be fairly discussed and argued which it could not be at that hour.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am perfectly convinced that it will be utterly impossible for the Committee to dispose of this clause in three minutes; if any hon. Member is desirous of moving that Progress be reported, I shall not therefore resist the Motion. I wish to 703 correct the misstatement that there is a principle involved in the clause which was fatal to the Conservative Government of 1859.
did not know whether it was an overstatement on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancel-of the Exchequer that the principle of the clause had been fatal to the Government of 1859. All he could say was that the proposition fatal to them was made on the part of the Government of 1859, and was received with uniform hostility by their political opponents and by very widely spread opposition on the part of their friends.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.