§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 3 (Occupation Franchise for Voters in Boroughs).
At end of Clause, to add the words "Provided, That no tenement shall be considered a dwelling house for the purposes of this Act which contains less than two rooms."—(Mr. Watkin.)
§ Amendment proposed, to the said proposed Amendment, by adding the words "and that the said two rooms shall not together contain less than sixteen hundred cubic feet."—(Mr. Pease.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Question, "That the words 'and that the said two rooms shall not together contain less than sixteen hundred cubic feet'" again proposed.
§ MR. WATKIN
said, that his proposal having been accepted favourably on the part of the Government, he had not felt it necessary to trouble the House with many observations on Monday night, when, at a late hour, the matter was last before the House. But as the hon. Member (Mr. Thomas Hughes) seemed to imagine that he had reason for complaint on account of the course adopted, he would now shortly state the grounds upon which he sought by his Motion to prevent household suffrage from being degraded into hovel suffrage. He was ready to give the franchise to the occupier of a house, but not to the occupier of a hut. Every section of politicians was anxious to do what the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) had often expressed an anxiety to do—namely, to "keep out the residuum." Last Saturday, at a meeting held in another place, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), whom many of those sitting around him recognise as the Leader of their party, gave utterance to sentiments very similar to those expressed by the hon. Member. The right hon. Gentleman said—I do not deny that I do feel considerable difficulty exists with respect to that lowest margin of householders who tremble between pauperism and independence. In the present state of education in this country, and in the circumstances in which we are placed, I do not say that the evil to be apprehended is one of commanding magnitude, but then I do regard it as a real evil.It was to meet this real evil that he asked the House to consider the proposal standing in his name. He ventured to lay down this proposition—that the industrious working man who sought to obtain a decent dwelling in which to bring up his family in comfort was fit to be placed in possession of the franchise; but that the man who, either from intemperate habits, want of industry, or any other cause, had neither the ambition nor the power to secure for his family an independent home in which his children could be trained in decency and with some approach to comfort, was not fit 696 to have the franchise given to him, but belonged to "the residuum." The Bill as it stood would first enfranchise all the occupants of the existing hovels in boroughs—and counties if there was land attached to them—and it would increase and facilitate in all the smaller boroughs, and even in many of the average size, the creation of votes by the erection of tenements, which were not properly fit for human habitation. On the subject of the existing hovels in different boroughs, he should quote from the Report of Dr. Hunter, presented to the Privy Council the year before last. He would first take the borough of Tavistock, in Devonshire. Dr. Hunter said—On the Callington Road are four unilocular huts, where in one case four adults, in another three, in another two, with four children, make one room serve for parlour, kitchen, and all.Here, again, was the case of the borough of Petersfield, in Hampshire—At Street, in Petersfield, many houses have but one bedroom. In one bedroom slept a married pair, two adult girls, six younger girls, and one boy baby; in another a widow with her five children. In one house of two bedrooms lived three married pairs with five children; in another five adults with four children; in another three adults with four children.Again, the Report spoke as follows of the ancient borough of Stafford:—In the town of Stafford and much of the environs wretched houses are common. The roads are gutters and stenches prevail in and out of doors.Of a borough in Wiltshire distinguished for its representative (Mr. Lowe), the Report of Dr. Hunter contained this statement—At Calne, in the first turning out of Wood Street, are three cots of labourers, in one of which were living, when I called, seven adults and five children; they had but one bedroom, but some slept in the kitchen. Next door was a married pair with four children.Then came Yorkshire. Of Knaresborough in Yorkshire, the Report stated—The cheapness of material at Knaresborough has tempted capitalists to erect rough, small, and ill-arranged cots in numbers, probably never and not now necessary. They are in many cases so poor and wretched that it is difficult to let them even at 10d., 9d., and 6d., which are the rents demanded.Surely it would not be to the advantage of the country that the class of men who occupied hovels like those described by Dr. Hunter should have votes. But the Bill in its present shape would enable persons to create votes by the erection of such hovels. In the Report of the Commissioners 697 who had inquired into the Totnes election there was this statement—The power of creating votes was largely increased by the quantity of meadow land brought within the limits of the borough at the Reform Bill. Sheds of a better and more expensive character than had hitherto existed were erected on the different fields, and a manufactured £10 qualification, though adopted by both sides, had added a larger number of votes to the Liberal interest, and is now only available to any extent to that party.The percentage of hovel suffrage, if no restriction be placed upon the Bill, would in boroughs under 1,500 electors be probably equivalent to 10 per cent, and the occupiers of such tenements would be a bad class of voters. He should not go into the question as to which party might be benefited by the erection of such hovels; but it appeared to him to be clear that where the majority on one side or the other did not exceed 10 per cent—a very usual case—there was the strongest temptation to erect such dwellings. He thought that no temptation so dangerous should be placed in the hands of proprietors as that of being able to qualify a number of voters by the erection of hovels. The object of the House was stated to be that of selecting for the franchise those of the working classes who were industrious and sober, and maintained their families in a decent manner, and to omit only what had been called "the residuum." The only difference of opinion was as to how that desideratum could be secured. The Chancellor of the Exchequer endeavoured to secure it by personal payment of rates. He did not mean to again raise the question whether that proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was desirable. But he might say there were indications in the country that the security of personal payment of rates would be only a temporary one. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had endeavoured to find a security in a £5 line, but the difficulty in that or any figure was that its effect must frequently be grossly unjust and unequal. Every Member of the House of Commons must have found on his canvass that there were instances in which very intelligent and respectable persons, such as the foreman of a large establishment, or a schoolmaster of superior education, occupied very small houses, and consequently were without votes, while next door to such a man was, perhaps, a marine store dealer, or the keeper of a beershop, who had a vote because his house was valued at so much more than 698 than that of his neighbour, who in every respect was more fitted for the franchise. He ventured to think, therefore, that his Amendment afforded a better security than either the plan of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or that of the right hon. Gentleman. It was worthy of the consideration of the House to endeavour, if possible, to define what a tenement for the purpose of the franchise should be, in order to secure the necessary separation between the good and bad elements of the constituency. He must explain to the House why he proposed two rooms as the test. For many years he had paid a good deal of attention to the subject of improved dwellings for the working classes. Before he put his Notice on the Paper his friend Alderman Waterlow wrote him a letter in which there was this paragraph in reference to the buildings erected by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company—The second-class tenements consist of two rooms and similar appurtenances to those attached to the first-class dwellings. The area of the floor space amounts to 273 square feet, and the cubic contents to 2,345 feet. The weekly rents vary in the same way from 4s. 6d. to 6s., and are between 5s. 3d. and 5s. 4d. per week on the average, or 2s. 7.904d. per room.He thought that as the association with which his friend was connected acted on the supposition that a residence consisting of two rooms contained the very smallest accommodation in which a respectable working man ought to reside, the definition of a house which he proposed to have inserted in the clause would be a satisfactory one for the purposes of this Bill. He found in Dr. Hunter's Report a summary which gave these resuits—Houses examined, 5,375; number of bedrooms, 8,805; single bedroom houses out of above, 2,195; adult inhabitants, 4,918; children, 3,906; total, 8,824; equal to 4 per house.In many cases the four persons slept in a less amount of space than was given to a single convict in Her Majesty's prisons. If they deducted the cases in which those places were occupied by single men or women, or by married persons without families, the average number of persons for a single bedroom was eight. With these facts before them he hoped the Committee would adopt his Amendment. He did not mean to say it could not be improved. He was ready to adopt the words of his hon. Friend (Mr. Pease), his sole object being to prevent a mere hovel from giving any one a qualification for the franchise.
§ MR. MELLER
said, that the adoption of the Amendment would be a reversal of a decision at which the House had recently arrived. He thought the hon. Member (Mr. Thomas Hughes) was incorrect in stating the other night that the working men could easily obtain two rooms for 3s. 6d. or 4s. a week. From inquiries he had instituted he was led to believe that was practically impossible. Indeed, if a man were compelled to take two rooms the qualification would be virtually raised from £10 to £15. He could not endorse the statement of the hon. Member to the effect that artizans generally were only in receipt of 24s. a week. A reference to the blue book and other authentic sources of information would show that the artizans were, in fact, receiving a much larger amount of wages. The engine-drivers, for instance, had lately been endeavouring to get 7s. 6d. a day, while some labourers were paid at the rate of 5d. an hour. His objection to the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin) was, that there existed a large class of men, especially in the metropolis and the great provincial towns, of whose intelligence there could be no doubt, who, in regard to moral qualities, would bear favourable comparison with the artizan class, and who occupied positions of great trust, who would be excluded from the franchise if the Amendment were adopted. The class he was referring to consisted of bankers' clerks, commercial clerks, and others in similar employments. The salaries of these men averaged from £80 to £120, and for the most part they were unable to rent two furnished rooms, which would cost them £20 a year, and at the same time they could not come upon the register by the income tax qualification. By having adopted the lodger franchise, the House had departed from the principle that personal payment of rates should be the only avenue of the borough franchise.
§ MR. PEASE
said, he thought the last speaker had been labouring under some misapprehension respecting the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin), which had reference not to lodgers, but to the occupiers of houses. The object of the Amendment which he had placed upon the Paper was to amplify that of the hon. Member. It would be well for the Committee to take stock and consider for a moment where they had drifted in the present Session. After different plans had been brought before them, they had drifted into a bastard kind of household 700 suffrage. He did not use that term offensively, but that was a singular kind of suffrage which was grafted on a permissive local assessment Bill. It was the interest of every man to make the Bill as effective as possible. So far as he was concerned, as an independent Member, he endeavoured to do his little best by bringing forward this Motion to remedy the defects of the Bill. It was difficult to define a dwelling-house. Rating and rental had run away from them, and the only test left was the air people breathed in a house. They ought to exclude those who had been delicately described by the hon. Member for Birmingham as the "residuum"—the class where poverty began and honesty flinched. He knew of a case in a borough where a man was objected to year by year by the various election agents. He appeared again before the revising barrister, who said. "Now, what is your qualification?" The man replied, "My qualification is as good as ever it was." The opposite electioneering agent said, "He has not a house at all." The voter said, "I had a house this morning, but those cursed Blues have pulled it down." The truth was the house was built of stakes and wattle, and the house and land together were worth £10. He objected to hovel voters and to persons who lived in cellars having votes. As healthful and decent habitations were deemed essential to the social improvement of the poorer classes, he had fixed upon l,600 cubic feet of space as the minimum capacity of two rooms to give a vote. The cubic space allowed at hospitals was as follows:—Brighton military hospital, 1,100 cubic feet each patient; Winchester hospital, 900 feet and 1,200 feet; York, 1,425 feet. The allowance in barracks built since 1847 was as follows:—Devonport, 1,694 feet, for each non-commissioned officer; 620 feet for every soldier; Portland, 700 feet; sergeants' quarters, 1,400 feet; Wellington barracks, 500 feet for every man, 2,035 feet for each non-commissioned officer, and Portsmouth, 1,662 feet for every married soldier. The cubic space he had fixed upon seemed to be the smallest that ought to be occupied by a man intrusted with the franchise. He commended this test as not interfering; in any way with the sacred and holy principle of personal payment of rates.
§ SIR ROBERT COLLIER
said, the Amendment was open to very serious objections. It proposed a definition of the term "dwelling-house" hitherto unknown 701 to the law, and which would operate as a disfranchisement. It would also be highly inconvenient in practice, while it would not answer the purpose contemplated. It was proposed as a test of respectability. He denied that it was such a test. One room, large and well-furnished, and ventilated, might be much more respectable than two small ones, and might command a higher rent than two rooms. And how would this work in practice? How easy would it be at any time, by putting up a partition or even a screen to convert one room into two? It would be an excellent provision for the lawyers, as it would raise all sorts of legal questions as to whether such apartments were two rooms or one. If anything could reduce the proposal to absurdity it would be the Amendment to it, which would involve measurement in every doubtful case, first by the overseer and then by witnesses, who might give conflicting evidence before the revising barrister.
§ MR. POULETT SCROPE
said, he concurred in the objects with which the Amendments were proposed, but thought the hon. Members did not adopt the right means to secure them. The cubic feet of space a man required would depend upon the size of his family. Hon. Members would practically attain the objects they had in view if they assisted him in the effort to exempt houses below a certain value from being rated to the relief of the poor.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, the definition of a dwelling-house was a matter of vital importance in northern towns. They would get into trouble and difficulty if they attempted in a Reform Bill to enforce sanitary regulations, or to improve the dwellings of the poor. It was a laudable object, but he would prefer to do both directly rather than indirectly. He had received a letter from the Secretary of the Working Men's Club in Newcastle-on-Tyne. In reference to the statements it contained he might remark that there were many hon. Gentlemen in the House who professed to represent the feelings of the working class who certainly were not very well acquainted with the feelings or views of that class. It appeared that the Members approved the requirement of personal payment of rates, but they were anxious about the definition of "dwelling-house," for upon that it depended whether the Bill would be to them an enfranchising or a disfranchising measure. For instance, if a dwelling-house were to consist of one or more rooms, with the exclusive use of the front door, the 702 Bill would enfranchise a very inconsiderable number. If it were to consist of two or more rooms, with a key of the front door, any man who wished could obtain the franchise. The letter continued—Under these circumstances no party help will be required to get upon the register; if it were, we should feel bound to vote for the party that places us upon it. This would be stimulating party activity at the cost of the voter's independence.The meaning of these words was that the working men wished to register themselves, and not to let others register them. He trusted the Government would place a liberal construction on the word "dwelling-house," and would consent to introduce the words, "or part of a house." A man's house was a rough-and-ready test of his social position. But the Committee would understand that if it were applied too strictly it would turn this measure, which was intended to be one of enfranchisement into one of exclusion.
said, that if the Committee were discussing a sanitary measure he should speak much in the same strain as the hon. Members (Mr. Watkin and Mr. Pease). He was as anxious as they were that the working man should live in a comfortable dwelling. Much had been said about "a hard and fast line" of £5. But what would be the effect of fixing the franchise at two rooms, or 1,600 feet of air? It would be confining the franchise to houses of the value of £7 10s. and upwards. He understood the Government to propose to give the franchise to every man occupying a house and personally rated to the poor rate. A good deal had been said about two rooms. But in many places a man and his wife lived comfortably and respectably in one room till they had the second child. In the borough he represented (Newcastle) a single room of any size let for 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week, and in many boroughs the working man could not afford to pay a higher rent. If the Bill would draw a hard and fast line between £7 10s. and £10, why not at once insert a rental? The Amendment would be giving a hard and fast line not at so many pounds, but at a given cubic measurement of air. The effect of the Amendment would be to prevent the enfranchisement of 14,000 men in Newcastle.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he thought the object of the Amendment had been misunderstood, and therefore unintentionally misrepresented. An hon. Gentleman (Mr. 703 Meller) talked of this Amendment raising the lodger franchise from £10 to £15. The Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin)—keeping out of view for the present the addition proposed—had nothing whatever to do with the lodger franchise. It referred only to inhabited dwelling-houses directly rated to the poor, which lodgings could not be, and the two things were totally dissimilar. If there were 14,000 dwelling-houses in Newcastle with only one apartment, as had been alleged, it was certainly a bad state of things, and called for some remedy. He had some time ago, with a view to the Scotch Reform Bill, given notice of an Amendment of this kind, but limited to houses rented below £4. It might be supposed that hon. Gentlemen had never heard of houses that were below £4 rental; but he could tell hon. Members on the other side that it appeared from a Return obtained by an hon. Gentleman in 1862, once Lord Advocate of their party, that in Glasgow there were 34,907 houses at and under £4 rental. The Return was not complete for Edinburgh, and only included part of it, but in the one-half of Edinburgh (there being no Return from the other parish), there were 6,100 such houses; in Aberdeen, 896; in Dunfermline, 1,612; in Perth, 852; in part of Paisley, 5,870; in Falkirk, 920. In all these cases female householders were included. That Return contained a valuable summary at the end, applicable to both counties and boroughs in Scotland, which showed that there were altogether 431,793 houses rented at and under £4 assessed to the poor. Of these, 189,555 were exempted from the poor rates on the ground of inability to pay. That was nearly half of the whole number. Many of the occupants in the large towns were a wretched class, living in one apartment, often dark, ill-ventilated, damp — altogether, in many cases, unfit for human habitation. Yet these houses were rated for the poor, and the greater number of them were paying poor rates. Under the Bill the occupant of each of these houses that paid the poor rate would be entitled to a vote. The argument founded on the payment of poor rates had considerable weight from the comparatively large amount of the rates laid on in England. In Scotland the amount was not nearly so large. There was scarcely a poor rate in Scotland that exceeded 1s. 6d. in the pound, and the landlord paid one-half of all poor rates. If 704 votes were given to the occupiers of all such houses, the door would be open to bribery and corruption by political agents paying for poor persons the trifling amount of poor rates laid upon them, in order to secure their votes; and this might be done to an extent which no man could foresee. He should therefore cordially support the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin.)
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that the hon. Member (Mr. Liddell) had imported into the discussion a matter which had no proper connection with it. He should be sorry to believe there were 14,000 families in Newcastle each occupying only one room. But the Attorney General had undertaken to meet in the interpretation clause the case of Newcastle and other places where, in what appeared to be only one house, there were several stories, in which dwelt separate families, separately rated. But that case must not be mixed up with the one introduced by the hon. Member. It would be exceedingly difficult to adopt with safety either of the Amendments proposed. They would lead to endless litigation, and would have a very wide disfranchising effect. Besides this, the questions of the franchise and the sanitary construction of houses should be kept quite distinct.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, the subject now under discussion had nothing to do either with the Scotch Reform Bill or with the case of lodgers. One point for the consideration of the Committee was the definition which should be given of a house generally, and the other was a point raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin) excluding from that definition houses which were not of a certain size. Upon the first of these points he had expressed his willingness to bring up a clause, if necessary, defining what a house should be; but having given some attention to the subject, he did not think such a definition would be necessary. It would be difficult to give any definition that would be more satisfactory than that which the law now provided. He quite agreed, however, that in the case mentioned by the right hon. Baronet, where there was a self-contained flat or storey, separately rated, constructed for use as a separate tenement, and held as a separate tenement, it should be a house within the meaning of the Act, entitling the occupier to a vote, and he believed that under the law as it now stood such houses were clearly entitled to a vote. All recent decisions tended in that direction. It was quite clear that the occupiers 705 of flats in Victoria Street, for instance, would be entitled to a vote. He had looked at a plan of several houses in Newcastle, and he thought it very doubtful whether those houses would come under the category which he had indicated. Many of those houses in Newcastle had not one door, shutting in one flat or portion of a house, but a long passage with a great many doors opening into various rooms, and there were besides various offices which all the occupiers of the building enjoyed in common. It would be very difficult to define a house so as to include tenements of that kind. With respect to the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin), no doubt it was not intended that every hovel should give a vote; but it would be difficult to legislate as to the size of a house, and if this were done a proviso which had been suggested that each room should have a window admitting light from the outside would appear to be not unreasonable. There was, in his opinion, exaggeration as to the number of houses which had but one room. From his own experience, he should say such houses were few. It might be necessary, however, to have an interpretation clause at the end of the Bill, and he would therefore suggest that the matter should be left for future consideration.
said, that the present state of the law was not satisfactory, and would exclude several persons who ought to be included. He was not aware that the houses in Newcastle were very different from what they were in other large towns. The clause as it at present stood would exclude a great number of persons who were entitled to the vote. If they began to descend to minute distinctions the result could only be to embarrass and perplex the question. The plain and conspicuous distinction that should be kept in view he believed to be this—that every tenement separately rated, and the rates of which were paid, should confer a vote. He gave notice that he should propose the adoption of this definition, unless the Attorney General would undertake to introduce it. He trusted the House would not refine about doors and windows and so forth.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
If my hon. and learned Friend will submit any definition of a house, I am quite prepared to bring in an interpretation clause. It appears to me there may be objections to the words "separately rated." A great deal in this matter depends upon the principle 706 on which the rating can be insisted on. Can any room in a house at the will and pleasure of the overseer be rated? I will consider when we come to the interpretation clause whether we shall add the definition to it.
said, that much light had been thrown on the question, What constitutes a tenement by the decisions of revising barristers? and now the difficulty was about the new buildings which might be occupied as tenements and separately rated. He supposed that the law as it now applied to houses above the value of £10 would be equally applicable to tenements under that value after the passing of the Act. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) that if there was any difficulty it might be removed by an interpretation clause at the end. The decisions of the Revising Barristers and of the Superior Courts would enable the Attorney General to draw up such a clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, no doubt the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin) would feel that the best course for him to adopt was to withdraw his Amendment, as the Attorney General had promised to bring in an interpretation of the law.
§ MR. WATKIN
said, he had no alternative but to submit to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal; but he hoped it would be thoroughly understood that the principle he contended for would be considered in the interpretation clause.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
If the proposal of the Attorney General does not meet the hon. Gentleman's views, he will have ample opportunity for discussing the question.
§ MR. WATKIN
said, he was willing under these circumstances to withdraw his Amendment, leaving the responsibility with the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, he had to move that no man should be entitled to be registered as a voter by reason of 707 his being a joint occupier of any dwelling-house. He thought that, though it was the intention of the Government that a house should qualify only a single voter, the clause as it stood would enfranchise two or half-a-dozen occupants if they were all assessed to the poor rate, one effect of which would be to encourage overcrowding at the expense of sanitary considerations. The words of the clause were "an occupier" not "the occupier of a dwelling-house."
At the end of Clause 3, to add the words "Provided that no man shall, under this Clause, be entitled to be registered as a voter by reason of his being a joint occupier of any dwelling house."—(Sir Francis Goldsmid.")
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, he would suggest that this point should also be remitted to the interpretation clause.
said, he concurred in this suggestion. Rogers' Law of Elections contained a number of decisions upon the meaning of "a house," and also some bearing upon the present question, which would be of assistance in the construction of the interpretation clause. There was, no doubt, some difficulty in the definition of "a dwelling-house," and he had heard an hon. and learned Member (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) argue that occupation and residence were synonymous.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he was quite willing to take up the question for the hon. Baronet, unless he preferred it being disposed of now.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, the present question was whether joint occupiers should have a vote, and this, having nothing to do with the definition of a dwelling-house, might be disposed of at once.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, that the question ought to await the interpretation clause, in which the case of persons occupying separate portions of a house, but using certain appurtenances in common, would have to be dealt with.
said, persons might be excluded who jointly occupied domestic offices, though they had separate dwellings, and therefore he pressed for a division.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 259; Noes 25: Majority 234.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Words added.708
§ MR. HODGKINSON
said, he rose to move the insertion at the end of the clause of the following words:—Provided always, That, except as hereinafter provided, no person other than the occupier shall, after the passing of this Act, be rated to parochial rates in respect of premises occupied by him within the limits of a Parliamentary Borough, all Acts to the contrary now in force notwithstanding.After the various suggestions that had been made for dealing with that somewhat troublesome class of voters, the compound-householders, it might be deemed an act of presumption on his part to attempt to dispose of them in the very summary way contemplated by his Amendment—namely, by annihilating them altogether as compound-householders, and reviving them on their original character of ordinary ratepayers. The Amendment was conceived in no hostile spirit to the Bill of the Government. So far from being antagonistic to any principle of the Bill, it was essential to the satisfactory and permanent working of the leading principle—the principle of the personal payment of rates. A system which depended upon personal payment of rates as a qualification for the franchise, and a system of compounding for rates by which the owner might be rated instead of the occupier, contained elements so antagonistic that they could scarcely coexist within the same area of rating. If when the Compounding Acts were introduced they had touched the elective franchise, they would not, he believed, have been passed. The first of those Acts was 59 Geo. III., commonly called Sturges Bourne's Act, which applied to tenements of between £6 and £20 a year, and to tenements let for short periods or in separate parts to different tenants. When it passed there were in many boroughs franchises, such as the scot and lot franchise, which depended on the payment of rates. In order to prevent the electors from being deprived of their right a clause was introduced somewhat similar to that he proposed—That nothing in the Act should extend, or be construed to extend, to give any power or authority to assess the owner, not being the occupier, of any house or dwelling in any city, borough, or town corporate in which the right of voting for a Member to serve in Parliament depended on the assessment of the occupier to poor rates.The next public Act on the subject was the Small Tenements Act of 1850. That Act contained no provision exactly analogous to that which he had just stated. The reason for that was that the Reform Act of 1832 had been passed eighteen 709 years before, restricting the occupation franchise to tenements of a value not less than £10. Therefore the Small Tenements Act had no operation upon the Parliamentary franchise, its operation being restricted to tenements, the annual value of which did not exceed £6. When the Small Tenements Bill was before Parliament it was conceded by every one who took part in the discussion that if it had any operation upon the Parliamentary franchise it would be an improper Act to pass. It had, however, an operation upon the municipal franchise, and so tenacious was the Legislature upon the rights of voters, that a special clause was introduced providing that it should not in any way restrict the municipal franchise. If the compounding Acts conferred any material benefit upon the community at large, or upon any class of parishes, an objection might exist even to the very partial interference with them contemplated by his Amendment. But it was more than doubtful whether their operation had not been directly the reverse of beneficial. From the communications he had received since he put his Amendment on the Paper he felt perfectly justified in saying that in the towns where those Acts had been in force for some time there was anything but a unanimous feeling in their favour. The Act of 1850 had now been in operation for seventeen years, and every opportunity had been given to parishes to bring themselves under its provisions. Where the parishes had adopted it they had generally done so in a period of distress among the labouring classes. During those seventeen years almost every town had experienced such a time of distress, and it was not very surprising that on those occasions they had endeavoured to arrange their parochial burdens upon the footing of that Act. In those seasons of distress there occurred a considerable loss in raising the rates from the labouring classes. But it would be better that that loss should be temporarily borne than that the general body of occupiers should be subjected to increased rates for all time to come. The parochial authorities were always greatly in favour of the system of compounding, because it saved them much trouble, and they no doubt exercised great influence in procuring the adoption of the Act within their respective parishes. There was another reason for the adoption. When these Acts were proposed to be brought into operation every ratepayer was entitled to vote in the vestry, 710 and the vestry meeting could be made up largely of the occupiers of small tenements, who would naturally vote, upon superficial grounds, for what appeared at the first blush to be a transfer of their burdens to the landlords. With these inducements it might be expected that that Act would have been generally adopted. But at the present time less than one-third of the parishes throughout the kingdom had done so. Fewer than one-half of the parishes within the limits of the Parliamentary boroughs had adopted it. Out of the 221 boroughs in England only 57 had adopted these Acts throughout their entire limits. Once adopted, indeed, they were very rarely or never rescinded. That was easily to be accounted for. When once the system of compounding had been introduced by the votes of the smaller class of ratepayers, their power of voting in the vestry passed over to their landlords. Moreover, the Act, though it might be adopted by a simple majority, could not be rescinded except by a majority of two-thirds. It was now generally acknowledged that the occupiers of those small tenements did, in fact, pay the full amount of the rates, and perhaps more, in the shape of additional rent, and that the landlords put the difference or discount into their own pockets. It was easy, therefore, to understand why, when the owners had the voting power instead of the occupiers, the Acts, after they had been adopted, were not rescinded. The compounding Acts committed not only a great injustice upon the smaller occupiers, some of whom on the ground of poverty under the old system would have been excused altogether from the payment of rates, but also upon those who occupied houses above the compounding value. Those who paid the full rate, of course, had to contribute more in consequence of the deficiency of the compounder, because what the parish wanted was a certain amount of money, quite irrespective of what it might amount to in the pound. It might be said that it would be impossible to carry out the rate-collecting in large towns were it not for the compound system; but he took the liberty of doubting that, because he found that it was not in operation in many large towns, and he asked why, if Liverpool could do without it, could not Manchester? If Stockport could do without it, why could not the neighbouring towns of Lancashire? If Oldham, why not Rochdale? If Stoke-on-Trent, why not Newcastle-under 711 Lyne? He believed that in the metropolis itself, particularly in the City, there were large areas of rating in which the compound system did not exist. The system was not without advantages, in an economical point of view, but all its advantages might be retained, while, at the same time, the system itself was done away with. If the proposal of the Government were carried out as it stood, it would be necessary to have a very complicated machinery. Every ratepaying occupier would have to be placed on the rate book, and the overseers would be bound to ascertain the correct name of the occupier or be subject to some penalty for omitting it for the purpose of affecting his Parliamentary right. It would probably be thought by some that the effect of the Government proposal would be that the better class of ratepayers would claim to be rated and the worst would be left to the landlord as compounders. His opinion was different. He believed that if the Government proposal were accepted as it stood, it would be the lowest class of tenants from whom it would be almost impossible to collect the rates who would get on the register in consequence of the landlords insisting upon their claiming to be rated, while the better class would be left off, because the landlords would object to lose the benefit of the allowance on the composition, and would not allow them to be rated. Taking all the circumstances into consideration the balance of convenience was immensely in favour of the total abolition of the compounding system. It might be said that his Amendment would burden the Bill with what did not belong to it. He did not think that the additional weight imposed by the abolition of the system would be materially greater than that which would be imposed by the Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that every occupier throughout the parish "might" be rated. His (Mr. Hodgkinson's) Amendment was simply that every ratepayer "should be," instead of "might be" rated. That was the only difference. The Amendment did not in any way interfere with the principle of the Bill, which was that of personal payment of rates, while it would get rid of "the residuum," because that would be composed of a class which never would pay the rates in any case. If the Bill should become law without some Amendment such as that he proposed, so far from being a settlement of the question, 712 it would only lead to renewed agitation.
Amendment moved at end of clause to add the words—
Provided always, That, except as hereinafter provided, no person other than the occupier shall, after the passing of this Act, be rated to parochial rates in respect of premises occupied by him within the limits of a Parliamentary Borough, all Acts to the contrary now in force notwithstanding."—(Mr. Hodgkinson.)
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he should like to have some explanation from the hon. Gentleman as to what was meant by the words "as hereinafter provided."
§ MR. HODGKINSON
said, that if his Amendment were agreed to it would require to be supplemented by some further provisions. Indeed, some had already been suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. Childers).
After the explanation we have just heard, it seems to me we have before us a proposal which means either the repeal simpliciter of the Compounding and Small Tenements Acts, with a view to a more large and equal extension of the franchise below £10, or else one qualified by the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Childers), who would allow those Acts to remain in existence in all cases in which by deliberate agreement between the occupier and the owner a desire is expressed that they should be retained. I do not wish to draw any vital distinction between these two proposals, or rather these two forms of the same proposal. I think, so far as I am able to judge, that the rider of my hon. Friend is a decided improvement on the original and naked proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson). I cannot, at the same time, disguise from the Committee that this is a proposal of great importance, and I am anxious to express in as few words, and with as much clearness as I can, the precise views I take of it, and which are taken of it by many of those with whom I have communicated on the subject. I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in his place, and I am sure it is not necessary to request his attention to anything which may fall from any Member of the House, but I am particularly anxious to convey to his mind with the utmost distinctness the views to which I have just adverted. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hodgkinson) seems to suppose that the weight of this Bill—which he admits is very great—will not be much increased 713 by the addition to it of the proviso which he has moved. I am so sanguine as to believe that under certain circumstances the weight of the Bill—that is to say, the difficulties in the way of passing it into law—may not only not be much increased, but may be practically and materially diminished by the adoption of some such proposal. I shall, if I can, without unnecessarily repeating epithets of an invidious kind, endeavour to describe the position in which I and some other Members stand on this occasion. The House has on two occasions, by a majority in the first instance not inconsiderable, and in the second instance by a large majority, established as a fundamental principle of the borough franchise—against which principle I with others most earnestly and strenuously contended—that no compound-householder should be a voter, and that every non-compound-householder should be a voter. The proposal made by Her Majesty's Government was—choose between the franchise and the composition. That proposal has been deliberately adopted by the House, and upon the latter of the two occasions adopted by a large majority. It is impossible for me to acquiesce in that principle in the form in which it now stands in the Bill. While the vote of the House of Commons amounted to what I must deseiibe—and I am claiming no assent from any one—as the adoption of the principle of household suffrage, it is household suffrage attended, in my opinion, with restrictions of a nature most unjust, most vexatious, and most certain to lead to that which we all desire to avoid—prolonged agitation till they are swept away. Against these inequalities we, the minority in the last division on this subject, protested, and must continue on every fair and reasonable occasion to protest. With respect to the provisions of the Bill which appear to establish the principle of household suffrage, it is not our intention to propose any limitation. The only course open to us in respect to the Bill as it now stands is to offer it certainly not a factious or vexatious, but a decided resistance. I abjure the intention of resorting under any circumstances to those methods of extreme opposition sometimes adopted, which consist in dividing again and again on questions with respect to which the House has deliberately pronounced its opinion—a course pursued not with a view to produce a change in the judgment of the House, but to delay by the means of 714 physical obstruction the moment of the final triumph of those against whom it is adopted. That being our position, I must consider what is taking place and what is likely to take place out of doors. With the view I take of the opinion of the country with respect to this Bill, I cannot contemplate without the greatest pain the probable re-commencement and continuance of a most resolute opposition out of doors of a character which I cannot pronounce to be illegitimate; because though a resistance in this House to the judgment of the House deliberately pronounced and pushed beyond a certain measure might be called factious, yet these agencies out of doors, which are intended to form, to develop, and to mature public opinion, are the legitimate expressions of the people, by which bad legislation is to be corrected. I will not disguise from myself for one moment the serious mischief that might attend that kind of movement. Although, if we were to conduct this controversy in a spirit purely polemical, I should say that the Government, and they alone, are responsible for the mischiefs which have been wrought out of bad legislation, yet that, as I think, is not the spirit in which these questions should be regarded. There is a paramount duty imposed on the Members of this House, to be ever ready in every juncture and crisis to make the best of the circumstances in which they stand, and, if possible, to arrive at such an accommodation of great questions as may, if not avoid minor and secondary evils, lead to some settlement of the subject in discussion. I wish to ask myself the question fairly, and to answer it impartially, whether the incorporation of the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hodgkinson) in this Bill would or would not so mitigate the evil, and so increase the advantage of the Bill as to warrant that number—still, I believe, a larger number—of Members of this House who, like me, take the view and entertain the conviction that the provisions of the borough franchise as they stand in the Bill, are wholly unworthy of acceptance by the country in accepting it. If I attempt to analyse the option which the Government propose to offer, and which the House has agreed to offer, I find it is this. The principle is, choose between the franchise and the composition. My first proposition is that my hon. Friend adopts the fundamental basis laid down by Her Majesty's Government, because, totidem verbis, were he to incorporate 715 the spirit of the Amendment, he could not do otherwise than express it in the same terms as those used by Her Majesty's Government—that is to say, he accepts and founds it upon the option between the franchise and the composition, and he says, "the franchise shall exclude the composition; the composition shall exclude the franchise." The first condition attaching to this question, and which I cannot but perceive, is that Her Majesty's Government can have no objection whatever on the ground of principle or consistency to the acceptance of the Amendment of the hon. Member. Her Majesty's Government, so far as I know, are free to accept or to reject this Amendment upon its merits. But they cannot possibly be precluded from accepting it by its inconsistency with the principle of the Bill. I am not about to make any effort to undermine their position. I heartily wish we were enabled to secure for the country the economical conveniences and social advantages of composition along with the political benefit of the franchise. But I have been—but do not let me appear to speak egotistically—those who have taken this view have been definitely overruled. It is not therefore in extenuation of the success achieved by the Government that I speak. It is with no view to the diminution of that success. It is upon an honest, unequivocal recognition of it that I proceed, and say that the principle of the Amendment of my hon. Friend is the very principle upon which the Bill of Her Majesty's Government is founded. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board on one occasion most emphatically defined the principle of the Bill, and he has not been contradicted by any Member of the Government who has spoken. He said it was the principle of personal rating, and the principle of personal rating is that on which my hon. Friend has founded himself. My hon. Friend offers us this advantage. He offers us, at the expense of an economical and social inconvenience—at the expense, at any rate, of foregoing an economical and social advantage—he offers us, instead of an extension of the franchise, which we conceive to be limited, unequal, equivocal, dangerous, as tending in many parts to corruption, an extension of the franchise which is liberal, which is perfectly equal, and which we could not denounce as tending to corruption, because it would have the effect of placing the franchise in the possession of those, now 716 excluded, whom we regard as best entitled to enjoy it. My hon. Friend offers us this advantage at the expense of an economical inconvenience. On the other hand, it is proposed to mitigate that economical inconvenience by allowing those persons who prefer the economical advantage of composition, to the franchise, to pass into that condition if they please so to place themselves. I think that the Composition Acts are of great advantage to the country. My chief objection to them is to the disabilities they entail. If I had it in my power to amend these Acts, I would amend them by removing those disabilities. Still the question is this—which of the two great elements contained in this subject, one of them political and constitutional, and the other of them social and economical, which is primary and which is secondary. My duty is to endeavour to secure the primary advantage at the expense, if necessary, of the economical and social convenience. One objection, which appears to me of itself quite weighty enough to be fatal, is that the Bill as it stands leaves it to the vestries of parishes to determine, in the first instance, the extent of the Parliamentary suffrage. The plan which my hon. Friend proposes entirely removes out of the way that objection. With its adoption no limitation at the will of the local authorities will be placed upon the possession of the suffrage by those whom Parliament selects for enfranchisement, unless it be by their own deliberate choice. The Bill as it stands theoretically invests men with the franchise, and at the same time places them in most cases, I am afraid, in irreconcilable antagonism with their landlord in endeavouring to obtain it. That evil, if not wholly removed, will be at all events mitigated by the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend. A man is put in possession of the franchise, and, instead of having to perform a process which to him would be, I believe, a most difficult one, in order to obtain it, he will have to go through a process in order to divest himself of it. I have thus endeavoured to state the position in which, along with myself, many others stand in regard to this Bill. That position, as the Bill at present stands, is one of uncompromising hostility, of course to be governed as to the forms of its manifestations by considerations of propriety and prudence. Desirous, if possible, of finding a way of peace, I have endeavoured to look at my hon. Friend's proposal with that object. I am sorry that, in deference 717 to what seems to me to be an unwise judgment of the House, it is necessary to interfere with the system of composition which exists throughout the country. But if the practical considerations are to prevail, my duty is plainly to choose the lesser of two evils. I think that the abolition of composition, combined as it will be with a removal of the necessity for a baneful political strife throughout the country, and with the great boon of an immediate, real, and liberal enfranchisement, is an advantage such as entirely eclipses and throws into the shade the mischief which we may regard as the price at which we are to purchase this boon. For myself, I am ready to accept the proposal of my hon. Friend. In so doing I do not accept it in preference to the basis on which we desired to act. I accept it simply as the best proposal of which the circumstances will admit. I think that, all things considered, it is a plan worthy of acceptance by the Committee, the Government, and the country. It may be urged that the proposal of my hon. Friend is one of a large character, and one which ought not to be embodied in this Bill lest it should awaken opposition as yet unaroused and encumber our proceedings. My conviction, however, is that the mind of the country is so awakened on the subject of Parliamentary representation that those whom we may call the intelligent public, without distinction of place or party, are ready to do that which I myself am prepared to do upon the same grounds—to submit to a sacrifice and inconvenience for the sake of a settlement of a great political problem, a problem which, if not settled, may become to us a source of public danger, involving, possibly, much that has not yet been drawn into the vortex of political controversy. If there should be a disposition on the part of the Government to consent to the principle of the Motion of my hon. Friend, that consent will, I hope, be given in such a manner as to make it valuable and available for the purposes of the Bill. We may be told that the proposal is one which, having reference to the subject of rating arrangements, ought not to be mixed up with the franchise. The answer, however, is plain that these rating arrangements are already unmistakably mixed up with the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, an Instruction has already been actually given to the Committee, expressing the belief of the House that the two subjects of rating and of the franchise are associated 718 in the measure, and that it is desirable to leave the hands of the Committee free in regard to the question of rating. Whether, indeed, the simultaneous adoption of the principle of the Amendment of my hon. Friend in a separate measure, prompted and facilitated by the Government, might be equivalent to its insertion in the present Bill I will not at present say. But I think I may venture to say that nothing less than that would be at all satisfactory. I am bound to say for myself, and I think for many of those who sit near me and around me, that nothing less than that could possibly have the smallest effect upon our opinion of the provisions of the Bill. The prospect of proceeding in future years to re-consider this question and further to extend the franchise either by the abolition of the compounding Acts or by altering the provisions of this Bill, is a prospect of which we are already in possession. For myself, I frankly own that if the question of placing the franchise on an equal footing is relegated to another Session, I retract my promise of support to my hon. Friend. In that case it would clearly be my duty to oppose again what I regard the unsound and vicious provisions of the Bill. It is on account of the immediate boon, for the sake of the immediate settlement, and with a view to the removal of those popular proceedings which I anticipate out of doors, that I am ready to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and to pay the price demanded for that boon. But if I am not to gain those objects, if the Bill is to go forward in its present state unaccompanied by the proposal of my hon. Friend, then the opponents of this Bill would not be able to refrain from soliciting the opinion of the country upon it. I make these observations simply with a conviction that there is a hope, and possibly a last hope, of peace, of concord, of general assent on the part of all classes and parties in this House and out of this House to the adjustment proposed by the Government of a contested question. This is not asking a sacrifice on the hart of the Government. After all that has passed such a demand, if it had to be made, ought perhaps to proceed from others rather than from me. It is in accordance with the principle of the Bill, with the principle adopted by the House, and its acceptance in this form will enable us consistently with our own convictions, and in pursuance of our public 719 duties, to consent to this compromise. I hope—I cannot say with what earnestness I hope—that the door thus opened may be found to afford a passage in which we may be able to proceed. I am afraid there is no other opening likely to occur. I am not a lover of circumstances by which the business of governing this country is taken from within the walls of this House and transferred to places beyond them. I foresee—I think I may say that I see, and not foresee—that that is the state of things at which we are likely to arrive, unless some measures be adopted to prevent it. ["No, no."] My hon. Friend (Sir George Bowyer) must not put an exaggerated meaning upon my words. I do not mean to say that the whole functions of Government are likely to be transferred out of the hands of this House to others. But what I do say is this—that when upon any question, and especially upon a great and vital question of the time, popular agitation commences and the people meet in thousands in every part of the country for the purpose of protesting against the proceedings of Parliament, and declaring that, in their view, they cannot be acquiesced in, that may be a state of things which he contemplates with satisfaction, but I can only say that it causes me great apprehension. I therefore hope it may be consistent with the views of the Government to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment, as it is not in the slightest degree inconsistent with the principles of the measure they have in hand. To make this appeal is upon our part a complete waiving of the ground upon which we have stood. It is the only way in which we can depart from that ground with propriety and with honour; and as far as I am concerned, I am ready to take the responsibility of doing it for the sake of peace. But if that proposal be not accepted I shall feel that I have done all that the love of peace requires, or can dictate, to those who are most influenced by that desire.
said, that the sooner means were adopted for getting rid of the compound-householder the better. The system of compounding had not a single social or economical advantage. The original Act was passed in 1819, during a season of extraordinary distress consequent upon the war. In his neighbourhood at that time householders were taxed for the relief of the poor to the extent of 14s. in the pound on the rack-rent, while they were now only rated at 10d. in the pound. The 720 compounding system was thus especially applicable to the occasion, inasmuch as it was almost impossible to collect the excessive rates from the poorer householders. But now, instead of tending to a saving, the system caused expense, as he would show. That same place was now divided into several townships, having distinct administrations for the management of their poor. The principal district — with a population of some 12,000 or 15,000—collected in January last, without assistance from the compound rating system, a small rate amounting to £600, not at a loss of 25 per cent, but of less than 1 per cent. During the last four years the loss had not been more than 2 per cent, and the cost of collecting less than 3½. But in those districts where compounding prevailed there was first a rebate of 25 per cent from the landlord, and still the rate cost 5 per cent to collect. He would therefore eagerly vote for the Amendment, not only because he believed the compounding system was bad, but because the Amendment would help to get rid of all odious inequalities and invidious distinctions, and perhaps lead, as the right hon. Gentleman had said, to a peaceable solution of the differences of opinion on the Bill.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodgkinson) very accurately described the position of this question when he said that the proposal which he brought forward was not at all opposed to the principles upon which the Bill of the Government is founded. There can be no question about that. On the contrary, it must be evident that if the policy recommended by this clause should be brought into action, it would enforce the policy which we recommend, give strength to the principles which we have been impressing upon the House as those which are the best foundations for the franchise, and give completeness to the measure we have introduced. Sir, when we considered this question, we thought the principle upon which we proposed to construct the franchise for boroughs was one of such virtue that it would in the end overcome all difficulties that might at first oppose its complete and symmetrical action. I would observe that those who are in favour of what they call household suffrage, but who, at the same time, deprecate the exercise of the franchise by what in modern phrase is called "the residuum of the people," are inconsistent in their 721 complaints that we accompanied the franchise with anything in the nature of what they call restrictions. If they are in favour of the principle of household suffrage, but admit that it ought to be accompanied with some principle of selection, they must acknowledge that if value be not introduced as an element of the suffrage, the principle of rating is the only one in reserve and the only one that can be applied. Therefore, nothing can be more inconsistent and absurd than for them to complain of restrictions. If they were in favour of universal or manhood suffrage, and so on, they might with consistency complain of the conditions we propose as restrictions, But those who, night after night, have advocated what they call household suffrage, have told us also that it is the Vis Romuli against the influence of which we must guard. Therefore for them to tell us that the proposal we have introduced, as to the manner in which rates shall be paid, is a restriction, is assuming an absurd and inconsistent position. Those who think it would be wise and desirable that the franchise should be established on the principle of value are quite consistent in talking of the arrangements we propose regarding the franchise as a restriction. They maintain that the principle of value is a sufficient test, and therefore that no further regulations are necessary. But those who are for household suffrage, and at the same time admit that there is a portion of the population falling within this condition to whom the privilege of the franchise could not be safely intrusted, and who yet attack our scheme as one involving restrictions, are entirely inconsistent. Our answer with regard to those who would found the borough franchise on the principles of the existing borough franchise is that there is no strength left in them. Attempts have been made and failed. They are worn out. During fifteen years of miserable rottenness innumerable projects have been brought forward in this House with that one object in view, and the House has obtained a reputation for insincerity in dealing with the question of Parliamentary Reform which is utterly unjust. What has been the attitude and conduct of the House? They had no confidence in the proposals that for a number of years have been brought forward, they knew there was not one of those proposals round which the sense and convictions of the country could be rallied. And that was the real cause of the failure. Her Majesty's Government, 722 when they undertook this great duty, determined to found the policy which they recommended upon a principle. And they had the greatest confidence in that principle. They believed that, discarding this fluctuating and uncertain principle of value, and taking the general condition of the population of the boroughs, a better and surer principle might be established. We said to ourselves that an individual who lives in a house and fulfils public duties, who is placed in a position in which some of the ordinary obligations must be discharged, who is rated to the financial arrangements of the community of which he is a member—will necessarily be called upon to fulfil more formal, but important duties. He will have to elect his local representatives, to watch their conduct and call them to account, and thus take an interest in the public life of his district. We said that such a man may primâ facie be intrusted with the still higher privilege and duty of electing a representative to Parliament. That is the principle of our Bill. The strength of that principle has been proved by two circumstances. First, that although this measure was introduced into Parliament by a Government in a minority, and although their proposal was received with great severity by their habitual opponents, the principle has so asserted its sway that it has been accepted not only, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) admits, by considerable, but by decisive and overwhelming majorities. That is the first proof that the principle on which our franchise is founded is true. The second proof is that after all these controversies, after all this prolonged agitation, after every effort of ingenuity to oppose, and every exertion of intellect to criticize our proposals by the Gentlemen sitting opposite to us, we have to-day a formal Motion which, without using any language of exaggeration, would effect a great social change in the condition of the country, made by an hon. Gentleman opposite, and recommended by the right hon. Gentleman who hitherto has been the most uncompromising opponent of our policy. I say there must be something in this principle hitherto decided which has received such signal corroboration. In the principle of payment of rates, in the public duty which the acquirement of the franchise will convey with it, and in the discipline which it will entail there is something that carries to the common sense of the country and to 723 the mind of Parliament a conviction that this is a sound and true principle on which the borough franchise ought to be established. And that not only by triumphant majorities. The proceedings of this evening, still more characteristic than the struggle of parties or the heat of Parliamentary contests, show that the force of conviction has sanctioned this principle as the only principle on which the borough franchise ought to rest. No doubt, in the application of that principle to England there have been great difficulties. It is unnecessary for me in any detail to advert to them. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodgkinson) has with great clearness and ability recapitulated this evening the chief features of our legislation on the subject of rating. No doubt there are great difficulties at present in the application of the principle. But this is not the first time that difficulties have been experienced in the application of great principles, and it will not be the first time, should this franchise succeed, that such difficulties have been surmounted. We always anticipated that these perplexities which certainly have had full justice done to them in Parliament must arise. We always believed that difficulties would have to be encountered at first, but eventually that they would disappear. I do not dwell on the efforts which have been made to aid the effort of the compound-householder desiring to acquire the franchise. I will not dilate on the general result of the clauses that I have placed on the table for that purpose. Those who are of candid minds will at least acknowledge that however great the difficulties originally to be encountered, they have been greatly modified, if not entirely removed, by the clauses we have put upon the table. But the fallacy of the view of the right hon. Gentleman which has influenced him to-night, and which has pervaded his conduct throughout the whole of the opposition to our measure is this, that he has, from the first, accepted as a conclusion on which all his strategy ought to be founded, the whole course of his conduct regulated, and all the advice given to his friends adjusted; that we had fixed on this foundation for a franchise in order to reap the advantage which the rating Acts would give us in restricting the suffrage. Sir, that has been an entire mistake. In our first arrangement a proposal similar to that offered to-night was contained as part of our original scheme. But when we had to consider the immense 724 difficulties of the question, the weight of the business that was to engage the attention of Parliament and the country, in a real, earnest, sincere, and comprehensive scheme of Parliamentary Reform, we hesitated to encumber a ship already freighted with a cargo of great price with burdens which must add to the perils of the voyage. What did the right hon. Gentleman tell us the very first night he addressed us on the subject? He lauded these Acts as the results of the advancing civilization of the country. If we had come to Parliament and proposed not only that the franchise should be based upon a principle of real renting and residence, but that we should simplify the matter by the repeal of all the rating Acts, the champions of advancing civilization would have flown at our throats, and it would have required considerable time, a great deal of dispassionate discussion, and many vicissitudes of Parliamentary life before we could arrive at the calm, philosophical result which I hope will distinguish our deliberations this evening. Now, let me speak of this Motion of the hon. Gentleman. I need not say that as far as the spirit, not of the Amendment, but of the proviso of the hon. Gentleman is concerned, Her Majesty's Government can have no opposition whatever to it. It is the policy of their own measure—a policy which if they had been masters of the situation they would have recommended long ago for the adoption of the House. But the House will, of course, perceive that in the application of this policy we must proceed with the utmost prudence and consideration. I do not think myself, as far as I can form an opinion on the subject—and it is one to which I have given long and painful thought—that it would be desirable or possible to deal with this question merely by a proviso in the Reform Bill. At the first glance I see a great omission. There must be a saving clause, and that of a large character, referring to all existing contracts and arrangements. When you remember the number of Acts that we have to deal with we should, I think, be involved in innumerable difficulties and perplexities were we to adopt the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and to trust for a solution of them all to this simple proviso. I confess myself that I think this is peculiarly a question on which the opinion of the House ought to be expressed. We stated from the beginning the principle which we thought ought to be the foundation of the franchise, without 725 the adoption of which we could not proceed with the measure. But, in giving effect to that principle, we have from the first courted the advice and assistance of the House. Months ago, it is possible I might in vain have proposed a policy which is now generally accepted as of the wisest character. But it is proposed now by the House of Commons. Proposed by the House of Commons, Her Majesty's Government, even under other circumstances, would have paused before they refused to accept it. But being a policy which is one to carry out our own original view—to affirm, establish, and render triumphant the principle on which we have proceeded—it required no solemn tones of admonition from the right hon. Gentleman to induce me to express my cordial acquiescence in the proposal before us. But I must again impress on the hon. Member that it would not be wise in him to hurry the House to a decision on this matter. Otherwise he may involve them in great difficulties. I confess that, subject to the judgment of the House, my opinion is that separate legislation would be the better course. You will otherwise cause great delay, impede the progress of the Reform Bill, and I doubt not so efficiently deal with the question. But this is a point which the House have to consider. If upon reflection they believe separate legislation will be the better course, taking that to be the opinion of the House of Commons, I shall be perfectly prepared, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to undertake the task. But I should say that we ought to proceed with the Reform Bill without loss of time. We may even provide for the case of the compound-householder. The separate Bill may be so constructed as to completely fit in with this measure. I have told the House what are the feelings of the Government and what were our original plans. I can take no credit for any sacrifice on our part in the course we are adopting with respect to the hon. Gentleman's proposal. In the month of May the House on reflection, and after experience and observation, have arrived at a conclusion which I should have been glad to see them arrive at in the month of March. No doubt they are proceeding with a prudence and propriety which will lead to most satisfactory results. But I wish, as far as the Government are concerned, that our feelings in taking the course we have adopted should not be misunderstood. We have had dark allusions 726 to the very agitated and dangerous state of the country in reference to the position of the Reform Bill and the treatment of this question by the House of Commons. I do not believe anything of the kind. I do believe that more monstrous exaggeration never was indulged in. I have no doubt there are individuals who, having long tried with what I may call blundering hands to settle this question, may be exceedingly annoyed that those who have been their rivals in the enterprize have been more successful. But that the great body of the nation is now brooding in sullen and dangerous discontent over the labours of the House of Commons, who, every candid and rational mind must feel, are doing all in their power to bring this question to the solution so long desired—that is a statement which cannot be established. Whatever may be the influences that regulate the conduct of others, I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government, in the course they are taking, are not influenced by the terrors which have been depicted, and the agitation with which we have been threatened.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that excepting certain observations which he did not suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have made if he had observed that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) was not in his place, and which he would probably regret, he was sure the Committee must have heard with sincere satisfaction the speech which had just been delivered. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that Her Majesty's Government had had it in contemplation to do what his hon. Friend now proposed, but that they had been deterred from that course by the difficulties they apprehended. He could not help drawing the conclusion that Her Majesty's Government entirely approved the proposal of his hon. Friend. Yet in neither of the Reform Bills they had brought forward during the present Session had that principle been embodied. This, then, was the third change of policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government in reference to the Reform question, though it was one with which he would not quarrel. ["No, no!"] He should be sorry to exaggerate. But he wished that there should be no mistake on this point—that the principle laid down in the Amendment of his hon. Friend was one which from the first Her Majesty's Government approved, which they had not introduced themselves because of the opposition 727 which they believed it would have to encounter, but which they were now prepared to make a part of their legislation on the subject of Reform. Speaking for himself only, he would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be useless to go on with the clauses relating to the compound-householders if the light hon. Gentleman intended to introduce this Session a Bill which, by doing away with compound-householders altogether, would render those clauses unnecessary. If, then, the clauses relating to compounders were postponed, the Committee might proceed with the other parts of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to be in doubt whether his present object would be best carried out by a Bill or by new clauses. If by the former, it might be well for the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether the two Bills ought not to go on pari passu; but he was inclined to think that it might be a more convenient method — though on this point he did not pledge himself to any opinion—to incorporate with the Reform Bill provisions to carry out the objects of the legislation suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. He would not now allude to his own proposed clauses, but he trusted the House would cordially approve the course which the Government were now about to take. Speaking for himself, in that course they should have his best support.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, it would be impossible for the House to pass such a Bill as that suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer until it had been referred to a Select Committee and carefully examined. A great number of towns and parishes were interested in the matter, and they should have an opportunity of being heard. It was hardly necessary for him to say that it was not consistent with the practice of the House of Commons to deal with a number of local Acts of Parliament without those likely to be affected by the proposed alteration being heard by counsel, and permitted to adduce evidence if they should think fit. If the House were to adopt such a course in the present instance it was clear that the question of Reform would not be settled in this nor in the ensuing Session. Any person who had examined into this subject knew well that there were the greatest possible difficulties of detail to be overcome. They would have to deal not only with the compounding-householder and his landlord, but also with the other ratepayers of the boroughs, and 728 a complication would arise such as those who were not familiar with the operation of these local Acts had no conception of. It would require some examination of the subject before hon. Members who represented small and comparatively insignificant boroughs would be in a position to appreciate fully the consequence of sweeping away all the legislation upon this subject for the last fifty years. The representatives of small boroughs would find that they had very limited views on this question, and that those views must be expanded if the House was to legislate upon it. If the further consideration of the Reform Bill was to be postponed until after the passing of an Act which should repeal all the former local and general Acts and deal with the question of rating, the Bill had better be shelved altogether. The hon. Member (Mr. Childers) might as well have concluded his speech by moving that the Chairman do leave the Chair as have made such a proposal.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he had no desire that the Reform Bill should not be proceeded with. He had merely suggested that the two compound-householders clauses should be postponed until after a Bill dealing with the question had been brought in.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he still thought it would have been more sincere on the part of the hon. Member if he had moved that the Chairman do leave the Chair, since his proposal, if adopted, would certainly have the effect of practically putting an end to the Reform Bill. He thought, after the views which had been expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), it was unnecessary for the extreme course proposed by the hon. Member to be adopted. For his (Mr. Ayrton's) part he was very desirous that they should proceed with the Reform Bill this Session. He had put on the Paper an Amendment which would recognise to some extent the views of the Government. He would venture to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be possible to take some intermediate course, such as to introduce a clause directing that every occupier should not merely be put upon the rate book, but should be rated, and that this should be done without prejudice to the present state of the law and to existing contracts, under which the landlord undertook to pay the composition rate. The consequence of inserting such a clause in the Bill would be that existing contracts on the part of the 729 landlord to pay rates would not be disturbed, while the principle of the Government would be sufficiently asserted, leaving to a future and more opportune occasion the question of the alteration to be made in the local rating Acts with reference to composition rates. Some hon. Members thought it would be impossible to carry out a system of double rating, but such a system now existed under the old Reform Act in certain cases where the owner and the occupier were both rated, the latter having to pay the rate where the former failed to fulfil his contract to do so. There were many questions of considerable importance which would have to be fully and carefully considered before the House proceeded to legislate upon the subject. The House would have to deal with the question of composition by arrangements. In every borough in this country the system of composition by agreement prevailed to a greater or less extent. Then came the question of remission of rates. An abolition of the system of composition would to a large extent revive that system of remitting rates which existed before composition began. Formerly rates were not levied on houses under £6 value. All these were matters that should not be left to the discretion of magistrates and overseers—as they would be if the Amendment were agreed to—who might choose to have a different system of rating in every parish in the kingdom. If the clause he suggested were inserted in the Bill, these questions might be carefully sifted on some future occasion when they could not be made use of for party purposes, or as a means of obtaining a political triumph.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am afraid, from the observations that have fallen from the hon. Member (Mr. Childers), that I did not express my meaning with sufficient accuracy. On the part of the Government, I most distinctly wish it to be understood that we do not desire to mix up the Reform Bill with any other Bill which may be introduced for the purpose of dealing with the existing Acts relating to compound-householders. Neither can we listen to any proposal for dealing with the two Bills pari passu. We will undertake to deal with the question of the compound rating Acts, but we cannot consent to mix up the two questions together. We shall proceed with the Reform Bill just as if we had given no pledge to deal with those Acts. 730 I may have misunderstood the meaning of the hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton); but it appeared to me that his suggestion was merely a repetition of the proposal with reference to the payment of the rates of compound-householders which was made before, and which was quite inconsistent with the general scheme of the measure. To that we must entirely adhere, without any reference to subsequent dealings with the question of compound-householders, because, after all, it is a large question. We cannot pretend to say what determination the House may come to with reference to the Local Rating Acts. Therefore it is impossible for us to mix up that question with the Bill now under consideration. We shall proceed with the Reform Bill as though we were entirely unfettered by any promise to deal with those Acts. Only we give an undertaking that we will take such steps as the House may approve as being the most efficient we can adopt, in order to deal with what is a very large question. In order that there may be no misunderstanding upon the point I must repeat that we cannot consent to mix up the two questions of Reform and the repeal of the Local Rating Acts, and that we shall proceed with the Reform Bill exactly as we should had this conversation of to-night never taken place.
§ MR. POWELL
said, that those who had been present in the House at an early hour that morning must admit there had been a harmony in their proceedings then and now, that the dramatic unities had been complied with, and that the scene was now complete. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told them then they had been dreaming, and the dreams had now been realized. The existence of the compound-householder was viewed by some as a great barrier to household suffrage. That was a dream of fear. The delusive obstacle—the compound-householder, whether there had been treachery or not—had disappeared. The Government had obeyed the logical necessities of their position. From the moment Her Majesty's Government admitted that personal payment of rates was to be a condition of the suffrage it was clear to him that the compound-householder must be, if not exactly a creature of the past, at all events a being who must soon disappear from the stage of practical politics. The question was one which must be dealt with not in one or two clauses of this Bill, but in an Act of Parliament 731 well studied and carefully drawn up. Local Acts of Parliament had had much to do with the compound-householder, and the time had now arrived when the whole of our system of local legislation ought to be well sifted and taken into careful consideration. Many local Acts were passed previous to the Public Health Act and other important public statutes, under which communities were enabled to obtain powers most convenient for the management of their affairs. Some local Acts contained provisions which were productive of great inconvenience. Therefore, there ought to be some general Act enabling communities, by a simple process, to abolish entirely their local Acts, and bring themselves within the operation of public Acts more carefully drawn and more maturely considered than any private statute. His opinion on this point was confirmed by the Amendment of which his hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) had given notice, which seemed intended to maintain every inequality in the existing law, for the effect of it was that the compounding or noncompounding was to be in conformity with the Act in force in the parish for the time being. The hon. Gentleman also proposed to maintain, and even to exaggerate, the existing inconvenience, for the arrangement which he desired to make was only to be in force for one year, and at the expiration of that period could only be perpetuated by fresh notices and fresh agreements. It must be obvious to every one that this was a most complicated and difficult process. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's proposal tended to prove that the whole question was one which ought to be dealt with in a separate Act of Parliament. It had been suggested that the new Bill should proceed pari passu with the Reform Bill. But every hon. Member must be aware that nothing was more difficult than to pass two measures by equal steps through the Houses of Parliament. It was almost as impossible as that two generations should pass through the world pari passu. All that Parliament could say was that the whole subject should be dealt with promptly and with a desire for a complete solution of the question. But as for passing two measures pari passu, that was entirely beyond the power of any Minister, however strong and able he might be. Allusion had been made to the composition of 50 per cent, or for a larger sum. That was one of the details which ought to be considered with great care when the 732 subject is fairly grappled with. He would not enter at the present time into the details, which were somewhat dry and wearisome, but it would suffice for him to say that great difficulties were created by compounding for 50 per cent, or any higher rate. Hon. Gentlemen ought by every means in their power to facilitate the progress of this measure of Reform. When it was found possible to arrange any of the details by means of a separate measure, recourse should be had to that mode of settling difficulties, instead of introducing into the present Bill complex clauses which tended to embarrass, if not to render impossible, the passing of a measure which he believed every Member of that House desired soon to see recorded on the statute book.
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer having already acquiesced in and promised to embody the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) in the Government Reform Bill, it would be unnecessary for him to make more than a very few remarks. He felt it incumbent upon him to say something on this question, because it was one in the satisfactory solution of which the borough he had the honour to represent was largely and deeply interested. This would be acknowledged when he informed the Committee that, as he was advised, quite one-tenth of the total number of compounding-householders now enfranchised in England and Wales were on the register of electors for the borough of Brighton. Whilst he would not disguise his deep regret at the decision recently come to by the Committee, condemnatory of the intended Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), yet, despairing of its reversal, many of his (Mr. White's) constituents had urged him to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Newark, which proposed to abolish all ratepaying distinctions between borough voters. He (Mr. White) held in his hand a letter from the Overseer of Brighton, and several other communications from influential and authoritative residents there, all recognising the impossibility of revoking the late decision of the Committee in favour of personal payment of full rates as an indispensable condition of the borough suffrage. Hence, as a logical sequence, they called on him to urge upon Her Majesty's Government the desirability of taking the earliest and best means of abolishing the 733 present system of compounding for local rates. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced his intention to give full effect to the Amendment, it only remained for him (Mr. White) to express his approval of the policy recommended by his hon. Friend the Member for Newark, and which he was glad had been acquiesced in by the Government; it being, as he believed, the best, under existing circumstances, which could now be adopted.
§ MR. HODGKINSON
said, he understood that during his temporary absence from the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had assented to the principles of the Amendment he had proposed. If the right hon. Gentleman, considering that it could not be properly introduced into this Bill, were willing to introduce immediately another Bill to carry out in their integrity the principles embodied in the Amendment, and to read that Bill a second time before the House parted with its control over the Reform Bill, he should offer no objection to the adoption of such a course. At the same time, he wished to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might advantageously alter the arrangement he had originally proposed respecting the discussion of the subsequent clauses of the Bill.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I wish to inform the hon. Gentleman that I did not undertake, and cannot undertake, to bring in a Bill immediately upon one of the most difficult questions possible, and that I cannot alter the course which I communicated to the House. When we pass the 3rd clause I shall move that we proceed to the consideration of the 34th clause. It is due to the compound householder that we go on, otherwise we shall be passing a Beform Bill in which no right is reserved to him. With regard to the other important question, we shall deal with it speedily and effectively, but it will be impossible to introduce immediately a Bill upon the subject.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would re-consider the remarks he had just made. In common with the hon. Member (Mr. Powell) he was pleased at the turn which that evening's discussion had taken, and he now entertained a hope that the borough franchise might be settled in a way that would be acceptable to the Government, to the House, and to the country. He ventured to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to adhere to his original plan with regard 734 to the Bill. The very reasons which induced the right hon. Gentleman, in deference to the wish of the House, to change his original course seemed to be conclusive against reverting to it. A proposal had been submitted which might make it easy to settle this most difficult question. The Government had accepted the principle of that proposal. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had also accepted it. The Committee must see that they would be almost stultifying themselves, if, immediately after discussing the 3rd clause, they proceeded to the 34th, with the view of settling it on the basis of yesterday's plan without reference to the understanding of to-day. Let them proceed with the Bill as was originally intended, taking the county and other franchises after the borough franchise. In the interval that must elapse before they arrived at the 34th clause, let the Government introduce the promised Bill. Then the Committee would be able to judge whether it could be proceeded with and passed cotemporaneously with the Reform Bill. If the undertaking were found to be too difficult, the Government might then say it would be impossible this Session to pass a separate Bill, and might ask the House to proceed with the Reform Bill. The hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton) seemed to think that the object of the hon. Member (Mr. Childers) was to stop the Bill. [Mr. AYRTOX: No, no!] For himself, he could say that he never felt more absolutely free than he was at present from any party motive. If the right hon. Gentleman offered by a separate Bill, or by clauses in the present Bill, to do what he had stated he would do, he should feel anxious, so far as the borough franchise was concerned, to pass rather than to stop the Bill. The proposal made this evening would meet the only real difficulty, and would put all boroughs in the same position. After the turn the discussion had taken, he should be sorry to make any irritating allusion; but there was no denying the fact that there was throughout the country a very strong feeling against the Bill as it stood, especially in the 171 boroughs treated differently from the remaining twenty-nine. That feeling, however, might be removed if the course now proposed were assented to. Therefore, it was not an unreasonable request that they should proceed to discuss the county franchise and the other clauses of the Bill, in the hope that when they had done that work 735 they might settle the compounding difficulty. Six or seven months ago such a proposal as that of the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson) would have been received with disfavour in many boroughs which would now be willing to submit to an economical inconvenience as a political duty. Would it not be foolish to run the risk of unpleasant discussion by insisting on one settlement of a difficulty when the Government had avowed their willingness to propose that it should be settled in another way?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he agreed in the spirit of much that had been said by the hon. Gentleman, but any attempt to tie the Reform Bill to any Bill for settling questions of rating and compounding—to make the one in any degree dependent upon the other—would be fatal to the Bill now before the Committee. The real question, therefore, was whether the Reform Bill was to pass this Session or not. The hon. Member (Mr. W. E. Forster) did not appreciate the difficulties that lay in the way of passing such a Bill as had been suggested, though they had been ably shadowed forth by the hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton). It was not only Sturges Bourne's Act and the Small Tenements Act, but there was a number of local Acts relating to boroughs scattered over the whole country which such a Bill would have to deal with. They would have to look at the bearing of all these Acts, to consider their provisions as they affected different parts of the country, to see what new provisions were required, and how the rating of the different parishes was in future to be regulated. It was not as if they had to deal with a tabula rasa. They would have to remove much that had already existed, and to provide for the case of parishes in every variety of circumstances scattered all over the kingdom. All that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated was that he was favourably disposed towards a measure of the kind, and that he was willing to do whatever could be done to remove existing difficulties. Any hon. Member who ventured to go beyond that and to pledge himself that in a given time he would remove the difficulty, must have great confidence in his own powers. All a prudent man could say was that he should like to remove the difficulty, and would do so at the earliest possible moment. It must be remembered that they had the interests not 736 only of the ratepayers but of the owners to consult. He repeated that to attempt to tie such a Bill to the clauses now before the House would be sure to defeat this Bill. Hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite, who were perhaps more facile in drawing Bills than he could pretend to be, might present such a Bill in the course of the present Session; but to him it appeared that it could not be satisfactorily done. Even if it were brought before the House, it would probably require to go before a Select Committee. The 34th clause related exclusively to the borough franchise, and every intervening clause after the 3rd to something distinct and independent. As they had been discussing the 3rd clause some weeks, it was natural that they should dispose of the question of the borough franchise, and not allow the mere order of clauses in the framing of the Bill to interrupt the continuity of their deliberations.
§ SIR ROBERT COLLIER
said, that so far from there being any inconvenience in the proposal of the Government being tied up with the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson), he thought they were inseparably connected and could not be divided. In what position would they be placed. They were about to make a new code affecting all the relations of the compound-householder to his landlord and his parish. They were to go into a series of provisions by which the compound-householder was to be discompounded. The compound-householder was to go through a certain process, to give certain notices, and thereupon to cease to be a compound-householder, to pay the rates, and to deduct them from his landlord. They were to go through all the trouble and difficulty of this complicated process. Then they were told that the Government would next Session introduce a measure which would place the whole question upon a different footing. That would be worse than the ten minutes Bill. What was proposed by the Government in this clause was that every compound-householder might cease to be one if he pleased. But his hon. Friend by his Amendment proposed that the compound-householder should cease ipso facto. As to the difficulties in the way, he believed that the able Law Officers of the Crown would not find much difficulty in doing all that was necessary by inserting two or three clauses in the present Bill. As far as he understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that right hon. Gentleman said that he 737 was favourable to the principle of the Amendment, and that if the House thought the principle could be better carried out by a separate Bill, he would defer to the opinion of the House. He would remind the hon. Member that many Members of the House—among others the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) — who supported his Amendment as the less of two evils, did so on the understanding that it would be carried out this Session. If it were to go over to another Session, it would be competent for them to adopt some other course that would be better adapted to carry out their views. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member, unless he received some more distinct assurance from the Government than he had yet done, would press his Amendment to a division.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, he wished to ask, whether it was the intention of the Government to abolish compound-householders in all the parishes in the kingdom, or whether they would confine their measure to boroughs? There was a great difference between abolishing the Act in 5,000 parishes, and abolishing it only in 170 boroughs. The one might be accomplished this Session but not the other.
§ MR. BRETT
said, if every concession or conciliatory statement on the part of the Government was to be carried by political tactics or by misrepresentation, beyond its real meaning, they would never make satisfactory progress. ["Oh, oh!"] If it were considered offensive, he did not wish to impute political tactics to hon. Gentlemen opposite; but he could not help thinking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been misapprehended on the other side. He would endeavour to show that, by calling attention to the effect of the present Bill, and of the Amendment. If the Bill were passed in its proposed form, none of the Acts authorizing compound-householding would be infringed upon. They would remain in full power. Any individual tenant might withdraw himself from the operation of those Acts to qualify himself as a voter. If great numbers should so withdraw themselves, the parishes might take advantage of the powers reserved to them, and get rid of the Acts as applied to themselves. In that sense, and so far, it was obvious that the Amendment of the hon. Member was not inconsistent with the principle of the Bill, because what the parishes might do without further legislation, the Amendment did at 738 once absolutely. But the Amendment of the hon. Member had a greater effect than this; for it would entirely and at once abrogate not only Sturges Bourne's Act and the Small Tenements Act, but all the numerous local Acts that were now in existence. Therefore though the principle was correct, the mode of carrying it out would occasion great difficulties. To carry it out without any reference to the parishes, to their convenience, or their rights, was a mode of dealing with a question which had never hitherto been sanctioned by Parliament. If a Bill were brought in to effect such a sudden and absolute change, the House must be prepared to listen to objections from the different parishes, and that could only be done by sending the Bill to a Select Committee. It was impossible that such a Bill could be passed pari passu with the Reform Bill. By such a Bill they must abrogate many local Acts, and also the Small Tenements Act. But, on the other hand, in many great towns, it might be thought wise not to repeal those Acts. They would not have only to do justice to the compound-householder, but to consider what was due to the ratepayers generally. Under these circumstance, he recommended the House to accept the proposal of the Government, which was that they would consider the whole question and submit a measure upon it.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
It appears to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has held out to us a great and splendid concession, which it has been the whole occupation of those of his supporters, who have since spoken, to explain away. In the opinion of some of them, we cannot have the complete embodiment of the principle of the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson); and it appears to be the opinion of the Attorney General that we cannot have that embodiment this year at all. That is to say, we are called upon to pass a Reform Bill this year, and to wait until next year for the measure that is necessary to render that Bill tolerable. In what position will the House be placed if they give way to that? A General Election may occur in the meantime, with all the evils which have induced us to oppose that part of the Bill which relates to the compound-householders. We ought to have some security against that. We could have some security, but it must consist in something more than mere general words, which, however sincere they may be, are 739 not to be acted upon until after an indefinite time, and in an indefinite way. No one can be move eager or anxious than I am that the arrangement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has offered to us should be fairly and honourably carried into effect. I am sure we are all most sincere in that. At the same time, it is absolutely necessary that we should not proceed with the clauses relating to compound-householders as preparatory to doing away with compound-householders altogether. The country feel a great deal more doubt about the sincerity of the House than the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to think, and I do not think the country will believe that we intend to do away with the compound-householders if we pass the Bill this year, and postpone till next the measure for the abolition of compound-householders. As to the difficulties anticipated by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Ayrton), and by the last speaker, I will not undertake to say what reality there may be in them; but the greater the practical difficulties in the way of carrying out the principle of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, the more important and absolutely essential it is that the House should see the Bill by which these things are to be done before they commit themselves to the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is no need to lose time, because there is a great portion of the Bill which does not relate to the borough franchise, and with that we can go on. If we are only assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will bring in a Bill to give effect to his undertaking, and that we shall see that Bill before we part company with the present one, it would, in my opinion, be the best course to suspend further action upon the borough franchise clauses, and proceed with the other clauses, and only resume the borough franchise clauses when we have seen the promised Bill. At all events, I think we ought not to read the present Bill a third time until we have read the promised Bill a second time.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, he understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to repeal the Small Tenements Act and the local Acts of a similar nature. If that was the case, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed the views of the Government, they had arrived at house-bold suffrage pure and simple. If the Small Tenements Act was repealed, if every other borough was placed on the 740 same footing as the twenty-nine boroughs where the Small Tenements Act did not prevail, the consequence would be that every householder would be personally liable to the payment of rates. Therefore the Chancellor of the Exchequer had that night virtually done away with the principle upon which he stated that his Bill was founded. Upon the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) proposed a few weeks ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that there were two distinct policies before the House—the one his own, in which there was an elastic line through which any householder could, if he liked, become a voter; the other, the hard and fast line of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone). But where was the elastic line through which the voter must pass if the Small Tenements Act was done away with? ["Payment of rates."] Exactly. But if the Small Tenements Act was done away with every householder would be liable. He did not express an opinion upon household suffrage pure and simple, but perhaps he was not so unfavourable to it as many might suppose. Whatever his views upon that subject might be, he did not think the Government had dealt very frankly or very sincerely with the question, because they certainly led their supporters to suppose that the Small Tenements Act was to be maintained. He wished to ask whether the announcement the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made was an expression of the opinion of the Cabinet, and whether the Government intended to bring in a Bill to repeal the Small Tenements Act, and by this Bill to enact household suffrage pure and simple? The House, and above all the supporters of the Government, had a right to know this. He suspected it had not been submitted to the Cabinet, and if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) were in his place, he should like to put the same question to him. There seemed to be doubts in the minds of many hon. Gentlemen as to the views of the Government on the question.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, that he wished to recall the attention of the Committee to the matter before it, which was, whether the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson) should be added to the clause or not. Much had been said about difficulties, but he believed those difficulties would be found to be mere chimeras. If the proposed Amendment were added to-night, he believed that the entire effect which the Government intended to produce 741 by circuitous methods would be at once brought about. The difficulties in the way had been spoken of. The very statement of the law as it stood at present would show how groundless apprehensions on that score were.
§ MR. DENMAN
apologized to his hon. and learned Friend, and said that a statement of the law would show that there was no difficulty in adopting the Amendment as it stood. By the course proposed the particular circumstances relating to many boroughs would have to be gone into before the Select Committee, and there would be great delay; but by the law as it now stood any vestry meeting together and agreeing by a majority of two-thirds could, on forty days' notice, repeal the Small Tenements Act, so far as their parish was concerned. This being so, what difficulty could there be in adopting the words proposed by the hon. Member, and thus doing, by an act of the Legislature, what every vestry might do in forty days? This power was conferred upon the vestry at a time when it had no effect upon political rights; and it was contrary to principle that such rights should depend upon the accident of whether a majority consisting of two-thirds of the vestry should be pleased to concede them or not. If his hon. Friend went to a division he would vote with him.
Those who were in the House last night heard something about dreams. I think I have heard to-night as much misrepresentation as ever fell to my luck to hear. The hon. Member (Mr. Sandford) made a speech as if the Government had changed their principles, and as if the House had something which it had not before. He talked a great deal about "household suffrage pure and simple." What a word it is! What a mouthful the hon. Gentleman has made of it! What has been the principle of the Government measure? That people who had a dwelling-house and paid rates should have a vote. What did the Government profess? That they would do everything in the way of making clauses—if one was not good enough they would make another—to give every facility to every man who had a 742 dwelling-house, where those various com pounding Acts were in force, to get upon the register. The Government have avowed throughout that they wanted to bring in everybody who chose to take the least trouble in the world in order to get upon the register. What new principle is there then? The hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson) says that the simplest way would be to do away with these compounding Acts altogether. I was glad to hear him say so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also thinks it would be the simplest way. But in what respect does that change the principle of the Bill? That principle was that every man should have the franchise who occupied a dwelling-house, was rated, and paid his rates in full. The Government have promised all along to adopt any course which should make those conditions just and equal to all. There may be a little more difficulty in some places and a little less in others in getting upon the register. But that does not justify the agitation that has been excited throughout the country, and the misrepresentations which have been made with a view to make people believe that nobody could get upon it. It does not justify the representations that have been made that the Government was holding out with the one hand and taking away with the other. Can any one deny that the language of the Government through out has been this—that if their clauses did not give ample facilities they would consent to anything that would do so? With regard to the hon. Member's proposal, I am inclined to think that the wiser course would be to accept it. It may be crude and calculated to cause some inconvenience, but remember this—the spirit of Mammon is pretty strong outside the House, and it will not lack representatives here to impede the Government in carrying a Bill such as has been suggested, whereas by a Resolution like this the thing could be done much more easily. The hon. Member (Mr. Sandford) seems to think more persons would come on the register if compounding were abolished. But there are a number of persons in poverty and in humble circumstances who cannot afford to pay rates, and who will not claim to be put on the register. Does he imagine that if the compounding Acts are repealed there will be no poor? There will still be plenty of people who will apply on account of poverty to be struck off the rates, so that there will be no difference in the numbers. It seems to me therefore an extraordinary charge for 743 the hon. Gentleman to make against the Government when he said they had altered the principle of their Bill, and that he wanted to know whether the opinion of the Cabinet had been taken upon the question. Why I recommend the adoption of this proposal is, that, should a Bill be afterwards brought in, there could not be much opposition to it, because the thing would virtually have been decided. It would be fair sailing; it would be like picking the plums out of the pudding. Those people who have been robbing the poor and making them pay rates through their landlords will not give up the screw which they now exercise very willingly. But if this Resolution is passed they will be obliged to give made smooth with half the trouble.
§ MR. CLAY
said, that the draughting of a Bill such as had been referred to would involve some trouble, but there would be little difficulty in passing it, seeing that both sides of the House would be interested in its success. The discussion to-night he regarded as the turning point of this measure, for if an agreement were come to on this matter, the Bill, as far as the borough franchise was concerned, would encounter no further difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), who still spoke with more authority on that side of the House than he was willing himself to claim, had given almost a pledge that if this point were arranged all serious; attacks upon the Bill would be at an end. He hoped the Government would give some further assurance, either by accepting the proviso, or by promising forthwith to bring in a Bill, that they accepted this solution. What seemed settled two hours ago had been like a dissolving view gradually disappearing.
§ MR. THOMAS CHAMBERS
said, he regarded the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Childers) as one which would be fatal to the passing of the Bill. ["Question!"] He understood the question to be whether the compounding Acts were to be dealt with by the Bill, and the suggestion was made by the hon. Gentleman with the concurrence, as he stated, of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone).
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he had made no suggestion, but had merely commented on the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He expressly stated that it was not the time for discussing his own Amendment.
§ MR. THOMAS CHAMBERS
said, he 744 was sorry if he had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. If this proposal came before them in the form of a Resolution, he should agree with the two speakers. But it did not. It was moved as a proviso in the Reform Bill. But could any one suppose that this proviso would put an end to all the general and local Acts on compounding? All that was wanted for the purposes of the Reform Bill was to assist the compound-householders in parishes in Parliamentary boroughs, which constituted a large proportion of the parishes of the country. But could it be wise to upset the compounding system in boroughs and leave the other parishes untouched? Desirable as it was to give getting on the register, it was much more important that the Franchise Bill proposed by the Government should pass. It was the first proposal they had had in the matter of Reform which suggested any plan which even approached a moral test of fitness for the franchise. All previous proposals, depending, as they did, on the amount of rent or rate, could not pretend to be moral criteria. But if a man was willing to take some trouble and exercise some providence—if, instead of paying rates in his weekly rent, he saved the necessary pence for thirteen weeks and then took the money to the overseer, he showed thereby both his desire and his fitness for the franchise. The hon. Member (Mr. Fawcett) had said that, out of three men occupying adjoining houses, one only would take an interest in politics, and would get upon the register, whilst the others being indifferent about it would remain off it. That was an argument in favour of the Bill and not against it, for it was just such a man whom they desired to enfranchise. He should not be sorry that for a time Parliament would see how this Bill was to work by gradually selecting from 749,000 persons those who were willing to show their desire for enfranchisement by doing the very little that was demanded of them. He did not think the Bill would pass this Session if this general question of rating were first undertaken. He believed that, notwithstanding industrious misrepresentations, the more this Bill was considered by the country the more it was judged to be incomparably the most liberal proposal of Reform which had ever been submitted to the House. The country was arriving at that conclusion, and many of those who 745 originally opposed the Bill were now favourable to it. He believed that in the result the House would find itself almost unanimous in accepting this as a satisfactory measure. The Government were introducing a large number of persons to the franchise on the principle of selection, through a self-acting machinery. The men who were prepared to do something and to forbear something in order to get a vote, were the very men the House wanted to secure, and by obtaining them the Bill would enfranchise large numbers of the honest and industrious classes of this country. He spoke in the name and as the representative of a large body of working men, and that, he believed, was their impression. The question had been grossly misunderstood, but the eyes of the people were opening. He thanked Her Majesty's Government for the courage and persistence with which they maintained their position, and he would support them in every division necessary to keep the Bill alive. He believed that in so doing he was consulting not only the interests of the country, but also the interests of the Liberal party; for who is more interested in the settlement of this great question as the Liberal party? Who was responsible for the fifteen years' agitation of this question? It was they who started it and kept it alive, and whose leaders were keeping it alive still by a factitious agitation out of doors. Under what conditions were they discussing this question? Were they discussing it as a free Parliament, or under the terror of out-of-doors agitation? Observations had been made by leading Members of the House (Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Childers) which rather implied that what hon. Members were doing they were to do under the influence of an agitation out of doors. As Members of the Liberal party they were specially bound to maintain the integrity of representative institutions, and to be especially jealous of interference by an unconstitutional outdoor agitation. What said one of the most illustrious Reformers—moral, social, legal, and political—that this country ever produced? Lord Brougham, in his Political Philosophy, laid down the following canons of representative Government, He said—1. The deputy chosen represents the people of the whole community, exercises his own judgment upon all measures, receives freely the communications of his constituents, is not bound by their instructions, though liable to be dismissed 746 by not being re-elected, in case the difference of opinion is irreconcilable and important. 2. The people's power being transferred to the representative body for a limited time, the people are bound not to exercise their influence so as to control the conduct of their representatives as a body, on the several measures that come before them. 3. Any proceedings on the part of the people tending to overawe or unduly to influence their representatives upon any given question, though no outrage should be committed and only an exhibition of numerical force be displayed for these purposes, are contrary to the whole nature of representative Government, and in themselves revolutionary, being criminal in the people, and doubly criminal in any of their representatives, who thereby commit a flagrant breach of duty.He thought that Lord Brougham was an unexceptionable authority on such a question. He was not, nor should Parliament be, influenced by outdoor agitation, and he did think it incumbent upon hon. Members, especially upon the foremost men among us, to maintain the honour and independence of the House and not be influenced by what might occur out of doors.
§ MR. OSBORNE
It appears to me that the dramatic reading of the Political Philosophy of Lord Brougham we have heard is as applicable if not more so to the late meeting in Hyde Park as to the question before the House. What my hon. and learned Friend the Common Serjeant meant by making this speech, in defence of what seemed to be a vote he had given on some previous occasion, I cannot understand. He pledged himself to vote with the Government whatever they might bring in and whatever they do. He is a confiding man.
§ MR. THOMAS CHAMBERS
I did not say that I would vote for anything the Government might propose. I did say that I would vote in every division with the Government for the purpose of keeping this Bill alive.
§ MR. OSBORNE
And for the purpose of keeping the Bill alive my hon. and learned Friend has made a speech which, if anything could, would crush it, because it has nothing to do with the proposal before the House. I have to apologize to my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman.) I was the culprit who said, "Let us have no law," and I said so for this reason. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer got up and in the most generous spirit, and in the absence of all his supporters—and I do not think they are yet aware of what has happened—said that he accepted this proposal, and it was always his idea that the proposal should be brought forward; what could we 747 do on this side of the House but accept it in the same generous way? But the generous enthusiasm and sincere reforming notions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—how were they met by his own side? The two black Graces near him immediately got the question into Chancery. They sought to check the genial current of his reforming notions. First came, with all the solemnity of Chancery, the Attorney General, and what did he say? "Not so fast, my Leader! This is all very well, but you cannot bring in a Bill this Session," and he endeavoured, with many hums and ha'as, to keep back the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and make him retract the promise he had so generously made. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will read a lecture to his Law Officer for endeavouring to make him recant what he had so gracefully said at the beginning of the evening. Then, up got another lawyer (Mr. Brett) who is also at the Chancery Bar. ["No, no!"] Oh, he is at the Common Law Bar. At any rate, he took the same view as the Attorney General. He said it was all very well, but the House had misapprehended the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he endeavoured to prove that the right hon. Gentleman had said no such thing, or that, if he had, he had no such intention. Then got up a third lawyer (Mr. T. Chambers), who tells us that he represents the great constituency of Marylebone. When I heard his speech, I did not believe it. I thought he must have been a Member for some small borough where the Tenements Act is in force, and where he was an extensive landlord—perhaps a compounding landlord. That was the only way in which I could account for the speech of the learned Common Serjeant. Therefore I say that if we wish to make progress with this Bill let us have no law. Let us rely on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I say this without any innuendo respecting his sincerity. I always thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the greatest Radical in the House. He has achieved what no other man in the country could have done. As I have said before, he has lugged up that great omnibus full of stupid, heavy country Gentlemen. ["Oh, oh!"] I only say "stupid" in the Parliamentary sense. It is a perfectly Parliamentary word. He has converted these Conservatives into Radical Reformers. The hon. and learned Common Serjeant talks of the doctrine of selection. No doubt he has been reading about it lately. The Chancellor of the 748 Exchequer has now got on the doctrine of development. How could the right hon. Gentleman have at once put this great flood of light upon their eyes? It would have blinded them. He has led them by degrees. First, there was the dual voting—that has gone. Then there was the two years' residence—that has gone. Now a whole flash of light has been thrown upon them, and they have household suffrage, not pure and simple, but with personal payment of rates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer chooses to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member. I go with him. But I say do not let him be fettered by lawyers. Do not let the right hon. Gentleman listen to the hon. and learned Attorney General; do not let him listen to the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Brett); and last, but not least, let him beware of the advice and assistance of the hon. and learned Member the Common Serjeant. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Brett) says, "Let us consider the question." I say it has been considered. When I hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, let them say what they will, is the Ministry by himself, for it could not exist a day without him, and all the rest who sit near him are most respectable pawns on the board, their opinion not being worth a snap of the fingers—when I hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say a thing I know it shall and will be so. If hon. Gentlemen behind him are discontented—if they are not "obsolete" Conservatives, let them come over here, and we will walk over to the other side of the House and sit behind the right hon. Gentleman. A fair exchange is no robbery. I have no doubt that those hon. Members who have come down from their dinner were rather taken by surprise. I was myself. But to me it was a joyful surprise. There is more joy over one repentant Chancellor of the Exchequer than over ninety and nine old-established Reformers. Let the right hon. Gentleman go on and prosper. He is in the right groove—in the right way for settling the Reform question—if, that is to say, he does not listen to his legal advisers. Let him be on his guard against them. I expect that he will not only settle the Reform question, but that one day we shall all be sitting behind him, and that he will settle the question of the Irish Church and all the other vexed questions.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, he should be sorry to misrepresent the views of the Government, 749 but if he had done so he had been led into it by no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. He distinctly recollected that when it was pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Small Tenements Act had been adopted partially or entirely by a very large number of the boroughs, and that it did not exist at all in twenty-nine boroughs, so far from rising and stating that it was his wish to base his Bill on household suffrage, he defended the diversity which the measure created, and treated it as an improvement upon the dead uniformity of the £10 franchise established by the Reform Act of 1832. Moreover, two other right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench (Mr. G. Hardy and Sir Stafford Northcote) both emphatically repudiated the idea that the Bill was founded upon household suffrage. He had a right therefore to say he was taken by surprise on hearing the views put forward by the Government that evening. He wished to express no opinion unfavourable to the principle of household suffrage — quite the reverse. He thought that when we were extending the suffrage, instead of showing to those whom we were about to enfranchise a halting feeling of distrust, we should rather display to them a generous confidence.
§ MR. NEATE
said, that at the time the Act passed which entailed a disability on the compound-householder, it was no disability because he had not the franchise. He put it to the Committee whether, supposing at that time the compound-householders had been in possession of the franchise, it would have been possible to impose this disability upon them without their consent. He maintained that it should not now be left in the power of the parochial authorities to deprive those men of the franchise against their will.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, it generally happens that when important business is unexpectedly transacted at an early part of the evening, the rest of the night is passed very often in an agreeable, sometimes in a diverting manner, but little further progress is made. The important business having been transacted when there were few Members present, gradually hon. Gentlemen return to the House. What has taken place is communicated to them. Some who were not here make speeches. Those speeches are necessarily founded on some degree of misapprehension. Then rejoinders are made by those who were present and who 750 offer us their authentic information. By the time they gain a tolerably clear perception of how matters really stand, other Gentlemen, remarkable for their entertaining abilities, come in perhaps from the enjoyment of "the feast of reason and the flow of soul." Nothing can be more agreeable than their arrival; but they do not very much advance the business which may be in hand. Very early in the evening we were making some progress in this debate. The hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson), who had for some time a very important Notice on the Paper, brought forward his proposal. When it became my duty to speak upon the subject—which I did not do till the question was put from the Chair, and no one else seemed disposed to favour the Committee with his views—at the last moment, in a very thin House, I expressed the views of the Government which were more matured than the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sandford) supposes. I may here just say that for foreknowledge of the secrets of the Cabinet I would back my hon. Friend against any Member of the House. But, as I was observing, I addressed myself to the Chair at the last moment. I expressed an opinion that it would be advisable to carry the policy indicated by the hon. Member into effect, but that it was a very difficult business, and one in which it was necessary to proceed with due caution. I could not bring myself to believe that a proviso of four lines could effectually deal with this question. We might be involving the House in some difficulty, and perhaps accomplishing the exact reverse of what we all desire. On the part of the hon. Member himself and also on the part of the House, I thought there was a general assent to the prudence of that intimation. I said myself—not presuming to speak with any authority—that on the appearance of this proviso on the Paper it seemed to me of importance that there should be a saving clause of a very large character with regard to all existing contracts. That was a matter not altogether to be disregarded. Then some hon. Gentlemen suggested that the best course would be to proceed by a Bill. I said that it might be possible to do that, but that whatever method was adopted we should proceed with great caution. After some further observations, I stated generally that, so far as this subject was concerned, on the part of the Government, I would undertake to deal with the question efficiently and completely, but that it must 751 be understood that it was not to interfere with the progress of the Reform Bill. I repeated that the earnest desire and determination on the part of the Government was to deal with this question; but I said more than once that the condition of our attempting to deal with it was that it should not in any way mix itself up with the progress of the Reform Bill, or occasion a delay which we are anxious to avoid. After three or four hours had passed I was obliged, from the circumstances to which I have already alluded, to reiterate the same observations. Attacks have been made on my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for the view he took, which appears to me to have been a very prudent and sensible view. But it does not at all affect the statement I made to the House, nor does it at all change the spirit in which that statement was made. The Committee will clearly understand that on a question of this importance, involving a point of law of a very difficult kind, it would be presumptuous on my part to give any opinion, to say whether it is possible even in the present Bill to settle the question raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson), or whether it may be better to proceed at the right time by separate legislation. All I can repeat is that we will give our mind to the efficient and complete settlement of the question. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will not press his Amendment to a division. I will merely say that I have no objection to what is expressed in his proviso, but I fear the Committee might be led, if it passed that proviso, into some difficulty. Of course, the hon. Gentleman must use his own discretion. But I think it will be more advisable that he should withdraw his proviso, and that, without entering into the consideration of the 4th clause at this late hour, we should postpone further discussion in Committee for two or three days, after which I hope we may be able to dispose of the whole question of the borough franchise. Should the hon. Member not press his proposal to-night—which I trust will be the ase, for, it appears to me, that to withdraw it would be the more prudent and proper course to pursue — there are two Amendments on the Paper with which the Committee might at once proceed to deal. After that I would move that the Chairman should report Progress, and we could then consider what would, on the whole, be the best course to take on Monday. I 752 should wish now to make one or two observations on the remarks—criticisms I will not call them—we have heard during this discussion, with respect to what is called our inconsistency and change of opinion on this question. There has been on our part no inconsistency and no change of opinion. We have been perfectly consistent in the course we have pursued. The hon. Member (Mr. Sandford) who has lately attracted a great deal of public notice by his attacks on the Government—I always encourage those attacks myself, because I look upon invective as a great ornament of debate — has founded those which he made to-night on a false assumption. He says, I pledged myself not to introduce a measure giving household suffrage, pure and simple, to the consideration of Parliament, and that I am now doing that very thing. It appears to me, however, that the hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding his ingenious mind, and although he has devoted considerable time to the consideration of Parliamentary Reform, and especially of the borough franchise, has never realized a clear conception of what household suffrage really is. According to my interpretation of it, it means that a vote should be given to every man who lives in a house. Such, I would beg to remind the hon. Gentleman, is not the suffrage which I am proposing, either in the Bill as it stands, or when its action may be modified by the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Member. We propose that a vote for a borough should be given not merely to a man who lives in a house, we accompany it by a provision that he should reside a certain time in that house, and that he should pay his rates. That rating and residential qualification the hon. Gentleman will, I think, admit makes our proposal a thing very different from household suffrage, pure and simple, and it is in my mind infinitely better than a small value franchise. When an election takes place at Maldon, or anywhere else where my hon. Friend may be a candidate, he will find from the state of the constituency that it will be not at all what he seems to imagine, especially in point of numbers, under the Constitutional conditions for which we are contending. The vindication of our policy on that point has, I think, been completely established by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley), who, as he usually does, touched with great force all the points of the case. It is the greatest mistake to suppose that if you get rid of the rating Acts you would necessarily 753 increase the number of persons who would be qualified to vote for a Member of Parliament. The conditions of rating and residence would still continue to be exacted, which would always operate to select portions of the working classes from that "residuum" on whom even the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) does not wish to see the franchise conferred. You will find that those clauses which will disqualify individuals from being intrusted with it will be always at work, and that so long as you retain the qualifications of payment of rates and adequate residence, you will secure a constituency fairly representing the character and best feelings of the country.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he understood the state of the case, as it was now presented to the Committee, to be that the hon. Member (Mr. Hodgkinson) having moved an Amendment of great importance on the success of which it depended whether household suffrage should be granted or not, the right hon. Gentleman accepted the principle of that Amendment, though he contended that in doing so he did not seek to establish household suffrage. He, however, and others in the North of England who had long thought upon the question, took household suffrage to mean the reduction of the present £10 franchise to the occupation, under the same conditions, of any house. He therefore hailed with the greatest delight the concessions which the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to make, as he understood them. The borough franchise on such a basis might, he believed, be accepted by a majority of the House and prove satisfactory to the country, which was anything but satisfied with the Bill in its present shape. He should, under those circumstances, appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to revert to his original plan of proceeding with the clauses of the Bill in their regular order until he came to the 34th, before which time he might place on the table a Bill, or clauses, removing the difficulties connected with the case of the compound-householder. For his own part, he should prefer that the right hon. Gentleman should bring forward clauses.
§ MR. HODGKINSON
said, that as he interpreted what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) assented to the principle of the Amendment; that he was not prepared to state whether he would carry that principle into effect by means of clauses to be introduced into the present Bill or by a 754 separate measure; that, under those circumstances, he would move that the Chairman should report Progress, and that on Monday he would be in a position to say how he proposed to deal with the whole question. That was a mode of proceeding which he looked upon as most reasonable, and to the adoption of which he should offer no objection.
said, he wished to say a few words on a point of great importance, with respect to which he hoped his hon. Friend who had just sat down had come to a right, and he, himself, to a wrong conclusion. His hon. Friend seemed to think that the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that Progress should be reported forthwith, and that the Government, having taken time to consider his hon. Friend's Amendment, should announce what they meant to do with the view to carry out its principle on Monday. If that were the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, his hon. Friend was, he thought, quite right in giving it his hearty assent. He must, however, confess that he did not understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that sense. If the hon. Member were wrong in the construction he put on his speech, his proposal would appear to amount simply to an invitation to the Committee to give up the Amendment under discussion, then to pass to one or two other Amendments which stood upon the Paper, then to report Progress with the view of resuming the labours of the Committee at the 34th clause, at the same time to discuss in detail the provisions—necessarily of an elaborate character—for enabling the compound-householder to obtain the franchise, that mode of proceeding to be covered by the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman that he accepted the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member, but that he did not intend to embody it in the present Bill, or, indeed, in any Bill to be carried out simultaneously with it, and that he declined to give any pledge as to the time at which the principle in question would be embodied in any measure. What was the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Of the householders below £10 one-fourth were ratepaying-house-holders and the other three-fourths were compounding - householders. The right hon. Gentleman's present proposal would practically amount to adjourning indefinitely the consideration of the position in which three-fourths of the householders below £10 should be placed for the purpose 755 of the franchise, and then proceeding, after that matter was adjourned, to pass the Reform Bill. Last year the course we took was greatly objected to, when we proposed to make a separation between the question of the franchise and the question of the distribution of scats. But he would now ask the House how was it possible to pass a measure, which, as respects three-fourths of the householders under £10, was to be purely provisional, and then to proceed definitely with the other parts of the Bill? He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman for not being prepared to announce at the present moment a definite course of procedure, and for asking time to give effect to the Amendment of the hon. Member. But it was impossible to accept an indefinite adjournment of a decision upon the principle. There was one course, in which both sides might concur without embarrassment if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not now prepared to announce the course he would take with respect to the Amendment. Let the Chairman of the Committee report Progress, and on Monday—by which day the Government would have had full time to consider this important question—the Chancellor of the Exchequer could state the course which the Government would definitely take. The hon. Member would then have the opportunity of considering whether he would take the judgment of the House on the question, or acquiesce in any proposal the Government might make.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman has made a very unnecessary speech. The hon. Member clearly understands my meaning; and I am satisfied with his interpretation. What I said was this. There were yet only two other Amendments to this clause, and I thought, without much more discussion, we might pass the 3rd clause. With regard to the 34th clause—that relating to compound-householders—this being Friday night—I thought I should be able on Monday to state the course we intended to pursue. This was satisfactory to the hon. Member, and I believe it was perfectly understood by every Member of the House. I do not know what other statement I could have made to be satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman. I shall propose on Monday that the House go again into Committee on this Bill. I shall then propose the course which the Government are prepared to take. There are two Amendments not 756 requiring a long time to consider. ["Progress!"] They would not take a long time to discuss. ["Progress!"]
I confess I cannot feel satisfied with the course which the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to take. He has announced a change of startling magnitude, a change which involves the certain admission, instead of the contingent and doubtful admission, of some 500,000 people to the franchise. Of this policy I express no opinion; but I say it is entirely an abnegation of all the principles of his party. It seems to me that it is not right that changes so enormous should be introduced in a Bill, transforming it entirely from the character which it wore when first introduced, without giving to the House and the country more than three hours at least to think over the alteration proposed. It therefore seems to me that we have no other course, after the great change which has been proposed, than to stop the progress of the Bill at the point we have now reached. I beg to move that you, Mr. Dodson, do now report Progress.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It is of no use to oppose a Motion of this kind at this late hour (a quarter past eleven). I consent to the Chairman reporting Progress.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.