HC Deb 09 July 1868 vol 193 cc904-8

said, that he had given private Notice to the First Lord of the Treasury of his resolve to call the attention of the House to the important de- cision which had been delivered in the Court of Common Pleas on Saturday last, relative to the rating clause of the Representation of the People Act. He should—although he was exceedingly unwilling to do so—conclude by moving the adjournment of the House, in order that he might be enabled to enter into a short explanation of the circumstances to which his Question related.


Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would not object to take the more legitimate course of bringing on the subject on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply. By this means the necessity for moving the adjournment of the House would be avoided.


said, he regretted he could not comply with the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, as several Questions 'stood for discussion on the Motion forgoing; into Supply: and as there were several lion. Members then present who took an interest in the subject to which he was about to invite the attention of the House, who might not find it convenient to be in, their places at a later hour. The circumstances of the case were these—Stamper was rated for the relief of the poor for the borough of Sundcrland—he being an occupier of a house with five other persons—to the amount of £3 10s. He appealed against being so rated, and the Court of Common Picas on Saturday last sustained that appeal. That decision was based on the construction of the words of the 7th section of the Act of last Session, by which the Court held that with respect to tenements let out in apartments the words "not separately rated" meant not rated at the time of the passing of the Act. The result of that decision went to show that persons similarly situated to Stamper were by the 7th section of the Reform Act debarred from rateability, and ns a consequence from enfranchisement. The extent to which such disfranchisement would be carried was exceedingly serious. It would, he believed, affect upwards of 100,000 persons throughout the country. Such, at all events, was the estimate made by gentlemen well qualified to judge in the matter. He could state confidently that in five boroughs within a radius of twelve miles in the North of England no fewer than 12,000 or 15,000 persons would be disfranchised by the decision of the Court of Common Pleas. The extent of the disfranchisement would, for instance, in Newcastle be about 6,000; in the borough which he represented (Sunderland) about 4,000; in South and North Shields about 1,000; while it would be of more or less extent throughout the whole country. He begged, under those circumstances, to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, in consequence of the decision in the Court of Common Pleas on Saturday last, in the case of "Stamper v. The Churchwardens and Overseers of the Parish of Sunderland," having the effect of excluding many thousands in that and other boroughs from the franchise whom Parliament, by the Representation of the People Act of last year, intended to enfranchise, he will bring in a Bill this Session to amend the 7th section of that Act, so as to give the franchise to those occupiers of parts of houses whom that decision excludes from its possession?

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Candlish).


By the Act of last Session, so far as the franchise of boroughs was concerned, the House gave it, and intended to give it, to every householder rated to the poor who paid his rate, and to every lodger who lived in a lodging of the clear annual value of £10 per annum. I do not understand that the decision of the Court of Common Pleas has impugned either of these qualifications, which are the qualifications of the new suffrage. The hon. Gentleman says that a great number of persons have been disfranchised in consequence of a section of the Act which provides that the owner of all tenements let out in several dwellings should be rated. If there is a section, and no doubt there; is, to that effect in the Act of last year, it is not the 7th, which was not at all passed in reference to the suffrage, but merely in regard to rating; nor was it introduced by Her Majesty's Government. I cannot myself say what number of persons may have been deprived of the vote they expected to enjoy in consequence of the decision of the Court of Common Pleas. I should myself imagine that the original estimate of the hon. Gentleman must have been greatly exaggerated; but there is no reason whatever why those persons should not claim to be rated under the provisions of the Act of last year, and if their claim is a valid claim it will be allowed. Therefore I do not clearly understand what it is that the hon. Gentleman maintains, and certainly I am not prepared to introduce any measure which would impugn the prin- ciple of the provisions of the Act of last year.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman was not correct when lie said that those persons could claim to be rated, for, so far as he understood the decision of the Court of Common Pleas, it was to the effect that they could not be rated, lie did not, of course, now propose to impugn the decision of the Court of Common Pleas—it would he extremely inconvenient if the decisions of the Courts of Common Law were to be impugned or canvassed in that House; nor did lie think the Government could fairly be called upon to bring in a Bill for the purpose of settling any doubts which might have been the consequence of that decision, considering the time of the Session at which they were arrived, and that such a Bill would necessarily re-open some questions which might lead to considerable discussions. But he would merely state that the decision of the Court of Common Pleas, although, no doubt, it was a correct decision on the wording of the statute, did not appear to express what was the intention of the House when it passed the clause. He could not help thinking that the intention of the House was that the owner of every separate and distinct tenement in a house, where he was not a lodger with a resident landlord, should be entitled to the franchise, and that his hon. Friend was right in saying that a large number of persons who expected to be enfranchised under the Act, and whom the majority of the House expected to be enfranchised, would not be enfranchised. However, it was too late in the Session to expect Government to bring in a measure, and therefore he trusted his hon. Friend would be satisfied with the answer on that part of the case.


said, the point raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish), when the Reform Bill was under discussion in Committee last year, applied not to the definition of rating, but to the construction of the word dwelling-house. The hon. Member said that in the borough he represented there were a large number of persons occupying parts of the same house who were separately rated. The question decided by the Court of Common Pleas was, that where the owner was actually rated, and not the occupier, at the time of the passing of the Act, he should so continue under the 7th section. As regarded the number of persons likely to be disfranchised, he had received letters from Manchester, Birmingham, and various places in the North of England, stating that they had accepted the interpretation of the Reform Act thus laid down, and had in all those places rated the owners, and not the occupiers. A letter had appeared in the Sunderland Times—a paper which upheld the same opinions as the hon. Member—stating that the decision of the Court of Common Pleas would not affect the register very materially one way or the other, as the class whom it was said the decision would affect in that borough consisted of persons who occupied rooms or tenements for which they did not pay more than 3s. a week, who were constantly moving from place to place, so as never to get the qualification of residence, and who were only a shade removed above vagrants.


said, he had received an authentic report of Mr. Justice Smith's judgment from Mr. Scott, the official reporter of the Court of Common Pleas, from which it appeared that the house to which it related was built with six rooms for one family, and afterwards let in separate rooms to six persons, there being only one street door and one set of domestic offices for the whole. The owner did not live there, or exercise any supervision. The effect of the decision, as stated by the Judge himself was, that by the operation of the 7th section of the Act occupiers of small houses and separate parts of houses would for the future be liable to be rated, whatever might be the value of their holdings, notwithstanding the Small Tenements Act, and the owners would no longer be rated. Such occupier would be qualified to vote on the occupation franchise; but as regarded the occupiers of lodgings, where the house was separately let out when the Act was passed, the owner and not the occupier would be rated, and the occupants might claim under the lodger franchise. It was well that the real scope of the decision should be known, in order that overseers might not attempt to strain it, and thus exclude from the franchise persons whom the Court did not intend to disfranchise.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn,