§ MR. GOSCHEN
, in rising to ask leave to bring in a Bill for amending the Law with respect to Rates assessed upon Occupiers for short terms, said, it might be convenient to the House if he were to explain briefly the general principles upon which the measure was founded. He wished to be allowed to state, in the first instance, that the Government had approached this subject with an anxious desire not to interfere with the electoral machinery established by the Bill of 1867. They had considered how far they could deal with what was really a grievance affecting a very large number of ratepayers, but at the same time they did not wish to revive more than was absolutely necessary—he hoped not at all—the political discussions on the subject which took place in that House two years ago. That the matter was one of importance would not be denied by any one on either side of the House. Hon. Members opposite were as well aware as Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the great difficulties that had been experienced in many places in collecting the rates from weekly tenants; and as regarded their number, it might be in the recollection of the House that there were at least 700,000 occupiers under £10 a year, and a very great majority of those 700,000 were weekly tenants, by which he meant tenants for short terms, or less than a quarter of a year. He was not now speaking of tenants above or below any particular line—above £6 or below it—but of weekly tenants in general, and he wished to put as briefly as possible the position in which those tenants stand. The real point of their difficulty was this—that rates were levied, not for past expenditure, but for expenditure to come—that they were levied to cover a certain period in advance. In many places rates were levied for the year, in other places for six months, and seldom for less than a quarter. If, therefore, they assessed a tenant for short terms to these rates, they came to this position—that they taxed the weekly tenant in advance for a time materially longer than his own occupation. They 316 went to him and said, "You must pay the rate for six months in advance, though your landlord may turn you to-morrow out of doors." It had been said in "another place" that the grievance had not been ascertained and proved; but he thought it stood to reason that there was great hardship in coming to any one, rich or poor, and telling him he was to clear his tenement of rates several months in advance, though he might be called upon to leave the tenement the day after. He did not see that the question of furnished or unfurnished apartments made any great difference, because, though the richer classes found it difficult to remove their furniture, that was not the case with the poorer classes. But what would be said if any one taking furnished apartments for a fortnight were asked to pay the rates of the house for twelve months to come? "Well, that was the precise position in which the great majority of the weekly tenants stood. And there was this further peculiarity in the case, that under many local Acts the overseers had not got it in their power legally to levy the rates by instalments. They might make arrangements voluntarily to do so, but if they had to summon a ratepayer they must summon for the whole rate. That was a part of the grievance which had created a certain sense of wrong among a very large class of ratepayers, for they said, they were not asked to pay a rate levied on them simply for the term of their occupation, but a large lump sum for six months or twelve months together. The Government looked on this question not as a political one, but simply in this light—whether, if a remedy could be found, they were to allow a vast number of weekly tenants to be left in their present position. If it was said that this was an old grievance—that the rate was demanded from weekly tenants in advance, even before composition was introduced or the Reform Bill passed, that was very true, but composition was introduced many years ago with the very object of meeting this grievance. Formerly the rates used to be made for much shorter terms, but latterly, especially in the larger towns, where there were such vast numbers of ratepayers, it had become the custom to levy them quarterly or half yearly, in order to avoid the additional expense of collecting them if levied more frequently.
317 By the statute of Elizabeth the rates were to be levied weekly, and then it was proper that weekly tenants should pay. The inconvenience of weekly collection, however, soon came to be felt, but then it was the hardship to the owner, not the weekly tenant, that was taken into consideration, and composition was introduced for the sake of the parish and the owners, as was apparent from the preamble of the various Bills for rating the owners. He thought if the House took the question of local taxation in hand they would feel it quite right to consider this matter fully, quite regardless of the Bill of 1867. He held that the Government might challenge the House on this question, irrespective of any political considerations. Circulars had been issued from the Poor Law Board and the Home Office under the late Government with reference to the great number of summonses issued for rates, and also to the payment of rates by the owners in lieu of the tenants; and the House would remember that on various occasions when rates had been levied in the large towns they had seen reports in the newspapers of the vast number of summonses issued, and also of excusals from rates in consequence of the recent change in the law. Taking the East of London, in the spring of 1868, in Shoreditch there were 15,000 summonses issued; in Bethnal Green and Mile End the case was much the same; in Hackney the number issued was 6,000—the hearing of the whole of them being fixed for the same day; and in Lambeth the number was 7,000. Again, in Birmingham in October, 1867, there were 25,000 persons summoned, and in May, 1868, 15,000, the number of warrants of distress being 5,000, and the cost to Birmingham of the proceedings upwards of £3,000. Such was the case in regard to the inconvenience to the tenant. He asked the House whether it was expedient or desirable, in a public point of view, that there should be that enormous number of summonses and excusals? Was it desirable that there should be every kind of evasion of the law in order to turn the corner of an Act which it was so difficult to carry into execution. It was found so difficult to collect the rates from the tenants that, in many instances by a mutual understanding, the owners continued to pay them for the tenants, and he was sure that 318 hon. Gentlemen opposite would not deny that that was a convenient arrangement, and one which ought not to be interfered with. He might quote the authority of the late President of the Poor Law Board, who issued a Circular to the overseers of the various parishes to this effort—The Board desire to remark that, except in regard to the provision whereby owners were sometimes liable to be rated in the place of the occupiers of houses and tenements, the law according to which the poor rate is made, levied, and collected, as it existed before the passing of the Act, is unchanged. It follows in their opinion that, as heretofore, the payment of the poor rate need not have been made by the person assessed himself, but the payment by an authorized agent acting for him would have been sufficient; so, notwithstanding the provisions of this Act, the rate may be paid by any other person on behalf of the person rated, if duly authorized by such last mentioned person to make the payment; and they think that the overseer will not be justified in refusing to receive the payment of the rate when so tendered or to give a receipt for it. The several cases of "Rex v. Bridgewater," 3 T. R. 550; "Q. v. Benjeworth," 3 B. and E.,, 637; and "Q. v. The Mayor of Bridgnorth," 10 Ad. and E., 66, show that the person who pays the rate for the person assessed must have authority from him for making such payment, either express or implied.That Circular showed that at present the landlords practically paid the rates for the tenants in a vast number of cases. He had himself received several deputations of overseers from the East of London, and when he asked them by whom the rates in their unions and parishes were paid, in nearly every case they replied, the owners. He asked them how they managed it, and they answered that they practically made the owners pay, because they told the owners that otherwise they should have to harass their tenants weekly to get the rates, and the owners felt that that would be such a hardship to their tenants that they practically undertook to pay for them. He said to the overseers, "Of course you do not pay a commission for this to the landlord, because that would be illegal?" They answered "No." Then he asked, "How do you indemnify the owners?" and the reply was, "By lowering the assessment of the houses." Thus by what he called a kind of collusion, the Act had really become inoperative. They went to the tenants, and not getting the rates from them, they entered into a sort of half illegal arrangement with the landlords, and the occupiers did not practically pay the rates. The change which he now proposed was 319 not at all violent, but went on the acknowledged principle that payment by the landlord was practically payment by the tenant, if the former was authorized by the latter to pay. That being the state of the case, it was most desirable to remove the evils that had arisen in respect to summonses, and also to excusals, which had attained an unprecedented scale since the passing of the Act of 1867. The Circular issued by the Home Office showed that that Departpartment was as alive as the Poor Law Board to the great difficulties connected with that Act. The Circular of the Home Office stated—I am directed by Mr. Secretary Hardy to state, for the information of the Justices for whom you are acting as clerk, that, in consequence of the large number of summonses for the recovery of rates which have been issued in certain boroughs in which, prior to the passing of the Representation of the People Act, 1867, the system of compounding was in force, his attention has been directed to the mode of excusing poor persons from the payment of rates on the ground of poverty, under the authority conferred upon the Justices by the Act 54 Geo. III., c. 170, s. 11.The Circular then pointed to the mode in which summonses had been issued and excuses allowed, and suggested certain alterations in procedure. Surely it was better to try to avoid those excusals, by which some kinds of property escaped from rates, while they also added to the grievance of those weekly tenants who did pay by making them pay for others who were excused; for, of course, the more persons they excused, the greater in proportion was the burden thrown upon all who really had to pay. He was sure he was not using too strong language if he said that the present mode of collecting rates from weekly tenants was unjust in principle, and demoralizing in practice, tempting them, on the one hand, to evade the law, and exasperating them when they could, not do so. These were the reasons which induced the Government to think it was absolutely necessary to legislate on the subject, and he was sure that if the late Government had remained in Office they would have thought the same thing. It would be remembered that a Select Committee sat upon that subject last year to inquire into the operation of that Act; and that Committee agreed to certain recommendations, some of which he thought were valuable, while 320 with others of them he confessed he could not agree. But their Report showed that it was necessary to do something in the matter, which could not be left on its present footing. It would be impossible to deal with the whole question of rating this year and carry out all the improvements in it which were desirable; but this matter, he thought, might be set right by a very simple arrangement. He would now describe what the Government proposed to do. They did not propose to touch the Reform Bill or the electoral machinery. They thought it would be unwise at present to raise the question as to whether the rate-book should be the register. The rate-book had remained as the basis of the register under the Representation of the People Act of 1867, and it would remain as its basis under the Bill which he now proposed. The chief point seemed to him to be this—that they should accept the principle that it would be wiser to call on the landlords rather than the tenants to bear the ultimate burden of the rates. Therefore they proposed that the occupiers of tenements held for short terms should still continue to be rated, and be liable to pay the rates, with their names on the rate-book, but that they should be allowed to deduct the rate they paid from the rents due, or accruing due, to their landlords. That would be the first proposal of the Bill. But then it might be said that as the rate they would collect might exceed the rent which the tenant would have to pay, it might be difficult to carry out that which he regarded as the principle of the Bill,—namely, that no weekly tenant should be called upon to pay rates for a longer term than that of his occupation. Therefore it would be necessary to have a second stipulation for dividing the rate into instalments. They proposed that the overseers should not be entitled to collect more than a quarter's rate from weekly tenants, and that such tenants should not be required to pay more of the rates than would be covered by two weeks' rent. Thus, as those tenants must have two weeks' notice, in no case would they be out of pocket for the rate levied from them. The incidence of the rate, even if very heavy, was never likely to be so great but that a quarter's rate would be covered by a, fortnight's rent; and in that way he thought the grievances of the 321 weekly tenants would be remedied to a very great extent. The Bill did not interfere with the question of voluntary arrangements by which the landlord paid the rate. That would be left on its present footing, with one exception, to which he would presently allude. The Bill would not interfere in the least with such arrangements, but rather rendered it far more probable that landlords would adopt them. At present the landlord was under a temptation to make such arrangements with only a certain portion of his tenants, and not with others, believing that those others would be excused. But if the landlord knew that he must pay the rate—a perfectly equitable arrangement, as he thought—he would not have that inducement to refuse those voluntary agreements. But it would be said that this would place a liability on the owners of one kind of property which would not be put upon the owners of another—that the man who owned houses which let by the week would be obliged to pay the rates on them, and it would be asked why should he have to do so, any more than the owners of houses of another class—why should he have an additional liability put upon him? Now, there might be some force in that argument, because it was apparent that such a landlord might have to pay rates for property that was not let during the whole of the period for which the rate extended. It would, he thought, be admitted that in return for the liability put upon him the landlord was entitled to a certain indemnity. As a fresh charge would be placed on a certain kind of property, the Bill proposed that that circumstance should be taken into account in determining the rateable value of that kind of property. The landlords would have to bear a new burden, which would depreciate pro tanto the value of their property, and therefore it was proposed that any loss they might sustain in this way should be made up to them. Such, in brief, were the proposals which the Government deemed it their duty to make, and he hoped that while they would not be found to be inconsistent with the views of those hon. Gentlemen opposite who attached great importance to the rating provisions of the Reform Act, they would prove to be a practical remedy for the inconveniences which had arisen under the existing system. The weekly tenant would no longer be ex- 322 posed to a risk which he had now constantly to run, namely—that of leaving his cottage, after paying six months' rates, and being unable to recover from the tenant that succeeded him his share. In some respects, indeed, a weekly tenant would be better off under the provisions of this Bill than he was under the old system of composition, while, on the other hand, the proposed method would be free from those arbitrary deductions which constituted one of the chief objections to the composition system. He would be better off in this respect—that he would know he could no longer be called upon to pay his rates and his rent too. At present, if the rates wore not paid, the goods of the occupier might be distrained, so that, although he might have paid his rent, he would still be liable for a large amount of rates. By the provisions of the present Bill the weekly tenant would also be relieved from the grievance of having to pay his rates in a lump sum. This was a grievance which had caused a very great deal f irritation. Weekly tenants were in the habit of paying for everything by weekly instalments, and did not like to be called upon for payment in a lump of what to them was a considerable sum—say £1, or £1 5s., for example. They now evaded the difficulty by the arrangements they entered into with their landlords, but under the provisions of the Bill which he should ask leave to introduce there would be no evasion of any kind. As regarded the position of weekly tenants with reference to the Reform Act of 1867, he submitted that the principle which had been mainly contended for was that the rates on all property that gave a title to the electoral franchise should be paid by the tenant. But it was evident from the Circular he had quoted that the rates need not be paid by the tenant in person. In point of fact, the rates were often paid by the landlord now, though he was not able to get any indemnity for so doing. Moreover the Bill would not in the least affect the residential qualification. Of course if a tenant were unable to pay his rates he would be disfranchised, as under the existing law. He must still have money enough to pay his rates, though he might deduct the sum devoted to that purpose from the rent due to the landlord. There was absolutely nothing new in this proposal, because to a great 323 extent it was already the law in Scotland and Ireland. In both those countries a certain portion of the rate was put on the landlord, and therefore the principle that the landlord might fairly be made liable for the payment of rates was acknowledged. Upon what principle, then, were the rates collected? In Scotland the method adopted was as follows:—The 43rd section of the Act 8 & 9 Vict., c. 83, passed in 1845, provided—Where the One Half of any Assessment is imposed upon the Owners, and the other Half on the Tenants or Occupiers of Lands and Heritages, it shall be competent for the Collector of such Assessment to levy the whole thereof from the Tenants or Occupants, who shall be entitled to recover One Half thereof from the Owners, or to retain the same out of their Rents, on Production of a Receipt granted by the Collector of such Assessment.In Ireland the same system prevailed. By sections 71 and 74 of the Act 1 & 2 Vict., c. 56, it was enacted as follows:—Every Rate made under the authority of this Act shall be paid to the Person authorized to collect the same by the Person in the actual Occupation of the rateable Property at the Time of the Rate made, and, on his Default, then by the Person subsequently in the Occupation of the rateable Property from whom such rate shall be demanded. Where the Person occupying such Property shall be liable to pay a Rent in respect of the same, he may deduct from such Rent for each Pound of the Rent which he shall be liable so to pay One Half of the Sum which he shall have paid as Rate in respect of each Pound of the net annual Value (whether such Rent shall be greater or less than such net annual Value), and so in proportion for any Sum less than a Pound.The House would see, therefore, that the Government were by no means pursuing an unprecedented course in proposing that the landlord should be made liable in the ultimate resort for the rates on certain kinds of property. Quite irrespective of the passing of the Reform Act of 1867, the weekly tenants, the parishes, and the owners of property would be benefited by the proposed change, and would, in fact, be placed in a better position than they occupied prior to the passing of that Act. And here he ought to state that the Bill would not be confined to Parliamentary boroughs, as all weekly tenants ought to be entitled to the same privileges. The House would remember that composition had only been abolished in Parliamentary boroughs, and in them only in respect of certain rates, as he believed that the district rate and the highway 324 rate, when not collected with the poor rate, might still be compounded for, while beyond the area of Parliamentary boroughs the old system of composition remained in full force. Now, the Government had anxiously considered the question, whether the method of deduction introduced by the Bill could co-exist with composition in those places where composition had not been yet abolished. It appeared to the Government that it could, because, as weekly tenants would be entitled to deduct the rates from the rent after they had been called upon to pay them, and as under the composition system they were not so called upon to pay them, that portion of the Bill would not apply to places where the compounding system obtained. It was true that the sections providing that a reduction should be made in the case of property let to weekly tenants in the gross estimated rental of such property would apply universally; but it would, of course, be competent for the local authorities, in places where compositions still existed, to lower the deductions, and to say that the only deduction allowable should be that in respect of empty houses, as the liability of the owners was already considered in the general deduction of 25 per cent. It might, perhaps, be said, however, that it would have been better for the Government to deal with the subject of composition generally; but opinions varied so much on the subject that it had been deemed advisable to limit the operations of the present measure to the case of weekly tenants. In an economical view, the Bill would even go beyond the composition system, for it was compulsory and extended to the whole of England; it removed the burden of bearing the rates entirely from the weekly tenants, and it established, once for all, the principle that the property of the landlord, when let out in this particular way, was to be entitled to a deduction in its rateable value. The Government were thoroughly convinced that the proposed arrangement was just to all the parties concerned. When hon. Members had read the Bill they would, he trusted, agree that the Government had done their best to remedy a grievance which, as every one acknowledged, ought to be removed. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he had endeavoured to follow the able explanations of the right hon. Gentleman, and, as far as he could perceive, the long speech which had been delivered amounted to this—that the landlords of property let to weekly tenants were ultimately to bear the burden of the rates. Now, if the object of the Bill was simply to relieve weekly tenants from the burden they now bore, why should so roundabout a machinery be devised for the purpose? Why not enact directly that landlords should pay all the rates imposed on property let out to weekly tenants? The only benefit which, in his opinion, could arise from the complicated provisions of the Bill under consideration was, the keeping the names of the tenants on the rate-books in order that the requirements of the Reform Act of 1867 might be complied with. But even if it were determined that the owner was to bear the burden, he might be assessed and the rates collected from him quarterly, while the names of the tenants might still be inserted in the rate-book. What possible necessity could there be for imposing on the overseers the burden of taking the rates from the tenants, if they were immediately afterwards to be entitled to be re-paid them by their landlords out of their rents? Instead of benefiting weekly tenants, it appeared to him that the Bill would impose an additional burden upon them by rendering necessary the payment of their rent as well as of their taxes, in order to get a qualification. The only possible benefit which could, so far as he could see, arise from the operation of the Bill was that it would provide for the overseer a property—namely, the goods of those small tenants, on which to levy the rate, if he chose to harass them by so doing. There was a good suggestion made before the Committee, which was that the owners who let their properties for a short period should be the parties rated. This seemed to be the practical effect of this measure; and if so, why should it be necessary to put such cumbrous machinery in motion to effect the purpose? He should reserve further criticism till he had seen the Bill; but he thought it went a roundabout way to accomplish the object it proposed.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
wished to ask the President of the Poor Law Board, whether it was his intention that all classes 326 of weekly occupiers should be placed on the rate-book, irrespective of the nature of the tenements which they held? In the borough which he had the honour to represent (Tynemouth), there were 4,800 persons placed on the rate list, all of whom had paid their rates, and out of that number 2,200 had been struck off by the Revising Barrister, 1,500 of whom came within the scope of what was known as the Stamper Case, which had been decided in the Court of Common Pleas, and 700 more had been struck off because the Barrister thought they ought never to have been put upon the list. The question was investigated, whether the houses of many of those ratepayers had pantries and other conveniences, which, however desirable in other points of view, were hardly deemed to be necessary to the possession of a vote.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he did not propose to enter into details on the subject at that stage of the measure, because the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) said it was not the intention of the Government to open up the Reform question which had been settled, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman might be assured that there was no intention on his part of the House but to treat the question in a fair and impartial spirit, and candidly to examine the details. It was not his intention to import into the discussion the question of the compound-householder. He thought that the question was one which deserved earnest consideration, and he was sure that such would be accorded.
Sir, I have presented Petitions to-night from the borough of Birmingham, stating some facts bearing on this question that I should like in a sentence or two to state to the House. I do not pretend to say that the case of Birmingham requires more attention than that of other boroughs whose names I might give. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. C. Forster), who sits behind me, in all probability could state just as much with respect to the borough which he represents. But in the borough of Birmingham, before composition was abolished, there were 36,000 male householders, I believe, who had never in the course of their lives paid a rate. The system of compounding was so universal—in most cases it was not optional, but was enforced by law over the whole town—that every 327 house of less value than £12, or even in some parts £15, was excused from rates so far as the occupier was concerned, the rate being paid by the owner. The distress which has prevailed since the change which has taken place has been something very great—something really to excite the sympathy of all those who have learnt the particulars. Summonses have been issued, I think, in regard to one rate for more than £ 15,000, and more than 5,000 distress warrants have been issued. Several thousands of persons have asked to be excused from rates, and the whole town of Birmingham has received this alteration of the law as a visitation, the severity of which has been aggravated by the belief that it was entirely needless. Now, the point of hardship to which my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board has specially referred, and to which he wishes to apply a remedy, is this—that the occupier of a house whose tenancy may last only for a week is or may be bound, and generally is bound, to pay rate for three months or for six months, and sometimes even for a longer period. That grievance, or rather that state of the law, existed in the case of Birmingham, but the evil was not felt by the people, because the system of composition afforded a complete shelter from that injustice, the tenant never being called upon to pay rates except as he paid his rent. He saw nothing of the tax-gatherer, and might leave his house in a week or a fortnight, but he never left having paid a rate for three or six months. When, therefore, the change was made two years ago the effect was to take away the whole of that shelter, and to bring upon the vast body of the householders of that town the evils, the sufferings, the obvious and notorious hardships and injustice described by my right hon. Friend on moving for leave to introduce his Bill. I think this is a matter which demands the special sympathy of the House. It is not a matter of any moment to hon. Members whether they pay a quarter's rate more or less; but to the great body of the working men of this country whose livelihood every week depends upon their weekly wages, the matter is one of very great importance. The average earnings of the working man are from 15s. to 20s., or 30s., perhaps 40s. a week. He occupies a house with three or four rooms, often with a 328 large family. Imagine how, under the pressure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has to lay out his small income in order to provide everything necessary for the support of that family! There is not a shilling which he earns which has not to be appropriated to some purpose in the course of the week with that object. There is hardly any surplus in vast numbers of these houses. There is no accumulated surplus in the bulk of them to meet the new demands which, in consequence of the action of Parliament two years ago, have been brought on these occupiers. And when, for the first time, the tax-gatherer came to them, having paid their weekly rents to this time, for a new charge, they could not understand why it was imposed on them. This, then, is a case which—apart from all questions of party, which influenced the House so much two years ago—demands the anxious consideration and sympathy of the House. The right hon. Gentleman, acting on behalf of the Government, has been anxious not to interfere with what has been done two years ago, and not to stir up strife on this question, which then excited so much interest. He has treated it as an economical question. He has not treated it as a question of representation, but merely as a question of valuation and payment of rate; and he wishes the House to adopt a principle which shall extend throughout the whole of the country, and which, I believe, will be even better than the system which was destroyed two years ago. The hon. Member for the city of York (Mr. J. Lowther) said, he thought it would be better to have no discussion now of this question. I am not sure that this is good advice, because I think it is very desirable that not only the Members of this House should have an opportunity for considering the Bill, but that every constituency throughout the kingdom should also have that opportunity; and I believe they will learn much from the expression of opinion on the part of Members of the House even in this first stage of the Bill. It is a question that is, at the first moment it is looked at, a little puzzling; but I must confess that the more I have considered and examined the Bill the more I think that no other proposal offers a satisfactory settlement of a question found to be embarrassing on the opposite side of the House so much as 329 this does. I know that the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) and his Colleagues had no intention to inflict this hardship. We know that in many places the hardship is great, and is extensively felt. We know that the question of the franchise is fixed on a basis from which it cannot be now removed, and we are now prepared more than we were two years ago, or last year, to discuss the question without party heat; and I hope when the Bill comes on for second reading it will so recommend itself to both parties that it will experience, not only a fair, but a most favourable acceptance. I should be glad to have the question settled by this Bill, which grapples in a manner somewhat novel with a great difficulty; and I hope when it is discussed by gentlemen in the country who understand this matter thoroughly—I mean those who are connected with Boards of Guardians, and with the expenditure and collection of rates—they will be able to give to Members of the House such advice and such assistance as may enable us to, bring this question to a speedy and satisfactory issue.
§ MR. CHARLES FORSTER
said, as the representative of a borough which was greatly affected by the ratepaying clauses, he begged to tender his thanks to the Government for their early attention to the subject; but at the same time, he must reserve his opinion as to the adequacy of the proposed remedy till he had seen the Bill in print. He also expressed regret that it was not proposed to abolish the present objectionable rating clauses and to re-establish the system of compound rating. In his own borough (Walsall) 200 summonses for non-payment of rates had been taken out last week, and 1,500 more were expected. In the course of last year 1,600 persons were summoned for the same cause, and 2,400 were excused on the ground of poverty, thus extending the area of pauperism by the very machinery devised to alleviate it. He hoped that the Government would fix an early day for the second reading of the Bill, as the question excited the greatest interest throughout the country.
§ MR. LOCKE KING
said, he did not understand that the Bill would meet the case where, under local Acts, houses of large rents were compounded for. In the county of Surrey there were many 330 such compounders, and they being all off the rate book were, of course, deprived of the privilege of voting. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would endeavour to remedy this grievance.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he wished to bear testimony to the fact that some legislation on this subject was absolutely necessary. There was no borough in the country that had suffered more from the rate-paying clauses than Southwark. In the largest parish in Southwark—Bermondsey—there was actually a decrease of 211 in the number of voters on the register. Before the passing of the Reform Act the number of electors in that parish was 5,878, and since its passing it only amounted to 5,667, including lodgers. All the other parishes had increased, and the total increase of electors in the borough was 5,385, the whole number of electors being 17,703. It was inconvenient to discuss the Bill now introduced at its present stage, because it was difficult to understand it. The Government, no doubt, were actuated by the best intentions, and desired to provide a remedy for an evil, about the existence of which there could be no doubt, and he was satisfied that both sides of the House would render their assistance to secure the passing of a measure which would secure that result.
§ MR. A. JOHNSTON
said, he thought that the Government had exercised a wise discretion in refusing this Session to re-open the question that was supposed to be settled in 1867; but he should be very sorry that it should go forth to the country that the Liberal party, or any great section of it, were satisfied with that settlement. A great number of them were pledged to endeavour to disconnect, as soon as they possibly could do so consistently with the progress of Public Business, the suffrage from the payment of rates. With all respect for the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, he must say that such connection was absurd, mischievous, and unconstitutional. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade spoke one word that he (Mr. Johnston) should be sorry to see go forth to the country without that little explanation which the right hon. Gentleman might not think right to give, but which he (Mr. Johnston) had no difficulty in giving for him. The right hon. Gentleman said that the question of the suffrage was settled upon 331 a certain basis, and that it was impossible to move it from that basis; but he (Mr. Johnston) thought that the right hon. Gentleman merely meant that it would be impossible to move it higher up, not that it would be impossible to move it lower down, or to place it on some more satisfactory footing. He could not think that the right hon. Gentleman who had been in the very van of the Reform movement could pledge himself never to re-open the question, which those who sat on those Benches, could not regard as settled.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill for amending the Law with respect to Rates assessed upon Occupiers for short terms, ordered to be brought in by Mr. GOSCHEN, Mr. Secretary BRUCE, and Mr. JOHN BRIGHT.