§ (Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Hibbert.)
§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. C. E. LEWIS,
who had a Notice on the Paper to move "That this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee," said, the dates fixed upon by the Bill, August 9 being the first and September 20 the last, would prove inconvenient to all parties concerned. It was within the experience of persons connected with the law that the Home Circuit had sat into the first week of September, and the Northern Circuit into the first and second week of the same month, and this was sufficient to show the inconvenience that might be occasioned both to barristers and. solicitors, who would be attending the Assize Courts when they were wanted in the revision Courts. At present two months were allowed for the printing of each Parliamentary register, but by this Bill little more than a month was given for this purpose. The alteration proposed carried back the qualifying vote in a borough from January to 30th November, the result of which would be that many persons in business who might be dissolving partnership—seeing that such dissolutions generally took place at Christmas—could not be put 714 upon the register until after three years of occupation. The hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General), in introducing the Bill, had made a great point of the power which the muncipal voter would have of an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas; but that power of appeal was a mere delusion, because the municipal register had to be conclusively settled before the 1st of November, and it was to be conclusively voted upon on the 1st of November except as regards casual vacancies, while the Court of Common Pleas did not sit un1til the 2nd. That was a most serious blot on the Bill. What he proposed in order to get rid of that objection was this—that the election of town councillors should be held on the 1st of December, and the election of mayors on the 9th of December. The whole of Michaelmas Term would then be available for municipal appeals; and the Bill would be a vitality and a reality, instead of a delusion and a sham. This Bill required the most careful attention of a Committee upstairs. The Bill dealt with the lodger franchise in a most remarkable manner. It proposed a perfect revolution in the lodger franchise. In order to acquire the lodger franchise a man must occupy separately and as sole tenant for 12 months lodgings which unfurnished would be of the yearly value of £10. In other words, there were five leading elements or conditions necessary to be proved to give reality to this franchise. The lodger had to make a claim; he was bound to go either in person or by agent to prove his claim. The Revising Barristers in London had adopted the most prudent and favourable view of the law. They held Courts in the evening to suit the convenience of the labouring classes; they laid it down that it was not necessary for the claimant to go himself to prove his claim, but any person competent to give reasonable information as to the character of the tenancy should be entitled to give evidence, and the best construction should be put upon it. But there had been great laxity; there was a great falling off in the lodger claims, and what the Attorney General now proposed to do in this Amended Bill was by Clause 5—if a person made a claim as lodger, and. he was upon the register for the last year, and. if he claimed for the same lodgings, he should be primâ facie assumed to be a lodger 715 for the next year, and have a vote accordingly. The consequence would be that in large constituencies, like Westminster, a start being made with a register of 5,000 or 6,000 lodgers, and unscrupulous agents having to fill up the list of lodgers for the next year on the basis of last year's list, it would be impossible to test those lists of lodger claimants. He was of opinion, therefore, that the Bill ought to be referred to a Committee upstairs, in order that the opinion of Revising Barristers might be taken, who would furnish information as to the way in which legislation on the subject should be carried into effect. Although, he might add, it was pretended that the Bill would affect only borough revisions, it would bring about a complete revolution of the whole system as regarded counties, and he could not understand why a Revising Barrister of seven years' standing should be so insulted as not to be deemed fit to be allowed a discretion in deciding whether a man was to pay costs or not. He hoped also the Attorney General would explain the reason why certain dates had been introduced into the Bill. He would suggest that the election of town councillors should be held on the 1st of December, instead of the 1st of November in every year, and that the Parliamentary revision system at present in existence should remain unaltered. In conclusion, he moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be committed to a Select Cornmittee,"—(Mr. Charles Lewis,)—instead thereof.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
appealed to the Speaker as to whether it was competent for the hon. and learned Member to alter the Motion of which he had given Notice, more especially as the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had on a previous occasion made the present Motion, which was then rejected by the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he did not think the present Motion was identical with that submitted by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that although the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was not a Member 716 of very long standing in the House, yet he had shown a singular acquaintance with its forms, as far as they were capable of being used for the purpose of obstruction. The hon. and learned Member had delivered the very same speech, as far as nine-tenths of it were concerned, three times at least—once on the second reading of the Bill, once on the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair, and again on the present occasion. Therefore, he repeated that the forms of the House had been used for the purpose of obstructing this Bill. All the objections raised by the hon. and learned Member were merely objections to the clauses, and should properly be dealt with in Committee. One of the great objections taken to the Bill was that the whole revision system of the counties of England was to be altered for the purpose of bringing the Parliamentary and Municipal revision of the boroughs into harmony one with the other. Now, he and his hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert) had received a great many communications and suggestions on the subject, but not a single objection from the counties of England. Then it was said that some inconvenience would be found in the period fixed for revision—namely, the time from the 9th of August to the 15th of September, because some of the Revising Barristers would then be engaged in the work of Assizes. But all would not be so engaged, and there was no necessity to commence the work on the 9th of August. All that was required was that it should be done in the interval between that date and the 15th of September, and he could see no real difficulty in that requirement. Then the hon. Gentleman complained of the manner in which the Bill dealt with the lodger franchise, which, he said, gave an opening to fraud on the part of unscrupulous agents. The fact was the lodger was required to make his claim in a certain form, every necessary ingredient in the qualification was carefully ascertained by a Schedule set out in the Bill, and the lodgers were to be set out in a separate list so as to give every proper facility to those who might make an objection. And that was what was called by the hon. and learned Member a fraudulent and indirect mode of taking the lodger on the register. With regard to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member to alter the date of 717 the municipal elections to the 1st of December, the present arrangement had been fixed to suit the general convenience of the great towns interested in the working of this Bill, a large proportion of them having desired him to adhere to the present date. He trusted that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not persist in his Motion.
§ MR. HUNT
said, that as the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had entered into an arrangement with the hon. and learned Attorney General to which he himself was a party, under which the Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee had been withdrawn, he could not support the present Motion, although he thought that the measure was susceptible of considerable improvement. He hoped that, if the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. E. Lewis) did not succeed in his Motion, the Attorney General would agree to go no further with the Bill that night after the House had gone into Committee pro formâ. An opportunity would then be given to hon. Members to consider the suggestions which had been made with regard to the printing of the register.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he thought that the observations which the hon. and learned Attorney General had made on the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. E. Lewis) were quite uncalled for. It was obvious that, if the House went into Committee on a Bill of this sort, the power of the Government told three-fold upon the progress of the measure in dealing with any objections such as the hon. Member had urged, compared with what it did before going into Committee. During the last three Sessions he had witnessed too many struggles in Committee; and he was coming very much to the opinion which had been suggested to Committees on Public Business, that it would be far better to refer such Bills to Committees up-stairs; because those struggles in Committee of the Whole House did no credit to the House. They were ineffectual for the purpose of changing a Bill materially. The House ought not to change the principle of a Bill in Committee, and they did not change the principle of Bills in Committee; but they did this—they wasted the time of the House in Committee. He thought it, therefore, better and more legitimate that use should be made of 718 the forms of the House before Bills went into Committee, in order to argue such amendments involving principle as the promoters of the Bills might be unwilling to accept. What was the fact in the present instance? This Bill had been essentially changed in many particulars, and it was now admitted on this stage of the Bill that the Schedule fixing all the dates was introduced originally by a mistake of the printer.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
No, no. Objections were taken to the original Schedule, and a new Schedule was substituted; but instead of the new Schedule being in the re-delivered Bill the old Schedule was printed over again.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Then it came to this, that a double alteration had been made, as the Bill was delivered to Members. Therefore what he had said was doubly true, because the hon. and learned Gentleman had intended to accept certain alterations as to the dates, which were suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton-shire (Mr. Hunt), but by some mistake of a subordinate a Paper was distributed to the Members of this House, which implied that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not accepted those Amendments. Afterwards the hon. and learned Gentleman substituted a corrected Paper, and now, for the first time, this House was distinctly informed of the arrangement which he had come to after hearing the objections to the Bill. He thought, therefore, that the hon. Member for Londonderry was perfectly justified by the forms of the House; by the system of debate which was generally acted upon, and by the recent experience of the House, in suggesting that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. Without urging the hon. Member to a division, he should most certainly vote with him if he thought fit to divide.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 38: Majority 72.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Greene.)719
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
inquired of the Attorney General whether, if the Speaker left the Chair, progress would be at once reported.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, that the object of the opponents of the Bill was to prevent it passing in time for the lists of this year.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, the opposition to the Bill was perfectly bonâ fide, and the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. E. Lewis), who had more experience on the subject than any Member of that House, believed that it would be unworkable.
§ MR. RYLANDS
appealed to the Government to agree to report Progress as soon as they went into Committee.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, there was no opposition to the first two clauses of the Bill; and when they came to the third he would be quite willing to report Progress.
§ MR. GREENE
said, he would withdraw the Motion for the adjournment, but he objected to being lectured by a man like the hon Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) ["Oh, oh!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I understood that the hon. Member rose to withdraw the Motion; he is not entitled to address the House a second time.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday 21st April.