§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: I wish to say that in the Session of 1877 I submitted a Bill to this House with the same object as the one now before it, but limited entirely to Municipal Corporations and Local Boards in England and Wales. Before that Bill came on for second reading, the largest and most influential deputation of representative working men I ever saw went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to impress upon him that the Government should support the Bill. Immediately after I had concluded my statement in favour of the Bill, the President of the Local Government Board rose in his place, and pointed out to me that I had omitted from the provisions of the Bill all reference to certain Local Boards which were constituted under the Towns Improvement Acts, and known as the Commissioners for improvements of towns, and the right hon. Gentleman suggested that unless these were dealt with they would be placed in an exceptional and an anomalous position. I undertook in Committee to introduce a clause which was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman himself, which should remedy that defect, and this was really the only objection the right hon. Gentleman took to my measure, except when he said he wished that time should be afforded to the country to express an opinion upon the Bill. He said that if I would postpone the Committee to some long date after Easter—the Bill was brought in in February—the Government would assent to the measure being read a second time. I agreed to do so. The Bill was read a second time and was postponed for Committee for two months. Now, Sir, in the progress of the Bill through the House, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), whom we all regret not to see in his place to-day, wished that it should 194 be extended to Ireland. I also agreed to meet that desire, and the hon. and learned Member put an Amendment on the Paper to extend the operation of the Bill to Ireland. I now wish to invite the attention of the House to the fate of that Bill. After it received the assent of the Government to the second reading, and had been deferred for two months for an expression of opinion throughout the country, about 120 Petitions, most of them of the most important character, were presented to the House in its favour, and there were only three Petitions against it. Nearly all the large Municipal Corporations in the country, through, their Representatives in this House, presented Petitions. I see that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse) is about to oppose the Bill to-day. I may remind him that six Petitions were presented in favour of the Bill from various public bodies in the town which he represents. One was from the Trades Council and one from the Mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of Leeds, under their common seal, and presented by himself. The Bill went through every stage but the last and that of Report. On the Report a private Member, sitting on the other side of the House, took the opportunity of putting on the Paper that little a indicating opposition, which is so fatal to Bills in the hands of private Members; and although I appealed often and often to the Government for five minutes of their valuable time before half-past 12 in the evening, they were unable to comply with my request, and it ended in the natural result of the failure of my Bill. Last year I was not successful in the ballot, and my Bill was set down low on the list for a second reading on a Wednesday. In consequence, it was talked out, and no other opportunity presented itself of taking up the adjourned debate and the Bill dropped. Now I do hope, notwithstanding the opposition of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leeds, that the Government will give the present Bill a little more of their assistance than the cold shoulder they gave me in 1877, and that they may have the credit of abolishing the last of the property qualifications as they abolished the most important one, the Parliamentary qualification, in 1858. The Bill which is now under the consideration of the House is a more com- 195 plete measure than any I have hitherto I introduced. I accepted the suggestion I of the President of the Local Government Board to include Towns' Commissioners and other district Commissioners who had been omitted before. I have now included in the Bill Improvement Commissioners, the Select Vestries acting under the Metropolitan Acts, and the various Boards of Guardians throughout the country. I believe the Bill now extends to all local Governing Bodies; that it deals with all property tests or qualifications throughout the country; and that it places England and Ireland precisely on an equality with Scotland. I found during the last Session of Parliament a good deal of pressure made to induce me to include Boards of Guardians together with other Local Boards, and I will presently refer to the reasons which have induced me to include them within the scope of the Bill. I think I shall have no difficulty in showing the House that the abolition of the property qualification of members of Boards of Guardians is as necessary in that case as in all others, and unaccompanied by the slightest degree of danger to the ratepayers. I propose to ask the House, in connection with the consideration of this Bill, to consider the manner in which these qualifications have to be introduced into the municipal and Parliamentary system, to inquire what good purposes they have served, and what advantages or disadvantages would result from their being swept away. All the writers upon Constitutional history are in accord that our municipal institutions are the surest basis of our Constitutional freedom. It is by this aid that the people of this country have been trained to self-government and familiarized with the working of representative institutions. Through them they have learned self-government, and to accustom themselves to respect the will of the majority. In the able and valuable work by Sir Erskine May upon our Constitutional history, this question is so eloquently dealt with that I will venture to trouble the House with a short extract. Sir Erskine May says—That Englishmen have teen qualified for the enjoyment of political freedom is mainly due to those ancient local institutions by which they have been trained to self-government. The affairs of the people have been adminis- 196 tered not in Parliament only, but in the Vestry, the Town Council, the Board Meeting, and the Court of Quarter Sessions. England, among the nations of the earth, has maintained for centuries a Constitutional policy, and her liberties may be ascribed, above all things, to her free, local institutions. Since the days of their Saxon ancestors, her sons have learned at their own gates the duties and the responsibilities of citizens. Associating for the common good, they have become exercised in public affairs. Thousands of small communities have enjoyed the privileges of self-government, taxing themselves, through their representatives, for local objects, meeting for discussions and business, and animated by local rivalries and ambitions.I think the House will assent to the statement laid down in that paragraph. To what other than municipal institutions can we attribute the remarkable success with which the Italians have maintained their Parliamentary system, and the easy transition which has been observed there from a system of despotism to a system of Parliamentary government. And we must all know that Ireland at this moment is suffering from the destruction of her municipal institutions, by the influence of England and by her own local Parliament. Not only is Ireland suffering, and will suffer for some time to come, but England is suffering with her, the Nemesis of her own injustice in having destroyed the local institutions of Ireland, which Pitt mainly forced her to give up. We know how the popular rights were gradually encroached upon by the Tudors after the 15th century. Originally the only qualification for an elector, or for a candidate for the representation of the people in this country, was that he should be a ratepayer and a taxpayer resident in the locality. Sir Erskine May says—All the settled inhabitants and traders of corporate towns who contributed to the local taxes had a voice in the management of their own municipal affairs.It was not until later that we had representative institutions. It was not until the wealthy and influential classes gradually encroached upon the privileges of the inferior tradesmen, and assumed all municipal authority, that that qualification was swept away. Then came corruption of our municipalities, and with that came the corruption of this House. The one followed as the natural consequence of the other. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wheelhouse) may dissent from that; but if he does, I would refer him 197 to the same high authority I have referred to, and he will find that the municipalities were the most influential in returning Members to this House. Very often they returned the Members themselves, and under the Lord High Steward and the large landowners of the district supplied the Members for the boroughs and the localities. As the result of this corruption came the corruption of the House, and then the attempt was made to put the whole of the representation of this House in the hands of the landed classes of this country. For 150 years a property qualification, consisting solely of property in land, was maintained in the country for the Representatives of this House. Two or three times during the reign of William of Orange, it was attempted to enact a law which should make the possession of land the only qualification for a seat in Parliament, and once it actually passed both Houses, and was only prevented from becoming law by the King himself refusing to give his assent to it. The attempt was renewed in the reign of Queen Anne, and it was ultimately enacted that a seat for a county should only be held by the possessor of land of the value of £600 a-year, and a seat for a borough by the possessor of land of the value of £300 a-year. That was a clear infraction of the Constitution of the country. Several attempts were made to exclude Members from the House at that day; but they were almost in every instance unsuccessful. The law was subsequently somewhat relaxed; but it was not until 1838 that it was provided that personal property might be substituted for landed property. And when the abolition of the property qualification became one of the six points of the people's Charter, it was discussed over and over again in this House, and some hon. Members declared that the continuance of that property qualification was of vital importance to the maintenance of the British Constitution. Almost without exception, when the question was debated in the House, it was maintained, as I have just said, that the Constitution would be endangered by the abolition of the property qualification for Members of Parliament. What does the high authority I have quoted say with respect to that enactment?In its original old form it had been invidious and unjust, and from its beginning' to its end it had been systematically evaded.198 Ultimately, after a great deal of agitation in 1858, a Conservative Government found itself in power, while it was in itself in a minority, and it conceded that point of the Charter—the property qualification. Mr. Walpole was then Home Secretary. ["Order!"] I meant the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, and the property qualification was abolished by the then Conservative Government with the consent of the House. There were still, however, some hon. Members who prophesied that the step thus taken would be the ruin of the Constitution. But it is, nevertheless, the fact that Sheridan, Somers, Burke, Pitt, and many others, hosts of the younger sons of the aristocracy, were returned to the House of Commons who were never possessed of the requisite qualification. Yet they used to take their seats upon these Benches without possessing £300 or £150 a-year, and there are Members at this moment who entered the House with a landed qualification who never possessed an acre of land. Notwithstanding that fact, they had to take the oath at that Table that they were possessed of a landed qualification, and had to produce a form showing where their property was. They were qualified by-such men as Mr. Grote and some other old Members who have recently passed away. I know myself that there are Members in this House now who had to make that declaration, and I would ask hon. Members what good purpose was ever served by such a law as that? There were hon. Members, some, perhaps, now around me, who, supposing that law were still in existence, would be required to make a declaration at the Table, and to take an oath that they were duly qualified for seats in this House by the possession of land, when they knew that the document they presented was only a colourable and fictitious document; they owned nothing of the sort, and that that which they made use of in order to qualify themselves belonged to somebody else. The only effect such a proceeding was calculated to produce was to weaken in the minds of such persons, and in this House, all respect for the law, to weaken the respect for both, and to weaken regard for the solemnity of an oath. That was the inevitable result of the existence of a law which was broken in the open day 199 and in the face of everybody. I think the Conservative Government of 1858 did wisely in abolishing that qualification, and I believe there is no hon. Member of this House who would like to see it re-enacted. But I would ask—Is not the same thing going on throughout the country in connection with every Municipal Corporation and Local Board at this moment? And is it right that it should continue to go on? What influence must it have upon the members of Corporations, in weakening the regard for truth and their respect for the solemnity of an oath? Now, Sir, the authors of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 were strongly opposed to the introduction of the property qualification. The fact is that as the Bill passed through this House it was not included in it. Indeed, such a qualification was never thought of. The Bill went to the Upper House, and there Lord Lyndhurst and Lord Devon, after contriving a variety of qualifications, fixed upon the one which stands in the Act now. When the Bill came back to this House, Lord John Russell denounced it as being opposed to the spirit of the Constitution, as being invidious and unjust, as maintaining a piece of class legislation, and as narrowing the scope of the electors in the selection of their Representatives. But the qualification was, nevertheless, introduced into the Municipal Corporations Act, and since the passing of that Act the evil has gone on extending. Let me point out what the qualifications which now exist are. In the case of Town Councillors in boroughs of four or more wards, the qualification is the possession of £1,000, or being rated at not less than £30 a-year; in other boroughs, the possession of £500, or being rated, at £15 a-year. For Local Boards, where the population is under 20,000, £15 rating or £500 in property; and where the population is above 20,000, £30 rating or £1,000 in property. For Boards of Guardians, from £15 to £40 rating. In the case of the Local Boards, the qualification is fixed by the Local Government Board, in the most arbitrary and capricious manner possible. It depends, to a great extent, upon the mere whim of the Inspector, who goes down to conduct an inquiry, and upon no principle and no system whatever. So the qualification fixed for Improvement Commis- 200 sioners is variable according to the special terms of the Act constituting such districts. For Vestries and Boards in the Metropolis, it is £40 rating or rental. For Burial Boards, Highway Boards, Lighting Inspectors, and Overseers, it is merely that they should be ratepayers. For School Boards there is no qualification whatever, and over the whole of Scotland there is also no qualification whatever. Yet, if there is one portion of the country which has always been remarkable for its good local government, it is Scotland. In this country, we have a number of Boards without qualification, others with only a ratepayers' qualification, and others with a money qualification. Now, I should like to know upon what principle you can exact a qualification for members of Boards of Guardians or Town Councils when you exact none for members of School Boards. Of all the local government bodies called into existence during the present century, there can be no doubt that the School Boards have done their work better probably than any other, or, at any rate, quite as well; and in intelligence, in social status, and in administrative capacity, the School Boards are equal to any local bodies in existence; yet the members of School Boards require no qualification whatever—not even that they shall be ratepayers or residents in the locality. Now, I have shown how the introduction of the property qualification in the Municipal Corporations Act got gradually extended to other local bodies. What has been the effect of it? If it is effectual at all, it simply limits the area of qualification for candidates. Its moral effect is what I have already described, and I can give illustrations of the way in which it has operated. I have known members of Town Councils in the large constituencies threatened with having to take oath that they possessed the necessary property qualification, and that they were worth £1,000. In the case of a rating qualification, if they did not possess one, it could easily be proved; but it is difficult to prove the fact in the case of a money qualification. I have known of a person going in with £1,000 in bank notes in his pocket, and returning them as he came out of the door. I repeat that I have known instances of this; and I ask if it is desirable that such a state of things should be allowed 201 to continue? Is it consistent either with honesty or morality that such should be the case? What is the result? Many members—working-class members—for sitting and voting upon a Municipal Corporation, have been threatened with the infliction of the penalty of £50 for every time they have sat and voted—that is the penalty under the Act. Every time a man sits and votes, if he is not qualified, he subjects himself to a fine of £50, and instances have been brought to my knowledge of persons who have been threatened because they have sat and voted. But, although this has been the case, perhaps the qualification is one which, after all, no one would venture to put to the test, or venture to disprove. It is notorious that men known to be impecunious have taken the oath. The hon. and learned Member for Leeds must know, for it is as certain as it is possible to know anything, that among the members of the Corporation of his own borough there have been men who were not worth £1,000. There is scarcely a town in England where there is not some man whose impecuniosity is sufficiently well known—who can hardly pay his way to-day, but who can become a member of a Corporation to-morrow, provided he is hardy enough to take the oath. The law does not exclude that class of men, but it does exclude the conscientious man who is worth only £900. A man may say—"I should be happy to sit in the Corporation; I have time to spare, and I have ambition to serve the public, but I am not quite worth £1,000." Or—"I may be in the receipt of a small independent income, and yet not be rated to the amount of £30." I can refer to one case within my own knowledge—the chairman of a School Board at this moment, a most valuable public servant, a man of great public spirit, of excellent judgment and intelligence, who discharges his duty on the School Board in the most admirable manner. Yet this man is not able to sit in the Town Council, because he cannot and will not swear that he is worth £1,000. It is said that if the smaller men were elected, they would squander the money of the larger ratepayers. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman opposite cheers that statement; but I would ask him how is it they do not do it in Scotland? I will engage that my hon. Friend has 202 at least 12 votes in an election of Guardians to one vote possessed by a man rated at £10 a-year, and therefore, as my hon. Friend will see, his interests are well protected. But more than that. Do you think that owners of property, who are represented so strongly on Boards of Guardians—who are, in fact, all powerful—do you think they will elect men who will squander the rates that are levied upon their property? Do you think the men elected will be more wasteful in England than in Scotland? Why should this be a special disqualification against Englishmen? When the Scotchmen became admitted to this Parliament by the Act of Union, that was the one thing they stuck out for. They would not have the property qualification—they said—"We are too poor to have a qualification of £600 a-year put upon us," and Scotchmen have kept out of it ever since, and have never had a property qualification. Then why should Englishmen and Irishmen be placed on a different footing? There is another strong argument connected with the Board of Guardians. Every magistrate of the district is an ex-officio member, and is there to take care of the property of the ratepayers; therefore, there can be no excuse why you should exclude other men from taking part in the administration of the Poor Law. Surely a farmer who is rated at £40 a-year whilst in the occupation of his farm may be a poor man, and yet he is eligible to be a Guardian. But if a farmer or a tradesman retires from business and lives in a house rated at £20 a-year, although he may be a comparatively rich man, and may have leisure to attend to the duties, he cannot serve on the Board of Guardians, because there is no alternative qualification of possession of property. It must be an actual rating qualification. I know of several places near Leeds where new districts have sprung up containing 20,000 inhabitants, and they tell me there are hardly enough men rated at the minimum qualification to do the service of the Board of Guardians, and the whole of the rest of the inhabitants are excluded. Then take the Town Council. What is the effect of the rating qualification on them? Why, it excludes at least 80 per cent of the ratepayers of some of our towns, certainly of my town, and probably of my hon. and learned Friend's (Mr. Wheelhouse's). I think 203 we may take it that 80 per cent or eight out of every ten of the people of Sheffield and Leeds are ineligible at present for membership of the Town Council, for the simple reason that they are not rated sufficiently high, although they may all have ample income and plenty of leisure. I know of another illustration, where a borough had three wards, and they brought in a fourth ward, and the gentleman who had been foremost in adding that ward found his own qualification insufficient. He lived in a house which was rated at £28 instead of £30, and although he would have been a most useful member, he was unable to sit in the Town Council. I say it is time we brought this state of things to an end, and I trust the House will do it. Take the case of a man who has declared himself worth £1,000 at the time of his election, and who, during his three years of office, has lost £100. That man is practically disqualified for re-election; but really is he less fit because he has lost £100 to attend to the duties of a Town Councillor? The thing is simply absurd and ridiculous, and the only effect of such a law is to maintain immorality and dishonesty. I do not believe that if this Bill is passed it will much change the constitution of these local Governing Bodies, or that it will very largely affect working men. There are not many working men who can give time to serve as Town Councillors, although there are some who now do it admirably, and there is the more reason why they should take part in these proceedings for the future, because you have recently passed several Acts of Parliament that especially affect them, such as the Factory and Education Acts. You are about to pass a Bill for establishing County Boards, in the election of which the Guardians will be factors; and are you to confine their election within that very narrow area, or are the ratepayers to be free to elect their own representatives? Otherwise, what will become of your Boards, if you have not some better system of electing the men? Having said that this Bill will not, I think, effect a very important change in the constitution of the local bodies in general, I wish to urge that it would abolish a gross injustice. Every man ought to be liable to be eligible for the service of his country, and you can do no man a better service, who has time and ability, than to 204 give him the opportunity of serving his country. Moreover, this Bill would allow the conscientious men upon whom the choice of the ratepayers has fallen to take their seats. I do not know what the Government are going to do on this occasion; but, in the last Session, I consulted the Chancellor of the Exchequer at every stage of my Bill, and he was good enough to say that I might proceed with his approval, and it was stopped usually by the opposition of private Members. I have said that a Conservative Government had the credit of having abolished the property qualification for Members of Parliament. There are now hon. Members sitting around me who do not claim to have large property qualifications; and if you still had a property qualification, as a condition of Membership, I, for one, should have no seat in this House, and the Representatives of working men would have no seat if the qualification of income were as high as it was formerly. I know how the working men have tried to get their own representatives into Municipal Corporations. When Barnsley was incorporated, Mr. John Normansell was the chosen representative of the miners in the south-west district of Yorkshire; and what did they do? He had not £1,000, nor was he rated at £30 a-year. The miners themselves subscribed £1,000 and put it into the bank to his credit, in order that he might sit in the Town Council. Why should it be obligatory upon people who wish to elect an officer of any local Governing Body, that they should find him a colourable qualification, for it was a colourable qualification after all? Some of the greatest, wisest, and most eminent men who ever came into this House came into it in that way. Sheridan, Burke, and many who are now sitting in this House came into it with qualifications which were given them by eminent Radicals, and if it was not degrading for them to do so, it was not degrading for the representative of the miners. I think it was much to the credit of the miners that when Mr. Normansell died they transferred the £1,000 to his widow. But that account of transfer showed whose property it was, and it went from the Miners' Association to the widow of the man who so well had represented them. Now, I would ask the House why should we not make a clean sweep of all these obso- 205 lete and anomalous enactments? Why should you not agree to the second reading of this Bill? And why should we not have it passed through Parliament, and let it become free to every Englishman who has capacity, culture, and leisure to serve his country, if he be elected, to do so? I should like to add that the present Bill does not attempt to remove any of the existing disqualifications, but only to enact that every man who is resident in the district, and who is capable of being an elector, is capable also of being elected; and whether the Bill receives the assent of the House today or not, I am quite sure the day is not far distant when it will receive the assent of the House and of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Mundella.)
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he thought it only right and just to say that the Bill had been most temperately introduced by the lion. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella). However, this was not a question of method, but of principle. In the first place, he begged to assure the hon. Gentleman that he most emphatically repudiated the statement which the hon. Member made just now—namely, that from his position as Representative for the borough, he (Mr. Wheelhouse) must be aware that some members of the Leeds Town Council were utterly impecunious. He might have his own view with reference to the Town Council of Leeds as a body—he might have his own view with reference to municipalities generally, as they were constituted at this moment; but he was bound to say, little as he liked them in their corporate capacity, he did not think at this moment, and he was sure he did not know, that any single member of the Corporation of the borough he had the honour to represent came under the definition which the hon. Member had applied to them.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
explained that he did not say the members of the Leeds Town Council were utterly impecunious. He said there were members of all Municipal Corporations who were totally impecunious, and he alluded to Leeds amongst the others.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, the remark the hon. Member made was that they were utterly impecunious, and he fixed upon Leeds—upon that of which he could know nothing. He attempted to pledge his (Mr. Wheelhouse's) own knowledge upon a subject of which he was himself as utterly ignorant as it was possible for a man to be upon anything. He (Mr. Wheelhouse) believed there were some Corporations of which it had been said—he knew there were boroughs in the North of England of which it was just within the range of possibility that such a statement might be correct—but with regard to Leeds, he thought it absolutely necessary that he, as a Representative of the town, should offer his most emphatic contradiction and vindication. Passing from that, it had been said that a Conservative Government abolished the property qualification for Members of Parliament. True it was that that was the act of a Conservative Government, and it was true also that it was opposed by those who differed from the Conservative Government in their political opinions and aspirations. It was the result of Conservative legislation, and it was undertaken because, as had been truly stated by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), old Liberals like Mr. Grote and another nearer Sheffield, who had been named, made what were practically faggot qualifications for this House. He thought that, under such circumstances, it was about time that somebody dealt with such very "Liberal" representation as that, and it was in consequence of notorious matters of that kind that property qualification was done away with. The Conservatives had nothing whatever to do with the Liberal manufacture of votes such as those. But they were told that because they had dealt with the property qualification in the one case, they ought also to abolish it in the other; and it was alleged that in Scotland no qualification was required for local offices. He believed that statement was much too wide, and that in Scotland a ratepaying qualification, at any rate in some instances, was necessary. He would endeavour to point out the reason why he thought this Bill should be opposed. No one was bettor able than the hon. Member for Sheffield to astutely hide under words of some significance that which was really the 207 true objection to this measure. The hon. Member spoke all the way through as if this were only a question affecting an individual whom he idealized as "the poor ratepayer;" but under cover of the poor ratepayer there was doubtless a feeling that it was not his interests which would suffer by anything that was done in this House. It was because the Bill would affect the status of the larger ratepayer and the status of him who had some property at stake, and because he believed in what used to be a so-called Liberal notion, that representation and taxation should go together, that he (Mr. Wheelhouse) objected to this Bill. He objected to these new-fangled notions of the Radical Proletariat, which was always endeavouring to upturn any landmark which property had laid down. He granted that they ought to look after the interests of the poor ratepayers, but they ought also to look after the interests of other ratepayers. He had his own notions with reference to the late Mr. Normansell, who had been referred to by the hon. Member; but, he said, if Mr. Normansell or anybody else was such a good man for public work, let him be qualified by all means, but let them not remove the landmarks of the country, and let them not alter the state of society merely to admit one man, or half-a-dozen men, when, according to the theory of the hon. Member for Sheffield, there was still one way, undesirable though it might be, by which they might be qualified. Reverting to the repeal of the property qualification for Members of Parliament, he would point out that there was a crying evil in those times when a gentleman required no other qualification to be an M.P. than to be the eldest son of a Peer or a Knight of the Shire, it was expedient on both sides of the House to get rid of such a distinction, founded upon the mere accident of birth. There was also the feeling that Members of Parliament represented the Imperial interests of the country, and it did not matter a straw where they lived or what their position was; but the position and duties of a Member of Parliament differed very widely from the position of a member of a local Governing Body, and in the latter the hon. Member for Sheffield was obliged to admit that some sort of property qualification was re- 208 quired. [Mr. MUNDELLA: I stated so.] Yes; but although the statement was made, it was practically covered up, and the hon. Member by his Bill virtually said—"Let us get rid of any sort of qualification for representatives." [Mr. MUNDELLA: Oh, no; the hon. and learned Member has not read the Bill.] He had read the Bill, and read it very carefully, and knew it said that a man, if he was an elector, should be able to sit. But a man might be qualified to elect, and yet not have a single halfpenny piece of interest either in the borough, or the district, or the neighbourhood. The hon. Member for Sheffield was very ready to quote the case of Leeds. He would give him an instance which would show, by way of illustration, exactly what took place in that town. Within half-an-hour's journey of Leeds was Harrogate, to which a great many of their electors went, where they lived and had their actual households. A man might, under this Bill, for ought he saw to the contrary, be qualified as a ratepayer in some way or other at that moment. If this were only, as the hon. Member said, the first step to sweeping away all these qualifications, such a man, although he might live at Harrogate, might come over to Leeds, be a member of the School Board, the Municipality, or the Board of Guardians, and not have a particle of interest in the borough. He said that was not fair to ratepayers. He said that if a man had any right whatever to represent a local constituency in its local Parliament, if he had any right whatever to deal with that constituency in any way as such representative, he ought, in some way or other, to have sufficient pecuniary or other interest in the borough, so that there might be some guarantee that the borough and its concerns would not be handed over to a Proletariat of strangers by a majority, it might be of one single "stranger" vote to do as it pleased. He knew very well that they had about as great an anomaly in the North of England as they could get in a day's walk. Anyone who knew the Town Council to which the hon. Member referred would know that it prided itself upon the fact that for 35 years it had never had a Tory Alderman or a Tory Mayor in its constitution, and it was known that the men who had been Aldermen of that 209 Town Council had more than once had the opportunity of swamping the will and wish of the ratepaying element of the town. Was that a desirable state of things? Anyone who knew nine-teen-twentieths of the municipalities in the North of England knew that the elections were always made upon political grounds, though not so much in the election of the Town Council as in that of the Aldermen. He thought it was not at all likely that they were going to allow such a state of things to survive one moment longer than necessary, let alone making the difficulty still greater and still worse. The hon. Member had told them that because there was this qualification in the Municipal Corporations Bill, Lord John Russell was very nearly throwing it up. He (Mr. Wheelhouse) only wished Lord John Russell had done so. It would have been the greatest benefit and the greatest boon to this country, if he had seen his way to throw up that Bill at that time. It had had exactly the same effect as this Bill sought to produce to a larger extent than ever—of swamping a very large majority of the people in their representation. But, to his astonishment, they had been told that they had the very convincing example of the School Boards, and that there was no qualification for a member of a School Board. A candidate for a School Board could go on—he could be elected—nothing was asked of him in reference to his means or anything else; but he was perfectly eligible whenever and wherever he pleased. That School Board system was consequently doing its work precisely as anyone would have expected. It spoke for itself just now. Look at the way in which the London School Board had taxed the Metropolitans, head over heels. [A laugh.] Oh, yes, this was a question of what was desirable. The hon. Member for Sheffield might laugh as much as he pleased; but at the present moment he thought the hon. Member could not have quoted a worse example than the London School Board in particular, and if he looked to the School Boards in their own district in the North of England, it was simply because there was nothing between the School Boards and the public that almost every School Board had pledged the rates of its constituency to an extent, he ventured to think, had there 210 been any opportunity of auditing or stopping it, would never have been allowed. So much for the way in which the School Boards were doing the work, and had been doing it. They had built palaces; they had sought to teach the pianoforte, Latin, and Greek, under the Elementary Education Act, which, he thought, would certainly never have been passed, if they had been told that it was intended to build palaces, not for the children of poor persons, but to provide a better education for people in a high class of life, who ought to be able to find education for their offspring just as they ought to find them bread. There was the example which was so beautiful, and which they were to follow if they pleased. But when it was said that a Board of Guardians ought to be elected without reference to property qualification, he desired to point out that it would be likely to get into the very same difficulty as the School Boards. One of the objections to the municipalities of the country was that the qualification was not sufficient—that it might be sometimes one which it was not desirable to inquire into—that it was not always sufficient to guarantee the Town Council or the members of it, who were elected by popular representation, from being more or less liable to influences which ought not to apply to them. They were told that the Bill of 1877 only applied to Municipal Corporations. He knew perfectly well that it did apply only to Municipal Corporations. He wanted to know why, if it were then thought to be good for Municipal Corporations at that time, the hon. Member did not then include Local Government Boards, Boards of Guardians, and all other such Bodies as were then elected, as they were elected now. Was it an answer to them as statesmen to tell them that he began with a half measure, and that they were to accept as statesmen or quasi-stertesmen the change which had come over his mind? They were told that there was no fear of any reckless expenditure. He had always found, and always felt, that it was best that representation and taxation should go together, for the very purpose of guarding against that possible evil. If they wanted to change the Municipal Corporations Act, let the Government undertake the responsibility of dealing with that change. If they wanted any 211 change in the Board of Guardians, let the Government undertake it, but do not let them work things of this magnitude by piecemeal. Do not let them go about the country to say thenceforth there shall be no qualification, nor anything else, except that a man shall put himself before the constituency; that was an attempt to upset the very lines of the Constitution. It did not follow that there was in anything which the Tudors might have done in this particular matter any breaking up of the lines of the Constitution whatever. It seemed to him that from the very earliest inception of representative government in this country, long, long ago—in the very days when burghers were first made such, when boroughs were first constituted, when there was first municipal government there had always been local qualification for urban affairs; he asked any one of the hon. Gentlemen in that House to go back not to the Tudor time, not to their times only, but even to those of the Plantagenets—to any time they pleased—to the time of the Jewish Theocracy downwards, and they would find that there was always some interest, always some qualification, always something of a sufficiently personal character which was conjoined with the local one. To talk of the Tudors in that way was almost like a libel upon them, or at least it should not be brought forward in that form. They must look at matters not from what they would wish, not from what men would desire, not from what men would think most popular, but they should regard them from that point of view on which he took it all Government ought to be founded, and upon which they ought to grow. This Bill, or any other which actually had for its object to disjoin the representative element from the community of the represented district, sought to do an act which, under no circumstances, ought the House to listen to; and he was quite sure that it ought never to be permitted that they as guardians not merely of popular interests, but as guardians of the interests of the country at large, as guardians not merely of the individual requirements, if they pleased, of those who would follow them to-morrow, but the permanent well-being of the nation must be considered. Then, looking carefully and closely into this Bill, there could, he thought, be no two opinions on the sub- 212 ject—namely, that it would be most unwise, most unjust, most unreasonable, to endeavour to swamp the larger ratepayers and the value of property, by enabling a man who, whatever his station in life might be, still might have no interest whatever in keeping down the rates and taxes of the place of which he claimed to be a representative. Under such circumstances, he therefore begged to move the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Wheelhouse.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he could not help thinking that the hon. and learned Gentleman who last addressed the House (Mr. Wheelhouse) was a little inconsistent with the character in which he usually appeared, and in which they knew and appreciated him best. They had been accustomed to regard him as a great Constitutional defender of the liberty of the subject; but here was a little Bill which proposed to remove one of the restrictions in the way of that liberty, and to widen the choice which was at present restricted by the law, by arrangements which took away from the voter with one hand a valuable portion of the privileges which the Legislature had given him with the other; and this measure in the direction of Constitutional liberty they found the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse) strongly opposing. He thought that the hon. and learned Member was only in favour of the liberty of the subject in one respect. He was anxious to secure to the subject liberty to drink as much as he pleased, and in some cases to drink a good deal more than was good for him. The chief objection which he should take to the animated historical sketch of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, that a great portion of it was entirely foreign to the Bill which was at present under the consideration of the House. The hon. and learned Member declaimed with very great energy against the conduct of the London School Board, with which the Bill had nothing whatever to do. This was not the time for discussing the policy or 213 for defending the action of that great educational institution; but he (Mr. Chamberlain) confessed, when he recalled that it had had to provide accommodation for something like 250,000 children, and that it was now bringing up those children to be useful and profitable members of the community, he could not help thinking that the way in which it had done its work, which would in the long run relieve the rates to an astonishing extent, had shown that it was a most profitable investment. Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to protest against the Bill, because it would remove all qualifications for our local government. But this Bill did not propose to do anything of the kind; it merely said that the qualification for the Governing Body should be the same as for the elector. What, at the present time, was the qualification for an elector of one of these bodies? It was necessary that he should be of the full age; it was necessary that he should have been in occupation for 12 months previously of premises within the district for which he sought to exorcise the franchise; that he should have been resident for 12 months within the same district, or seven miles of it; and that he should not only be rated to the poor, but that he should have paid his rates. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leeds spoke of taxation and representation going together being a Liberal principle There was certainly nothing in the present Bill which in any way affected that principle, for it was proposed that those who should be qualified to be elected should be persons who had been rated and who had paid rates. In addition to that, the elector was required at the present time not to be an alien, or to have been in receipt of poor relief; and he found that the Bill of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) went further than that, because, in subsection 5 of the operative clause, it stated that if a person qualified under this section ceased for six months to reside in the borough or district in which he was elected to his office, he should cease to be qualified, and his office become vacant. Therefore, the portion of the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse), which were directed against the qualifications of persons who were not rated, or who were not resident, fell to the ground as 214 being in no sense pertinent to the objects of the present Bill. At the commencement of his speech the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to resent an allegation of impecuniosity against Members of his Town Council. If the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had charged the Town Council of Leeds with some actual crime, the hon. and learned Member for Leeds could not have more indignantly attempted to answer such an imputation. This was very characteristic of the hon. and learned Member, and of his opposition to the Bill. The hon. and learned Member seemed to imagine that crime and want of means were one and the same thing. That was not at all the feeling with which this Bill had been offered to the House. They felt that impecuniosity was in no sense a crime. In many cases it was an accident; at all events, it was an incidence to probably nine-tenths of our population; and they did not think it was fair in consequence of such an incidence that nine-tenths of the population should be prevented from taking any share in the local government, or in the government of their country. He could not quite toll from the speech of the hon. and learned Member whether he thought the property qualification for this House was one of the Constitutional landmarks which it had been the work of the Radical Party to remove, or whether he desired that the work which was actually porformed by a Conservative Government should now be undone, and that we should go back to a state of things which might have excluded from seats in Parliament such men as Burke, Pitt, Sheridan, and other ornaments of this House. In any case, the hon. and learned Member sought to make a distinction between the Parliamentary and the local franchise. On what grounds was the property qualification for this House removed? In the first place, it was felt to be desirable that the electors should have the widest possible opportunity of choice of men to represent them; and, in the second place, the property qualification was removed, because it was felt that the personal interest which every man took in legislation which affected his life and property was a better guarantee for his exorcising his privileges properly than any artificial qualification. But it was said that Parliamentary legislation differed from local 215 legislation, in that the former affected individual liberty and security of life, whereas the latter was always exclusively a question of property; and, further, it was said that the class of persons whom this Bill would render eligible for seats on local Governing Bodies were persons who had no interest whatever in the expenditure of the rates. Both of these statements could be conclusively shown to be incorrect. He ventured to say that, in the first place, local legislation at the present time touched more closely the individual liberty of the subject, his comfort, health, happiness, social and domestic life, than even the legislation of this House. People seemed to forget that at the present time all the local authorities were, to a most important extent, legislative authorities as well. There was not a Town Council or a Local Board which had not the privilege of making bye-laws, and which had not made bye-laws affecting the whole life, and also affecting the personal liberty of the people residing within their jurisdiction. It was well known that the police were under the control of the Town Councils, and he ventured to say that a very large proportion of those offences which were now summarily decided upon by the magistrates were offences created by the bye-laws, in the making of which the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse) would allow the working classes or the poorer ratepayers to have no part whatever. The hon. and learned Member was equally mistaken in supposing that the poorer class of the ratepayers were not interested in the expenditure of the rates. He believed, on the contrary, that our local taxation pressed more heavily upon them than upon anyone else; for it must be borne in mind that there was a most important distinction to be made between Parliamentary and municipal electors, for whereas the taxation of Parliament was to a large extent indirect, the taxation imposed by the local bodies was wholly direct, and was, therefore, immediately appreciable by the persons upon whom it pressed. And considering that in the case of the poorer class of ratepayers that which was taken for taxation would otherwise go towards securing the necessaries of existence, it followed that the taxation would be felt much more keenly by them than by the 216 rich class of the ratepayers, whose superfluities, to a certain extent, would only be diminished. But the hon. and learned Member for Leeds did not go far enough in his opposition. He had argued against giving the poorer class of ratepayers votes at the present time. In all our boroughs, in all our electoral bodies, the practical power was in the hands of the poorer class of ratepayers, who formed nine-tenths of the electoral body. Their views, the House might be certain, would be expressed; but the objection was that they were not allowed to select the particular channel through which those views should be expressed. That was undesirable in more ways than one. Discussion upon all points in which the people were interested would go on outside the Council or local authority, if it did not go on within. Whether was it better that matters of great importance affecting the interests of a large portion of the community should be discussed outside the Council in heat, and probably in ignorance of a great number of important facts, or that the same discussion should take place amongst chosen representatives, and that in this way the people should learn to bring their grievances to the test of Constitutional expression? Although he did not agree with the late Mr. John Stuart Mill on all points, he heartily concurred with one passage in his work on local government, and he felt bound to bring it before the attention of the House. Mr. Mill, in reference to all property qualification for Governing Bodies, said—The object should be to bring together the best members of both classes—(that was, the poorer and richer classes)—under such a tenure as shall induce them to lay aside their class preferences, and pursue jointly the path traced by the common interest, instead of allowing the class feelings of the many to have full swing in the constituencies, subject to the impediment of having to act through the persons imbued with the class feelings of the few.What was really the object of the present Bill? The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), by whom the Bill had been introduced, did not pretend to say that if it were passed it would make any great difference. It never could be possible for large numbers of the working classes or the poorer classes to take part in the government of the country. They could not afford the time to do so, or the loss of wages which would neces- 217 sarily ensue. But the supporters of the Bill argued that it was desirable to remove what appeared, at the first sight, to be an invidious distinction; and that it was desirable to remove an unjust anomaly—for nothing could be more strikingly anomalous than that men should take part in the Imperial legislation of the country, and that the same men should be actually disqualified from dealing with the question of the drainage of towns or the making of bye-laws. Although, as he had said, the practical operation of the Bill would, in any case, be small, the principle which it was sought to establish was of the greatest importance. They believed that the importance of local government was this—that not only by its means were people well governed, and governed according to their wishes, but also that people were educated to have an intelligent interest in public affairs. They considered it of the utmost importance to carry through all classes, from the highest to the lowest, an intelligent interest in the working of government, and that it was, therefore, impolitic and invidious to throw any artificial obstacles in the way of any class who might desire, through some of its members, to take their fair share in the work. The Division upon the Bill, he ventured to say, would be a test of the opinion of hon. Members of the House as to the principles upon which the country was to be governed; and he confessed he was glad to think that all opposition to a Bill which would remove these distinctions which ungenerously affected a particular class had come from the Ministerial side of the House, and that it represented a feeling which did not at all exist upon the Opposition Benches.
§ MR. MARTEN
protested against the assertion that any such test as that spoken of by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) would be afforded by a vote on the Bill. The real question they had to consider was, what were the objects of the Bill, and what might be expected to be its operation. The abolition of the property qualification for Membership of that House involved entirely different considerations from those which were raised by the present Bill; for the land qualification, which was formerly imposed for Members of the House, entirely ignored commercial eminence, great attainment, and high position in 218 other respects, so that persons of the greatest wealth might be excluded because they did not derive their income from land. That consideration could not apply to the municipal representation, where the qualification was a moderate rating or pecuniary qualification. The great object should be to obtain the services of the most suitable men, who were also the most acceptable to those whose affairs they were to control. No sufficient case had been made out for the passing of the Bill. The argument that the present law as to the qualification required tended to promote immorality answered itself. A most useful Act of Parliament might be evaded, but that could not be held to be a ground for not passing it. The first complaint he had to make against the Bill was that it was not at all candid; and, indeed, its language was calculated to mislead. The Bill did not profess to repeal the disqualification under the Act of 1835; it professed to confer something independent of, and in addition to, the qualification existing under the present law. The Act of 1869 specially provided that women should be electors for Municipal Corporations; and, so far as Ire could see, the effect of the Bill would consequently be to admit women to all municipal offices. The Committee which fully considered the subject last year, although it made recommendations on a variety of details, did not make a single suggestion as to the abolition of the property qualification. He contended that the want of a property qualification for a seat on the School Boards had proved a great evil, and admitted to the Board persons of very objectionable character. What he complained of in the Bill was that there was no alternative protection offered. Although he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), that if the Bill passed, the effect of the measure would not be very extensive; yet he could not agree with him that the Bill ought to be entertained. At least, it should not be entertained without a great deal of consideration by the House. The case of Scotland was mentioned; but it must not be forgotten that the Scotch were originally excused from having any property qualification on account of their poverty. Many of the provisions of the English law could not be introduced into Scotland without a revolution. They could not reason from 219 Scotland, where no qualifications were required, but from the circumstances of England; and he must oppose this Bill.
MR. J. COWEN
remarked that to appreciate the demand for the abolition of the property qualification for members of Town Councils, it was necessary to recall the circumstances under which it was imposed. When the Municipal Reform Bill became law, the country was still in the throes of excitement caused by the outbreak of revolutionary energy in France. An undefined dread pervaded men's minds. There was a spirit of unrest abroad. Party feeling ran high, and doleful predictions were indulged in as to the result of the experiment in Parliamentary government made by the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. Anyone referring to the discussions that took place at that time, either in or out of the House, would be both surprised and amused at the fears expressed as to the probable consequences that would flow from confiding the right of electing Municipal Councils to the direct action of the ratepayers. It was contended that these new boards would become focuses of insurrectionary initiative, and that they would inevitably end in the establishment of either a series of Communes such as had been sketched in the French Convention, or Federal States such as existed in North America, or Cantons modelled after the pattern of the Swiss Republic. The political storm that had swept over Europe—shattering so many Thrones, and shaking society to its centre—was declared by the alarmists of that clay to be upon us. The fabric, the sacred fabric of property, was believed to be menaced, and total ruin awaited our social, civil, and political system, in the estimation of the Gentleman who then occupied the place of the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse). The Whig statesmen of the day were said to have lost their heads, and their Party was accused of having abandoned its principles and traditions. All this turgid oratory read silly and stupid enough in the light of 45 years' experience; but it was listened to at the time, and had influence with men of authority. Acting under this foolish fear of popular power, the Municipal Reform Bill, introduced by the Ministry of the day, was entirely recast in its passage through the Upper Branch of the Legislature. Some of its most im- 220 portant clauses were erased, while others were rendered inoperative by vexatious qualifications. The principle of the Bill—the right of the ratepayers to regulate their own affairs—was, it was true, retained; but its operation was hedged round with unnecessary restrictions. The Bill, as originally drawn, proposed to allow the councils to nominate, not to appoint, the borough justices. But all the judicial attributes of the councils were subsequently centred in the Crown. Partizan Lord Chancellors had not scrupled to use this power often since then for Party and political purposes. The right of granting, refusing, renewing, and transferring licences for the sale of intoxicating drinks was vested in the councils by the Bill as it was first drafted. Probably this might explain somewhat the position of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leeds, who stood up so stoutly for the present licensing authority. The almost despotic and nearly irresponsible power of dealing with licences was transferred from the representatives of the people and conferred on the nominees of the Crown by the House of Lords. Provisions were made for the dissolution of the councils every three years in the same way as Parliament used to be dissolved before the Stuart Insurrection; but some timid legislators suggested that if all the councillors retired at once, a wave of popular passion might carry out of office all the men who had trained aptitude for municipal work. With a view of preventing the occurrence of such a terrible catastrophe, the House of Lords invented the cumbrous and inconvenient plan now in operation of one-third of the council retiring each year. An oath as long as Magna Charta, and as full of pains and penalties as the back of a hedgehog was full of pricks—a veritable municipal Athanasian Creed—and a most obnoxious qualification, were devised for members of these dreaded councils. The good sense of Parliament had long since swept out of existence the offensive oath. He invited them to-day to send the qualification after it. The restrictions imposed under such circumstances, and devised for such a purpose, could not with advantage, and ought not with justice, to be retained. All the direful prophecies of the reactionaries had been falsified by facts. The councils had become nurseries for politicians of the middle class. The knowledge of public 221 affairs gleaned in them had been of value in that House. Men who had achieved influence in Parliament and renown in the nation had received their first political and public impulses through the instrumentality of these bodies. They furnished a stronger motive for public-spirited exertion and diffused a keener sense of local responsibilities than was formerly entertained. By accustoming representative men—drawn from all parties and sections in the community—to meet on neutral ground, and work together for common objects, they struck at the very root of class prejudices. These institutions had had none of the destructive democratic energy and disposition for social innovation that they were credited with being likely to engender when they were first called into being. Indeed, their main characteristic—and, if he might be permitted to say it, their chief defect—had been an absence of speculative enterprize in public matters. The tendency of their proceedings had too often been to become perfunctory and humdrum. To uphold barriers that had been created with a view to counteract contingencies that had not arisen, and that in all human probability never would arise, was both unnecessary and unwise. He wished these institutions to effect for the more active artizans what they had already accomplished for the same class amongst tradesmen. He wanted a public body where wealth conferred no distinction and labour imposed no disqualification. The field of choice for candidates was limited not only by the system that obtained, but by the letter of the law. Workmen had no means of getting their peculiar desires, and wishes, and interests, their special views of municipal government, represented in these Corporations except by other voices than their own. When an Oriental met an European, and was obliged to resort to the use of an interpreter, with the figurative picturesque-ness of his race he was accustomed to say—"My tongue is in the mouth of my friend," in other words—"You must listen to the interpreter and not to me." The artizans of England might say, that so far as municipal aspirations and complaints were concerned—" My tongue is in the mouth of nay master." There was no community so interested in the preservation of local rights and in the efficient maintenance of local institutions 222 as the industrial classes, who were at one and the same time the most numerous, the most dependent, and the most defenceless. For their health and their domestic comfort they must rely on the existence and enforcement of adequate sanitary regulations. A prosperous tradesman could retire at the close of the day to his pleasant suburban villa. A wealthy merchant or manufacturer could retreat in the evening and at the week's end to his stately country mansion, where—The deer across the green sward hound,Through glade and sunny gleam.But the labourer, often lean, withered, and careworn, was tied to insalubrious alleys and to crowded courts. He could not fly from fever or from diphtheria. The conditions of his existence called upon him to live where he laboured. Such a man was more interested in good municipal institutions and complete sanitary arrangements than any other member of the community. He ought not only to be indirectly but directly represented in any body that initiated proceedings which so closely affected his health and well-being. The future of our workmen was the most critical factor in the future of the British nation. A question of more importance; could not be discussed within those walls. Its influence and effects reached further and deeper than the mass of problems that occupied the time of Members. He had been surprised, and he owned somewhat pained, at the spirit of some of the remarks be had heard that afternoon, and not unfrequently on other occasions in that Assembly. Hon. Gentlemen argued upon assumptions that he believed to be fallacious. He did not hold in any sense by the gloomy view that was commonly taken of the industrial outlook of the country. About the English artizan there was much to inspire hope and stimulate endeavour. He had lost, it was true, much of his old political fervour. He said this with regret as an English Radical; but he was bound to acknowledge facts whether they made for him or against him. A good deal of the poetic enthusiasm that once characterized the aspirations of the English workman had been damped. There was not now a single Utopia which inspired his confidence or enlisted his sympathies. The German artizans had been fascinated, for the time at least, by the 223 transcendental industrialism of Lasalle, Leibneicht, Karl Marx, and Hasselman. The French workmen had passed through that stage. The names of Louis Blanc, Cabot, Fourier, and the systems with which they were identified, had ceased to be instruments to conjure with. They were now engaged in asserting and fighting for the right of association, liberty of the Press, and public meeting, privileges that in England we had enjoyed for generations. The English workman, on the other hand, was preeminently practical, somewhat materialistic, and, he feared, he must add not a little Conservative. He possessed steadiness of mind rather than activity; and he was to a large extent indifferent to anything that was not obvious and immediate, that was not pressing and present. All the features common to Englishmen were found in him. It was true that the French artizan as a man was more economical, and as a class more sober; but it was fair to add that the workmen in no country in the world had developed such elaborate and skilful machinery for self-help as the English had done. No nation, not even the thrifty Swiss, had such admirable institutions as their building societies and trades' unions, their co-operative stores and friendly societies. These bodies accomplished a double purpose. They produced admirable results both educational and social. Even the common accusation against the English workman, that he was intemperate, was exaggerated. Intemperance existed, he regretted to say, amongst a section, and with that section there had not been much improvement; but the body of the workmen of to-day—and in saying this he believed he spoke the experience of all men practically familiar with the industrial orders—were not only more intelligent but much more sober than they were 20 years since. He often heard in that House, and in the Press a few years ago, of the extravagance that had characterized them during the period of abnormal commercial prosperity they were then passing through. The charges preferred against the English artizans were in many instances false, and in all instances grossly overdone. He was prepared to maintain, on any fitting occasion, that there was no class in the community that had husbanded their resources with more care than the work- 224 men did the share of the profits of those times that fell to their lot. The proof of that was found in the fact that, notwithstanding the prolonged, intense, and widespread commercial depression, there had not been, until the recent severe winter, any increased demand upon the administrators of the poor rate. The workmen, in fact, have been during these years living upon their savings. Men who had proved, their fitness for political authority by a wise exercise of the powers and privileges they now possessed were certainly entitled to the small concession that the Bill before the House proposed to accord them. Comparisons had been instituted by hon. Gentlemen on the other side as to the property qualification that was formerly required of Members of Parliament and the qualification that was now enforced for members of the local bodies. It was contended by them that there was a difference between Town Councils and the House of Commons. He admitted that there was a difference; but the distinction made in favour of his contention and not against it. He need only use one illustration to prove that point. The House of Commons, where there was no property qualification for Members, had it in its power to impose taxes in a fluctuating and impartial manner. It could single out one class and tax them according to one scale, and another class according to a different scale. It was able, indeed, to act either arbitrarily or equitably, as it was so minded. He said it in passing, to the honour of the English middle classes, that their first exercise of legislative power had been used to tax themselves for the national benefit. They had only to refer, on the other hand, to what the present Government and the present Parliament had done in the levying of the income tax. One class in the community—the tradesmen—paid substantially at a higher rate than others did; and there were numerous instances of the same kind in their fiscal arrangements that could be cited. A body that had no property qualification was thus vested with this uncontrolled and almost unlimited authority, so far as taxation was concerned. But the local bodies had no such powers of making exemptions. When they laid on a rate it had to be applied equally to all. It was not in the power of any Town Council or Board of Guardians to charge the wage class 225 at one rate and the trading class at another. They had to apply the same rate universally, so that the institution that had no property qualification for its members had really, in the mode of manipulating taxation, a greater power than the one in which a qualification for members was still enforced. He held, therefore, that the comparison between Parliament and the Councils, sought to be drawn by some of the opponents of the measure, pointed in the very way they did not want it. The property qualification was imposed, according to Bishop Burnett, for the purpose of keeping tradesmen and merchants out of that House and maintaining it as an Assembly for landowners. It was contended at the time that if tradesmen did enter, its authority would be weakened and its character would be degraded. The argument that had been used on the other side against the abolition of the qualification for members of Town Councils was just as absurd as the argument that was used to resist the repeal of the statute as applied to Parliament. He hoped the House would see the necessity of removing one more of the political disabilities under which the workmen of this country laboured; and he felt satisfied that if that was done the same result would follow as had followed the removal of previous restrictions. The history of the country proclaimed loudly that every concession made to popular power had added to the strength of their institutions. By doing away with grievances and abolishing sectional distinctions they lessened the number of the discontented, and added to the number of those who were satisfied. These considerations ought to have some influence with Gentlemen opposite who prided themselves on their Conservative convictions and sentiments.
§ MR. ASSHETON
wished to recall the attention of the House to the fact that the question before it was whether it was desirable or not to read this Bill a second time? He regarded it as a piece of sentimental legislation. It violated the principles of political economy, that those who found the money should direct the spending of it. At present the people who sat on the Town Councils were the leading residents of the boroughs, and among those who contributed the largest sums to the borough funds. The expenditure of the 226 money of a town should not be intrusted to men of straw; but to men who would feel that they were spending their own money as well as the money of other people. Whether the Bill passed or not would not make any practical difference, for talent would always rise to the top, and property would always have its legitimate influence. As to the argument drawn from the election of Members of Parliament, he did not think that the abolition of the property qualification had raised the type of Members returned, or increased the confidence of the country in the House. At all events, it had not influenced the return of a single Member. In like manner, he did not consider that the Bill would affect a single municipal election. As he could not support an inoperative Bill, he would vote against it.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, that as the practice of Scotland had been referred to by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) as an example which the House should follow in regard to England in this matter, he might be allowed to say a few words as to the system existing there. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge (Mr. Marten) seemed to suppose that tin absence in Scotland of any property qualification for serving in Town Councils and other Local Bodies was due to some old customs that had arisen from the poverty of that country. He (Mr. M'Laren) was sorry to say that not very long ago there were no municipal electors in Scotland at all, and no representation of the ratepayers whatever. Every Town Council elected their successors, and they elected themselves over and over again, there being not a vestige of election by the ratepayers. The system at present existing in Scotland was, therefore, not antiquated. It was originated by an Act which passed in 1832, and came into operation in 1833. He had the honour of being elected by the ratepayers to the first reformed Town Council of Edinburgh; and having been long a member of that Corporation, and having watched its proceedings from that year to this, and also seen the operation of the law in other parts of Scotland, he might, he thought, say without offence that he was as well qualified to judge as most Members of the House whether it had worked well or not. He expressed his most decided conviction that no system could 227 be better. The poorest man in any town, county, or parish could be elected to any Town Council, Police Commission, Water Trust, Improvement Commission, Sanitary Commission, Parochial Board, or other public Body within it. None of the evils which he heard anticipated as the result of passing this Bill for England had occurred in Scotland. There was no question in Scotland about the excellent working of the system, and there was no desire whatever for any change. The plan was deliberately sanctioned by Parliament, and nobody opposed it. As to the charge made by the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge (Mr. Marten), that the fact of there being no property qualification for members of Local Bodies elected in Scotland arose from the poverty of the country—and that poverty appeared to be the solution of all his difficulties—he was entirely wrong. When the Act of Union was passed in 1707, there was no property qualification either in England or Scotland; but there must have been some feeling that democratic opinion was too strong in England, and therefore, when the Municipal Reform Act was passed, a property qualification was imposed for that country, but was not applied to Scotland. Of course, it was impossible to say what were the motives which actuated men who lived 170 years ago; but the fact was undeniable that no property qualification did apply to Scotland. Certainly the Scotch Members of that time were so subservient, that if the Government of the day had thought it right to fix the same property qualification for the then Members of Parliament, as existedin England, they would not have thought of resisting the proposal. He did not think the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge had suggested the proper solution of the difficulty. He agreed with those who thought that the passing of this Bill would not make a great difference in the composition of their municipalities; for, as the hon. Member for Clithero (Mr. Assheton) said, talent always came uppermost, and property always had its influence. In Scotland there had always been a due representation of property in the Corporations. He urged the House to remove the stigma which this property qualification imposed on the ratepayers in England. It was a badge of distrust. While believing that work- 228 ing men would make just as honest and upright members of these Local Bodies as other classes, he pointed out that working men had not shown any great desire to become members of Town Councils, or of any other Local Bodies, in Scotland. These Bodies mostly met during the day, and if a working man were elected, he would be obliged to sacrifice half a day's wages on most occasions in order to attend to the interests of his constituents. Working men were quite willing to trust their interests to those who had more leisure.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he had always voted that Scotland should retain her peculiar form of government and administration. But that very circumstance showed that he admitted the fact, that the characteristics of the Scottish nation were different from those of the population of England and of Ireland. He was afraid that Englishmen were not, to use a good Scottish word, quite so "canny" as Scotchmen. He could not, in considering this subject, put aside the fact that recent legislation had been adverse to the political representation and to the interests of the middle classes. In his opinion, legislation had gone quite far enough in that direction. Vacillation, not sudden always, but continuous, was the peculiarity of popular assemblies, and the action of the present House of Commons proved this, for nothing could be more dissimilar than the policy of the late Administration and the action of the last House of Commons from the policy of the present Administration and the action of the present House of Commons. That which we had to fear from extending the political power of the democracy was, that its action would sway, first, too far in the one direction; and, then, too far in another, as had been so lamentably exemplified in France. So much upon the general principle of the Bill; and, now, he would come to the particular case. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) spoke as if there was a strict analogy between the constitution of the Corporations generally and that of Parliament. He had adduced the fact that the property qualification, which was formerly required, had been abolished as regarded seats in that House, and thence argued that, therefore, all property qualifications for admission to the Corporations ought also to be abolished; he seemed to have forgotten that this was but one 229 of two Houses of Parliament, and that the other House of Parliament was, by its constitution, especially the representative of property. There were no Houses of Lords in the Corporations; and he (Mr. Newdegate) held, and without the slightest disparagement to the high character of the working classes, that the Legislature ought to retain, and to secure in the Corporations, which had no House of Lords, some adequate representation of property. He felt the more bound to strive for this, because, while watching the additional weight that had recently been cast upon the rates of this country, he foresaw that the time was not far distant when the House would have to adopt the principle, which was already operative in Ireland—that of dividing the pressure of the rates between property and numbers. Seeing this, and knowing there were no equivalents for the House of Lords in the ordinary Corporation, he did deem it essential that the House should secure some representation of property in the Corporations. He wished to see Corporations improve, and to see the sphere of their operations extended; but if that was to be done safely, if that was to be done within any limited period, the House should do nothing to annul what remained of the representation of property in the Corporations. Taking, therefore, the analogy of the political constitution of this country, and applying it to the particular case of the Corporations, it would, in his opinion, be highly imprudent on the part of the House to annul what remained of the representation of property in the several spheres of municipal government to which this Pill referred. He said this from no jealousy of the operative classes. There would always be found a certain degree of swaying backwards and forwards, of uncertainty in the action of popular assemblies, no matter what might be too qualification of those composing them. Judging, therefore, this question, although it might appear a small question, according to those great principles upon which the Constitution of this country had been built, and seeing no danger of undue restriction of popular representation in the municipalities, but great danger in not guarding against undue exemption from local responsibility, he should vote against the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Wheelhouse), who had moved the rejection of the Bill, seemed to think that it affected the interests of property in a remarkable degree; but it seemed to him that it was a most illogical thing to say that the householders of a Corporate Borough or a Local Board district should not have the right to elect the persons they desired to represent them. What, he would ask, was the difference between electing a representative of a Municipal Town Council and a Representative of the House of Commons? It had been said that in the one case there was a House of Lords, but in the other no such body existed; but what difference did that make? He did not know that when an election took place it was owing to the House of Lords; and, although that Body might delay the passage of a measure, when there arose a popular demand for it the measure was passed. He would, therefore, ask, whether the House did not think that under every circumstance property was adequately represented, whether they had regard to Parliament itself, or the different Local Boards which existed outside of it? It was quite clear that since the property qualification had been abolished the status of Parliament had not been lowered, as had been said, for it was undeniable that property had still an enormous influence in deciding the result of every election; and he did not see what argument there could be against abolishing that qualification with reference to Town Councils and Local Boards, or why it should be said that such a step would remove altogether the influence of property. He ventured to say that if the property qualification were removed to-morrow the constitution of Town Councils would be very much the same as at present. They had had the experience of the House; they had had the experience of Scotland—various Governing Bodies of which country, in his opinion, contrasted favourably with similar Bodies in England—and it had been shown that no evils had arisen from persons being allowed to elect those whom they thought the best qualified to represent them. Members of the House would probably remember the delays which often occurred in the management of concerns conducted by those who were elected in consequence 231 of property qualification. But he would ask those who opposed the Bill to consider what had been the result of the management by working men of their own concerns; and on that subject he could speak himself from experience derived from the town which he had the honour to represent. During the last five or six years the working classes in that town had elected their own officials, who now carried on between 30 and 40 of the largest mills in the borough. The working men had found all the capital, and had carried on their affairs quite as successfully as any private Company. In the election of their managers the men paid no particular regard to the number of shares held by any candidate, who was equally as eligible whether he held one or 100 shares. As a matter of fact, the management of those concerns was characterized by as great economy and straightforwardness as was to be found in any public Body in this country. What he should be most afraid of, as the result of this Bill, was that those elected on Local Bodies would be inclined to spend, not too much, but that they would spend too little. He was not afraid, from his experience of them, that they would spend lavishly, or in a way which would be objectionable to the ratepayers. His experience was altogether the other way, and that there would be the greatest carefulness, and nothing whatever approaching to the danger predicted by the opponents of the measure. Believing there was nothing to fear from the working classes, he was quite ready to vote in favour of the Bill. Having given the vote to every householder in the country, he did not think they could stop there. They must go further, and allow them to fulfil the various duties of local government. He believed that this could in no way weaken that government; and the only further observation he could make was that it was now time for the House to be told, after three hours' discussion of the Bill, what were the views of the Government upon the subject, and whether they intended supporting the second reading. If not, they should explain the grounds upon which he understood they intended to oppose the Bill.
§ MR. BURT
said, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) that pro- 232 perty should be duly represented; but he failed to see that the representation, or the interests of property, would be endangered by the passing of this Bill. The object of the Bill was to determine that property should not have exclusive representation. The general principle underlying the measure had been so admirably placed before the House by the hon. Members for Sheffield and Birmingham (Mr. Mundella and Mr. Chamberlain), and especially in the very eloquent and powerful speech which the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) addressed to the House, that he (Mr. Burt) would not detain the House a single moment in dealing with that aspect of the question. He thought they were all agreed that what was desirable was that they should have the best possible men to be members of Town Councils and Local Boards. He denied the statement of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) that this Bill dealt with a sentimental grievance. The evil was more felt in the country districts than in the large towns. There was no doubt there would always be a very large area of choice in extensive and wealthy boroughs; but in the country districts the area of choice was very often considerably limited, and it was, in many cases, absolutely impossible for the majority of the ratepayers to elect persons they would like to have to represent them. He could point to a mining village in Northumberland where there were about 2,000 inhabitants, and where there were not more than 12 or 15 persons who were eligible to serve on the Local Board in that district. Those persons, moreover, were, directly or indirectly, under the control of the colliery proprietor for the time being. Well, that particular place was noted for its bad sanitary arrangements. Many of the houses were of the most wretched description. He had visited them, and he had found the rain coming through the roof, whilst their sanitary state was also of the worst possible kind. Excepting the houses of the officials, and the shopkeepers and the publicans, no dwelling in the whole village had a water-closet. The inhabitants had been for some time desirous for a reform in their local representation, in order that they might get men elected in whom they had confidence, and who were not under the control of the colliery proprietor; and they had to go a dis- 233 tance of several miles to find men of that description. He thought facts of that kind went to show the necessity of a reform in the state of the law. In another part of the same comity, in a portion of the borough which he had the honour to represent, there had been a good deal of excitement and agitation on this question. The Act had to be evaded in the way the lion. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had pointed out. Men had colourable qualifications in order to enable them to be members of Local Boards; and he considered it was undesirable in every way that the persons who had to be elected on those Boards should be other than those in whom the ratepayers had the fullest confidence. Reference had been made to the removal of the property qualification of Members of Parliament, and there had been an attempt to show that the circumstances where entirely different; but he thought the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had very conclusively shown that, so far as the circumstances of the two cases differed, they told very strongly in favour of the removal of the existing disqualification. He had lived for about 14 years in the borough he now represented. During the whole of that time he never occupied a house that gave him the necessary qualification to be a member of one of those Local Boards; and it seemed to him to be an anomaly that ought to be remedied that a man could not be a member of a Local Board, and yet he might be sent to take part in legislation affecting the whole Empire. He hoped the Government would assent to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he would not detain the House; but one point had not been brought forward which he thought was very strongly in favour of this Bill. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) had just said that, in comparing the necessity for the removal of the property qualification in the case of Members of Parliament and in the case of members of local Governing Bodies, there were decided reasons in favour of the latter. He (Mr. Rathbone) would point out another decided reason. It was not possible for a working man to remain at his work whilst he discharged the duties of a Member of that House; but it was perfectly possible and practicable for a superior working man to remain a work- 234 ing man and still take his share in local self-government. Every working man who was really a superior hand at his work could command his place; and if he chose to devote an afternoon a month, or whatever the time might be, to take his part in local government, he was perfectly able to do so. Now, it certainly would be a very desirable thing if they could have representatives of property and representatives of labour working together with a common object and in a common work. He had always strongly advocated that owners of property should take a greater part in local government than they did now; and if the Scotch principle were carried out they would be compelled to do so, and he should wish that done. But, at the same time, the very reason that made it desirable that owners of property should come and take part in local affairs, that same reason applied to working men; for, as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had pointed out, both property and persons were concerned in local government: and, surely, the interests of those whose life and health were at stake were even more important than the interest of property only. Therefore, he hoped the property qualification—that offensive, wretched rag of plutocracy—would be swept away, and working men would be brought to take their share in local government.
§ MR. SALT
said, he regretted the absence of the President of the Local Government Board. In criticizing the Bill he should really have to speak more for himself than for the Government, although he believed he should be expressing the views of the President of the Local Government Board upon the subject. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had claimed the vote of the Government in consequence of certain statements which were made by the President of the Local Government Board upon a previous occasion; but those remarks applied to an altogether different Bill, He would also remind the hon. Member that the extracts he had read, from a book by an able and well-known author, in support of the measure were written with reference to circumstances which had long ago passed away. The passages quoted from that work referred to the period before the Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1865; and described, 235 in glowing language, of which a nation might be proud, the benefits and the freedom that had resulted from the passing of those measures. With regard to the Bill itself, he supposed hon. Members were all agreed that their common object was to obtain the best local government and administration that was possible. All were desirous that local administration should be good, powerful, honest, and free; and if there was any difference, it was not in the object to be attained, but as to the time and method in which a particular step was to be taken. Whenever there was a question as to the restriction or the giving of freedom to any member of the community, the spirit and the disposition would exist—not on one side alone, but on both sides, and in all parts of the House—to give greater case in the Management of public affairs. He could not, however, agree that an argument of injustice could be founded on the fact that any particular class of persons were excluded from the representation on Town Councils of the localities in which they lived. The right of the people was to good government. That was the right of every man, woman, and child in the country; but it did not follow that they had a right to any particular place or position in the system of government. It must be left to the Legislature to fix a line above or below which the representatives should be drawn. No one was more ready to acknowledge than himself the excellent local administration that existed in the country, and the capacity of the working classes to manage their local affairs; and of this he had had some practical experience. When he came to consider the Bill itself, he found it proposed to deal with qualifications for certain offices created by four of the most important Acts that Parliament had ever passed—the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, the Metropolis Management Act of 1855, and the Public Health Act of 1875. Three of those Acts were passed by Liberal Governments; and the fourth, though passed by a Conservative Administration, was principally a consolidation of Acts passed by the Liberal Party. These four great Acts were the result of much care, thought, and discussion. Year after year, decade after decade, administration after administra- 236 tion, in matters relating to the most important affairs of local government, it had been decided, with a striking unanimity, that it was desirable to have a qualification for members of Boards of local administration. Of course, he did not argue that legislation should remain eternally fixed. Men changed, as times and circumstances changed; but he contended that such, an alteration as was proposed by this Bill should not be made without the greatest care and the fullest discussion. Again it dealt with a vast number of local Acts of a peculiar character; and, as the Bill stood, it would be difficult to say how the places to which these Acts referred would be affected. It was not a little remarkable that though the Bill professed to abolish all qualifications for guardians, yet, if it passed in its present form, the qualification for a guardian in Birmingham would be a £12 qualification, the same exactly as already existed in the town of Oldham. However important the matter might be, and however desirable it might be to make some change in this direction, this was not the Bill by which such a great change should be carried out. He thanked his hon. Friend for having brought forward the Bill; but, still, he supported the Motion for the rejection of the measure.
§ MR. STANSFELD
complained of the disposition evinced by some hon. Members to magnify the consequences of the Bill, in order to enforce their objections to it. He particularly referred to the statements of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge (Mr. Marten), who protested against the Bill as a measure which interfered with existing legislation, and was destined to produce a great change. The hon. and learned Member looked at the Bill as if it really proposed to abolish all rating qualification. But what was it that was contemplated by the Bill? Why, to try and reform some of the present anomalous restrictions affecting Local Bodies. Surely it was not necessary to reply to the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he said that the Bill interfered with great measures of legislation passed in former years, nor was it necessary to show that a great deal had happened since then. In his opinion, the argument in favour of a property qualification for the members of Local Boards had signally failed. Since the period referred to by the hon. 237 and learned Member, the system of School Board representation had been created; and in adopting that system, which ignored the property qualification, the House had deliberately chosen not to repeat the old system. It was useless to endeavour to draw a distinction between the representatives of School Boards and Municipal Bodies. No one could deny that the functions of the School Board were quite as important, from a financial point of view, as those of any other Representative Body. He had no intention of discussing the question of School Board extravagance, nor whether Municipal Bodies had not often been guilty of a disregard of economy; but what he would maintain was that the extravagance in either case had not arisen through want of a property qualification. His hon. Friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Salt) had apologized for the absence of the President of the Local Government Board, and took occasion to speak disparagingly of the principles of the Bill. But the hon. Member appeared to have forgotten the circumstances of two years ago, when these principles were recognized by the Government, who engaged to deal with the matter. On that occasion, when the Bill of his hon. Friend was introduced, how was it met by the President of the Local Government Board? The right hon. Gentleman stated distinctly the principles of the Government. He said that no one in that House could desire to rely on the property qualification as being essential to the clue conduct of public business by those elected to discharge that office by their fellow-citizens, still less would the present Government—some of whom were responsible for the repeal of the property qualification—stop a measure which might seem to abolish that antiquated qualification. With regard to the Bill itself, he would merely observe, without being considered disrespectful to the House, that he was much impressed with the feeling of unreality which characterized the opposition to the measure, and the objections raised against it. His reason for thinking so was that there was no such thing as disqualification in Scotland, where the system worked very well. But when they came to take a common-place view of the matter, and when it was urged that what was good for Scotland was not 238 good for England, he must deny, as an English citizen, that Scotland was fit to be without a disqualification while England was so unfit. The case of a member of a School Board, who had been brought before the magistrate and charged with assault, had been referred to as an argument against the Bill. But his hon. and learned Friend had given them to understand, without anything to support his argument, that this particular member had found his way on the Board through want of a property qualification; and therefore, à priori, if a property qualification had been imposed, he would not have been elected as a member of that Body, and, consequently, would not have found himself in that position. He altogether failed to see the justice of that argument. With reference to the abolition of the property qualification for Members of Parliament, one of the arguments used by the opponents of the Bill was that it was a very different thing to send a man to Parliament and to elect him to a seat on a Local Body, inasmuch as the question of finance was in one case of a general and national character, and in the other particular and local. In support of this view, it was argued that to deal with questions of local interest it was necessary to possess a property qualification, otherwise members of Local Boards would have no interest in an economical expenditure. He thought the case was infinitely stronger with regard to local elections than in respect to Parliamentary candidates. In the first place, local matters were of a small character, and the expenditure fell directly on the small householders. The incidence of Imperial taxation involved different considerations. There was another reason why this opposition must be considered as unreal. He ventured to say that if the present House of Commons were compared with any Parliament when the law of disqualification was in full force, it would be found there were fewer Members at the present time not in possession of that qualification than there were then. There was another motive which gave an air of unreality to the opposition to the measure. It was that hon. Members felt that reform was coming, whether they liked it or not. Why was it coming? Those on that side—the Ministerial—ought to know that it was due to their own legislation. It was because of the Act of Parliament 239 which the Conservative Party passed in favour of Household Suffrage. When that measure was passed it practically did away with all those anomalies in the existing legislation. By adopting the principle of Household Suffrage the House would descend on firm ground. The Conservative Party, in passing that measure, must take the consequences. They must have known that when Household Suffrage was granted to the boroughs it must be granted to the counties before long. For reasons of this kind, and because he felt that no valid objection had been raised against the Bill of his hon. Friend, which secured the support of the Government a few years ago, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, the Bill contained one provision which he heartily supported, and that was the provision for lowering the qualification in the case of Poor Law Guardians.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
, in reply, said, he was more than satisfied, in the course of the debate, with the very strong support the measure under the consideration of the House had received, and he would not detain the House more than a few moments whilst he explained one or two points. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Marten) said his Bill gave no alternative qualification, whereas there was an alternative qualification. The draftsman who prepared the Bill pointed out that he had fulfilled his instructions by putting in the alternative qualification. Members of a Town Council might hold property in a borough, and reside six or seven miles out. With respect to the illustration that was given about the gentleman who was elected at the head of the poll in connection with the School Board, and who was convicted of a common assault and sent to prison, and that he could not have been so returned if it depended upon a property qualification, he must say that was a mere assumption, for he happened to know who the person was, having that moment been told by an hon. Member; and perhaps the hon. Gentleman who gave the illustration would be surprised to hear he possessed abundant qualifications, and was a practising solicitor in a large town. There were only one or two points he wished to refer to that were made in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who represented the Government to-day. He 240 must say he heard the speech with some surprise, and with a good deal of regret. He did not claim to have any great understanding; but the understanding was one come to in the House, and was to be found in the pages of Hansard, and that was that the Conservative Government had abolished the property qualification for Members of Parliament, so why should they not abolish the other qualifications also? The hon. Gentleman who represented the Government said, then, he was not opposed to the Bill, but that it did not go far enough; and, that being the case, he could not see how the Government could recognize the course they were now taking. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom he was sorry to say was not in his place, said it was as fair as it could be, and that the objects to be obtained by the Bill were perfectly reasonable. He crossed the House, and spoke to the right hon. Gentleman, and received his assent to the principle of the Bill. Therefore, he (Mr. Mundella) thought it was rather hard—he would, not say scurvy—for the Government to go against him. He thought he had misquoted the excellent Constitutional work to which he had referred; but if he would read the passage immediately before the one he did read, he would find it was different. Certainly the Municipal Corporations Reform Act was passed by a Liberal Government; but it passed without the property qualification. That was introduced in the House of Lords, and a strong Liberal urged that the Bill should be dropped rather than pass it with that provision. He was willing to let his Bill rest on the illustration given by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt.) He said he had lived for 14 years in that constituency, and during the whole time he was not qualified to be a member of the numberless Boards in the place; but he was able to come there to assist in voting £80,000,000 away in that Imperial Parliament.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
, in supporting the Bill, said, he wished to make one observation on this measure. It applied to Ireland, and there was a fact that the House should know. In that country there was no statutory qualification at all for Boards of Guardians. The Local Government Board fixed its own qualification, and in some places 241 it was high and in others low. Nearly 20 years ago the Local Board of a district, in the neighbourhood of which he lived, raised the qualification so high that there was very little representation of the people on the Board of Guardians. That was a great anomaly, and contrary to the principle of representation.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 167; Noes 173: Majority 6.—(Div. List, No. 57.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six months.