HC Deb 03 May 1888 vol 325 cc1309-20

Constitution of County Council.

Clause 1 (Establishment of county council).

Clause 2 (Composition and election of council and position of chairman).

MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, he had put down an Amendment to except London from the operation of the clause. The Bill throughout was applicable to London, but had not, he thought, been drawn with much consideration for London. London was about to be created a county, and, of course, the operation of the Bill, as far as it affected a county, would affect London. Now, in a county at present, there was only one register—that was to say, the Parliamentary register; but in London there were two registers at present, one the Parliamentary register, and another, which was not printed, the rate book, upon which the voting for Vestries took place. That rate book, if London were treated as an ordinary borough, would practically be preserved as the register for county purposes; but London being treated as a county, the rate book would not be accepted under the Bill. It might be thought that the new register which this Bill provided for would be in London practically the same as the rate book or the register which applied to Vestry or parochial purposes, &c. but that would not be so. If the Bill, as it stood, became law, there would actually be three lists of voters in London—one for Parliamentary purposes, one for Vestry and parochial purposes, and a third for the sole purpose of the election of the County Council for London. The reason was this—that the Metropolitan Management Act, under which London Vestries were elected, dated from the year 1855, and it gave a different burgher's qualification—if he might so call it—in London from what there was generally in municipal boroughs. The burgher's qualification in London was, in fact, to some extent more generous than that in ordinary municipal boroughs. In the Act, under which London Vestries existed and were elected, the qualifications of voters were somewhat vaguely expressed; but they involved having been a ratepayer for the year immediately preceding the election, and having paid rates up to within six months of that election. No residential qualification whatever was required. That was the great difference between the burgher's qualification in London and elsewhere. If they introduced this new register into London they would introduce a residential qualification—that was to say, they would require residence for the 12 months ending the 15th of June, and they, therefore, had to form a different register. Now, what was the good of creating a third register, which was not very materially different from either of the other two, but was very confusing to the persons who had to vote? He would be quite open to accept for the purpose of the Local Government Act in London either the one or the other of the two lists that he had described. That was to say, either the list for municipal, parochial, or Vestry purposes, or the Parliamentary list, with, of course, the addition to it of women and Peers, who were excluded from the Parliamentary list. They might choose either of the two; and it was a matter fairly open to the consideration of the Committee which of the two should be adopted. By this Amendment he merely excepted the County of London from the operation of this clause; and he desired to say a word or two in favour of the adoption of the Parliamentary register. What was the difference between taking the Parliamentary register and the register under the Bill? The difference, practically, would be this—that a certain number of lodgers would be included if they took the Parliamentary register; but, on the other hand, there would be some £10 occupiers who would be excluded, and there would be a certain diminution in the register, because residence was not so rigid in the case of the Metropolis Management Act. There was one other recommendation for the line of action he suggested, and it was that it left only one printed register in London, and he had hoped that that one register would become the sole register for all purposes; if so, a considerable saving would be thereby effected. There was, however, a further advantage, and that was that they would have no double revision, for women and Peers could form a separate list, just as property voters formed a separate list in the case of the county register. Simplicity really was the chief point he aimed at; there was no Party advantage one way or the other; this was really a matter of economy and simplicity. If any modification of what he suggested was felt to be necessary, he should be very willing to accept it. He desired to avoid multiplication of registers, for he believed that many small difficulties would be obviated if there was but one register. In conclusion, he desired to say that he hoped that the President of the Local Government Board would be able at an early stage to say what were about the divisions he meant to make in London, because it was easily seen that if the divisions were to be as he (Mr. Stuart) hoped they might be—namely, the Parliamentary divisions—it would very greatly expedite and facilitate the employment of the Parliamentary register. It would not be requisite that the register should be split up into wards or voting districts; but the register, exactly as it stood, would be utilizable. For many reasons, as well as registration reasons, he hoped that arrangement might be adopted. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 19, after the word "England," to insert the words "except for the county of London."—(Mr. James Stuart.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he quite understood that the hon. Gentleman had not made this Motion from any Party point of view at all. He and the hon. Gentleman were perfectly agreed that whether they adopted the Parliamentary register or the municipal register, it was of no moment to one Party or the other; but his objection to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman was that if they accepted it they would place London in an entirely different position to that occupied by any other of the municipal boroughs in the United Kingdom. Every borough in the United Kingdom, from Liverpool and Manchester downwards, to the smaller boroughs, would have a different franchise to the one which the hon. Gentleman proposed to give to London. The franchise in the one case would be the municipal fran- chise, and that in the other would be the Parliamentary franchise. The only object that the hon. Gentleman said he had in view in proposing this change for London was that it was a more simple, less complicated, and less expensive plan. If the hon. Gentleman could be assured that his fears were in a large degree groundless, he (Mr. Ritchie) was sure the hon. Gentleman would not desire to press his Amendment, because he would not advocate London occupying a different position as regards franchise to that occupied by any of the large or small boroughs of the Kingdom. The impression upon the hon. Gentleman's mind, and, no doubt, on the minds of many hon. Gentlemen, was that they were going to have a multiplicity of registers; but he assured the hon. Gentleman that that was not so at all. There would be but one register—a similar register in the counties to that which now existed in all boroughs; but the register would be divided into three lists or divisions. The first list would be composed of nine-tenths, he might say 999–1,000ths of the voters, of those who were entitled both to the Parliamentary and municipal franchise. As the hon. Gentleman knew, in nine cases out of 10 a person who had the Parliamentary franchise had also the municipal franchise, and a person who had the municipal franchise had the Parliamentary franchise. Therefore, the great bulk of the voters both for one and the other would be comprised in the first list. Then there would be a second list, and that list would be composed of those who were Parliamentary voters, but not municipal voters. That would be a very small list, because it would be composed of the freeholders, the lodgers, and those who held the service franchise. Then the third list would be composed of those who had a right to vote for municipal purposes and not for Parliamentary purposes, and that would consist entirely of women and Peers, so that the two smaller lists would be very narrow and of small dimensions. The great list would be the first list—namely, that of those who were entitled to vote both for Parliamentary and municipal purposes. The hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing there would be a double revision. Nothing of the kind would occur; the revision of the three lists contained in the same register would take place at the same time; there would be no complexity whatever; and he did not think that there would be the slightest difficulty experienced by any voter. Looking to the fact that the complexity and difficulty which the hon. Gentleman feared was not at all involved?, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would see the impossibility of treating London in a different way from that in which any other borough was to be treated, and of departing from what he (Mr. Ritchie) ventured to say was the fundamental principle of the Bill—the extension of municipal privileges throughout the country.

MR. FIRTH (Dundee)

said, he was sure they were all glad it was proposed to have but one register; but there would be this difference between London and the country, that the County Council would be elected upon one register, and what in London would be the future District Councils—the Vestries—would be elected ou a different register. Some of the rated householders, entitled to vote for the County Councils, would not be entitled to vote for the Vestries. Therefore, there would be two different voting arrangements for Vestries and County Councils. When they came to the case of the City, matters were still different. There the Common Council were elected on the Parliamentary franchise. He should have thought that for the present, having regard to the close approximation in character of the Vestry electorate to the electorate it was proposed to create, they might have gone on with the rate-book until the Government could have seen their way to propose a unity of franchise.


said, he would acknowledge that there would be, until they got the whole scheme for London Government before the House, the difficulties which the hon. Gentleman had pointed out. The Government thought that the preferable mode was to start at once with what they considered was a proper register for London; and they hoped in a short time to be able to make a proposal to the House which would do away with the differences which had been referred to.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

said, he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had not seen his way to accede to the request of his hon. Friend (Mr. J. Stewart). There was one point which had been somewhat overlooked by the right hon. Gentleman. He had said that they wanted to create for London a different electoral qualification to that for other parts of the country. He (Mr. Rowlands) was bound to say that there was a very strong feeling in London that, now they were creating a new County Council that was to have control over local matters in the Metropolis, lodgers should have a right to participate in the elections. London stood in an exceptional position in regard to lodgers as compared even with the large towns in the country. Owing to the present high rents, lodgers in London were persons who would be small householders in country towns, or oven in some of the largest Provincial towns, and in consequence would have all the rights of citizenship. In London they were debarred from those rights; they had no right whatever to vote in elections for the School Board, or of those who administered the Poor Law, and they would have no right, as the Bill now stood, to vote in the election of those who would have the huge powers they were so directly interested in, upon the County Councils. Seeing that no Provincial town could compare with London as to the proportionate number of lodgers, lodgers in London had a perfect right in this new departure to claim that their interests should be considered. The only way in which that could be done was by the adoption of the Parliamentary register, plus the addition of Peers and women. Having had some little experience of burgess lists, he could not help thinking that the Parliamentary register was far preferable. As a matter of fact, there was no burgess list in London. If there was a Vestry election, and one wanted to contest any particular ward, he had no list to go upon at all; the rate book only was at his disposal, and possibly that was the reason why so little interest was taken in Vestry contests in the Metropolis. He felt strongly upon the lodger question, and therefore he hoped his hon. Friend would divide the Committee. He was quite aware that the usual argument used against lodgers being allowed to vote was that only those who paid rates should have the right to vote. But his contention was that a lodger was as much a ratepayer as any other person in London; they admitted him as a compound householder; and he (Mr. Rowlands) asked the House to consider what was the difference between an individual who had to take a set of rooms in a large house in which the landlord lived, and an individual having a set of rooms in a house in which the landlord did not live. In the one case he was a householder, and was entitled to participate in the elections of Boards of Guardians. School Boards, and Parliamentary Representatives; and in the other case, from the mere fact that the landlord lived in the house, he was debarred from all these privileges, although he might be paying identically the same rental. Take the case of the large blocks of model dwellings. A man living in one of them was considered a householder and allowed to participate in all the local life. Why was that? Only because they had in that case gone on the assessment of each separate flat; but the man did not pay the rates directly, but indirectly, just as the man having a set of rooms in a house in which the landlord lived. He (Mr. J. Rowlands) begged his hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart) to press his Motion to a Division, because he thought they ought to have some positive decision with regard to the right of lodgers to be placed on the local franchise list. There was another reason why the Parliamentary register should be adopted, and that was that in London—he thought there was scarcely an exception at the present time—the Parliamentary registers were made out in street lists, instead of alphabetical order. They all knew what an advantage that was. This had been done in many instances, not at the wish of one political Party, but at the wish of both political Parties; and a most striking instance was afforded by the constituency the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) formerly represented—namely, the Tower Hamlets, where in all the divisions the registers were in future to be made out by mutual consent in street lists, instead of in the old-fashioned alphabetical order. Seeing that lodgers held all the qualifications of citizenship, he thought it was high time they were allowed participation in local life.

MR. THEODORE FRY (Darlington)

said, he wished the right hon. Gentle- man could see his way to place both the lodgers and service franchise men upon the municipal list as well as upon the Parliamentary list. There were numbers of men who were formerly entitled to vote for such bodies as Boards of Guardians, but who, when the new service franchise was created, were taken off the municipal list and placed only on the Parliamentary list of voters, although it was said they did not in one sense pay rates, yet in another sense they did. It would simplify things exceedingly for men on the "Lodger" franchise and on the "Service" franchise to be placed on both lists throughout the country.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said, he thought there was much force in the appeal for a simplification of the Register. The "Service" franchise men did not constitute a very large class, and the arguments in favour of allowing them the franchise were conclusive. But he was concerned rather with the question of lodgers, betwixt whom and householders there was no distinction except one that had been created most unfairly to the lodgers. Lodgers were not entitled to the Parliamentary franchise unless they paid £10 a-year for an unfurnished room, and this really amounted to a great deal more than householders were called upon to pay to be entitled to a vote, and in country districts it amounted to a prohibition. In his own constituency, for instance, rents were very much lower than they were in London, where £10 as the rent for an unfurnished room might not be above the average rental; but in country districts it was obvious that hundreds of men were disfranchised who, if they were technically householders, would have a vote. An opportunity presented itself for the right hon. Gentleman to do a bold stroke of business and get rid of the lodger franchise by reducing it to the same dimensions as the household franchise, and simplifying the register and the Bill. It would be doing nothing but justice to a class against whom nothing could be said, but that their economical habits induced them to live in a cheaper manner. A singular illustration of this came under his notice during the franchise controversies in 1884–5, and it was in that part of the Metropolis the right hon. Gentleman represented. A most respectable man at 60 years of age, who had reared a family and had sons and daughters out in the world, finding it more convenient to live with his wife in rooms, gave up his house, and thereupon he was deprived of that franchise which he had enjoyed for all the previous years of his adult life Cases of this kind constantly arose. Of course, he knew that in this case it would be argued that lodgers did not pay rates; but, as everyone knew, practically lodgers did pay their share indirectly just as much as those who paid under the compound system. Where rates were heavy, rents were proportionately increased, and often enough out of proportion, and the lodgers paid more than their share. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it was not possible to simplify things and do this act of justice.


said, hon. Members invited him to enter upon a wide field of Amendments he could not contemplate without dismay. To take the Municipal Corporations Act in hand and amend it in the way proposed would be to raise matter quite outside the Bill. The Government, in relation to the Bill, took the Municipal Act as they found it and applied it to the rest of the country. In proceeding upon that principle, he did not for a moment say that Amendments might not properly be made in that Act; but it was a task the Government were not prepared to take in dealing with this Bill, nor could they attempt to deal with it in the case of London without extending the application to the rest of the country. This was far too large a matter to add to the difficulties with which the Bill was already connected.


said, he desired a little more information. The right hon. Gentleman had gone far in his explanation to remove the apprehensions of those who contemplated, with something like terror, the addition of another register; but would he be good enough to explain the starting of the new register? There seemed to be some difficulty not met by any provisions in the Bill. For instance, the qualification by residence was six months for the municipal vote, twelve months for the Parliamentary vote. If the right hon. Gentleman could assure the Committee that the difficulty could be met and overcome so that the new register could be started by the machinery sketched out, it would go a long way to removing objections to the Bill as it stood.


said, he understood the register was already made out in municipal boroughs and in three divisions. The first division was composed of those who were entitled to vote in municipal and Parliamentary Elections; the second, those who were entitled to the Parliamentary franchise only; and the third, those on the municipal franchise only. The last two divisions were very small, the first was very large. It would be the duty of the overseer, of course, in considering whether a voter should be put on the one or the other, to satisfy himself as to qualification. That, he understood, would be the process under the new system.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

said, the right hon. Gentleman must be well aware, from his own personal experience, that the position of the intended county of London would be entirely different from that of any other large town. He Picton) had had some experience in the matter, because for nine years he had boon, he hoped, a tolerably active member of the London School Board, and thus was brought into contact with the great populations of eastern London, in Hackney, the Tower Hamlets, and elsewhere. Many censuses were taken by the School Board for various purposes, and on one occasion schoolmasters and mistresses obtained a return of the number of parents of children attending the schools who lived in one or two rooms, and it would astonish the House to find how enormous was the proportion. In schools of 1,000 children, it was found that 800 or more lived with their parents in one or two rooms. Of course, some of them might rent the houses in which they occupied only a room or two, while sub-letting the rest; but they would not be many. Others would be paying as much as £10 a-year for very wretched accommodation, and by taking great trouble might get on the register as lodgers. But he was speaking within the limit when he said that the vast majority were on no register whatever. There were streets after streets of small houses, little villas they might be called, in some parts of Hackney, and not one of them in the occupation of one family, the lower part of the house, perhaps, being held by the chief occupant, the rest of the rooms let off to lodgers. The effect of treating London exactly the same as other and smaller towns such as Leicester would be that enormous populations in the East of London would have no voice in municipal matters, among which—sanitary matters, for instance, forming a large portion of municipal business—lodgers in crowded dwellings were most seriously and directly interested. It would be unjust to leave these without a voice in the election of municipal authorities. He hoped the hon. Member (Mr. James Stuart), who was well able from his knowledge of his own constituency to appreciate the importance of the point, would urge his Motion to a Division, and he also hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would, on consideration, see that the case of London did not necessarily involve the question of other largo towns.


apologized for interposing so often, but this was his last appearance with reference to this point. The hon. Member spoke of vast numbers of people whom he described as being on no register at all; and clearly, if they were not on the Parliamentary register, they would not come within the scope of the Amendment or within the lodger franchise. Prom his not inconsiderable knowledge of the East End of London, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that the number of lodgers on the Parliamentary register was extremely small.


said, he should not like this remark to go forth as an exact representation of the case. The number of lodgers on the Parliamentary register was very small, but it was very much smaller than the number entitled to be upon it if they wore to make their claim; therefore, he was proposing to deal with a large number of people who were excluded from the franchise they had every right to. If the Bill passed in its present form, London would differ from every other municipality in having an extra list for voting purposes.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

asked, whether it was the intention of the Government to add the same proviso in elections for the new County Councils as existed in the Municipal Corporations Act, that no elector should have the right of voting in more than one division of the same constituency?



Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 226: Majority 116.—(Div. List No. 93.)

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

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