HC Deb 24 February 1891 vol 350 cc1556-8

Order for Second Reading read.

(11.45.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I desire to move the Second Reading of this Bill. No doubt Members of the House are generally acquainted with its provisions, and I trust they will agree to this Motion. Boards of Guardians now constitute the only authority left on an electoral footing entirely by itself. I propose that in future the Guardians shall be elected by exactly the same constituencies as elect Corporations and County Councils. At present no one has a vote at a Guardians' election but a person who directly pays rates, and in the City of London alone there are thousands of occupiers who are deprived of the privilege of voting simply because the landlord pays the rates in bulk. I myself am so deprived, and have been for 20 years. We pay high rents and equally high rates, yet we have no voice in the election of Guardians. Again, this provision cuts out the class of working men voters for the same reason. These men are allowed to vote for Councillors or for Vestrymen, but they may not vote for a Poor Law Guardian. Again, under the present system owners get an accumulation of votes. Why should this provision exist? It is all in favour of the rich and against the poor. Altogether the present system is most unsatisfactory. Voting papers which are left at the houses are often not collected, and often are not filled in because people know nothing about them. As we have the ballot for all other elections, why should we not have it for elections of Guardians? I need not at this late hour take up further the time of the House. For the reason that it will still further reduce the number of lists of voters, and for the other reasons I have stated, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Morton.)


The hon. Member appears to have taken his cue from a Bill proposed earlier in the evening, and to have limited the duration of his speech, which, however, does not appear to me to have been at all commensurate with the importance of the subject with which he was dealing. This Bill proposes to abolish the present qualification of voters for the election of Guardians, and to substitute in the boroughs the burgess roll and in counties the county register of voters. I think the House will agree with me that the position of Boards of Guardians is widely different from that of any other Local Authority, and the constitution is one which the House ought not to alter without grave consideration. Possibly some reform is needed; but the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to ask the House to abolish the present system—to abolish the right of owners to vote as owners, or to substitute the burgess roll or the county electors roll for the one in existence unless he can prove he has a better sy,stem to take its place. This is a very important matter, and the Bill does not provide any adequate machinery for carrying out the change that is proposed. One result would be that Boards of Guardians would be elected on a register eight or nine months old. Another defect is that the Bill contains no provision for placing the burgess or county electors roll at the disposal of clerks to Boards of Guardians. It may be said that if the principle of the Bill is adopted, the details for working out that principle can be arranged in Committee. But that is not a fair way of dealing with the House. Those who propose to abolish the present system ought to be prepared with a plan for substituting what is to replace it. I hope that the hon. Member will be satisfied with having raised this discussion, and will withdraw the Bill, though no doubt the present system of voting by voting-papers is eminently unsatisfactory, and requires to be dealt with. But the hon. Member had better wait until the matter is brought forward in a more practical form. The Government cannot assent to the Second Reading of the Bill.

(11.58.) MR. J. R. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

I intend to oppose the Bill. I am not surprised that the Government will have nothing to do with it. I doubt very much whether we should get a better set of men as Guardians than we have now under any such system as the Bill proposes. The hon. Member wishes to get the service franchise, the lodger franchise, and other franchises available for the elections.


I do not propose the service franchise, or the lodger franchise.


Well, the hon. Member proposes the lodger franchise, and I should like to know whether a lodger has the same interest in the expenditure of the rates as an owner or occupier?

It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday.