§ Commons' Amendments to Lords' Amendments and Commons' Reason for disagreeing to One of the Amendments made by the Lords considered (according to Order); One disagreed to.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, I interrupted the Business of the House last night, thinking it my duty to inform noble Lords on both sides of the House that it had come to my knowledge that a very important Amendment had been made in this Bill by the House of Commons. My object was that nothing should occur which would appear to be either inconvenient or unfair in the proceedings of the Government with respect to that Amendment, which we thought it our duty to oppose. It was the impression of the Government, and probably of most if not all your Lordships, that when we sent down the Bill to the House of Commons it was finally settled, as far as any important alteration was concerned. We did not expect that an Amendment, affecting, in our opinion, the principle, not only of this Bill, but of the three Bills forming the great scheme of Parliamentary Reform, would have been brought forward and carried. The principle of this Bill, as of the other Bills, has always been that the payment of rates should be a sine quâ non for the enjoyment of the franchise: but the Commons' Amendment would strike at the very root of that principle, for it proposes to enable persons to vote without having been assessed to the poor rates, and therefore without having bonâ fide paid their rates. In Edinburgh the effect would be to enable a very large number of persons to be placed on the register this year, and therefore to vote in the election next November, who afterwards might very likely not pay rates at all. The probability is that nine out of ten would be in the category of those exempted on the ground of poverty; and 975 therefore a very large number of what I may call factitious voters would take part in the election, and would afterwards virtually cheat the constituencies by not paying any rate. The proposal was not brought forward when the Bill was originally discussed in the House of Commons, but is a new attempt to change one of its great principles; and with all respect to that House I must say I am surprised that it should have been adopted by them on this occasion. I therefore move that this House disagree with the Amendment of the House of Commons in the interpretation clause, and I trust noble Lords on both sides will support the Government in that course.
§ Moved, "That this House do disagree to the Amendment made by the Commons to the Amendment made by the Lords in page 24, line 32."—(The Lord Privy Seal.)
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I think Her Majesty's Government are quite entitled to ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment, and we on this side of the House do not in the least oppose the Motion. I do not think the Amendment would have quite so important an effect as the noble Earl apprehends; but still it is no doubt one of some importance. It would appear from the Reports of the proceedings in the House of Commons that it was represented that Amendments had been made in this House by your Lordships in a restrictive sense, and that this Amendment was described as having for its object the removal of those restrictions. Now, I am sure the noble Earl and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will bear me out in saying that no Amendment was made here in a restrictive sense; but that, on the contrary, the few words proposed by me and assented to by the Government were intended to meet the case of one or two towns where there are no poor rates, and were therefore, of an enfranchising character. In rejecting the Amendment we are, in fact, adhering to the Bill as it came up to us from the House of Commons.
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, he should cordially support the Motion of the noble Earl. Had the Bill come up to their Lordships originally with this provision in it, there might, no doubt, have been much argument in favour of it; but, introduced at this period, when they were all agreed that no alteration should be made in the principle of the Bill, it was impossible for their Lordships to assent to it.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) is perfectly accurate in what he has stated. When the Bill originally came up to us it provided that a dwelling house should include any part of a house occupied as a separate dwelling house and the occupier of which was separately rated to the relief of the poor. It was pointed out—I think by the noble Duke—that there are several parishes in Scotland where no poor rates are levied, and that consequently persons who would be otherwise entitled to vote in those parishes would lose their vote as the clause stood. It was, therefore, with the object of enfranchising a large number of persons who otherwise would not vote that your Lordships made an Amendment. It was an enlarging and not a restrictive Amendment; and having been made by this House, the House of Commons had last night the opportunity of considering it, and then they introduced the very objectionable words to which my noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury) has referred.
Motion agreed to.
Other of the Commons' Amendments agreed to: and Lords' Amendment to which the Commons disagree not insisted on; and a Committee appointed to prepare Reasons to be offered to the Commons for the Lords disagreeing to One of the Amendments made by the Commons to the Amendments made by the Lords to the said Bill; the Committee to meet forthwith: Report from Committee of a Reason prepared by them, read and agreed to: and a Message sent to the Commons to return the said Bill with the Reason.