HL Deb 27 March 1868 vol 191 cc328-32

said: I think that the Returns which I propose to move for will throw some light on a measure that is likely to come before the House this Session—I mean the Bill to Amend the Representation of the People in Scotland. As that Bill is not now before your Lordships, of course I do not mean to discuss its provisions; and I shall not refer to it further than to say that I understand it is the intention of the Government to propose for Scotland the same occupation franchise in counties that was embodied in the Reform Act of last year—a franchise based on rateable value. As a general rule, I am strongly in favour of placing England and Scotland as nearly as possible on the same footing; but I think if we can show that there are circumstances in the case of Scotland which make it inexpedient to adopt a franchise founded on rateable value, that we are fairly entitled to press that consideration upon the Government. Perhaps, for the sake of strengthening my case, I may be allowed to refer to what has lately taken place. A very short time ago, the Prime Minister addressed a letter to the newspapers in which he laid down the principles on which a Conservative Reform Bill should be founded. One of those cardinal points was that no place should be wholly disfranchised. But I understand that in the case of Ireland the Government propose wholly to disfranchise five or six boroughs. I understand also that the much-abused "hard and fast line," which the right hon. Gentleman denounced last year as wholly inadmissible, is to be adopted in the Irish Reform Bill. I refer to these circumstances not for the sake of taunting the Government with having abandoned some of those Conservative principles which the Leader of the Party invented for them last year, and which he affirmed again this year, some ten days before he threw them over, but because I wish to point out that the Government are not exactly in a position to require us to accept any provisions I which they may choose to put into the Scotch Reform Bill, merely because they happen to have been inserted in the Reform Act of last year. In the few observations I am about to make, I shall confine myself entirely to the county occupation franchise, because I take it for granted that the burgh franchise in Scotland will be the same as the English borough franchise—that is, that it will be simple household suffrage. We have in Scotland that which you have not in England, a valuation of the whole property of the country, founded upon that which, after all, is the true measure of value, the rent actually paid by the occupier. On that valuation all rates are assessed with the exception of the poor rates, and, in some counties, of the rates levied for keeping up the roads. Nothing would be simpler than to make the valuation roll the register, as practically it is now. The figure to which you should reduce the franchise so as to make it equivalent to a £12 rating in England would be a fair subject for discussion. But when you come to deal with the rateable value on which the poor rates are assessed, and seek to found a franchise on it, you get into all sorts of difficulties. In the first place, there are about a hundred parishes in Scotland where the occupiers are not rated for the relief of the poor. If you say that rateable value is to be the basis of the franchise, you cannot leave the state of things in those parishes exactly as it is at present, because the result would be not only that there would be no enfranchisement in those parishes, but that the occupiers who now have votes would actually be disfranchised; and, of course, that is too absurd a conclusion to be contemplated. There remains, then, only one alternative—you may force an assessment for the relief of the poor on those parishes where it does not now exist. I cannot imagine that the Government will bring forward so mischievous a proposal. Why are there no poor rates in the parishes I have referred to? Because there is full employment for the able-bodied men, and the sick and infirm are supported mainly by their relatives, who, from a feeling of honourable pride, are not willing that they should be dependent upon strangers. Any small deficiency there may be is made up by collections in church, supplemented by voluntary contributions from the proprietors. To force an assessment on these parishes would go far to demoralize and pauperize them. The only course, then, open to you with regard to these parishes is, that the assessor should be called upon to make deductions from the rents paid by the occupiers, for the sake of establishing what you may call a rateable value, but which really is not a rateable value because no rates are assessed on it; there are no poor rates, and all the other rates are levied on the gross rental. You are going to establish a fictitious valuation, not for the purpose of rating, but merely to ascertain the occupier's qualification to vote, when you might arrive at the same result by much simpler means, I come now to those parishes—the great majority—in which the occupiers are rated for the relief of the poor. In these parishes, the valuations are made by the parochial boards, who are authorized to make deductions, and those deductions are not made on any uniform principle. They vary greatly, not only as between different kinds of property, but as between property of the same kind in different parishes. I have had occasion to look into this matter of parochial assessments, and I find that in the county of Forfar the deductions vary from nothing at all to about 40 per cent—that is to say, in one parish an occupier who pays £12 is rated at £12, while in other parishes a £12 rating is equivalent to a rent of about £20. I believe that as great discrepancies exist in the other counties which are included in the Return moved for. I have here a Return made up by those persons whose duty it is to collect the poor rates in the county of Renfrew. I find that the deductions allowed to occupiers of the same description of property vary in different parishes from nothing at all up to 75 per cent. As to dwelling-houses, in five parishes there is no deduction made, and in them a £12 rental and a £12 rating are synonymous; in one parish a deduction is made of 33¾ per cent, and there a £12 rating is equivalent to a rental of £18; in other parishes the deductions vary from 10 to 25 per cent, and the amount of gross rent required to give a £12 rating varies from £13 to £16. But in the case of lands, the discrepancies are much greater. In three parishes no deductions are made; in two parishes a deduction is given of 75 per cent, and in those, to get a £12 rating an occupier must pay a rent of £48. Between these limits there is almost every conceivable variety in the amount of deductions allowed. If, then, you found the county occupation franchise on the rateable value on which the poor rates are assessed, and if you fix the figure at £12, the result will be this, that in one parish an occupier who pays a rent of £12 will have a vote, while his neighbour, perhaps in the next parish, will not be qualified to vote for the same county unless he pays a rent of £48. This is an inequality too monstrous to be endured; the county franchise must be established on a basis which shall approximate at least to justice and equality. But I do not understand that it is the intention of the Government to alter in any way the laws relating to the assessments for the relief of the poor in Scotland. We come, then, to this point, that while the valuation for purposes of assessment is to be continued on the old footing, another valuation is to be made, not for purposes of assessment, but in order to ascertain the qualification of occupiers to vote. To make this valuation, we must set in motion a machinery of some kind—we must have a staff of clerks, and this needless expense and trouble is to be incurred merely for the sake of enabling the Government to preserve what they are pleased to call their consistency. It may be said that I have anticipated, in some degree, a discussion that might more conveniently have taken place when the Scotch Reform Bill came before this House. I will endeavour to meet that objection. I cannot forget what took place last year when a far greater measure—the English Reform Bill—came before your Lordships. On that occasion very important Amendments were proposed by two eminent Members of this House. Nobody can pretend that those Amendments were in any degree factious, or that any exception could be taken, on that ground, to the speeches by which they were supported. Those Amendments were honestly intended to assist the Government in framing a measure which might have some elements of permanence. How were those proposals met? The Government not only opposed the Amendments; they refused even to discuss them. They said, in effect—Your proposals may be good or bad, but we cannot consider them, it is too late; the subject has been fully discussed in the House of Commons; if you introduce any material alterations, we throw upon you the responsibility for the loss of the Bill. That was the manner in which this great measure was dealt with here—that was the manner in which this House was treated by a Government which calls itself Conservative. I cannot expect that the Scotch Reform Bill will be treated with more ceremony than the English Bill—I cannot expect that the Government will show more respect and consideration for your Lordships' House this year than they did last year. I have moved for these Returns, because I wish that this particular point, as well as the Bill itself, may be fully discussed, and discussed in good time, both here and elsewhere; and I am not without hopes, when the matter is placed in its true light, that Parliament will adopt a county franchise founded on the real rent, and will reject this fanciful scheme of a franchise founded on what is called rateable value, but which is not rateable value at all, because no rates are to be assessed on it.

Motion for, Return from each Parish in the several Counties of East Lothian, Mid Lothian, Lanark, Renfrew, Ayr, Aberdeen, Fife, and Forfar, showing in a tabular Form the Deductions allowed by Parochial Boards to the several Classes of Occupiers of Lands, Minerals, Dwelling Houses, Public Works, and Railways; and showing the Gross Rent which, subject to such Deductions, is required in order to give to each Class of Occupiers a clear Rent of £12 rated for Poor Assessment: Also, for a Return of the Parishes in Scotland in which the Occupiers are not rated for the Relief of the Poor.—(The Earl of Airlie.)


thought it more convenient to abstain from discussing the details of a measure which was not yet before their Lordships; and he would therefore merely state that the Government had no objection to the production of the Return.

Motion agreed to.