HL Deb 15 May 1888 vol 326 cc267-77

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clause 1 (Short title and construction).


said, he rose to move an Amendment. The Bill had been described to them last night as one of a very complicated nature, and it was proposed that it should be passed through the House under circumstances which, through its connection with another Bill now in the other House, made it difficult to give it that amount of consideration and revision which its importance deserved. If they were to have another franchise, they must ask what it was to be, and were they to exclude those who were owners of property? It seemed to him that this Bill, as it was framed, excluded from the franchise all the owners of property as such; and if its principles were adopted without modification and protest, it appeared to him that they would lead necessarily to what was known as the one man one vote system, and ultimately by a logical sequence to universal suffrage, including all who were of full age. He did not know whether their Lordships were prepared for the adoption of principles loading in a direction so fraught with important consequences to the country. As the Bill stood, the owner of property as such would have no voice whatever in the election of the representatives returned to the proposed County Councils. In their desire to facilitate the passing of the Bill on the responsibility of the Government, their Lordships, he thought, ought not lightly to part with all control over a measure of such importance. In the case of the Ballot Act, their Lordships reserved their right of giving to the measure that revision which might be required at the expiration of a certain number of years; and although after a limited period experience induced Parliament to re-enact the Ballot Act without substantial alteration, yet no one could question that their Lordships had acted wisely in reserving the right of reconsideration in regard to a matter of such importance. But if that argument held good in respect to the Ballot Act, it applied with still greater force to the case of the present Bill, which could receive no examination at all at this moment. Moreover, when that Bill and the other Bill which was its corollary passed into law they would, at no distant period, experience the working of the measure. He therefore proposed to amend that clause by moving the insertion of words providing that the Bill should continue in force till December 31, 1889, and no longer, unless Parliament should otherwise determine.

Amendment moved, In line 11, after ("1888") add ("and shall continue in force till the thirty-first day of December 1889, and no longer unless Parliament shall otherwise determine.")—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


said, he hoped that their Lordships would accept that Amendment. He intended to have moved it himself if the noble Lord had not done so. Apart from the special reasons given by his noble Friend in favour of the Amendment, the Bill was very faulty in its form, because it proposed to legislate on important matters by means of reference to various other Acts of Parliament; and even an expert would find very considerable difficulty in ascertaining what was the exact meaning of its provisions. They ought to have a Bill setting out in clear language what the intentions of Parliament were. He could not admit that because owners of property did not participate in municipal elections they ought to be equally excluded from participating in the elections for County Councils. He denied that there was a perfect analogy between Municipal Corporations and County Councils. It was, no doubt, intended to give to the counties as much of municipal functions as could properly be extended to them; but they would not be able to carry that so very far. As an ilustration of his argument he showed that the money raised by the rates in boroughs was expended for the common benefit of the town, while in the country districts precisely the reverse was the case. The occupier of land might be rated for purposes as to which he had no interest whatever. He would only have one vote, whereas by status and wealth he might be equal to 10 or 20 occupiers of houses. He agreed with his noble Friend as to the desirableness of amending the Bill and limiting its operation. When more experience had been gained they would be able to discuss the question of franchise more freely than at present.


said, he believed that the Bill, although complicated in appearance, would be simple in its operation. Both noble Lords had complained because the Bill enacted by reference to other Acts. The reason for this was a very good one. The basis of the Bill was the extension of the municipal franchise and municipal privileges to the county. The Acts which conferred those privileges were extended by means of the present measure, the word "county" being substituted for "borough" where necessary, in addition to other incidental and necessary changes. If all the Burgess Acts, amended and altered as they had been by the Rating Acts, were to be set out in the form of a Schedule, instead of the measure being less complicated than now, it would be rendered much more difficult and complex. The simple effect of the enactments in Clauses 2 and 4 was this, that the burgess qualification of the boroughs would be extended to the counties. Those charged with making up the lists of electors for the register would place in three divisions in the list those who were qualified. Leaving out of sight the lodger and the service qualifications, there would be one list containing the names of all those who were qualified in each district to vote for municipal and Parliamentary purposes. Next would come those who were qualified to vote only for Parliamentary purposes; and, thirdly, those who were entitled to vote for municipal purposes alone, this list including Peers and women. The noble Earl (Earl Beauchamp) took a most alarming view of the principles of the Bill, but he could not make out from what the noble Lord said how it was that this Bill committed them to the principle of universal suffrage. That was a new idea, and he did not see anything in the Bill which led to that conclusion. If noble Lords thought that in another year there was a likelihood that they would revert to the system of giving owners the right to vote in respect to their property situated within the boroughs, they were, he believed, much mistaken. However, he thought it would be more convenient to take the discussion on that question when the Committee reached the consideration of a subsequent Amendment which raised the point in a particular form. He hoped their Lordships would not accept the Amendment, because he could not see what good purpose would be gained by keeping open an agitation with respect to the franchise for another year. It was urged that if their Lordships passed the Bill as it stood they would part with it for ever. But surely if the Bill did not operate successfully the question could once more be raised by means of an amending Bill. To say that the Government were creating a new franchise unknown to the law was hardly an accurate statement of the case. The Bill simply extended the present municipal franchise to the counties. The Local Government measures at present before Parliament were sufficiently complex already, and he therefore hoped the Amendment would be rejected.

On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 28; Not-Contents 64: Majority 36.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.


said, he rose to move the insertion of new clauses giving an ownership franchise qualification to owners of property not resident within the rural electoral districts in which their property was situated. As the Bill now stood, it would operate very hardly upon the owners of property in counties. The County Councils would have great powers entrusted to them, under which they might make, assess, and levy rates, and deal with roads, bridges, rivers, tramways, gas and water supplies, and, in fact, everything that had to do with the management of the district; and they would also have the very dangerous power entrusted to them of borrowing money, and thereby to make a practically permanent charge upon the land. As the Bill now stood, a landowner might possess several cottages for which he paid the rates, but unless he lived in the district his cottagers, who paid nothing to the rates, would have a voice in levying and spending them, whereas the owner would have no vote in the matter whatever. That was hardly a reasonable position in which to place the landowner. The question affected not only the large landowners, but also the small landowners, of whom there were a great number in the country, and upon whom the rates would fall very heavily. It would be said that they were only extending to counties the borough franchise. But they must recognize that county affairs were not exactly similar to borough affairs. He did not ask for any special privilege or favour for owners of property. He only asked that the right which Parliament had hitherto jealously preserved for those who paid the rates—the right of representation—should not be taken away from them by this Bill, but that there should be left them the power of dealing with those local affairs with which their own interests were so deeply affected.

Moved, after Clause 3, to insert the following Clause:— (Ownership of land to qualify.) Every person who in respect of any property situated outside the limits of a municipal borough is entitled to be registered as an ownership voter within the meaning of the provisions of the Registration Act, 1885, shall be entitled to be registered as a county elector in respect of such qualification, in like manner in all respects as if the sections of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, relating to a burgess qualification included the said ownership qualification."—(The Earl of Jersey.)


said, that to enable the House to judge of the Amendment he would ask them to consider its effect if applied as proposed only to rural districts in counties. There was no suggestion that property in boroughs was to qualify. They would often have a case like this. Some of those districts to be created would be partly urban and partly rural, and very often the divisions were of a very arbitrary kind. They might have the houses on one side of a street within a borough, and the houses on the other side in the county. The effect of this proposal would be that upon the same day, for the same Council, and within the same district, they would have owners qualified on one side of the street and owners disqualified on the other. That was an anomaly which had not grown up or happened by accident, but which the noble Earl would deliberately create by a vote in Parliament. The grievance of owners not having a vote was a sentimental one only in rural districts, for proprietors who were non-resident existed to a much greater extent in town than in country districts. To make the change proposed would be to change the whole burgess qualification in such a manner as to create the greatest anomalies. Her Majesty's Government had to choose between the Parliamentary or the municipal franchise, and in preferring the latter to the former he contended that they had solid ground to go upon. The proposal of the noble Earl would change the whole burgess qualification, which would be an uncalled-for step. He ventured to say that this was rather a sentimental than a real grievance; and there could be little hardship in this matter, because as all the elections took place on one day a non-resident owner would not have an opportunity to give many votes even if he had them.

On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 34; Not-Contents 55: Majority 21.

Breadalbane, M. Beauchamp, E.
Carnarvon, E.
Bathurst, E. Feversham, E.
Jersey, E. [Teller.] Clanwilliam, L., (E. Clanwilliam.)
Lindsay, E. Clinton, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Colchester, L.
Milltown, E. Donington, L.
Morton, E. Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)
Powis, E.
Stanhope, E. FitzGerald, L.
Strafford, E. Herries, L.
Lamington, L.
St. Asaph, L. Bp. Magheramorne, L.
Norton, L.
Addington, L. Sinclair, L.
Aveland, L. [Teller.] Stanley of Alderley, L.
Basing, L. Sudeley, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Wenlock, L.
Wimborne, L.
Halsbury, L. (L. Chancellor.) Ashbourne, L.
Balfour of Burley, L.
Cranbrook, V.(L. President.) Brassey, L.
Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Bedford, D. Burton, L.
Grafton, D. Elphinstone, L.
Rutland, D. Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Ripon, M. Harris, L.
Salisbury, M. Hartismere, L. (L. Henniker.)
Herschell, L.
Mount-Edgcumbe, E. (L. Steward.) Hopetoun, L.(E. Hopetoun.)
Brownlow, E. Kensington, L.
Camperdown, E. Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)
Derby, E. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)[Teller.]
Fife, E.
Granville, E. Knutsford, L.
Kimberley, E. Lawrence, L.
Macclesfield, E. Leigh, L.
Morley, E. Lingen, L.
Onslow, E. Monk-Bretton, L.
Selborne, E. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Spencer, E.
Waldegrave, E. [Teller.] Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Northington, L. (L. Henley.)
Cross, V.
Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.) Poltimore, L.
Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)
Oxenbridge, V.
Sidmouth, V. Truro, L.
Torrington, V. Watson. L.
Wigan, L. (E. Crawford and Balcarres.)
Carlisle, L. Bp.
Chichester, L. Bp. Winmarleigh, L.

Moved, to insert the following New Clause:— (Tenure of house by office or service not to invalidate vote.) Where a man himself inhabits any dwelling-house by virtue of any office, service, or employment, and the dwelling-house is not inhabited by any person under whom such man serves in such office, service, or employment, he shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be an inhabitant occupier of such dwelling-house as a tenant."—(The Earl of Jersey.)


said, that the same general considerations ruled the answer to this Amendment as in the last. The burgess qualification had been taken as the basis of the new franchise, and it had been resolved neither to level up nor to level down. He hoped the Amendment would not be accepted.

Amendment negatived.

Clauses 4 to 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 (Separate list of persons residing within fifteen miles of county).


asked whether it did not relate to the qualification of persons to be elected members of the new Councils, and import into this Bill the qualification now existing in the Municipal Corporations Act? If, as he was of opinion, that it was not desirable, and might be mishievous, a gentleman who might reside a little beyond the stipulated distance from his property would be ineligible, although he might be the very person whom the electors should desire to represent them. We had long since done away with the qualification for Members of Parliament, and he thought there was no reason for retaining it in the case of members of County Boards.


replied in the affirmative. No doubt, the question of qualification was a most important one, and their Lordships would have an opportunity of fully discussing it when the larger measure was before them.


asked, whether the Government could give the House any information with regard to a matter which was mentioned in "another place," and in respect to which they then gave a kind of promise—namely, as to whether owners not having votes as ratepayers would under the Local Government Bill be qualified to sit upon the County Council?


said, it would be irregular to discuss this point, which did not arise out of the present Bill, and he hoped his noble Friend would be satisfied with the assurance, to use a common expression, that the Government had a very open mind on the subject.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment.


said, he begged to move the suspension of the Standing Order in order to allow of the Bill being read a third time and passed. It was essential that the Bill should become law before Parliament again met after the Holidays, and, therefore, that it should receive the Royal Assent before the adjournment, which had been fixed for to-morrow or Thursday.

Moved, "That Standing Order No. XXXV, be considered (according to order) and dispensed with."—(The Lord Balfour.)


said, he extremely regretted the proposal to hurry this important Bill through the House. At the close of last Session, as late as the month of September, an important measure dealing with allotments was introduced into this House when the attendance of Members was very attenuated, and when no adequate opportunity of discussing it was afforded. He thought the practice of thus hurrying Bills through this House was calculated to undermine the authority of the House, as tending to give the country the impression that measures did not here receive due deliberation. He objected to the practice generally, and he objected specially to it on this occasion in regard to this Bill, which was really legislation in the dark. They were creating a constituency before they know what the representative body would be. Would it cause any very great inconvenience supposing the Local Government Bill were retarded? Was that Bill likely to establish a system so very superior to the present system that there was any hurry about it? On the contrary, it was generally admitted that the present system of administering county business had been most admirable, being efficient and economical. A little delay would, if anything, be an an advantage as giving time for preparation and consideration, and he desired to enter his protest against the proposal of the Government to suspend the Standing Orders and hurry the Bill through.


said, that if it were hereafter found that this Bill did not work well, there would be great regret in this House that it had not received due consideration, and he hoped that the responsibility would then rest where it ought to rest—namely, on Her Majesty's Government, who had denied their Lordships the opportunity of giving it full consideration.


said, he agreed that the alteration in the present system of county government was not a matter of great urgency; but this Bill was connected with financial changes which could not come into operation until the Local Government Bill was passed, and which would be very satisfactory to the rural population. He did not think that that population would be grateful to the noble Earl if he were to succeed in postponing those financial changes for another year. As to the actual proposal to suspend the Standing Order, he should not make it if he thought any considerable number of their Lordships objected, though the consequences of its not being made would be that this House would have to sit on Thursday, and possibly Friday. If there was any considerable body of their Lordships who wished to consider the Bill on third reading, the Government did not desire to stand in the way of their doing so.


said, he ventured to say that their Lordships would be perfectly willing to put on one side their private and personal convenience in order to secure the consideration of this Bill, which seemed to him to be a Bill of a very important character. It was admitted on all hands that the measure was defective in its construction. The practice of enumerating clauses had been constantly condemned on both sides of the House in the strongest language, and by the highest possible authority. In many cases, no doubt, this was inevitable, and the imperfections of Parliamentary and Party Government, he supposed, were like the imperfections of human nature. But this measure, by the confession of everybody, involved very serious principles, and principles which he believed were very dangerous. It was a part of a larger measure which would sweep away an ancient, a well-tried, and a successful institution of the country. For 300 years and more that institution had stood the test of all trials; for 300 years and more it had exercised a vast influence—an influence which both sides admitted to be wholesome and wise. But that was now to be swept away by a measure which any of their Lordships would be pleased to discuss when it came before them. The Bill now under discussion, however, was intertwined with that measure—it was a part of the larger measure; and he was, therefore, very sorry to see it hurried through by the suspension of the Standing Order. The Bill, in his opinion, contained very questionable, if not dangerous, principles.


said, it was only because he believed that the Bill in its present shape was acceptable to the vast majority of their Lordships that they ventured to move the suspension of the Standing Order.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a, and passed.