HL Deb 17 July 1900 vol 86 cc193-6


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, so complicated is the subject of the qualification of an elector that any measure which simplifies it will, I am sure, be welcomed by your Lordships. The object of this Bill, which we may justly term a non-contentious Bill, is to assimilate the County Council with the parochial register, and to obviate the anomaly of two classes of electors in London for local government purposes; an anomaly that will become more marked when the elec- tions under the London Government Act, 1899. take place. The duties of the local and central authorities in London are so analogous that the distinction in the franchise was founded on no principle of logic, economy, or convenience. On the contrary, it has caused a great deal of confusion, and has made the registration both complicated and expensive. This Bill does not in any way interfere with the Parliamentary franchise, nor does it create a new franchise. It has to do purely with the domestic affairs of London, and is introduced to remedy a disparity in the electorate which has no analogy in the rest of the country. It will remove an anomaly in the London franchise by which those who hold the lodger and" service franchise — about 100,000 in number—while having the right to vote in parochial elections, are denied the right to vote for the County Council. The Bill will also put the register for the London County Council and the register for the new London Borough Councils on the same basis, thereby contributing greatly to the simplification of the preparation of the voters' lists. In 1894 lodgers and service voters were allowed to vote for vestries and poor-law guardians, the former being the rate-paying authority, and the two together being responsible for two-thirds of the rate levied. We contend that a man who is entitled to vote for the rate-paying authority should also be entitled to vote for the spending body. This discrepancy in the franchise may be termed of fortuitous creation, and its assimilation would be but a logical evolution. The London County Council have unanimously approved of this change, and the Bill has passed through the House of Commons without any objection being raised to it.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Lord Farquhar.)


My Lords, I am very glad to be able to support most cordially the Second Reading of this Bill, and I do so because on this side of the House all extensions of the franchise are welcomed, even though, as in this case, they are not likely to operate favourably to our own cause. The effect of this Bill is to add three classes of electors to the county council electors in London. At this moment the London County Council electors consist of two classes—householders and women. To those classes will be added by this Bill lodgers, service voters, and freeholders. I am afraid we who hold Liberal opinions do not expect to get much advantage from the addition of those voters to the register; but we welcome the power being given them to vote, because we believe that the wider the basis of the franchise the better it will be for the country. We may, however, justly complain that when this measure was brought in the opportunity was not taken to remove some of the gross anomalies which exist with regard to the period required for the qualification to vote. The desire of the promoters of this Bill is to enable more people to vote, and one would have imagined that they would also have endeavoured to make it as easy as possible for men to get upon the register. They make no change in regard to the period of occupation, and a man who enters into occupation in August will still be unable to get upon the register for twenty-three months. That is a gross anomaly in the present law, and one which should be remedied. Even though it may be argued that it is not desirable to reduce the period of qualification for the Parliamentary franchise, surely for local purposes the qualification might be reduced to six months. If this were done a great boon would be conferred upon Londoners. I think a considerable burden of responsibility lies on the promoters of the Bill for not having proposed some reform in the way I have suggested.


My Lords, I have been asked to state what are the views of the Local Government Board with regard to this Bill, which is not without its importance as a matter of principle, the proposition before the House being to add some 100,000 voters to the register of the London County Council. The men it is now proposed to enfranchise have not hitherto been placed on the register of voters for the London County Council, in pursuance of the principle that those who elect the body who impose a rate should bear the burden of that rate. In 1894 the lodger and service suffrages were conferred in respect of the vestries. By the Act of last year the London municipalities became the successors of the vestries, and had conferred upon them the same powers of voting as the vestries had. That being so, the anomaly arises that there are in London two rating bodies—the London County Council and the municipalities. The object of my noble friend's Bill is that throughout the rating area the franchise shall be the same. The Government do not oppose the Bill, but they wish it to be quite understood that the measure must not be taken as a precedent for endeavouring to depart from the principle I have mentioned in cases where the anomaly which prevails in London does not exist. And if, therefore, it should be sought to extend these non-rate paying branches to provincial county councils and municipal boroughs, the question involved must be regarded as being in no way affected by the fact that this Bill has been allowed to become law.

On Question, agreed to. Bill read a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday next.