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Compound Householders Bill

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 19 February 1851

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Order for Second Reading read.

SIR W. CLAY moved the second reading of this Bill, the object of which was to remedy what might be described as an accidental omission in the machinery of the Reform Act. There were in London and the large towns of the kingdom many thousands of persons who came precisely within the spirit of the Act, and yet were deprived of the franchise which that Bill intended to bestow. By the Act the new franchise was extended to all householders

who occupied a house of the value of 10 l. and upwards, and who had paid rates and taxes up to a specified period. The title to the enjoyment of that franchise depended upon the ratebook. A person, therefore, whose name was not on the ratebook, although he might have complied with all that was required by the Reform Bill, could not have a vote. There were in almost all the parishes in London, and in all the large towns in the kingdom, local Acts which empowered the parish officers to compound with the landlord for the payment of the rates upon houses occupied by their tenants. The consequence was that there appeared on the ratebook no other name than that of the landlord who compounded for the rates. Many of the houses so compounded for were of the value of 10 l. and upwards. There was a clause in the Reform Act which enacted that a person paying 10 l. a year and upwards might apply to have his name entered on the list of ratepayers on tendering the rates then due. But by various decisions of the superior courts it had been held that the claim must be renewed upon every rate that was made. Now, it happened in large parishes that as many as four, five, and six rates were made in the course of the year; the effect, therefore, of those decisions was virtually to disfranchise those persons; and the fact was, that many thousands were actually so disfranchised. All that was sought to be done by this Bill was to remedy that evil. It simply enacted that persons having tendered the rate once, and having been once entered on the list of ratepayers, should not have occasion to renew that tender, but should be entitled to be registered as voters. He could not conceive any inconvenience to arise from such an enactment, and therefore begged to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

hoped the hon. Baronet would not press the second reading of the Bill on that occasion. The Bill had only been delivered the day before yesterday. [Sir W. CLAY: It is the same as the Bill introduced last year.] It was no answer to say that the Bill was the same as the one introduced last year, because the subject underwent but a very partial discussion last year. It dealt largely with the ratepaying clauses of the Reform Bill. He had always been opposed to the principle of that Bill, and he thought it rather hard that year after year individual Members should introduce Bills for altering and extending that law. If any Bill were required on the subject, it ought to be brought in by the Government. He should move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day fortnight.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day fortnight."

hoped his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets would not yield to the appeal which had been made to him. The Bill was fairly discussed last year; it was also discussed in the previous year, and amongst those who then took part in the debate, was the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon. It could not be said, therefore, that the House was taken by surprise. As to the observation that this was a Bill which ought to have been brought in by the Government, it appeared to him that there could be no fitter person to introduce it than the Member for a borough which contained so many parties who were personally interested in the matter. In that large borough hundreds of persons were disfranchised in consequence of an omission in the Reform Act.

hoped the Bill would be postponed. It had been discussed at late hours last Session, and also towards the close. Therefore time was required; to consider it. He should like to hear from the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether this measure was necessary or not. It appeared to him to be in contravention of, instead of carrying out, the principles of the Reform Bill. He hoped time would be given to the House to communicate with the country as to the objects intended to be carried out by the measure.

did not think his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets was under any necessity of agreeing to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Peebles-shire, that this Bill should be postponed. The subject was not new to the House; on the contrary, it was one with which the House was perfectly familiar. On late occasions, this measure had been objected to on the ground of its having been brought before the House at a late hour; that, at all events, could not be said now. The next question was, whether his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets was at all entitled to bring forward a Bill of that kind. He (Lord J. Russell) should be disposed to say, if any Amendments to the Reform Bill were to be brought forward, and if it was proposed to go further in the direction in which the Reform Bill went, it would be desirable to know if the Government intended to offer any objection to such a Bill; but he did not think that argument was applicable to this case. With respect to the present Bill, it was founded on a clause which was in the Reform Bill already. That was a clause declaring that, besides those who were rated to the relief of the poor, and had houses of 10l. a year, those who should be entitled to be rated, but were not rated, who occupied houses of the value of 10l. a year, rated in the name of the landlord, and not of the occupier, might claim to have their names placed upon the rate-book. That was a clause which the late Earl Grey was exceedingly careful to have inserted in the Bill; but since the passing of the Reform Act, the person who claimed under that clause, who was not rated, but who claimed to be rated, and having established his claim was placed on the rate, did not thereby obtain his franchise like other ten-pound householders, but he was obliged on the making of every rate to make a new claim to be placed on the rate. Now, that was a practical difficulty in carrying out what was the clear intention of Parliament in passing the Reform Act. He should, therefore, hold that his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets was perfectly entitled to see that the Act should be amended in that particular. Then arose another question, though that was for the consideration of the Committee on the Bill, namely, that those persons whom Parliament intended should acquire the right, and who were not rated, should not be placed in a more disadvantageous position than those who were in the enjoyment of that privilege. Now, he thought that it would be necessary to see in Committee that persons who claimed the right to vote (the rates being payable by the landlord), should be made liable for the rate, in case it should not be paid by the landlord. He thought it would be right in Committee to look narrowly to the wording of the clause, in order that the rate should be thus secured. If that were done, they would have a security which he believed the Reform Bill wished to retain, namely, the security of a person who was solvent and able to pay the rates. In that case, all the conditions of the Reform Bill would be substantially accomplished, and therefore he should cheerfully give his vote for the second reading of the Bill. At the same time, they ought not to hurry the Bill through Committee, but give ample time to hon. Members representing the large boroughs to con suit their constituents; and that, afterwards in Committee, they should be careful to see the object of his hon. Friend carried into effect in such a manner that, while on the one hand no person was deprived of his vote, so on the other the right of voting should not be carried further than was intended by the Reform Bill.

said, so far as the principle of this Bill had been laid down by the noble Lord who had just addressed the House, and by the hon. Baronet who introduced the Bill, he believed there would be very little, if any, difference of opinion in the House. He (Mr. Henley) believed that to carry out, legitimately, the franchise that was conferred by the Reform Bill, no one would object. But, unfortunately, the wording of the Bill did something which was very different. What did it do? The rate was the foundation of the register in boroughs; but this Bill was so worded, that when persons had once made their claim, then the person who made up the register would never have to look at the rate in future, but must take that particular class of persons from the old register. He thought the House ought to provide that, when a person having so made his claim was put on the register, he was not to remain there for ever, whether he had the same tenement or not, unless somebody objected to him. That was the real difficulty of the case. If the noble Lord wished to carry out that which was the object of the Reform Bill, he (Mr. Henley) should offer no opposition; but if, in attempting to carry that out, the House put persons on the register where they would remain until they were objected to, they put them in a position in which no other voter was placed. That certainly was not the object of the Reform Bill. He did not care a farthing whether the Bill was postponed for a fortnight or not, so that the House had ample time given them before they went into Committee.

said, if the House would agree to the second reading, he should propose that the Bill be committed on Wednesday, the 12th of March.

Question proposed, "That the word "now" stand part of the Question."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday 12th March.