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Compound Householders Bill

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1851

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Order for Committee read.

said, he thought the House had decided that it was favourable to the principle of the measure, although there was considerable difference of opinion as to the mode of working it out. He objected to the mode proposed by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) in the Bill now before them. Th3 proper mode for a person in the situation of a compound householder to adopt would be to make his claim in the time prescribed by the Reform Act. The householder's claim should be made to the overseer before the 25th of August in each yeah This would be a much simpler process than that proposed, for if the claim were a fair one, the party could find no trouble in being put on the Register. There were in many parishes about four or five rates made in each year, and to be compelled to claim at the making of each rate was 4 Very troublesome matter.

did not admit the validity of the objections made by the hon. Member (Mr. Henley), but he would not be at all averse to availing himself of any proper suggestions. He was not insensible to the difficulty there existed in legislating on some of the points which the Bill embraced. He thought they should at once go into Committee on the measure, and they would have an opportunity of considering the nature of the Amendments proposed.

House in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

Clause 1.

said, that in clause one, it was proposed to insert after the words "full amount, "the words" on account of any rates in respect of such premises."

objected to the Amendment on the ground that compound householders did not pay the full rate. A compound householder of 10l. paid less rate than a householder who was not a compound one, and the parties were not on the same footing, He would have no objection to do away with whatever technical difficulties prevented compound householders from being placed on the Register; but the Amendment proposed would, he thought, affect the principle of the Reform Bill, by lowering the standard of qualification. The question as to whether the franchise ought or ought not to be extended, was a large one, and it was not proper to nibble at it in this way.

said, the objection of the hon. Member (Mr. Henley) was based on the assumption that compound householders paid less rates than others. This, however, was not a valid objection, for the principle of the Reform Bill was this, that every occupier of a house of the yearly value of 10l. was entitled to the franchise, no matter how that person might be rated.

maintained that the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster had not fairly stated the principle of the Reform Bill, for the principle of the Reform Bill was to connect the value with the rate paid. Compound householders to be entitled to the franchise ought to pay rates in the value of 10l. per annum.

did not think that the question as to the amount of rate paid was one which would be likely to arise, for most compound householders were parties who paid from 15l to201. of annual rent. The alteration proposed was grounded on the provisions of an Act passed during last Session of Parliament for the rating of small tenements. By the seventh section of that Act, it was provided that the occupier of a tenement should be entitled to the franchise, notwithstanding any arrangement which might be made by the landlord regarding the rates. This Act perfectly recognised the principle of the Bill he now proposed. The qualification of the voter was the occupancy of a house of the yearly value of 10l.; and any arrangement whereby overseers might for their own convenience consent to take a less amount of rate, was not held to prejudice the claim of the occupier.

wished for some test of the value of tenements, and that was found in the amount of rate paid.

said, the provision of the Reform Act was, that every person who occupied a house of the clear value of 10l. per annum was entitled; the franchise. Now, in many parishes it so happened that a vast number of persons occuying houses of more than the value of 10l. did not possess the franchise. In Lambeth there were 39,500 persons rated for the poor, and there were scarcely any of them who were not rated at more than 10l. of annual rent, and yet in the parish there were only 13,000 voters. In j the parish of Finsbury there were 15,800 I voters, and upwards of 37,000 persons rated, and of these 37,000, almost everyone paid more than 10l. year. In Marylebone there were 16,800 electors, and 39,000 I persons rated to the poor. He might with. I safety say that all of these 39,000 were: rated at more than 10l. per annum. In the Tower Hamlets the difference was still greater, although there might be fewer rated above 10l. in proportion than in the I other parishes. The number of voters in the Tower Hamlets was 19,000, and the ratepayers 73,000. He submitted that if they carried out the principle of the Reform Act, they must enfranchise that large body of ratepayers who were assessed at; and above 10l., but who were at present deprived of the suffrage.

said, the question before the Committee was not whether compound householders should have the benefit of the Reform Act, but whether they should have the benefit of the composition of rates. What was that benefit I but a reduction of the amount paid? And if so, it was perfectly clear that if they gave parties the benefit of that composition, they would reduce the qualification. He also objected to the use made of the word "tendering," for a door would be opened to an enormous amount of fraud. A person without the slightest amount of proof that he occupied premises might tender the rate, and if he had proof of such tender, he would be entitled to be placed on the Register. Thus a person might tender the rate for his ten compound householders, who would be placed on the Register in virtue of the tender, without there being sufficient security that these parties had a boâa fide residence and qualification. Unless some other provision were made than what was afforded by the Bill, they would have parties coming out once a year, tendering portions of the rates, in order to qualify themselves, and those parties too, who had no connexion with the property. Then, again, who was the officer to whom the tender was to be made? Every overseer and every churchwarden was qualified to receive the rates, although there was only one who could be qualified to say whether a party were a ratepayer in the proper sense. But the proof that a party had really made a tender to one or other of these various officers, would be sufficient to qualify him. When he thus saw a manifest intention to lower the franchise to those parties by giving them the benefit of the composition for rates under the Small Tenements Rating Act, he could not conceive but that this was an attempt, under cover of this Bill, to lower the franchise, and expose the constituent cies, especially in large towns, to a perfect influx of fictitious voters, who would not be tenants but nominal tenants.

I regret that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) has found it necessary to introduce these words. I understand that the proposition is to obviate the inconvenience occasioned to voters, and which actually does deprive them of the right of voting by reason that they are called on at every fresh rate either to tender again or pay the rate. I understand that to be the evil which the Bill is intended to remedy. On the second reading of the Bill, the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) said he was willing to remedy that inconvenience; he only wished that these compound householders should not be in a better position than persons who were rated to the full rate. I find that the words of the Reform Act are these:—

"It shall be competent for the person rated to h e relief of the poor in respect of such premises to claim to be on the registry, and upon such occupier so claiming, tendering the full amount of the rates then due, the overseers of the parish are hereby required to put the name of such occupier upon the register for the time being."
But what my hon. Friend now proposes is, to change the words of the Reform Act—to leave out the words, "the full amount of the rates due in respect of such premises," and put other words in the place of them, which would have the effect of enabling a person to acquire the franchise, by tendering the amount which would be paid by the landlord, although much less than ought to have been paid by the occupier himself. Would that be sufficient to show that the occupier was sufficiently solvent to be placed on the rate book? I do not deny that there is great force in the argument of my hon. Friend, and that a person claiming to vote under such circumstances might be sufficiently solvent; but I think this is a proposition which goes entirely beyond the Reform Act, and one which would give to the person claiming to vote, an advantage greater than that possessed by the person who paid the full amount of the rates. The proposition before the Committee was designed to put the compound householder in as good a situation, but not in a better situation, than the person who paid the full amount of rates. I do not think that the Committee ought now to introduce into the Bill a new principle not contemplated when the measure was introduced; and I hope the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets will not persevere with his Amendment.

said, he was afraid the observation of the noble Lord at the head of the Government would not lead the Committee to suppose that his proposition for reform would be one which would satisfy the country. He (Mr. Bright) understood it was a common thing in Committee to introduce a clause to remedy some other matter than that which was strictly considered the question, and it was for the Committee to consider whether the proposition introduced by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets was worthy of adoption. He understood that the measure was rather to declare the law than to enact the law, because he understood from his hon. Friend that with regard to the metropolitan constituencies, it was not customary to con- strne the existing law so as to shut out the compounders; but in other places it we customary to shut them out, and he could point to a borough in the north of England where, within fifteen years, there had been an increase of 10,000 houses, but in con sequence of this law there had been no increase of the voters. It must be admitted on all hands that the system of compounding was a very beneficial one for the parochial authorities, because they found it prevailed almost everywhere, and the tendency of the authorities was to increase it. Where the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) said this was a measure to increase the franchise, his argument could only apply to those whose rentals amounted to just the 10?.; but he knew that in the borough he had referred to, the system of compounding was applied to houses of the value of 181. a year. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) who, he believed, had no unfriendly feeling towards the Bill, said the words proposed would establish a principle very different from that which the Bill originally intended; hut he would ask him if this system of compounding continued to spread over the country, if he was willing to allow that system to disfranchise those on whom the Reform Bill intended to confer the franchise? The noble Lord at the head of the Government interpreted the Bill as was wished by hon. Members on the other side of the House, that the person should be on the Register when the full rate was paid which was written opposite the particular house. Now, there had been contrary decisions on that question. He considered that in all matters in which the franchise we? concerned, the interpretation of the law should be liberal; and when the ease of the forty-shilling freeholders came before Chief Justice Tindal, he stated that it was the intention of the law, and it was the spirit of the constitution of the country, that all the laws which affected the franchise, and particularly in reference to the Reform Bill, should be construed liberally, and with a view rather to extend than to limit the franchise. Now here was a case in point. He said that the payment of the amount which the parochial authorities had arranged with the landlord should be received in discharge of the rates for certain premises, should be held to be a discharge of the whole rate. Not to give the franchise under these circumstances would be to act in contravention of the Small Tenements Act, which passed last Session, and which preserved the franchise of all persons rated at above 6l. He thought they ought now to settle the law, which was to some I extent uncertain, and thereby give the franchise to some thousands of persons well qualified to vote, and to deny whose right, he was sure, was not consistent with the safety of the institutions of the country.

had not expressed any opinion as to whether it might not be desirable to make the alteration suggested, and thus give the franchise to the numerous class of persons to whom reference had been made. What he said was, that it was understood, on the second reading of the Bill, that the words of the Reform Act, were to be adhered to. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire concurred in that view; and many hon. Members who came down to oppose the second reading, assented to it on that condition. No notice was given that any alteration of this kind j would be proposed. He certainly had received no notice. But the hon. Member for Manchester seemed to have had some intimation on the subject. What he (Lord John Russell) now said was, not that this I alteration was a wrong one, or unfounded in principle, or not likely to be beneficial in its operation, but that in point of fairness it ought not to have been introduced without notice.

whilst anxious: to extend the principles of the Reform Act, wished the Committee to consider whether the proposition now before them would not create great injustice in the parochial burdens throughout the country. The present measure, if passed, would—have a material effect in placing persons on the burgess roll the municipal towns. He had not the slightest objection to any measure that would practically increase the franchise of the country—he believed such a measure would be wholesome and good; but he objected in the strongest manner against any attempt by a side wind to place persons on the Register who did not conform to the provisions of the Reform Act. He trusted the hon. Member would withdraw the Amendment, and thus relieve him from the painful necessity of opposing it.

thought this Bill showed the necessity of the noble Lord coming forward with a measure which would do away with the necessity of paying the rates and taxes for the purposes of the franchise. The younger Member for North Warwickshire had stated that the measure would open a wide door to abuse; but the hon. Gentleman did not consider that by the present state of the law hundreds of thousands of persons were shut out from the franchise. At the present moment, the compounders might be put on the existing rate; but the complaint was that they were obliged to claim for every rate, and, as there might be four or five rates in a year, it was impossible for them to keep pace with the requirements of the law.

contended that the Committee was not bound by any understanding which might have been come to between two hon. Members, but that each hon. Member was perfectly at liberty to propose such amendment as he might think desirable. He approved of the alteration suggested by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and should give it his support; but thought the better course would be for the hon. Member to withdraw it for the present, and give notice of his intention to propose a clause on bringing up the report.

said, there had been no understanding upon the subject but what the Committee was fully in possession of. He had distinctly stated on the second reading that he had no objection to the principle of the Bill, so far as it related to the removal of technicalities standing in the way of the due and proper exercise of the franchise. This proposed Amendment, however, went further than that; it extended the franchise to parties who at present had no right to it, and as that was not within, the scope of the Bill, as it was originally understood, he should oppose it; but he hoped that course would be obviated by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets withdrawing the Amendment.

said, the hon. Gentleman had correctly stated the object of the Bill, and all that the proposed Amendment would do was to declare what was the meaning of particular words in the Reform Act. With the distinct understanding, however, that hereafter there would be no objection to the introduction of a Bill to accomplish the object which the Amendment had in view, he would readily withdraw it.

Amendment withdrawn.

said, the tendencies of three parties out of four in that House were to extend the franchise; and as the noble Lord at the head of the Government had stated that he would bring the subject forward next Session, he (Lord R. Grosvenor) thought it would tend to economise the time of the House if this Bill, and also the measure proposed by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King), were withdrawn altogether, and that they should postpone these questions altogether until next year, when a measure would be brought forward on the responsibility of the Government.

said, the proposition of the noble Lord was, that the House was to do nothing, and that they were to wait for the Government doing something. Now, they had no security that the noble Lord at the head of the Government would bring forward any measure next year; and he hoped that the House would not accede to the proposition of the noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor) to drop this measure.

hoped that the accusation which had been brought against him, of being opposed to the extension of the suffrage, would be considered as neutralised by the support which he was about to give to the Bill. At the same time, he thought that the effect of the measure would be greatly to facilitate the manufacture of fictitious voters who had no regular connexion with the constituencies at all. It had indeed been shown that this took place to a considerable extent under the present system; and he thought they ought not to encourage the intrusion of such foreign influence. The people of Birmingham would not like a wholesale importation of Manchester men but the effect of this Bill would be to bring into Southwark or Lambeth a number of persons who did not belong to it, but who only took lodgings of a sufficient amount to satisfy the requirements of the law. He did not think that sufficient precautions were taken to ascertain whether the claimants actually resided in the borough in which they claimed to vote; and he did not think that would be sufficiently provided for by leaving it to the revising barrister's court. If the scheme of the hon. Baronet were adopted, the franchise might be obtained by lodgings in a borough on a particular day. He proposed to insert these words in the clause, "In case the claimant himself should pay the rates." That, he admitted, would not be an adequate safeguard; still, it would be adequate sort of security against the unjust inroads on the privileges of others proposed by this Bill.

said, the very object of this Bill was to prevent those persons whose rates were compounded from being obliged, if they desired to be on the Register, to pay the rates themselves. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Newdegate) had better at once openly admit that he was entirely opposed to the Bill. Not one single franchise would be gained by the people if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman were adopted.

said, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire was under a misconception in supposing that any number of persons had taken lodgings in the borough of Lambeth to qualify themselves to vote at the last election.

explained that his intention was to prevent such abuses as had been carried on in the borough of Lambeth; and having drawn attention to the subject, he did not wish to press the Amendment.

Amendment withdrawn.

It was notorious that the last election for the borough of Lambeth resulted in the turning out of the hon. Member for Kinsale (Mr. Hawes), and the seating of the Solicitor for London, Mr. Charles Pearson, owing to the circumstance of there having been placed on the Register a number of persons qualified only by being lodgers, and by having compounded for the payment of rates with householders. There was no society in the borough of Lambeth for expunging the names of such parties from the Register. Thousands of such persons were on the Register at the election which took place in 1847.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2.

said, he would for the present strike out the clause altogether, with the view of its being reintroduced on the bringing up of the report. The first clause had been so much altered that he considered this course necessary, with the view of giving him time to consider what would be the effect of those alterations before he asked the House to adopt the second clause.

said, the hon. Baronet had asked the House to deal with his measure in a very irregular manner. Would it be a convenient course to discuss an important portion of the Bill on the bringing up of the report?

Clause struck out; Preamble agreed to; House resumed.

Bill, as amended, to be considered Tomorrow.