, in rising to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, said, he had taken that course in accordance with the old constitutional maxim, that it is meet and fitting before granting any Supply the grievances of the people should first find utterance. He did not bring the subject forward in the spirit of party. The matter was too grave, and the interests of his constituents were too deeply involved; and he would not forego the support he expected to receive from the other side of the House by treating the question in a party spirit. He wished the House, if possible, to emerge for a time from the murky region of mere party politics into a serener and purer atmosphere, and impartially to consider what could best be done in this case for the public good. His constituents justly complained that the rash and inconsiderate legislation of last Session had been productive of great inconvenience, much discomfort, and positive 1894 loss to them; and at a public meeting the Members were called upon at the earliest possible opportunity to procure the abolition of the rate-paying clauses of the Reform Act. This was no question of mere local interests; it was one of Imperial importance. Public meetings were held and protests made in every direction—north, south, east, and west. Meetings were held at Manchester, Birmingham, Macclesfield, Leeds, Wigan, Walsall, Sunderland, Salisbury, Ashton, Norwich, and many other places. The hon. Member read extracts from the resolutions adopted at several of these meetings. They were all strongly condemnatory of the abrogation of the compounding system, pointing out the cruel and disastrous consequences to occupiers, and the incalculable trouble now entailed on guardians, as well as on overseers and collectors, by the rating and rate-paying clauses in "The Representation of the People Act, 1867." According to the Official Returns he found that there were 192 Parliamentary cities and boroughs where, under the Small Tenements Act, or by special local Acts, the owners had compounded for and paid the rates instead of the occupiers. The total number of male occupiers under £10 in those 192 cities and boroughs who were injuriously affected by the fourth section of the third clause of the new Reform Act was 476,593, and there were besides in Parliamentary boroughs dwelling-houses to the number of 98,598, of which the owners, by agreement with the parochial authorities and the occupiers, paid the Poor-rate without any commutation or deduction. In Brighton there were 1,236 dwelling-houses for which no composition was made but by agreement with the parochial authorities, and for the convenience of the occupiers, the owners paid the rates. Such houses were generally let at from 8s. to 8s. 6d. per week—that was to say, from £20 16s. to £23 8s. per annum. According to the latest return of the Poor Law Board, the total number of male occupiers in the Parliamentary cities and boroughs of England and Wales was 1,367,025. The practical deduction he drew from these figures was that more than one-third of the borough electors of England and Wales were most vexatiously disturbed in their social arrangements by this new statute with regard to rating. In fact, including female occupiers, quite 700,000 of his fellow-countrymen and countrywomen, because they chanced to live in Parliamentary cities 1895 and boroughs, were either mulcted, grievously inconvenienced, or injured to suit the supposed exigencies of a political and party struggle. At the same time he could not disguise from himself that the very multitude of that number was the best evidence of their power to compel—of course by constitutional means—the speedy removal of the obnoxious clauses in the last Reform Act. The fitness of a man to vote at the election of a Member of Parliament should depend, not upon the personal payment of rates, but upon the registered residence and settled occupancy of the voter. The best part of the ill-fated Bill of 1866 was that which proposed to abolish the rate-paying clauses of the old Reform Act, and Parliament ought not to have limited the rights of the people by imposing such restrictions upon their voting as were contained in the Bill of last year. Nothing, he knew, was so utterly unfashionable as to speak of the ancient rights of the people; and in the People's House the practice was well nigh obsolete. It was not always so. He ventured to think Parliament had no more right to require as a qualification to vote that an elector should have paid his poor-rate than to insist that he should have first paid his butcher's or baker's bill. Upon this point a former Prime Minister—the first Marquess of Lansdowne—had well said that—The people of England have, and always had, an unalienable, indefeasible right to equal representation in their fullest extent, and upon a stronger ground than any Act or Acts of Parliament.It had been said by the Prime Minister that it was premature to impugn the arrangements which were unanimously agreed to by Parliament so recently as last year; but he denied that there was any approach to unanimity upon the question at the time that the obnoxious clauses were passed. Had hon. Members already forgotten the confused and entangled condition in which that House had become involved when the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) appeared upon the scene as the Deus ex machinâ, and brought forward his Amendment for the purpose of solving the perplexing problem? The House should recollect that the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, declaring that the occupier should be entitled to vote, whether the occupier or the landlord were rated for the relief of the poor, was rejected by 310 against 289, and that the 1896 Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham, affirming that the compound-householder should be allowed to pay the commuted instead of the full rate, was rejected by a majority of 66. Therefore, instead of there having been anything like unanimity of feeling upon this question, there was the greatest divergence of opinion expressed upon it, and it was only because it was supposed to be utterly hopeless to induce the Committee to reverse those decisions which fixed, as an indispensable qualification for the borough franchise, the "personal payment of full rates" by every voter. And thus it happened that the clauses were allowed to pass without a division. The borough he represented had been peculiarly affected by those clauses, for, out of a total population of 100,000, only fourteen of the persons enfranchised under them had previously been personally rated. Anticipating an objection that had already been taken by the Prime Minister, in his reply to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton)—namely, that no complaints as to the hardships resulting from those clauses had reached the Government, he reminded the House that a petition had been presented at the commencement of the Session by the Colleague of that right hon. Gentleman, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord Stanley), complaining that in his own borough the collectors of poor rates had experienced the utmost difficulty in collecting the rates levied on the small occupiers, and had, in fact, found it wholly impossible to obtain payment in numerous instances where they would be absolutely irrecoverable, and that that portion of the parochial expenditure which should in fairness be contributed by cottage property as hitherto, would ultimately fall upon the tenants of larger occupations in the parish, and praying for a repeal of the rating clauses in the Reform Act of last year and a return to the system of compounding which had worked so well for the last forty-three years at King's Lynn. Although the members of the official hierarchy—the dwellers in the Olympian regions, as they had been called by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli)—might not take cognizance of what appeared in the ordinary sources of information—the metropolitan and provincial journals—he could not overlook the fact that, from the information that was always received by the Poor Law Board, they must have become aware of the inconvenience and oppression which 1897 had resulted from the policy they had pursued. He would now refer to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister at Edinburgh. He heard a hon. Gentleman near him (Mr. Roebuck) exclaim, "Oh, Lord!" He could assure the House that he had not the most remote intention of alluding to what had been discussed in "another place," where the extra-Parliamentary utterance of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) had infused unwonted liveliness and vivacity into proceedings generally dignified, but ordinarily very, very slow. The right hon. Gentleman said—I speak of an animal not known in Scotland, and, thank God, no longer known in England—the compound-householder. The compound-householder is a being who wants to vote without paying rates.That expression of pious thankfulness happened unluckily not to be justified by the fact, because the compound-householder still existed in some Parliamentary boroughs, and was still in full possession of his rights. He held in his hand a letter in which the writer stated that in some metropolitan and country parishes it had been the custom to make an annual rate, and to divide it into four collections. All compound-householders had to pay the rates comprised in the same yearly assessment, and compounding would extend in some cases to Midsummer, and in others even to next Michaelmas. It appeared, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) entirely forgot that the poor rates were prospectively assessed. He could scarcely account for the aversion—he felt almost disposed to say the rancour—which the right hon. Gentleman exhibited towards the unfortunate compound-householder. The compound-householder was not responsible for his own existence; he was the legitimate offspring of Parliament, and it was only when his parent became very fantastic and very prejudiced—some even went the length of saying very tyrannical or stupid—and turned him out-of-doors, that his cry went forth. He, for one, thought that the hapless compounder had much to complain of in the conduct of his hard-hearted and pitiless parent. Like the whipping boy who, in mediæval times, bore the punishment which was merited by children "born in the purple," this unhappy individual was made to suffer for the blunders and the ignorance of his unnatural parent. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was not even original 1898 in his abuse, nor the first to characterize the compounder as an animal, for Mr. Dudley Baxter, in a communication to the leading journal about this time last year, wrote—I would endeavour to throw some light upon the natural history of that anomalous and portentous animal the compound-householder.Mr. Baxter had treated the compounder as a social leper, and had, he was afraid, inoculated his patron, the Prime Minister, with his own rabid hatred of that class of householders. The House well knew that Mr. Baxter was a partner in the legal firm which, in preference to the highly efficient and well - remunerated servants of the Crown, was employed in the concoction of the abortive Reform Bill of 1859, as well as that of last year by the present Prime Minister. Last Session he (Mr. J. White) pointed out that in 1859, Messrs. Baxter, Rose, and Co. were paid £3,608 17s. 2d. for collecting Electoral Statistics, not one figure of which was ever laid on the table of the House. He trusted such exceptional—if not exceptionable—expenditure would never again be sanctioned by Parliament. Mr. Baxter attributed the birth of the compounder to an Act passed in 1819, but there was abundant evidence to show that he existed in many large parishes long prior to that date. Now, he would read the following passage from the excellent pamphlet published by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre), entitled The Personal Payment of Rates, in explanation of the origin and in justification of the enactment and general adoption of the statute known as the "Small Tenements Act:"—In 1843, in the Report on Local Taxation by the Poor Law Commissioners, who were then Sir George Nicholls, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and Sir Edmund Head, it was stated that a very large amount of property escaped the poor rate, causing a great loss to the parish, and throwing a greatly increased burden upon the owners of other property. 'The owners of small properties in towns universally understand the interest they have in making the tenancy such that the rate cannot be with any degree of certainty obtained from the occupiers, for the uncertainty in obtaining the rate generally begets a practice of omitting the property altogether, or at least not enforcing the liability with strictness. The practical exemption from rates, which is more or less the result, is immediately converted into a means of obtaining an increase of rent equivalent to the exemption, a process, which, in fact, amounts to this, that the real taxpayers, in respect to one class of property, pay, besides their own contributions, an additional tax for the purpose of adding exactly the amount of that additional tax to the rent 1899 taken by the owners of the other class of property.' They add that weekly tenants never can be made to pay the rates.In consequence of that Report the Small Tenements Act was passed. No exception was taken to it in either House of Parliament; but the regret was expressed that it should not have been made compulsory instead of permissive. He found there were 11,677 parishes in England and Wales, and the compounding system had been adopted by more than one-half that number. The right hon. Gentleman (the First Lord of the Treasury) had told them, on an interesting occasion lately, that he had been a Member of that House thirty-one years, nearly half his life, and with all respect he would ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) whether during that long period he had ever raised his potential voice against this detestable system of compounding, whether he had ever done anything to prevent the increase of that dangerous class whose continued existence was now discovered to be fatal to the British Constitution? In spite of the abhorrence with which the compounder was regarded by some in high places, he could say on the authority of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) that several parishes had, even since it was so recently abolished in Parliamentary boroughs, adopted a system of compounding. On the authority of the very intelligent and thoroughly practical Clerk of the Guardians at Brighton, Mr. Alfred Morris, he was able to state that the system had worked well there; and, speaking generally, the whole of his experience tended to strengthen his conviction that compounding had proved singularly advantageous to the parishes, and he believed to the people also. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) had further remarked at Edinburgh that the compounder was a being who wished to vote without paying his rates. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire had described the compounding system as a device of Old Nick to extort money from the Poor. How could these two views be reconciled? One made out that the compounder paid nothing, the other that he paid more than was due. Lord Ellenborough had ruled on this very question of compounding in the case of "Rex v. Bradford," in the Court of King's Bench—That we must judge of things as they really are, and not as they appear to be; therefore, we are to consider whether this be not one entire rent 1900 of one entire subject, though artificially divided into several payments.He commended this decision to the present Prime Minister, in the hope that it would lead him to revise the judgment of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer at Edinburgh. So much obloquy had been cast upon the compounder, that anyone would think composition was foreign to English law. As a matter of fact, however, it was a long recognized practice. The Act 1 & 2 Vict., c. 169 (The Irish Tithe Composition Act) is an instance in point, recited that it was—A reasonable allowance for the greater facility and security of collection arising out of the transfer from occupiers to owners.That Act, which substituted rent-charges in lieu of previous compositions of tithe in Ireland, allowed—A rebate or reduction of 25 per cent, id est, a rent-charge equal to three-fourths of the amount of previous composition for tithes;so that it was a reduction of 25 per cent after commutation had already been made. In fact, the Irish landlords were but great compounders. Then, in the case of the income tax, as everyone knew, an abatement of £60 was allowed before calculating the tax on incomes below £200. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) had told them on a previous occasion that, under the 133rd clause of the Income Tax Act, persons with fluctuating incomes might pay three-eighths less than they might otherwise be called on to pay, while rich merchants might escape half the amount ordinarily paid. It would seem that the tendency of our legislation was strongly in favour of compositions. Now he would put it to the House whether this was the right time to single out and insist that the working classes who paid a commuted rate should be deprived of the rights of citizenship, especially as the working classes paid so much more taxation than any other class of Her Majesty's subjects, while the luxuries of the rich remained comparatively exempt from taxation. He felt warmly on this point, because he believed the working classes paid very much more than their fair share of the total taxation, on account of their home comforts and little luxuries being so highly taxed. In this he felt sure he would be borne out by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone). The lower classes were amerced to the extent of more than a 10 per cent income tax; and the clauses in the Reform Act of which he complained would 1901 operate so hardly on the working classes that, if annoyance were taken into account, the infliction would be quite equal to the direct imposition exclusively upon them of £1,000,000 of taxation. They had been told by apologists for the rating clauses that the tenant was at liberty to deduct the full amount of rate from his rent; but what would be the consequence if he attempted to do so? Notice to quit. Dr. Franklin had said truly, three removals were as bad as a fire. [Mr. SANDFORD: Hear!] It was a proved fact that a tenant, whose landlord had formerly compounded, now paid much more in rent and taxes than he did formerly in rent and compounded rates. It was undeniable that he did now pay more than the legitimate increase of charge against him consequent on the abolition of compounding. The change bore especially hard on widows and other females, who had not even the privilege of voting as compensation for the trouble and expense. He could give heart-rending instances of the cruel way in which the Act operated as regarded poor women, especially those who earned their livelihoods by keeping small shops. Nothing more intolerably vexatious, annoying, and oppressive to 600,000 or 700,000 male and female occupiers could be conceived, than that they should be hampered, incommoded, and deprived of their rights unless they submitted to be mulcted according to law. It was outrageous that the domestic interests of such a vast mass of their fellow-countrymen and countrywomen should thus be sacrificed to preserve the fanciful consistency of a section of the governing classes. Would not our new masters, who, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) had yet to learn their letters, feel dissatisfied when they found that the same Parliament which had stopped a great metropolitan improvement at the behest of a noble Duke, had not hesitated, without inquiry or consideration, to pass an Act entailing upon so many of their own class annoyance and misery? Would not the new voters think that those who had hitherto dealt in legislation for the working classes, knew very little of, or cared still less for, their interests? Upon the register at Brighton there were 500 compounders who, if they wished to exercise their privilege of voting, it might be, once in four years, for a Member of Parliament, would have to pay annually from 30s. to £2 each. But that was far from being the only hardship. The population 1902 of Brighton was 100,000, and of these the inhabitants rated numbered 15,000, those who were fully rated being 8,500 in number, and the residue of compounders 6,500. Some 500 compounders, now on the register, would have to pay, as he had already stated, 30s. to £2 per annum if they continued as voters, and some 2,560 (barring lodgers) who might become voters, were all compounders, except about a score, and they would have to pay 6d. per week for the privilege of a vote. The last poor rate in Brighton was at the rate of 2s. in the pound; under the old system this would have produced £2,000 from compounders alone, but under the new system, while double that amount—namely, £4,000—would be demanded, only £1,000 was expected to be realized; that was to say, half the amount obtained under the old system. The result, therefore, must be to impose upon all who could pay an additional rate of 2d. in the pound. The Reform Act of last year declared that the franchises thereby created were to be in addition to, and not in substitution of, those previously existing. But it would be a very unpleasant surprise to the 500 Brighton compounders to discover that this so-called addition to their privileges involved an addition to their annual taxation of 30s. to £2 a head. It had been said by a noble Lord in "another place" that the taxes must be collected weekly with the rent, inasmuch as the working classes were not provident enough to lay by money to meet the quarter or half-year's rate. But he wished to ask in what way the governing classes had trained or educated the humbler classes to habits of foresight in meeting taxation. Instead of accustoming them to direct payment of taxes, our fiscal policy had consisted in a kind of stealthy abstraction of revenue by taxing beer, tea, sugar, and other articles of daily consumption. The working classes had been taught to mix up the cost of food and drink, and Government, moreover, had been compelled to pay the excessive cost of that bad mixture; indeed, the habit of not putting by had been engendered and fostered in them by our fiscal policy and the spirit of our own absurd legislation. The poor rate had been chosen by Government as the basis of the franchise, probably because it had been also adopted in the first Reform Bill; but he did not accept that as a sufficient reason, for it was a tax grossly unequal in its incidence. He had read a complaint in a Conservative journal from a 1903 country clergyman, who had to pay, upon an income of £210, poor rate to the amount of £30 6s. annually, while a neighbour of his, the happy possessor of £20,000 a year, renting a house and grounds, did not pay any greater amount of poor rate. The modern operation of the poor rate was certainly at variance with the spirit of the statute of Elizabeth, which assessed every inhabitant according to his ability to pay. True it was that by our modern legislation it had come to pass that it was not the rich, but mainly the poor, who now supported the poor. Look at the poor rates in the metropolis alone. In the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, they were only 6¼d. in the pound; in St. Georges-in-the-East they were 3s. 2¼d; in the rich district of Paddington they were only 4d. in the pound, while in the poor district of Bethnal Green they were close upon 3s. The number of summonses for non-payment of poor rates which it had been found necessary to issue in a single district of the metropolis under the late Act amounted to 6,000. At Brighton the guardians had determined not to apply to the magistrates to issue summonses till they had inquired into every individual case; but he need not point out to the House what enormous labour and difficulty were involved in such a proceeding. He might be told that Government, recognizing this emergency, had consented to the appointment of a Committee; but he had no superstitious reverence for Parliamentary Committees, for generally speaking, if he knew the names of the Members, he could tell what decision they were likely to arrive at. In the present case inquiry was altogether unnecessary; they had enough and to spare of overwhelming facts. As had been observed by a noble Lord in "another place"—The Act undoubtedly had not been long enough in force to enable them to judge of its full effect; but, from what they had seen already of its vexatious operation, God forbid that they should ever witness its full effect.After the discussions which had taken place upon the Reform Bill last year, it certainly was surprising that it did not include any provision requiring personal payment of rates; and, further, that the object for which the Liberal party had striven so hard—namely, to protect the new voters from having a fine levied upon them—remained wholly unaccomplished. He hoped the Government would take that fact into their consideration, and accede to the Resolution with which he meant to conclude. 1904 The Parliamentary experience of the Prime Minister must have long since taught and consoled him that legislators, like the rest of mankind, according to Fontenelle, only settle into the right course after passing through and exhausting all the varieties of error. If in the inevitable and early revision of their Act, the Government would consent to incorporate his Amendment, he rightly interpreted the sentiments of his constituents, and he believed the generous feelings of a vast mass of his fellow-countrymen when he said that they would in that case gladly consent to forgive and forget the enormous blunder committed last Session in making a great political measure become the means of interfering with the home comforts, the social and economical arrangements, of a struggling, a loyal, and a patriotic people.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that so much of the Reform Act of 1867 as makes occupiers liable for Poor Rates instead of owners, in respect of premises to which the system of compounding had been applied, ought to be repealed; that the name of every occupier ought to be put on the rate book, and that payment of rates by the owner, under the compounding system, ought to be deemed payment by the occupier and entitle him to the Franchise,"—(Mr. James White,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHARLES FORSTER
, in seconding the Amendment, expressed a hope that it would be carried to a division, in order that they might be able to ascertain the real opinion of the House upon the question with which it dealt. In a single evening last Session, and without previous discussion, the House had abrogated a system of compounding which had been the growth of many years of careful legislation, under which property had been made to bear its fair burden, and which, without oppression to the poorer classes, had provided the parochial authorities with a convenient and economical mode of collection. The change thus suddenly introduced had created a spirit of bitter antagonism between landlord and tenant, had entailed additional burdens upon the class least able to bear them, and had also involved the parochial authorities in endless difficulty and increased expense. The case of Brighton, 1905 which the hon. Member for that borough (Mr. White) had so lucidly described to the House, was the case of East London, of Leicester, of Norwich, and, indeed, of most places affected by the late alteration of the law. He had only the other day called upon the rate collector of the borough with which he was connected (Walsall), and had learnt from him with dismay that in the case of 2,000 of the inhabitants they must either be excused on the ground of poverty, or proceeded against by law—many of these sufferers were already little above the level of pauperism themselves. The system tended to increase pauperism—many of those humble people who by great sacrifices had managed to pay the first rate being now in the receipt of parish relief. Numbers of the poorer ratepayers, in their distress, were seen carrying their small bundles to the pawnbrokers, to obtain in exchange for them the means of satisfying the claim of the collector. Magistrates had, no doubt, shown great consideration in dealing with the cases of non-payment brought before them; but they could not excuse the parties except on the ground of absolute poverty, and where that did not exist they could only grant an extension of time. Small occupiers, who had heretofore been accustomed to pay rates in the form of a slight addition to their weekly rent, were wholly unable to meet the demand now made directly on them for the full amount of the rates in one sum. Under the old system the authorities could calculate with accuracy the amount that would be realized by the rates; but that certainty now no longer existed, and the result was that in many places much higher rates were levied than were really wanted. The cost of collection had materially increased, and it was stated that in Salford, where under the compounding system 97½ per cent of the rates used to be collected, it was expected that only 85 per cent could be realized in future, while in the same place the increased cost of collection under the new system was £500. Hitherto the parochial authorities had confined their action to the issuing of summonses; but when they began to distrain the goods of these poor ratepayers, as must speedily be the case, the agitation and excitement caused by the grievous wrong and cruelty inflicted on them would far exceed anything that had yet been witnessed. It was his belief that the propositions which were made in previous Sessions for a £6 rental would have been an 1906 infinitely more acceptable franchise to the working classes than household suffrage, accompanied by the present vexatious and irritating restrictions.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that anyone who had listened to the remarks of the hon. Members for Brighton and Walsall (Mr. White and Mr. C. Forster) must feel that they were fully justified in bringing the grievances of their constituents under the consideration of the House before the House was allowed to go into Committee of Supply. If therefore he did not entirely concur in the conclusions which those hon. Members had invited the House to, it was not because he did not sympathize with the object they had in view; for, indeed, his own constituents were undergoing sufferings, vexations, and annoyances greater, perhaps, than those of the constituencies of Brighton and Walsall. Before the commencement of this Session he, (Mr. Ayrton) had been compelled to consider what he ought to do in order to redress the grievances of which his constituents complained. Now, he wished to remind the House that the propositions made last Session were not two only, but several. One emanated in the first instance from the Government. Then came the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and another from his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert). He also made a proposition himself, and one or two more were brought before the House. All these propositions, however, met with an untimely fate. Even the Government proposal was in the end withdrawn, and after the subject had been very much bandied about and canvassed in the House, the Government at last made a proposition, which was finally adopted, and to which he only succeeded in adding one slight Amendment. All these matters were forced upon the consideration of the House by the extreme difficulty of super-adding to a system of household suffrage a household ratepaying suffrage. Eventually it was unanimously agreed to abolish a system of composition in boroughs, though it was certainly true that the House did not arrive at the conclusion by the ordinary road of unanimity of opinion. That conclusion was owing, in the first instance, to the simple proposition of his right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire being rejected by a considerable majority—a proceeding which drove those who held the same views as the right hon. Gentleman to fall back upon the total abolition of 1907 composition as the only mode of extricating the Reform Bill from the difficulties into which it was then plunged. The right hon. Gentleman the Lender of the House met the proposal for total abolition by a statement to the effect that he not only approved such a course, but had always been of opinion that it was the right way of treating the question, though he had not himself proposed it because he was not sure it would meet the approval of the hon. Gentlemen opposite to him. When this determination was arrived at the difficulties attendant upon the sudden abolition of the system were not foreseen in all their magnitude. Hence arose various experiments and suggestions to meet those difficulties; and he thought everyone must admit that the House did deal with the subject in a somewhat hasty manner and on imperfect information. He felt, however, that it was quite impossible for an individual Member to undertake the task of proposing a measure which would in any way interfere with the Act of last Session; and therefore it appeared to him that, as the Government were not prepared to take up the subject, the only course open to an individual Member was to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the effect of the Act. Accordingly, he moved for a Committee in the most general terms, in order that they might be at liberty to inquire into any difficulty that might arise. The Committee had met to-day, and had agreed to take up, as its first topic of investigation, the operation of the Act of last Session. Having taken this practical step to obtain redress for the constituents of many boroughs, he thought it would be rather premature to come at once to a Resolution pledging the House to the exact mode of dealing with so difficult a question. The only satisfactory mode of presenting the subject ultimately for the vote of the House would be by introducing a Bill containing definite provisions for the amendment of the law. People very often spoke of the justice of rating the owner instead of the occupier under the Compounding Acts; but he wished to point out that in the language of those Acts the "owner" was not the "owner" as popularly understood, but a personage extremely difficult to define. He believed indeed, that all the special Composition Acts and also the General Acts on the subject contained different definitions of the word "owner." In some cases he was a mere agent for the collection of the rates; in another he was 1908 not the owner at all, but the real occupier. The whole question of composition resolved itself into two distinct elements. One was the element of simply rating the person called the owner, in order to insure the collection of the rates; and to this was superadded another not necessarily connected with it—namely, whether the person called the owner should be allowed to pay a different rate, either in amount or quality, from that which is paid by the person who is called the occupier. In the end, perhaps the conclusion may be arrived at, that the people called "owners" should be rated; but it by no means follows that because they are put on the rate book they ought to pay a different kind of rate from that paid by the ordinary occupiers of property. If they stood in the place of the occupiers, it might, perhaps, be thought that they ought to pay the same quota as the occupiers. Then this complication was not limited to the poor rate; but in the metropolis, Brighton, and other towns, it extended to other rates, such as those for paving, lighting, and cleansing. He believed that, by considering the subject in a Committee upstairs, they might arrive at a conclusion which would maintain the fundamental principles of the Act of last Session, whilst providing for the fair and honest collection of the rates. As Chairman of the Committee which had been appointed, he would not say anything as to the course they were likely to take; but he thought the best plan to be adopted would be not to pass the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton, but to examine the question fully, and then the duty of the Government would be to propose to Parliament such measures as would relieve the community of the difficulties and embarrassments which arose out of the clause in the Reform Act that formed the basis of complaint. He wished to say one word in defence of the Committee. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton said that the moment he had read the names of the Committee, he knew the conclusion at which they would arrive. [Mr. WHITE: I spoke generally.] He presumed that when a Gentleman made a particular remark, he had some particular object, however rapidly he might slide into the universal. His hon. Friend saw much further than he could pretend to do. The Committee was composed of what he might call all the elements of discord, in order that there might be no objection on the part of the House to accept the conclusion 1909 at which they might arrive. He confessed he was unable to say what that conclusion would be. He believed the Committee had been fairly selected from both sides of the House; and, under these circumstances, he would not commit himself to any Resolution pending the inquiry by the Committee.
§ MR. DIXON
said, he did not think it was necessary to await the result of the inquiry by the Select Committee before coming to a decision with reference to the principle involved in the Resolution. He believed that there were hon. Members who could give the Government and the House information that would enable them to form a decided opinion on the matter. He hoped the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) would go to a division, in order to test the feeling of the House on this rating question. If hon. Members connected with compounding boroughs were to give to the House the information they had received upon the subject, detailed information before a Committee would be unnecessary. He would himself state some facts with respect to Birmingham. That town comprised two whole parishes and a portion of a third, in all of which compounding Acts had existed. The parish of Birmingham contained about two-thirds of the population of the whole town. In that parish there were last year about 16,000 ratepayers, including compounding landlords; but by the operation of the Act of last year that number had been increased by 38,000, making a total of 54,000. The rate was made last October, and should have been collected by the commencement of this year; but he was informed about ten days ago by some of the parish officials that 4,000 of the ratepayers would apply by circulars furnished to them to be excused from the payment of the rate. Besides those a large number would have to be summoned before the magistrates, who would also have to be excused wholly or partially the payment of the rate. The change had involved such an amount of work that six additional assistant overseers were required to do the work; but owing to a difference of opinion among the law officers of the different authorities who were consulted, the parish was unable to appoint a sufficient staff of officers, and consequently the collection of the rate was delayed. A further difficulty would result from this. When a succeeding rate was granted it was usual to close the books of the preceding rate, and the uncollected amounts 1910 were treated as arrears; but the trouble that would be involved under the new law, would be such as the officers were unable to calculate. And seeing that the parish officers had not been able from want of sufficient collectors to collect the rate it was doubtful whether legally the second rate could be collected. The additional expense to the town of Birmingham for the present year was estimated at £3,000, which sum capitalized represents a fine of £80,000—a rather large payment to inflict on one borough as the additional cost of collecting the rate, merely because the Imperial Parliament had chosen to make this question of rating a political question. Soon after the difficulties of collecting the rate became apparent the overseers called a meeting of landlords, and suggested that they should pay the usual compounding amount, and that the balance should be collected from the tenants, but the former declined to accede to that proposition, though they made another—namely, that they would allow it to those tenants who punctually paid their rents, but not to those who were in arrears; an arrangement by which the landlords would be the gainers. There were in Birmingham 400 policemen and a large number of letter carriers, and these being civil servants were not allowed to vote, yet the rate was claimed from them the same as from the voters. The compounding in the borough amounted on an average to 50 per cent of the rate, and therefore that additional amount of burden had been thrown on a very industrious class of the public service. Besides these, several thousand widows and female occupiers in Birmingham would have to bear these additional burdens without any corresponding beneficial result. Many of them let lodgings, and so occupied larger houses and paid heavier rates than would otherwise have been necessary, and as they presented a respectable appearance, the parish authorities did not consider themselves justified in excusing them the rate. In Birmingham, notwithstanding all deductions and all the distress, these rates would be remarkably well paid, and 30,000 or 40,000 voters would probably be added to the constituency there. But what would be the position of those voters? He believed that the rate imposed on them would amount to about 15s. each, which would be equivalent to additional taxation on these men of about £25,000 per annum; and taking the average duration of a Parliament at four years, the cost to the borough of Birmingham of 1911 a single exercise of the elective franchise would be £100,000. The Compound Householder Act and Small Tenements Act had worked beneficially, and being permissive Acts their operations were being greatly extended previous to the passing of the Reform Act of last Session. He contended that the small occupiers in the large boroughs would be unfairly and unjustly treated, and taxed much more in proportion than the richer voters, unless the rating provisions in the Act of last year were repealed. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), speaking the other night respecting the inequality of local taxation, stated that the smaller occupiers, when they paid the same rate as the larger occupiers, did in reality pay, in proportion to their incomes, double the amount of the larger occupiers. If that be true, the compounding system—the effect of which was to reduce the proportion of the rate paid by the smaller occupiers—would restore the working-man to a level with the rich man in that respect, and would remove a great injustice. There were no doubt difficulties in the case; but that was no reason why justice should not be done to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, and especially the poorer classes. If this were made a party question the feeling against those who voted against the Resolution would be strong, deep, and lasting, and would by no means be of advantage to them at the next election. He appealed to the justice, and, if necessary, to the fears of the House, not to separate without giving the poorer ratepayers some assurance that this very serious grievance under which they were labouring should be redressed.
said, that the hon. Member for Brighton's allusion to some remarks of his made in a former Session were founded on a total misconception of what he said. He trusted that the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White), and the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon), who dwelt on the inequality of assessment, would take an active part in trying to repeal the exemptions from rate enjoyed by stock in trade, so that the burden should not be left, as at present, on real property solely. If that were done, if the House returned to the just and equitable principle of the Act of Elizabeth, the means and substance both of Birmingham and of Brighton would be made to bear their share of taxation. The hon. Member had informed the House that 1912 4,000 of the poorer inhabitants of Birmingham were to be excused payment of their rates. [Mr. DIXON: It was expected they would be.] That was quite the same thing so far as his argument was concerned. The hon. Member said, the whole number rated was 54,000; so that was pretty nearly 12 per cent of the ratepayers. The system of compounding, then, made 12 per cent of the very poorest people pay rates, when otherwise they would not pay anything at all. Well, if they did not pay the rates, the burden must fall upon people immediately above them, whether under the system of compounding or not. He (Mr. Henley) never hinted that people should pay double, as the hon. Member seemed to think; but he said those who were living on parochial relief were excused, and payment was thrown upon the owners of that species of property. Did they think that would encourage the building of houses for that class of persons? He did not think it would; for if the burden were put upon them, it would infallibly discourage them. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) said, naturally enough, that if all those people were struck off, there would be, with the additional expense of collection, a heavier rate from the richer people. That was precisely what he thought would be right—namely, that the rich ought to pay, and not the poor. But they could not cut off those persons who came for the franchise because it bore hard on them, for they bore the hardship in common with everybody in the district. The hon. Member for Brighton spoke of a blunder having been committed, and advised them to forget and forgive; but how was it that the difficulty came about? The House would recollect that this was no proposal of the Government. They proposed something quite different; but everybody on the opposite side of the House with open mouth said, "Oh, you are not sincere; you don't mean the people to have household suffrage." Well, then, the Government naturally enough said, "You have no right to suspect our sincerity. Do away with compounding if you like, and let everybody have a vote." Well, that was done; and now those who taunted the Government with insincerity could not be loud enough in denouncing that which was absolutely necessary in consequence of the course they themselves took in charging the Government with insincerity. He recollected the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge) 1913 in particular saying that he was quite sure that nobody would claim the vote under the old system of compounding. Before the passing of the Reform Bill those who wanted a vote claimed to be rated. If they liked to vote they paid the rate, and if they did not they left it to the landlord to pay. What they ought to do now was to see what remedy could be applied. The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) took a very sensible course when he pointed out to the House the difficulties that surrounded this question, and he proposed to examine the whole matter in Committee, in order if possible to remedy the inconvenience, while they maintained the principle of last year. But the proposal of the hon. Member for Brighton would, if adopted, place it in the power of a landlord to disfranchise the whole of his tenants by omitting to pay the rate. Very queer things were attributed to landlords, and surely it could not be the intention of the hon. Member to place in the hands of a landlord, who perhaps had a thousand voters on his property, the power of disfranchising them or retaining them on the register by simply paying or withholding the payment of the rates. He had never himself been able to say that a man who had paid £6 or £7 was more fitted to vote than a man who paid £5 a year; and therefore he agreed in the principle so distinctly laid down in the Bill of last year, that a man who paid rates should vote, and the man who did not pay should not vote. If the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets could find out any method by which any inconvenience could be remedied, while the principle of the Bill was maintained, he would find no Member of the House more ready to give him assistance in remedying such inconvenience. He had pointed out one blot in the propositions of the hon. Member for Brighton, and there might be twenty others. So far as the very poor people were concerned, the fact was that the rates could not be collected from them at all; and if they could, the expense of collecting would be such as to render it not worth while to make the attempt. He also pointed out that the incidence of the rate did not fall upon the owners of any property except that which came within the Compounding Act, consequently only upon the owners of the poorest description of property. He hoped the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division, for if he did he must vote against it.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he wished to say a few words in reply to the right hon. Gentleman who had spoken last. He had said if they repealed the clause in the Reform Act which abolished composition they would give the landlords power, by the non-payment of rates, to disfranchise occupiers by the thousand; but the right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that under the law as it stood, if an agreement were made between the tenant and the landlord, the latter could, under the existing law, do just as the right hon. Gentleman said he would be able to do—although he doubted that—if this clause were repealed. Now, a long discussion had taken place last Session on the subject of notice, and it was shown that it would be incumbent on the overseer to give ample notice to the occupier as to any pending claims for rates. That being so, the occupiers could keep themselves on the register by paying the rates. He had himself put the question to the Attorney General whether occupiers would in this respect be in a worse position than they were before, and he informed the House they would not be placed in a worse position; they might claim to be rated as before. So that they need be under no apprehension that if this clause were repealed voters would be at the mercy of their landlords. Then, as regarded the system of composition as a means for securing the payments of rates by the poorest portion of the occupiers, it appeared to him that if they desired that the poorest occupiers should be relieved it ought to be done by Act of Parliament, and not be left to the discretion of magistrates or overseers. The present system ought not to be encouraged. He had a strong inclination to think that it would be wise to pass some measure by which the poorest might be relieved from the payment of rates; but they ought not to leave the matter to the discretion of parish officers. If that was so, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman as to the impolicy of composition fell to the ground. There was another kind of composition to which he desired to direct the attention of the House, under which the owner paid the rates where no composition existed. This system had also been abolished by the late Act, and he trusted that it would form one of the subjects of inquiry before the Committee presided over by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton). Formerly under this system an owner of a block of buildings would pay the rates 1915 for all his tenants; but under the existing law he was unable to do so except as agent for his tenants, every one of whom must be separately rated, by which the difficulty of collecting the rate was considerably increased. He did not wish to go into the whole subject of composition at the present time; but should prefer to wait before doing so until the Report of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets' Committee had been presented to the House.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he thought that it would be better for the subject to be inquired into in Committee than that the present Resolution should be agreed to. A question so deeply affecting the interests of one-third of the male occupiers of the country should not be left to the discretion of the vestries, who might use their power for political purposes. In 1850, before persons could vote it was requisite that they should be personally rated, and have paid their rates; but when the system of composition was introduced it was found that many persons who had previously paid rates and possessed votes were disfranchised by it. The following year, therefore, an Act was passed which enacted that payment by the landlord should be the same as payment by the tenant, and enabling the tenant, if he thought fit, to pay the rates himself. It was found, however, that the landlord might disenfranchise the tenant by neglecting to pay the rates. He trusted that the Report which the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets' Committee would present would be satisfactory, and that the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) would not now press his Resolution, but would consent to refer the subject of it to that Committee.
said, he also hoped the hon. Member for Brighton would not press his Resolution to a division, seeing that such a course would put many hon. Members into a position of considerably difficulty. In the first place, they had not yet had sufficient experience of the working of the new system, and therefore it would be premature for them to retrace the step taken last year by simply replacing the compound-householder in the position he occupied before the passing of the Reform Act of 1867. In towns where the rates were collected every half-year they had had no experience at all of the working of the new system, and in those places where they were collected every quarter they had only had that one quarter's experience. 1916 The small experience, however, that had been obtained from that one quarter showed that, although the difficulty of collecting the rates appeared very great at first, yet that now things were quieting down the new system was actually working better than the old one. He was willing to admit that Northampton was not a very large town; still it numbered 40,000 in habitants, and might be taken as a fair specimen of the working of the new system in a Parliamentary borough, in which compounding had existed to some extent before it was abolished by the Reform Act, and in which a considerable number of the inhabitants were small householders. The result of one quarter's experience of the working of the new system in Northampton was stated by the rate collectors to be that there was no difficulty in collecting the rates in full in two out of the four parishes into which the town was divided, and that in the other two parishes the arrears at the close of the rate were less than when compounding existed. That was a very remarkable fact—especially as the rate was made in October and ran into the following January, a period when it was difficult for the poorer classes to pay their rates. His correspondent, in order to test the question, had taken as examples 808 houses in the worst streets of the four parishes, upon which a full assessment of 1s. in the pound would produce £176 6s. 6d., while under the compound system (with its deduction of 50 per cent.) the value of the rate was £88 3s. 3d.; and last quarter the amount virtually received—compounding having been abolished—was £127 4s. 9d. That was a very remarkable fact. Then there was still owing, £23 16s.; excused, £18 13s. 3d.; and empty houses, £6 12s. 6d.: in all, £49 1s. 9d. As regarded the houses themselves, 586 had paid, 101 were in arrear, 88 were excused, and 33 were empty. Thus it appeared that under the new system the advantage to the parish was represented by the difference between £88 3s. 3d. and £127 4s. 9d., which was equal to £39 1s. 6d., or more than 40 per cent of the whole amount realized under the old system. He admitted that some drawback must be allowed for the cost of summonses to non-payers and for extra salaries to collectors; but against those expenses might be put the £23 16s. of arrears, some of which would, no doubt, be collected. What was wanted was some further experience, and he, for one, was not ready to affirm so strong a Resolution 1917 as that of the hon. Member for Brighton. If, as time went on, it was found that in the large populous towns the evil continued, he should be one of the first to come forward and vote for such a Motion. But the Act of last Session ought, he thought, to have a further trial.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, he hoped some Member of Her Majesty's Government would rise and tell the House what course they intended to take upon this question—whether they would adhere to the declaration which the Prime Minister made to him (Mr. Sandford) the other day, that he would resist any alteration, or whether the experience they had since obtained had induced the right hon. Gentleman to modify his opinion? The right hon. Gentleman was a great stickler for verbal accuracy; but he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was quite accurate in the account he gave of the proceedings with regard to this matter last year, when he stated that the abolition of the compounding system was unanimously agreed to. To that statement he must give his humble contradiction, because he himself and a number of other Gentlemen refused their assent. He supposed the right hon. Gentleman would hardly say that he was to be held as agreeing to every Motion upon which he did not divide the House. But he must remind the House that they on that (the Ministerial) side were summoned to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson); that they went to dinner at seven o'clock, and when they came back at nine they found that the whole case was given up. In all his experience, which was now not short, he had never seen the House so surprised—he might say so stunned—as it was on that occasion. It was hardly fair, therefore, for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Motion was unanimously agreed to, when it was well known in the Lobbies that if a division had been taken the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newark would have been rejected. The noble Lord who had just spoken said that the Act worked well in Northampton. The accounts he received from his constituents at Maldon were very different. The money could not be collected at all, and the expenses were every day going on. This was a state of things which demanded the immediate action of the Government. The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), who seemed to have a paternal affection for his Committee, said, "Wait 1918 till we have made our Report;" but he (Mr. Sandford) objected to the whole legislation being handed over, as the Government seemed inclined to do, to the action of Committees. The Committee of the hon. and learned Member would not be likely to report until the end of the Session, and if the dissolution of Parliament took place in February the General Election would be under the existing state of things. There had been two remedies proposed—one recommended by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) and supported by Lord Cairns in the other House. The other was made in the course of last Session by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), though the House did not think proper to listen to it. Thus after the 5th of July, when there could no longer be a question of the vote, the landlords should be made to pay the compound rate upon all those houses on which the rates remained unpaid. But he only asked for immediate action, and if it was to be a question whether the present state of things was to be continued, or the Motion now before the House to be adopted, he should certainly vote with the hon. Member for Brighton.
§ MR. EVANS
said, he had asked a question the other evening of the Attorney General on this subject, and from the answer he received he supposed the hon. and learned Member fancied that he (Mr. Evans) had some sinister object in view; but he could assure him such was not the case. He had reason to believe that there were parishes in the metropolis where the system of compound-householding was re-established, and he wanted to know from the Attorney General what would be the effect upon the political rights of the voters. The system, which he believed existed in Poplar and Bromley-le-Bow, was this—the landlord paid the rates as agent for the tenant, of course getting a receipt for the full rate; but then he was paid a percentage for his trouble, which went under the name of Commission. Now, the House had a right to know whether this was legal or not; whether it was in accordance with the Reform Act, and, whether the tenants who came under that system would be deprived of their votes? With regard to the general question, he thought the whole mischief had been caused by placing the elector's vote on the ground of rating instead of rental. In the present state of the question, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Northampton (Lord 1919 Henley) that it was undesirable to pass this Resolution before the Committee had reported.
§ MR. WARNER
said, that the hon. Members who had addressed the House had not exaggerated the evils of the present arrangement—evils so intolerable that a remedy must be found without delay. His constituents were among the greatest sufferers, and the burden was more than they could bear. The country could not afford to wait for the Report of the Committee. Sufficient light had already been thrown upon the matter to call for action. He was, however, unable to vote for the Resolution, because although the hon. Member for Brighton had fully made out the grievance, he was, he thought, mistaken in the remedy. He was unwilling to place in jeopardy the benefits which he anticipated from the Act of last year, and he advocated a larger and more liberal system of excusal, which it would hardly be possible to abuse for political purposes.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he did not intend to enter upon any lengthened discussion on the principles of the Reform Act which became law last year. But as the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) had asked the Government to state what their views were—which he thought were well ascertained already—he had only risen to give the information that as this Motion would not only repeal the compounding clauses of the Reform Act, but the whole principle of the Bill, it would, of course, be resisted by the Government. With respect to what took place last year, it was clear that the proposition of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) was accepted—he would not say by every one—but, at any rate, there was no division upon it; and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader on the other side of the House, said that if this proposition were adopted by the Government all serious opposition to the Bill on the part of himself and his Friends would at once cease. The principle of the Bill for which the Government had always contended was the payment of rates for which the tenant was personally liable, not that he should pay them with his own hand, but that he should be personally liable for them, and make them good if they were not paid. Now what was asked by the hon. Member for Brighton? He complained that there was great inconvenience in many of the large towns from the system adopted. That might be the case. It was impossible that such an in- 1920 terference should take place with the former habits of the people without causing some inconvenience. But it could be done in very populous places, for the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith) said that in Stockport, and it was the same also in Sheffield, they had always gone upon the principle of excusing those who were unable to pay the rates, but of collecting the rates from each occupier and making them personally liable. [Mr. J. B. SMITH: Hear, hear!] He was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Maldon, who had hitherto been in favour of checks with regard to the suffrage, say that he was prepared to accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton, unless the Government undertook some remedy. The Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton was household suffrage pure and simple, without any rating at all. [Mr. SANDFORD: I said I would vote for it in preference to the existing state of things.] The Government had never accepted that principle. And all this was because some little inconvenience had been experienced at the first working of the system, without waiting to see whether or not further experience would remove it. The noble Lord the Member for Northampton was more reasonable; he acknowledged that in his town the working of the plan had been easier than was anticipated. But the House had lately appointed a Committee to consider the whole question. Now, could anything be more unreasonable than to say that a system which they had sanctioned only a year before should be repealed, altering the whole character of the Act; but without any further experience of the Act than had been gathered in one or two large towns, and while a Committee was still in deliberation on its working? He thought the House would not stultify itself by the adoption of such a Motion as this, which, though very vague in some respects, would nullify the principle contained in the Bill of last year without any proved necessity.
said, that whatever need might arise at some period of the Session for a conflict between the various opinions upon this question, there was, in his opinion, no such necessity at present. He could not entirely agree to the retrospective part of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman; but at present he would trouble the House with no remarks either upon that or with reference to the manner in which his share and that of others in the events of last year had been misunderstood 1921 and misrepresented by a very impartial and distinguished, though not a very well informed person in "another place." Judging from the position of affairs in many parts of the country, the present Session could not be allowed to pass without some legislation on the matter. The old compounding system, he freely admitted, had many faults, and in some cases was made the vehicle of jobbery and corruption. Northampton, it was possible, had been one of those boroughs in which the system was so ill-constructed and so defectively applied that the change which had taken place had been an improvement. Be that as it might, he was convinced that the time must come when Parliament must take measures to restore the benefits, while avoiding the inconveniences of the compounding system. He accepted the proposal of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hodgkinson) last year, not as a good one in itself, but as a much smaller evil than that which otherwise impended; but it should be remembered that he recommended the House to turn its attention to the best means of retaining the advantages of the old system, and the matter could now be dealt with, apart from all political considerations, as a social and economical question. He was glad the subject had been brought forward, for he was anxious that the facts of the case should be represented by representatives of the different boroughs of the country, so that the House might arrive at an impartial decision upon it. The present discussion had shown that the matter was by no means a simple one; and while thinking it natural that the hon. Member for Brighton should have made a proposition aiming directly at the removal of the grievance, he thought the object in view would not be promoted by its being pressed at this moment. The House having only last year abolished compounding, the Government were entitled to know what was the general feeling on the subject, without being pressed for an immediate decision as to what course they would pursue. He trusted, however, that his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, who had not introduced the subject in any spirit of controversy, would not bring the question to an issue prematurely. It must have been apparent that the House was anxious to have the matter dealt with at as early a period as possible. In fact, it would not bear delay. Not a week ought to be wasted in the consideration of the subject; but it was not wasting 1922 a week to sanction a delay which would place the House in a position to decide as to the best remedy which could be applied. There was every reason to believe that the Committee which had been appointed would shortly bring that portion of its labours which referred to this subject to a conclusion, and the hon. Member for Brighton would, therefore, in his opinion, be serving his own cause by adjourning the consideration of the question for the present. He trusted that when the matter came fully before them they would deal with it solely with the view to securing to the people of this country as much convenience as possible, and to relieve them as far as they could from what was a great trouble; and in so doing they would cast aside all feelings of self-love or complacency connected with anything that might have occurred last year.
said, that after what had fallen from his right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, it would be the worst possible taste for him not to defer to the right hon. Gentleman's judgment. He therefore begged leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.