§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, 1300 said, the Government wished that the House should proceed with the Bill with a full knowledge of the Amendments to the clauses, and of the new clauses which he had placed upon the Paper since the introduction of the measure, and which would materially alter the character of the Bill. In the first place, the Government proposed to re-authorize the practice of compounding by permitting agreements between owners and overseers for the payment of rates, in consideration of a definite commission to be paid to the owners. It was also proposed that owners should make themselves primarily responsible for the rates, so that the collector might go to them in the first instance instead of to the occupiers. Another Amendment authorized compounding in the case of tenants paying quarterly, provided the houses occupied were under £10 in value if without the metropolitan area, and under £20 within it. These, the chief Amendments he had placed upon the Paper, would meet the objections to the Bill as it originally stood—that it would meet the case of weekly tenants only, and that the 25 per cent would not give sufficient leverage to overseers to induce owners to com-pound. A further objection had been raised that the Bill did not offer sufficient inducements to the owner to make him undertake to pay, and this was met by an Amendment proposing that 25 per cent should be paid only to those who took the responsibility of the rates entirely upon themselves. In this way the Government proposed to remedy the economic grievance arising from the abolition of compounding, which had turned out to be far greater than any one anticipated two years ago, when Parliament had to choose between composition for rates and an extension of the franchise; but they had been careful also to avoid the danger of Parliamentary disfranchisement, which the re-introduction of compounding under the existing state of the law of representation might involve. As soon as the overseers had no interest in placing the name of the occupier upon the rate book omissions by the thousand would possibly occur; it was, therefore, not enough to say the name of the occupier should be placed on the rate book, and that his right to the suffrage should not be affected by his landlord's paying the rates. Machinery must be provided for enforcing 1301 the action of the overseers in the matter. Before the Act of 1867 passed composition was practised in the case of 95,000 occupiers above the £10 line, but notwithstanding the facilities for bringing such householders on the register,, the names of only 25,000 found their way there. This being the case in respect of occupiers of houses above £10 in value, it was easy to imagine what would be the result in respect of occupiers of smaller tenements, a more shifting class, who would have move trouble in getting on the lists. It might be safely estimated that three-fourths at least of this class would not come upon the register if no further provision were made. The Government, therefore, recommended three provisions us straightforward as any ever put in a Bill for the protection of political rights. Checks were required in these cases. It was proposed, in the first place, that the owner should be lined the commission he would otherwise get. if he omitted to give a list of the tenants he compounded for to the overseers: in the second place, that the overseers should be fined 40s. for each name omitted from the register; and in the third place, that the occupier should be allowed to claim his right before the Revising barrister, and have his name placed upon the register, if these cheeks had not proved sufficient. These were generally additions to the Bill rather than Amendments to it. The House would remember that the main principle of the Bill as introduced was that weekly tenants should be allowed to deduct their rates from their rent; and this system remained, but composition could co-exist with it. In this way, he believed, the Act would redeem all just expectations raised respecting it as regards the political side of the question. He was bound to state what induced the Government to make in the Bill the important change which they now proposed. When his first introduced the measure he stated truthfully and loyally that the Government were endeavouring to effect this economical reform without reviving the debates on the Bill of 1867, and they were anxious to do so without touching any political or party questions. The Bill had been before the country for some time, and they had received communications from a vast number of local authorities. He had obtained information from almost every borough, in which 1302 composition had previously existed, and the opinion was almost unanimous that the Bill, as it stood, although a valuable step in the direction of easing the weekly occupier, did not offer the landlords sufficient inducement to come to those agreements between themselves and the overseers which were so universally desired. The Government had thought that the leverage of the reduction of the rent would be sufficient; but they were told that it would not be so, but that, from arrears of rent and the difficulties tenants would have in understanding the arrangements, the deductions would not be sufficient to secure the object which, without any difference of party, they all had in view—namely, the settlement of this very difficult and formidable question. The Government thought, there-lore, that they would be justified in making fresh proposals, if they could not attain the end in view by the means which they had at first proposed, and he felt convinced that hon. Gentlemen opposite would as far as possible co-operate with them. It was also represented to the Government by many Conservatives as well as Liberals, who had come on deputations, that the payment of rates by the poorest class of occupiers was surrounded by such great difficulties, and was so inoperative at the present moment, that it would be better to abandon it altogether. "What he wished to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite was, in what respect would any protection to the franchise which now existed be diminished if they carried into effect the proposals now submitted to the House? It had been admitted, in the debates on the Bill of 1867, that payment by the landlord was practically payment by the tenant. That had been admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite even when the landlord paid it in a lump sum, and the tenants paid it by instalments in their weekly rent. That was payment within the meaning of the Act. "Qui facit per alium facit per se"was a maxim which covered the principle of the Bill now before the House as well as the Bill of 1867. When hon. Members became aware of the great grievance which existed, when they heard that hundreds and thousands of summonses had been issued, and that great heart-burning had been occasioned, they would feel that they could give up something which, after all, was but a shadow, because, as 1303 he had endeavoured to show, the personal payment of rates had, by the force of circumstances, been proved to be utterly impossible, and if impossible, was it worth while to keep up a fiction which led to so much misery, especially as the very class which had been enfranchised was dissatisfied with the very Act which had brought it within the pale of the Constitution"? If they could correct these evils with the good feeling and co-operation of hon. Gentlemen opposite they would do a great deal to strengthen the respect with which the Act of 1867 would be regarded. It now only remained for him to explain the difference between that composition which the Government proposed to establish and the composition which existed before 1867. The difference consisted in this—that the Government were endeavouring to have a regulated and uniform system throughout the country, and did not intend to establish the old system of compounding ov reviving local Acts with all their differences of composition and enormous allowances. They were going, indeed, in the direction of uniformity of assessment. All were agreed that they must do their best to produce that. They wished to have uniformity of rating and uniformity in the collection of rates, and would it be wise, then, to re-establish a system of varying deduction in every borough according to the desires of the local authorities? That was the chief difference between the Bill of the Government and the simple re-enactment of composition. The Government might not have chosen the right line for the deduction; it was for the House to say whether it should be at 25 per cent, or at what point it should be; but he was sure the House would be unable to sanction the enormous deductions—amounting in some cases to 66⅓ per cent—which had prevailed in some boroughs. The Government proposed that an agreement should be authorized between the landlords and the tenants at a scale to be fixed once for all by the House. If £10 in the country and £20 in the metropolis should not appear to be the right limits, that was a matter on which the Government would feel bound to bow to the judgment of the House. It had been suggested in several large, towns that there ought to be two scales of deduction, one for houses between £5 and £10, and the other for houses below 1304 £5. However that might be, the two points on which the Government felt strongly were that the weekly tenants ought not to be called upon to pay rates for a longer time than the tenancy; and that there should be one uniform and not a diverse system of deduction, at the same time that the political rights of the newly-enfranchised class should not be infringed. He had endeavoured to state as briefly as possible the effect of the measure, and he would now leave it to the impartial judgment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Goschen.)
§ MR. CORRANCE
We are certainly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation he has afforded us of the intention of this Bill, for I confess it does not explain itself to me as clearly as I could wish. We are also indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for sonic admissions he has been pleased to make. Although there may be some reasons for the introduction of a Bill of this nature during the present Session, and sufficient cause for the great dissatisfaction which now exists, I confess that it is with no great sense of its adequacy to remove either such causes or the feelings it has justly created, in the Bill it is now the pleasure of Her Majesty's to introduce. The grievance complained of is this—that an alteration of an arbitrary and unjust nature has been made in a law heretofore existing, permitting owners of private property to make arrangements with the municipal bodies to which they belong, in the first place to the convenience of both parties concerned, and in the second, to the manifest advantage of the poorer classes by whom these tenements were held. They complain that the measure itself was a partial measure imposed upon such Parliamentary boroughs in an unfair and invidious manner, productive of consequences most seriously affecting their comfort, and for purposes to which they attach, perhaps, less importance than some hon. Members of this House. And they have cause for the complaint. I learn that by some the compounding system had been condemned. I believe that it was reported against by the Committee which sat last year; but, although I have carefully gone through the evidence, and the reasons put forward in its 1305 support, I think either that the Committee failed to recognize the force of some parts of that evidence, or that they entered into it with minds already strongly prejudiced against it; but I also think that this was sure to have been the case, for that Committee was composed of men who had sat through the great compound-householder debate. They had suffered unspeakable things at his hands, sat through long mornings and weary evenings; and, at last, to use a figure of speech lately employed by a right hon. Gentleman in another case, the House of Commons took courage to itself, the courage of desperation, perhaps—perhaps of imperfect knowledge, and the compound-householder was at one effort disestablished and disendowed. It was to ratify and confirm that decision that the Committee of 1867 sat. The compound-householder had been uncompounded. The Sartor Resartus and they sat upon him to keep him in his place. Throughout the whole proceedings this is obvious enough. If the House will bear with me a short space, I will show this. In the first place, I take Mr. Lumley's evidence as to this, and I would ask the Members to read Mr. Lumley's answers and evidence upon this special point from 125 to 285, and especially the answers at 200, 209, to 214, and lastly 277 to 278, page 14 of Report, For instance, at 206, after some evidence of the favourable working of a local Act, to the question—" Whether the Poor Law Board had always been in favour of rating owners? "he says—Yes," and subsequently at 213 and 214 repeats the same without qualification. And at 278 to question—" You have reason to believe that it is satisfactory throughout the county, and is being generally adopted?" he says—"Yes, I think so; I think it is increasing very much." 279—" You do not hear complaints of the auditor, or any other person in communication with the Poor Law Board?" answers—"No." Nor do I rest upon this. Going back to a former time, and subject to an inquiry certainly not less exhaustive and complete, and conducted by men whose ability has it is probable, no equal in this House, we find under their Report stated that—There are grave defects in the present manner of assessing the poor's rate under the provisions of Geo. 59., c. 12, ss. 19–23, for rating owners of 1306 property, the occupiers of which are a class of persons too poor or too fluctuating to be conveniently assessed to the rate.And as a remedial measure they suggest that new enactment should be made to the following effect, namely—That owners of all rateable property let for no greater term than one year of no greater annual value than (£), without any minimum, shall be rated in respect of such property, instead of the occupier thereof, to all the local taxes.Such a change as that suggested would probably be found sufficient to remove the existing complaints upon this part of the subject. Now, in the face of evidence such as this, it will not. at least, seem bold for me to doubt the weight of argument which induced the Committee, under Resolution 20, to affirm—"That so much of any public or local Act as relates to compositions for rates for public purposes should be repealed.And I can see no reason to reverse the opinion I expressed in this House, when in speaking upon this question, I said, April 12th, 1866—"There are two ways in which we may attain this, we may abolish composition, or we can render it equal throughout and recognize it as the full rate. To the former I object. I think that composition is justly esteemed an advantage to the township and a been to the labouring class.And I must hold that this view has been completely justified. The results—for this I am indebted to the Report, at page 32, under section 8—as to the collection of rates, the most comple evidence exists, and at Norwich, Birmingham, Brighton, Manchester, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Oldham, &c, the full effects have been realized at once. From the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of the Trade, we have also evidence of this. In a recent speech, at Birmingham, he is reported to have said—But I want to speak to you a little upon another point of that Bill, and that is the clause or clauses which have created so much suffering and irritation in this town. I have a note sent to me to state that there have been no less than 15,000 summonses issued in connection with the payment of the rate made last May: that no less than 5,000 warrants of distress have been issued, and that it costs the parish at least £10 a week, or at the rate of £2,000 a year more than before, to collect the rates. It is a very curious thing that Birmingham has been more hardly hit than any other borough in the kingdom by this rate-paying clause, for in this borough the principle of compounding, that is of the landlord paying the rates of his tenants, and receiving a certain discount as compensation for that payment, had been 1307 established for a longer period, and to a greater extent, I believe, than in any other town in England or Wales.Well, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman up to that point; a great injustice had been done, and one widen entailed inconvenience upon some, and absolute hardship upon a larger class. But the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I differ with him somewhat in the statement he makes in the latter part of the same speech. If any injustice was done, or wrong suffered, it did not originate on this side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman is reported to have proceeded thus—Now, there were three ways out of this difficulty, and it is sometimes convenient to have even one way of getting out of a difficulty. We might have had a pure household suffrage, without any reference to rating whatever, which, of course, would have been the best. He might, according to the Motion made in the House by Mr. Hibbert, bare extended the operation of my clause which operated upon the 94,000, and might have extended it over 476,000, and justice would have been done; or he might have done another thing, which he afterwards agreed to do, and which he did, which was to abolish the system of compounding altogether, which, I think, was the least wise, and the most harsh, and the most unjustifiable of the different propositions offered to him.The right hon. Gentleman has lately accused the Leader of this party with a home manufacture of history. He has given one more instance of his dislike to monopoly in this case. I repeat it, this injustice, if there is injustice, did not come from this side of the House, and of this the right hon. Gentleman has been also kind enough to furnish the proof. Let me call the attention of the House to this. In explanation of the transaction, he goes on to say—I will tell you first what Mr. Gladstone said I understand that our opponents and their orators in the borough, and their newspaper writers lay the blame on Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal party, for the abolition of compounding, and for the infliction of so much suffering and hardship upon a great many thousands of the cottage occupiers in Birmingham. This is what Mr. Gladstone said when Mr. Hardeastle made his proposition. 'My hon. Friend offers us at the expense of an economical and social inconvenience, at the expense, at any rate, of foregoing an economical and social advantage—he offers us, instead of an extension of the franchise, which we conceive to be limited and unequal, equivocal and dangerous, as tending, in many parts, to corruption—ho offers an extension of the franchise which is liberal and perfectly equal. I am sorry, in deference to what seems an unwise judgment of the House, it is necessary to interfere with a system of composition which 1308 exists throughout the country. I must choose, however, the lessons of the two evils.'Afterwards, on another occasion, when Mr. Gladstone made a proposition to discuss the question, he made use of these words. He said—I have deprecated it all along, and have consented to it as I would consent to cut of off my leg rather than lose my life, on the principle of choosing the lesser evil. Well, what was the greater evil? It was that there should be no enfranchisement. Now, this much I can accept, and what it proves is this—that the schema was one deliberately adopted, and duly concerted among leading men on that side for an object distinctly avowed, and that it was done with a full knowledge and conviction of the social injury they would inflict upon the labouring class. To them, no doubt, the sacrifice made did not seem too much, it is perfectly possible to understand that.Well, the right hon. Gentleman further informs us that Mr. Hodgkinson was a speaker upon the clause, and ends this remarkable chapter thus—He was once on our side, who was anxious to give no vote against any part of the Bill, because we were wishful that, in some shape or other, the Bill should pass through Parliament; and he gave notice that as the Government would not take any other mode of enfranchising the people, they insisted that the system of compounding should be absolutely and at once abolished.And observes, with becoming candour—I dwell upon this, because of the passages I have seen in the speeches of our opponents, which show one of two things, either that they know nothing of the matter, or are very careless of the truth.Well, there is one thing which, perhaps, I may observe for the benefit of those Members, who were not at that time in the House, that this Mr. Hodgkinson, thus casually alluded to, was the Mover of this clause. The actual author we now know to have been the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and the right hon. Gentle- man the President of the Board of Trade. And when it is duly demonstrated that this plan was neither connected, matured, or moved upon this side of the House, it will be, I think, clear how large a liberty has been taken with facts in the assertions put forth. Now, this is a matter of no small importance if we consider to what issues it lead. This speech of the right hon. Gentleman formed the text upon which the minor orators of the boroughs duly, and according to their lights preached. 1309 It influenced many minds, and may have helped to swell that majority which has assumed the grave responsibility of dismembering the English Church. It was done by politicians to servo a distinct party purpose, and they gained their end. Let them, at least, have the manliness to confess the truth. For that deed, good or evil, but certainly attended with hardships, this Bill is the cloak. It does not amount to a restitution of rights. I do not believe that this question has ever been fairly understood either as a social or political question, though I am not about at this time to enter into this. I am content to agree with the high authorities which I quote. To your present Bill grave objections exist. By it you still leave the occupier, at short periods, liable for his rate, and the benefit he derived from his landlord's composition is lost. By it you arbitrarily fix the abatement at 25 per cent, when under the extreme variability of circumstances in various localities it should often be 50, at least, and at this the occupier pays the full rate, if the question was properly understood. Of this, the bargain between the owner and the municipal authority is the best test. It is my belief that it will be a most inadequate remedy for a very great injustice to the poorer class, and that done for a political purpose. Their interests have not been adequately considered, nor adequately met. Acting under this belief, I shall move that the Bill be read this day three months.
§ The Motion not being seconded, was not proposed.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he would not follow his hon. Friend (Mr. Corrance) in his argument as to who was answerable to the House for the abolition of the compound-householder. If any injury had accrued to the rate-payers in consequence of that abolition, he did not know whether the fault was attributable to the Liberal or the Conservative party; but if to the Liberal party, the present Government had, at all events, brought forward a measure which sought to obviate the inconveniences which had accrued during the past year. For his own part, he was not at all in favour of the system of compounding. He should like to see it abolished in all parishes and he regretted that his right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law 1310 Board had not introduced clauses repealing the operation of the Compounding Acts in the various parishes in which they were at present in force. He would now briefly state why he preferred the present Bill to a revival of the compounding system. That system acted variously in different parts of the country, and was greatly abused in many towns where local Acts were in operation. He need not refer to a stronger case than that of Birmingham. There, although the system only applied to a part of the town, the abuse was carried to the utmost extent. For houses under £5 rental two-thirds off the rate was allowed, half being allowed for houses between £0 and £8, and one-third for houses between £8 and £12. How did this operate? Take the case of a house in Birmingham with a £0 rental. There would be certain deductions allowed by the Assessment Committee amounting to from 20 to 30 per cent, and being on the average 25 per cent. This reduced the assessable value of the house to £3 15s. Therefore, if a rate of 1s. in the pound were imposed it would amount to 3s. 9d.; but under the local Act 2s. 6d. was taken off, so that in reality the owner paid only 1s. 3d. Again, in Brighton, houses up to £20 rental were compounded for. The houses at £20 a year rental were occupied, not by the poor, but by shopkeepers and persons belonging to the middle classes, and he did not think that such people ought to have allowances made to them under the compounding principle. He believed that in Lambeth, Marylebone, and many other districts of the metropolis, houses of £20 rental were compounded for. This was, therefore, a real objection to the compounding system. But compounding had another disadvantage: it took away the advantages arising from the occupiers having a voice in the management of their own affairs. A portion of the town of Birmingham, for in- stance, was under a local Act, and the consequence was that nearly one-half of the householders of Birmingham in that district could not be put on the burgess roll in consequence of their names being off the rate books, owing to the system of compounding. This state of things, however, did not occur in towns under the Small Tenements Act, which contained a clause reserving the rights of occupiers to vote 1311 at municipal and other elections. The Bill seemed to avoid the objections to the compounding system, and yet to take advantage of some of the good parts of that system. It secured the votes of all the rate-payers, whether in the vestries, in municipal matters, or at Parliamentary Elections. It would do away with one of the principal objections of the compounding system—namely, compounding to so large an amount, and making so large an allowance as 50 per cent. It seemed to legalize what was now attempted to be carried out in a voluntary form between overseers and owners of property in certain places. In some of the Parliamentary boroughs, where the compounding system had been abolished, there was a voluntary arrangement for the payment of the rates by the owner. A system had been adopted in many towns, where there was no composition, by which the owners paid the fall rate and the occupiers remained on the rate book. That system had prevailed at the time compounding was abolished in the case of 98,000 ratepayers at a rental of £10, and in those towns the occupiers retained their right to vote. In the town which he had the honour to represent (Oldham) the system of composition had never existed, nor did he think his constituents had any wish to see it established; but then the Bill would give them an opportunity of making deductions, and of allowing the owners of houses to make arrangements for the payment of the rates of the occupiers. He preferred it to the system of compounding, because it did not compel every town to make the allowance of 25 per cent. It made 25 per cent the maximum. Another superiority of the pre-sent Bill over a revival of the system of compounding was that it applied to all places and to every parish in the country, while the system of compounding only applied to a limited number of parishes. If compounding was good it ought to be made compulsory on every parish. But if that Bill was good they ought to do away with compounding and make that Bill compulsory on every parish. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have repealed the operation of the Small Tenements Act in parishes where it was at present in force. The Small Tenements Act applied to houses of the rateable value of £6 and under, and 1312 this Bill, if the Amendments proposed by his right hon. Friend (the President of the Poor Law Board) became law, would come into operation with respect to houses below £10 rateable value; so they would have the Small Tenements Act in operation in respect to houses below £6 rateable value, and the new Act in operation in reference to houses between £6 and £10 rateable value. That was a distinction that ought not to exist. They would have overseers making agreements with owners between £6 and £10, and they would find the vestries adopting the Small Tenements Act with respect to houses of £6 rateable value. He should like to know also what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do in regard to a difficulty which would arise in many places with respect to rescinding the Small Tenements Act. It was now necessary that two-thirds of the rate-payers should meet to rescind the Act, but the rate-payers most interested in having it rescinded were not on the rate book, and could not attend the vestry. Some clause should be introduced that would give all rate-payers, including those who were compounded for, the right to vote in the vestry on the question whether the Small Tenements Act should be rescinded or not. He should much prefer that the right hon. Gentleman should adopt the recommendations of the Poor Law Assessment Committee of last Session, and do away altogether with the system of compounding; but if the system were continued, he thought its operation ought to be limited to houses of a rateable value of £8 instead of £10 in the country, and of £10 instead of £20 in the metropolis. He should have felt satisfied if his right hon. Friend had presented his Bill without this 25 per cent deduction principle. When, however, he saw owners made liable for the rates on empty houses, it was, perhaps, only fair and reasonable to give them this allowance of 25 per cent. The Bill with the Amendments to be proposed furnished, he thought, a good and practical method of meeting the difficulties of the question, and it would, he hoped, receive the support of the House.
said, he thought the House was placed in a great difficulty in discussing this question. They had before them one Bill, and they were, in fact, discussing another. He had in 1313 his pocket a large correspondence, the parties to which gave by no means a complimentary version of the original Bill. He must say he could never have assented to that Bill. But now they were discussing in reality a Bill totally different. He regarded the course which had been taken by the House in 1867. in doing away in about two hours with the whole system of compounding, without considering what should be done in consequence of so great a change, as a very great mistake. He was also of opinion that another great change ought not now to be made until the country had been afforded an opportunity of expressing its views with respect to it, for, as it was. the bearing of the present measure was very imperfectly understood. What he should suggest was that, before anything like a real decision on it had been arrived at, the Bill should be committed pro formâ, in order that the Amendments might be introduced into it which it was proposed to insert. The subject was one of great magnitude, and it must not be supposed that the Bill would simply restore compounding in places in which it had existed before. It applied not only to houses, but to land, and not only to Parliamentary boroughs, but to every borough in the kingdom; and, while it was not quite clear to him that the system of compounding necessarily did good to the poorer classes of tenants, he had not the slightest doubt that any sudden transition from compounding or to compounding was calculated to produce the greatest hardship, resulting, in the dealings between landlord and tenant, in causing the weaker to go to the wall. Where compounding was established, the landlord would raise his rent; where it was abolished, the landlord would say it was done by legislation and not by him, and he would not reduce the rent. For these reasons he should not wish to pronounce his opinion as being decidedly in favour of the Bill without further information.
§ MR. HOLMS
said, that in venturing to offer some remarks upon the important question now under discussion, he desired. as a new Member, to claim the kind indulgence of the House. As chairman of a metropolitan organization of parish authorities, formed to procure a repeal of the rate-paying clauses of the Reform Act of 1867, he 1314 took a deep interest in this question. The organization to which he referred was based purely upon economical grounds he might explain, and it was composed of men of every shade of political opinion. The large constituency (Hackney), in the representation of which he had the honour to share, was also deeply interested in this matter, and it was from a strict recognition of his duty towards them, as a representative, that he was induced thus early to address the House. In two parishes out of three of the borough which he represented, from 60,000 to 70,000 summonses for rates had been issued in a single year since the abolition of compounding, and in the whole more than 100,000. He need not say that that amounted to a great calamity. It had been productive of the greatest anxiety, distress, and serious loss to thousands of poor families. The cause of that parochial anarchy was the Reform Act of 1867, and the responsibility now rested on the House to remove this great parochial difficulty. A personal and careful inquiry into the merits of compounding confirmed him in this opinion—that it possessed merits which were neither fairly weighed nor considered during the political struggle previous to the carrying the Reform Act. It was a system built on the practical experience of more than half-a-century, economical and simple towards the parishes, satisfactory to landlords, and kind towards the poor. He deeply regretted that the system had been sacrificed to the exigencies of a political party. The compound-householder had been made much too mysterious an individual by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The simple mode of making the landlord the rate collector for the overseers, by the discount that was given to him, fulfilled one of the three important canons on taxation laid down by Adam Smith. All rates ought to be collected at the time and in the manner in which it was most convenient for the occupier to pay them. It was well known that in cases of domestic calamity it was often impossible for the poorer occupiers to pay at all. For the remedy of the present state of affairs there were two plans before the House, and he rejoiced that the Government had agreed that both should be discussed on the same night. He was in favour of the plan laid down in the Bill introduced 1315 by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Sheridan), because it proposed to restore a system that had been found to work well The parish of St. John's, Hackney, under their local Act, had power to compel the owner of property of any amount, where the tenements were let for a shorter period than a quarter of a year, to be assessed and collect the rates; and they had the further power of compounding with any owners of property let under £20 a year, and for any length of time. What was the result? In the half-year before the passing of the Reform Bill of 1867, upon a rateable value of £440,875 they made a rate of 1s. in the pound, which ought to have produced £22,043, and actually yielded £21,900, showing a deficiency of only £143, which was ultimately reduced to £50. He must, however, confess that in collecting that amount the parish authorities had to issue between 4,000 and 5,000 summonses; they had to excuse some 200 poor persons, and something like 1,200 distress warrants had to be issued. But let them look to the half-year immediately after the passing of the Reform Bill, when that system was swept away. The rateable value had slightly increased, and was £458,952, upon which, in place of a ls. rate, it was found prudent to levy 1s. 6d. in the pound to cover any deficiencies. That rate ought to have produced £84,421, but it only yielded £29,199, showing a deficiency of £5,221, which was ultimately reduced by the payment of some portion of the arrears to about £3,700. But out of that amount a sum of £500 had to be paid to 270 owners of property for collecting the rates from 2,630 occupiers, which was, in fact, an evasion of the law. To obtain the amount of the rate 12,200 summonses had to be issued; 969 persons had to be excused by the magistrates, and 3,800 distress warrants were issued. These figures, however, but very feebly represented the amount of misery inflicted on the occupiers, who were, of course, the heads of families. The evil, though to some extent mitigated, would continue unless the parish authorities could have recourse to the powers which they formerly possessed. With regard to the measure before the House, he might at once say that politically he was satisfied with it, but economically he was not. His broad objection to it was that 1316 although the Bill gave powers to overseers to make arrangements with landlords of these poor properties, he did not believe that the landlords would make such agreements with them, because it would not be in any way so advantageous to the landlord to agree with the overseer if he could shift the entire payment off his own shoulders on to those of the tenant, and the consequence would be that neither would pay the rate. With regard to the objection that compounding was not a uniform system, so far from that being an argument against it, it was in his opinion a strong argument in favour of it. Two Bills had been brought in this Session to get rid of the present objections to the mode of valuation—one relating to the country generally, and the other to the metropolis. The great recommendation of the system of compounding before the late Reform Act was that it left people to manage their own affairs, and he was far from thinking it an objection that in Brighton and other towns the system was extended to houses above the value of £20. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House need never fear that a large number of these small rate-payers would ever come upon the register—especially in large and populous boroughs—from the great number of removals which took place annually. In two of the parishes comprised in the borough he represented, there were between 5,000 and 6.000 removals every year. The restoration of this system would not in the least disturb these much-valued political and social institutions, and the class who were most directly interested in it deserved generous treatment at the hands of the House, since they had been loyal and peaceable amidst great privation and suffering. The Bill of the hon. Member for Dudley was incomplete, because it made no provision for those persons coming on the register, and, therefore, he would suggest an Amendment to that Bill, suggested by his constituents—that of placing the name of the occupier on the rate book, with power to him to pay the rate, so that he might not lose the franchise in case the landlord neglected to pay it.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS -BEACH
said that, as a member of the Select Committee by whom this subject was considered last year, he was desirous of vindicating the conclusions of that Com- 1317 mittee from the strictures passed upon them by the hon. Member for East Suffolk (Sir. Corrance). He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Headlam) in regretting that they had not had an opportunity of considering the present proposal of Her Majesty's Government, which was entirely different from that made by them in the first instance, and which might have been better understood if the Bill had been re-printed before coming on for second reading. But the right hon. Gentleman had also referred to what had occurred in that House two years ago, when the compound-householder was abolished on the Motion of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson). Those who were present on that occasion would, he thought, bear him out in saying that there was no ground for the statement that the compound-householder was abolished in a hurry after two hours' debate, and in order to suit the exigencies of a political party. The Motion of the hon. Member for Newark was not accepted separately either by the House or by the late Government, but only when accompanied by the provision suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty. By that provision the owner and occupier were permitted to enter into an arrangement for the term of one year, by which the rates might be paid by the owner, the occupier in such case not being entitled to vote in respect of his tenancy. The right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Treasury expressed himself in favour of this provision being added to the Motion of the hon. Member for Newark, and the late Government undertook to bring in clauses which would carry out both those provisions. They were, however, subsequently withdrawn, owing to the opposition which they encountered, not from the Conservative party, but from Members now sitting on the Government side of the House. Therefore, the late Government could not fairly be blamed for any hardships that might have resulted from the manner in which composition had been abolished by that House; but, in his opinion, that alteration had not by any means been attended by the evils which had been stated. With regard to its financial aspect, the evidence given before the Select Committee showed that at Oldham, Stockport, and Sheffield, 1318 where the practice of compounding had not existed, the proportion of the rates lost was much smaller than that lost in boroughs where the practice prevailed, and this was the case, too, with Bolton. In Oldham, where there were 17,800 occupiers, the total loss on £158,181 of rates levied during the time of the cotton famine had been only £21,584; whereas, if the Small Tenements Act had been in force, the allowances to the landlords under that Act would have been £29,337. In Stockport, where a similar composition had prevailed, between the years 1838 and 1850, only 60 per cent of the rates were received, as against 80 per cent collected under the system of personal assessment now existing. In Sheffield, where the district rate is compounded for at an allowance to the owners of 25 per cent on houses of £7 rating and under, £5,800 was lost out of £54,000; while, on the poor rate not compounded for, £937 only was lost on a rate of £80,000. The evidence given before that Committee also went to prove that the towns where the practice of compounding had formerly prevailed had not suffered in a financial point of view from its abolition. He believed there was only one place, Bethnal Green, in which a loss was anticipated by the collectors. The Committee took evidence from twelve or thirteen large parishes of the metropolis and of the largest towns in the kingdom, in almost every one of which an increase was expected. A series of questions was also circulated to towns that did not send up witnesses; of thirty-nine replies sixteen anticipated an increase, and only two a decrease; and in the other cases either no rates had been levied since the alteration, or the amount produced was expected to be much the same as before. Therefore, it could hardly be said that the abolition of composition was any great injury to the parishes; on the contrary, he believed it to have been a great benefit. Two cases had recently been mentioned in The Times, in one of which, that of Bradford, a large proportion of a rate had been collected without any difficulty, which in the other, that of St. George's-in-the-East, a rate of 5s. 1d. had produced as much as a rate of 5s. 3d. would have done tinder the compounding system. Therefore, it must be admitted by all who had given attention to 1319 this question, and who founded their opinions upon evidence, that, taking the country at large, the abolition of composition had resulted in a gain to the parishes. But it had been alleged that, though the parishes might have benefited by the change, it had only been at the cost of great hardship to the poorer classes of occupiers. Now, in the first place, much of this hardship was merely temporary. Of course, it was impossible to make a social change affecting large numbers of the poor without creating a large amount of temporary inconvenience and distress, and there had been other cases besides this in which a change of system had brought about a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. It was given in evidence, before the Assessed Rates Committee, that at Brighton, Wolver Hampton and other places there was a great falling off in employment for the inhabitants in the year following the abolition of composition, and again at Manchester and Northampton there was very considerable political agitation in connection with the extension of the franchise, by the abolition of the rate-paying clauses. But the distress was mainly caused by the fact that landlords in large towns, so far from recognizing the duty they owed to their tenants, kept up the rents at the old amount, and made the tenants pay the rates in addition to the former rent, which had included the rates. It must be remembered, with reference to the power of the landlord to act in this way, that it was merely a question of supply and demand. Where accommodation was scarce, landlords had tenants in their power. In such places, if the Government allowed the landlords 25 per cent under the present Bill, it would all go into their pockets, and the tenants would receive no benefit from the proposed change. He could not see why it was necessary to remove the liability of the occupier to the Poor Law throughout the whole country, simply because in certain parts occupiers were too poor, or through circumstances had been too distressed to pay the rate. The real grievance was confined to the case of weekly tenants, and he was ready to admit that they had a substantial grievance. Doubtless, under the present system, weekly tenants might be called upon to pay for a term far in excess of the period of their occupation; and he would co-operate in providing 1320 any possible remedy for this grievance. If they had the power to elect to pay the rate by instalments, he thought that would be amply sufficient to meet the case. If the parochial officer could only compel the tenant to pay such a portion of the rate as corresponded to the term for which he might, if he chose, remain in his house, he did not see why they should give the tenant any power to deduct a rate paid by him from the rent due to the landlord, as proposed by the Bill. The Committee recommended that the instalments should be monthly, but he would make them fortnightly. The proposal of the Government was almost entirely grounded upon the Petitions from the East of London and from Birmingham. Now, he could not see why the occupiers in these localities should have greater difficulty in paying the rate than those of Oldham, Sheffield, and Stockport. He had heard of one parish in the East-end of London where it had become a practice for an occupier never to pay a rate until he was summoned; consequently, the issue of summonses was no test whatever of the difficulty of collection. As far as he could see the right hon. Gentleman had yielded to Birmingham and the East of London, and the remedy which he proposed in the revised edition of his Bill was word for word the same as that recommended in the Petition of the Churchwardens of Lambeth. He would deal with it, therefore, as the proposal of the Churchwardens, and not of the President of the Poor Law Board. Now, he entirely objected to the allowances which were made to the landlords under a system of composition, for, while he pitied distressed occupiers, he wished to see every class of properly paying a fair and full rate, nothing being more objectionable than to have a reduction proposed in a rate on any particular description of property. In Norwich, the reduction, in calculating the compound rateable value of low-class property, was so large as three-fourths of the gross value, and the consequence of so absurd an allowance had been, that when the Reform Act compelled the payment of the full rate, there had been greater difficulties in collecting it at Norwich than in almost any other town. Moreover, any exemption of small tenement property from rating, or indulgence to it, would offer great temptations for the 1321 erection of cottages not fit for occupation. The full rate could be obtained by the landlord voluntarily paying it, as had been done in 94,000 cases before the passing of the Reform Bill. This number had of course been increased since. But it might happen that the landlords would pay the full rate only for the best tenants, leaving the parish officers to collect from the bad tenants, who would then get excused on the ground of poverty; and if this was carried to any great extent, the landlords might raise their rents on account of these excusals, and thus make a profit at the expense of the parish. To prevent this the Committee had recommended that, when any occupier was excused his rates, the owner, after due notice, should become liable for two-thirds of them; and this deduction of one-third was not open to the same objections as the ordinary com- position allowance, because it was made, not for a long term upon all small tenement property, but only for a single rate, in the case of occupiers so poor that the landlord would probably lose his rent from them. An established system of composition was also objectionable, because, as regarded the common fund or union charges, one parish which compounded would have an advantage over another that did not, as the charge on the latter would be calculated on its real rateable value, but on the former only on its reduced composition value. This system of compounding, which had become a principle of the Bill, was in all eases bad; it relieved a particular class of property of the payment of the full rate; and, if a perfect system, it would prevent compounding occupiers from taking a proper interest in local management. He was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) state that in his opinion compounding would create an interest in local affairs; but it was obvious that if a landlord regularly paid for a tenant, that tenant would grow careless as to whether the rales were less or more.
§ MR. HIBBERT
explained that he had said the tenant would be enabled to take a part in parish affairs by having his name upon the rate book.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he did not dispute the tenant's ability, but the inducement to interfere. The proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, however, was especially objection- 1322 able, because it would allow compounding, which might be approved if confined to eases of tenements let for short terms, to be extended to cases of yearly tenancies of far too high a rateable value: £10 in the country and £20 in London were most absurdly high limits, for which he believed there was no necessity. The Birmingham witnesses who were examined before the Committee last year asked for £7 only; the Brighton witnesses asked for nearly the same, and Cambridge thought £6 would be high enough. But the whole system of calculating composition on annual value was bad, and he could not give his reasons for this in better words than those inserted in the Report of the Committee, on the suggestion of the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ayrton), as follows:—It may be observed, with reference to the practice of making the assessment of the owner depend upon the annual value of property, that where it is let to a tenant for a period co-extensive with that for which the rates are usually made, and the rent is reserved at periods when their payment is collected, the occupier stands in the same relation to the tax-gatherer as to his landlord, and is equally able to pay his rates as his rent. However small the rent may be, the rates will be small in proportion. While, then, there is no sufficient reason for affording any special facility for relieving the occupier from the personal payment of them, or the rate collector from the trouble of collecting them, there are very serious objections to making the collection of rates or their diminution or remission dependent upon some particular amount of annual rent. Any such limit must be most unequal and arbitrary in its application. It leads to various contrivances in the construction and letting of houses for the express purpose of turning the law to the benefit of those for whom it was not intended, and to other abuses. Your Committee, therefore, think that there is no necessity for making any exceptional mode of assessment dependent on the annual value of the premises rated, and that the collectors, under the arrangements they have suggested, will find no difficulty in collecting quarterly rates from yearly occupiers, however small their rates may be.It was only necessary to add to this that houses let at high rents were sometimes improperly reduced, in calculating their rateable value, in order to get them within the limit of composition. He sympathized with the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, that he should not only have had one of his proposals, as to the quarterly collection of rates and taxes unanimously agreed to by a Committee, and then thrown over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that he should have this other recom- 1323 mendation—that composition should not be paid upon any annual value—rejected by the President of the Poor Law Board. But even of those who approved of the old system of composition, there were few who did not admit that the allowances under it were excessive. Well, what were they under this Bill? Take a house let at 4s. per week. That would amount to £10 8s. a year. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to reduce this by 25 per cent for repairs and insurance, under the Valuation of Property Bill, and thus bring the sum down to £7 16s. This, again, under Clause 48 of the same Bill, he would reduce by 20 per cent on account of the aggregate payments of a weekly tenant, amounting in the whole to more than the house would fetch if let by the year—a deduction which had never been made before, but to which he had no objection; it would bring the value to £5 15s., and from that would be deducted by the same Bill the rates and taxes, probably about a sovereign in this case, and the value would stand at £4 15s. From this there would be a further reduction of one quarter under the provisions contained in the Amendment placed on the Paper, so that the £10 8s. would be reduced altogether to some £4. The deductions, therefore, would be considerably more than the 50 per cent of the Small Tenements Act, and not far short of the 06 per cent which the President of the Poor Law Board had said the House could not possibly agree to. He did not see why the landlord should claim any deduction if he chose to pay his tenant's rates; of course, it had an appearance of justice when it was considered he paid for empty houses. But why should a man pay rates for empty houses? If it was considered right that the owners of all low-class property should pay the rates instead of the occupiers, he could see no reason against adopting the Scotch system, under which the landlords of houses under £4 in value paid all the rates without deductions; but it was not right in England, any more than in Scotland, to exact a rate from small tenement properly when unoccupied, which was not collected from unoccupied property of a higher value. This payment of rate for all houses, whether occupied or not, was the real principle of composition; and to this he entirely objected. But the most important clause in the Bill was 1324 that which provided that the payment of a reduced rate by the owner on behalf of the occupier, should be deemed a sufficient payment of the rate to entitle the latter to the Parliamentary franchise. What was now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite was precisely that which was proposed by the present First Minister in 1867, and which was the occasion of one of the most important debates and divisions on the Reform Bill. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion proposed that the occupier should be entitled to vote, whether he in person or his landlord was rated to the relief of the poor. That was precisely what the President of the Poor Law Board now proposed to do. He proposed to do away with the personal liability of the occupier. It was very clear, if the tenant was a very poor man, and both be and his landlord were, made jointly liable for the rate, that the liability would in reality fall upon the, rich owner, and not upon the poor occupier. This was a change of great importance, and one which required careful consideration. Various plans had been suggested to meet the hardships which were alleged to have arisen under the existing system. It was impossible that all those plans could be discussed on the present occasion, but they could be very well examined if the right hon. Gentleman would consent that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee Then they might enter dispassionately and calmly upstairs into the complicated and difficult questions which were involved—questions so dry and intricate that it was very difficult to discuss them in that House. There was one thing which he wished to say before he sat down. He quite admitted that difficulties had occurred in some of the large towns, notably in Birmingham and the East of London, from the abolition of composition. He should be glad to do a good deal in order to remove this class of difficulties; but he did not think it was fair to allow Birmingham and the East of London to dictate to the House what should be the law of rating, not only for all other towns, but for the whole country. The present system, as he had said, had been very successful in many large towns, and he believed it would have caused less dissatisfaction in other places had it not been for political agitation and the action of landlords to 1325 which he had alluded. He believed every day made it better appreciated, and the distress which it occasioned less felt. What was wanted was a special remedy for a special case, and he believed that a Select Committee could better hit off the exact remedy than could be done by open discussion in that House. But, whatever settlement might be arrived at, he hoped it would be with a view to rating and not political action, because nothing would be more to be deprecated than, if in the midst of so many important matters which demanded the attention of the House, they should be led to revive those acrimonious discussions which characterized the passing; of the Reform Act of 1867.
§ MR. SHERIDAN
said, that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman as it stood at first—and, indeed, the Bill as it stood now—did not satisfy him, and if he might attach any importance to the numerous deputations which had waited on the right hon. Gentleman with the avowed desire of inducing him to enlarge the scope of his measure, neither did it satisfy the country. He had received a great many communications from the country, and from many hon. Members on that side of the House, which led him to believe that his own Bill was preferable to the Bill of the right lion. Gentleman. But the result of the agitation was that the right hon. Gentleman amended his Bill. He had, in conjunction with those who took an interest in the Bill, very carefully considered the alterations proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, and the result was that his original view of the character of the right hon. Gentleman's measure had been very considerably modified. Those alterations had made the Bill nearly everything that the Liberal party wished for. It was true it did not restore compounding to the free and unfettered position in which it stood before the Act of 1867, but for all practical purposes it did restore compounding, and would answer the purpose which the House had in view. In his opinion, the objections urged to the measure that night might ail of them be met in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman had made special provision for the political part of the question, and as the right hon. Gentleman thought that his (Mr. Sheridan's) Bill did not provide for it, he wished to disabuse his mind on that head, and to 1326 assure him that it did, though the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman provided for it in a more effective manner. If, therefore, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman should receive the sanction of the House, he would withdraw that part of his own Bill which referred to compounding. It was rather late to talk of referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The measure would relieve a large body of the people from the suffering they experienced as the result of what he must call mistaken legislation.
said, he was glad that the Amendment had not found a seconder; and that the suggestion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee did not receive much approval. The towns which were suffering from the effects of recent legislation were pressing for relief, and it was high time that the House should take some decisive action on the matter. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Corrance) was not quite correct in saying that the abolition of compounding arose from the Liberal party as a party. The House was exceedingly thin at the time when the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) brought forward his proposition as a private Member. After the hon. Member for Newark had made his speech, some communication was held with the Leaders on the opposite side, and then it was agreed, not by the Liberal party or the Liberal Leaders, but by a private Member on the Liberal side and the Leaders opposite, that compounding should be done away with. With regard to the operation of the change, a correspondent who was well conversant with the matter wrote to him to say that no one who had not witnessed the privations to which the industrious poor were constantly exposed could have any idea of the amount of distress and misery caused by the present system. In 1867 the summonses in the town which he represented (Northampton) had amounted to 1,617, and in 1868 they amounted to 3,672, showing an increase of 2,055. The distress warrants in 1867 were 422; and in 1868, 1,480, showing an increase of 1,058. The summonses were more than doubled, while the warrants had increased throe-fold. And if that was the state of things when employment was plentiful and provisions were cheap, what was it likely to be when those conditions were reversed? The repeal of 1327 Clause 7 in the Reform Act of 1867 would, perhaps, be the best remedy for the evil; but that was now out of the question; and, therefore, the wisest and most practical course would be to go into Committee and endeavour to make the Bill before them as suitable as possible for its purpose. He could not help thinking the deductions provided for by the Bill were too small; and he feared the measure would put both the owners and occupiers of small tenements in a rather worse position than they were under the old compounding system. It proposed that the franchise might be given either by the occupier paying his own rate, or by the owner making the payment of the rate, and sending in the name of his tenant to the overseers. The occupier would be liable for a larger sum than he would be liable for under the old compounding system, and the landlord might force him to pay in advance at an inconvenient time. Under the new system the reduction to be allowed must not exceed 25 per cent, whereas it was, in some instances under the old system, as much as 50 per cent. It was questionable whether a reduction of 25 per cent would be sufficient to induce landlords of houses under £6 rental to compound at all. In conclusion, he hoped that the Bill would pass, and that no further obstacle would be thrown in its way.
§ MR. R. TORRENS
said, he had come down to the House determined to second the Motion of the hon. Member for East Saffolk (Mr. Corrance); but the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had entirely altered the character of the Bill as originally presented to the House, and had made it a sufficiently satisfactory measure to warrant him in withdrawing the opposition he had intended to offer to it. He should deprecate any proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, as the result of such a proceeding would be to shelve the Bill till another Session. There was a crying grievance to be remedied, and the House was already in possession of sufficient information to enable it to deal with the question.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he felt very much rejoiced that they were likely to go into Committee on this Bill. It was trifling to say that the political part of the question was not to be introduced, because 1328 that had been the principal question for consideration. During the debates on the Reform Bill of 1867 that was the principal question considered, and it was thought that by the abolition of compounding the whole difficulty would be solved, whereas it was perfectly clear that it was not solved. So far from the Act of 1867 having increased the number of electors, in the parish of Bermondsey—the largest in the borough he represented (Southwark)—the number had actually been diminished. He would suggest an alteration in the Bill. Instead of the poor rate only being alluded to, the rates in general should be dealt with. No less than three or four rates were collected along with the poor rate, and it would, therefore, be wise to include them all in one category. If the right hon. Gentleman would refer to the Report of last year, he would find that the difficulties of the question might be very easily solved. A proposal had been made by the Secretary for the Treasury (Mr. Ayrton) that in the case of houses the rent of which was collected at shorter intervals than quarterly, both the landlord and the occupier might be placed on the rate book, and if the occupier did not pay the rate the landlord should. This would get rid of much of the machinery of the present Bill, and leave the matter for settlement between the landlord and the tenant. He should lay on the table some Amendments framed in accordance with this proposition, which he hoped might obtain the consideration of the House. The great object should be to make the Bill as simple as possible, whereas some of the Amendments proposed had introduced confusion into the plan. It would be advisable to have the Bill re-printed, with the Amendments proposed by the President of the Poor Law Board. If the Bill in its new form were placed before the House in an intelligible way there was no reason why it might not advance speedily and pass. It was absolutely necessary, however, that the political question should form part of the Bill. He did not see the necessity for referring the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ MR. READ
said, that if they were to have a further complication of the county system of compounding it would render the present almost unbearable anomalies of that system absolutely in- 1329 tolerable. As the Bill was to meet an exceptional grievance which had been brought on the Parliamentary boroughs, he hoped it would be confined to them.
Sir, I was rather surprised at a complaint which seemed to be made by my hon. Friend, the Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke), and also at an observation which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle Mr. Headlam), to the effect, that this Bill, with the Amendments proposed in it, had not been sufficiently long-before the House and the country. Now the Bill itself was brought before the House in the month of February, and the Amendments to be incorporated in it wore laid upon the table before the Whitsuntide holidays. Therefore there clearly has been ample time for everyone interested in the matter to make himself acquainted with the intentions of the Government in regard to it. The object we have in view is a very simple one, and need not draw us into the whole question of rating, and several points raised by Members who have spoken. The object is merely this—to remove a great grievance inflicted on the poorer class of inhabitants in boroughs by the Reform Act of 1867. I shall not now go into any inquiry as to how that grievance was inflicted, or by whom. The action of parties was at that time very embarrassed, and somehow or other the compound-householder of the time was the victim of our difficulties. But what happened was this—that a system of great convenience, and which was constantly extending throughout the country, was summarily and instantaneously abolished, not at the request of any single town, or parish, or person in the kingdom, but because the House at the time was thereby relieved from a difficulty in connection with the question of the franchise. The grievance created was. however, very great—so great that I may assure the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) he is quite mistaken in supposing that if we were to put off the question for another year or two, this grievance would subside and be no longer felt. Perhaps I take an exaggerated view of the matter, because I have seen, in the town of Birmingham, a state of things most deplorable resulting from it, and one the effects of which I am sure will be felt in that borough for many years. Such was the action of 1330 the old system of compounding in Birmingham, that in tenements under £16 a year scarcely any person in that town ever paid any local rate. There were 36,000 householders in that borough whose rates were paid regularly and universally by the owners of the houses; and without a single person there asking this House to make a change, the House swept away the whole system, and brought upon 36,000 householders, some of whom were women, without claim to the franchise, an absolutely new tax. we know what local rates are; they are very heavy taxes, which come with great severity and hardship upon those who are least able to pay them. I need not describe the summonses, the warrants of distress, the disturbance and the rioting almost, the misery, occasioned by the change; but I think my constituents—and I speak in their behalf especially, though the people of many other towns are in the same position—have a right to ask the House either to give a strong, sufficient, and conclusive reason for the course it look in 1867, or else to provide a remedy for a grievance so unexpected and so severe. The hon. Baronet opposite suggested that, as there were only certain boroughs affected by the legislation of 1867, possibly some Bill might be adopted that would meet their case, and leave the rest of the boroughs and parishes in the country undisturbed. That, however, I think, would be very difficult. If the House were to attempt to legislate for Birmingham, Wolver-hampton, Walsall, Brighton, Manchester, or any other borough, I think it would find itself in a difficulty that could only be got out of by adopting some such general measures as that before the House. We know the grievance exactly—we know how it was caused—to some extent we know its magnitude, and how it affects those on whom it has fallen. What, then, is the remedy which the Bill proposes for it? That up to the sum of £10 in all parts of the country, excepting London, and up to the sum of £20 within the. metropolis, the authorities of parishes shall be permitted to arrange with the owners of houses conditions tinder which the owners should pay the rate, and in consideration of the owners paying it they should be allowed a discount of 25 per cent. The points of £10 and £20 may be too high, and I think it quite likely that £7 or £8 1331 and £14 or £16 might be sufficient, but that is a question which may be fairly considered and discussed in Committee. So also with regard to the 25 per cent. I may mention as an illustration that in Birmingham, under an Act passed twenty years afro, applying to a portion of the town, houses under £5 were charged only 33 per cent—that is to say, a discount of 66 per cent was allowed to the owners. I have always thought that an excessive and unnecessary amount. At the same time there are many who think that in the case of the lowest class of houses it might be proper to make an allowance of 50 per cent. But whether there are to be two scales of allowances, one somewhat higher and one somewhat lower for different classes of houses, is a matter on which the Committee can decide; and whether the percentage is to be 25 per cent or 33 per cent, or some other figure. That also is a matter for the consideration of the Committee. It is obviously not a matter on which my right lion. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board would wish to be positive, because it must be decided by the general opinion of the Gentlemen who represent the boroughs to which this Bill is intended specially to apply. The old system is one which would have been revived exactly as it stood by the Bill of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Sheridan); and the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms), who spoke from behind mis Bench some time ago, disapproved in some degree of this Bill for this reason—he spoke, not as representing the whole country, but as representing the borough of Hackney, and he wished to have Hackney placed in exactly the same position as it was before the Bill of 1867—that those local Acts should be revived, with all their peculiar and exclusive powers; and those for whom he spoke no doubt preferred that they should be restored exactly to their old position, and not have then grievances remedied by a general Bill like that now before the House. I think, however, the House will come to the con-elusion that, if we are to restore in am shape the principle of compounding, it is desirable that it should be done under a general Bill, and that the gross irregularities which formerly existed should not be permitted to revive; and that, while the discount allowed to owners of property is moderate as compared with 1332 some former cases, it should be made, as nearly as possible, regular throughout the country, and established on some basis that the house and the country will agree to be reasonable and right. Now, I have a very strong opinion that on a matter like this, if Parliament fixes a limit as to the value of a house and the discount to be allowed, that which is really best in every parish and every borough will certainly be attained by the judgment of that parish or that borough, and of the authorities by which their parochial matters are conducted. We have this shown in what took place before. What existed, even though it was regular, was a system that gave great and increasing discontent throughout all the boroughs in every part of the country. Therefore, having fixed those limits, I am perfectly content to leave the question whether this Bill shall take effect in any particular parish or borough to the authorities of the parish or borough, and to the opinion of owners of property and the general sentiment of the community. There is only one point more on which I will say a word, and I will address myself to hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as to those on this side of the House. One of the great difficulties in framing this Bill was to decide how the franchise which the Bill of 1867 professed to give, should be secured to the elector. It was necessary that his name should be on the rate book, and on the register. The clauses of this Bill are somewhat peculiar, and they show the extreme anxiety of my right hon. Friend, while making this change and restoring the system of discount, to secure to every householder the vote which the Bill of 1867 intended to give him. I might refer to the almost numberless deputations which have been to the Poor Law Board as showing the satisfaction of the country with the measure as it is now proposed. And my right hon. Friend has reason to believe that the Bill as it now stands, and with the Amendments which he proposes, will meet with the general support of all the leading persons who take an interest in this question in all the great boroughs from which he has received deputations. He has the greatest confidence that so far as they are concerned the Bill will be received in a cordial manner, and I think, after the discussion which has taken place to-night, it will receive the sanction of Parliament. As to referring the 1333 Bill to a Select Committee, I have had a good deal of experience on Select Committees, and I suspect a Bill of this kind going to a Select Committee at this period of the Session would be in danger of not coming Lack in the shape of which the House would approve, or of not coming back in time for legislation this Session. There seems to be nothing in the Bill that the House in Committee is not easily competent to discuss and settle; and I have the greatest faith, when the Bill has been re-printed, and the whole scheme is seen in a complete form, that then the House will find that it is comprehensive, that it settles for ever, as I hope, the economic question, and that at the same time it gives perfect security to the franchise which the Bill of 1867 intended to give. I think I speak the sentiments, at any rate, of my constituents with regard to the general scope of the Bill, when I say, without binding myself to the exact sum named in it, that the Bill will be a complete remedy for the grievances which they have so often brought before the House.
§ MR. GOURLEY
said, the Bill would not got rid of this—that by the decisions of the Revising Barristers and of the Judges many persons who paid poor-rates had no votes. As the Bill now stood persons who rented small cottages would have votes, whilst persons who occupied parts of houses, though they paid much more rent, would have no votes, in consequence of the decision in Stamper's case. In his opinion, nothing would satisfy the people but the establishment of household suffrage, pure and simple, without reference to the question of rates. He felt convinced that no legislation would be satisfactory to the country which did not at once and for ever repeal the rate-paying clauses.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, that if there was one question which more than another, after our policy towards Ireland, excited the interest of the constituencies at the last General Election it was that of amending the Reform Act. The Bill before the House provided a mitigation, if not a cure, of the evils which the country was now enduring in consequence of certain clauses in that Act. He was aware that the Government had quite enough on their hands at the present moment; but the people never would be satisfied without the repeal of the rate-paying clauses, the re- 1334 duction of the county franchise, and the security of the Ballot. It was not enough to settle the economical part of the question; the people should have secured to them household suffrage, unhampered and unfettered by the restrictive system that at present existed.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow, at Two of the clock.