§ (1) Where an urban district is coterminous with a registration area which is a Parliamentary borough or is wholly contained in such area, this part of this Act shall apply to that district as it applies to a municipal borough, with the substitution of the clerk of the urban dis- 1885 trict council for the town clerk, of the urban district council for the council of the borough, and of the general district rate for the borough fund or borough rate.
§ Lords Amendments:
§ In Sub-section (1), leave out the words "which is a Parliamentary borough."—Disagreed with.
§ Leave out the word "and" ["and of the general district."]—Agreed to.
§ At end of Sub-section, insert the words "and of the chairman of the council for the mayor."—Agreed to.
§ After Clause 15, insert a new Clause,
- (1) A freeman of the City of London being a liveryman of one of the several companies who is entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector in respect of a business premises qualification within the City, shall be entitled, if he thinks fit, to be entered in a separate list of liverymen in the register of Parliamentary electors, and to record his vote for Parliament as a liveryman.
- (2) The foregoing provision shall apply to the freemen of any borough if the council of the borough so resolve, and the expression "freemen" shall include any persons by whatever name called enjoying in that borough rights similar to those enjoyed by freemen of the City of London in that city.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
The House will remember we had a long discussion in this House with regard to the livery franchise. By an Amendment moved in this House it was sought to create a certain number, although not very many, of new voters with a qualification based upon membership of the livery of the City of London. I felt bound to resist that proposal, because the basis of the Report of the Speaker's Conference was to limit the number of qualifications to the three with which we are familiar—residence, occupation of business premises, and membership of a university. That proposal, therefore, was negatived in this House. It was raised again, not unnaturally, in another place, and ultimately this proposal was made and embodied in the proposed new Clause. Under the first Sub-section, if a man is qualified to vote for the City of London in respect of the occupation of business premises, and is also a member of the 1886 livery, he is to have the right, if he desires, to exercise his franchise as a liveryman, and not as an occupier of business premises. I will point out to the House what the extent of that Amendment is. The man in any case has his vote as an occupier of business premises, but if he desires—in order, I suppose, to mark the importance attaching to membership of the livery of the City of London—he is to have the option of calling his vote by another name. It really comes to no more than that, and I do not see why we should object to that Amendment being made. I have great respect myself for old institutions, and I shall be glad, indeed, if the House is willing to accept this proposal, and to accede to the wishes of the City. The second Subsection applies the same principle, and gives the same privilege to freemen of other boroughs, if the council of the borough so resolves. The effect is the same as in the case of the City. In order to take advantage of this right the voter must already have a vote as a business occupier in a borough, and if he has that right he is enabled by the Clause to be entered as a freeman, and to vote as a freeman, to give a vote which he could in any case give as an occupier of business premises. I hope, in those circumstances, the House will be willing to agree to this Amendment.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
I feel sorry to have to take exception to this proposal again, especially as it is now put forward by the Home Secretary, and as my doing so looks as though it were merely trying to prevent somebody getting a small privilege which they wish to possess. To my mind, however, it does raise rather a large question. The Conference laid it down very clearly indeed that the new franchises should take the place of all existing franchises. That was the basis on which we proceeded. Upon that basis when the question of the City of London came up those of us who felt that there was really no justification for the separate representation of the City of London, because there is no real population there, assented to the constituency of that separate constituency. We agreed to do that as part of the arrangement, but it was dependent entirely upon the understanding that the ancient franchises of the liverymen and the freemen, together with all other ancient franchises, should be done away with. We had a new and clean franchise, and we assented to leaving the 1887 City exactly as it was with that exception. So far as that particular point goes, therefore, I consider that this is going back from what was understood in the Conference. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, of course, reply that it is nothing of the kind, and that he resisted all attempts that were made to retain the right of the liverymen as a Parliamentary right of itself. That is perfectly true, and no one fought harder against it than the President of the Local Government Board in the House here, who made a speech pointing out that it was part of the understanding that all the old franchises should disappear and give place to a new one.
When the Bill went to the Lords, Lord Peel took the same line and argued in the same way. But between the Committee arid the Report stage there were those pourparlers which always go on when the Corporation of the City of London is concerned. I do not blame them for it, and we know perfectly well how able they are in this House in presenting their case. Then, to my astonishment, I noticed that the Government had actually assented to the last proposition, and had stated that they were going to recommend it in this House. I quite appreciate that the point is a very different one from the point when we were asked to retain the liverymen's right to vote for Parliament as a real concrete right, because all this does in theory now is, as the Home Secretary pointed out, to say that a liveryman because he is a liveryman shall have a special portion of the Parliamentary register allocated to himself. I quite agree that this is all it does, and that a man who is going to have a business vote in the City by reason of occupation if lie is a liveryman is to be entitled to have a separate section of the register allocated to himself. But I venture to submit to this House that that is not worthy of the legislation of this Chamber. We have made a clean sweep of all the old franchises, and then simply because somebody or other presses very hard to have a special privilege attached to himself, or a certain class, we go out of our way in order to give it. I have no quarrel with the liverymen in the slightest degree, but I do think that it is quite unnecessary, and that it is going to do, as far as I can see, no good to anybody. It is going to leave the liverymen in a peculiar position as regards the Parliamentary franchise.
1888 That is not all, because the Lords, seeing that the City Corporation have been able to use their persuasive powers in this matter so successfully, have suggested that all the other boroughs in England should have the same right. I notice that Lord Jersey, speaking for certain interests in Oxford, insisted that the same rights should be given to the freemen of Oxford. However much we may desire to preserve historical monuments, I venture to think that the freeman voter is an historic monument that ought to be forgotten. There is nothing that has been more corrupt. If any hon. Member will study the history of Parliamentary elections he will find that Parliamentary petitions have been far more numerous in the towns where the freeman voter has been greatest. There is nothing historic to preserve in this respect at all. Therefore, I submit that the House should stand to its guns in regard to this matter, leave the clear franchise that has been put all over the country and the university vote to stand alone, and not adopt this complicated proposal of having a separate register in the City of London, and I do not know how many other towns, but a great many towns in this country, of persons who are entitled to vote there but who are going to stand in a special class simply because they are freemen of the city.
§ Colonel SANDERS
I think that my right hon. Friend's objection can only be described as pedantic. After all this institution of the freeman voter is historically very interesting. The history of the freemen of the various boroughs may be complicated, shall we say, but it is exceedingly interesting. They are one of the historical associations of the country. To give them this right does no harm to anyone whatever. It is simply satisfying a sentimental demand. Sentiment counts for a great deal. This gives a chance of making the Act a little less unpopular with certain people, and, as it does no harm, I hope that the Home Secretary will stand to his guns.
I do not think that my right hon. Friend was at all pedantic. In fact he was much too modest. I do not think that the proposal is quite the innocent. proposal which apparently it is on the Paper. We have a very friendly feeling towards this great corporation because it has a very distinguished representative in the Lord Mayor, who is a. Member of this House, and naturally, 1889 therefore, we look with favour on any proposal coming from that quarter, but the corporation is a very powerful one with many privileges. These companies have many privileges. They are naturally anxious to entrench them, and entrench them by giving a special place on the electoral roll to their members. it is a very remarkable thing that during the whole time of the passage of this Bill there has been a perpetual lobbying of Members on all sides of the House who have no association with the City of London and have nothing to do with its government, and I cannot help thinking that the reason is that the companies want to secure themselves in the enjoyment of the great wealth of which they have the administration, though the ordinary members of the companies, I am of opinion, by history have very little moral right—I say nothing about the legal right—to do so. Out of the seventy-seven companies that form the guilds of the City of of London I do not think that there are more than half-a-dozen which have any direct association with the industries which they pretend to represent. The Fishmongers still take part in the administration of the fish industry, and the same holds true of the Stationers and one or two other companies. But the ordinary member of the City company has bought his position with hard cash. It is true that he has paid a very substantial fee, but he uses his place, which he has purchased by hard cash, in order to exercise the right of patronage over very large sums of money which the companies have in their possession.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is discussing the livery companies. He must confine himself to the Amendment.
I bow to your ruling, Sir. My point is that an exceptional position is claimed for these freemen for some sinister motive. I do not see any disadvantage to a voter if he exercises the franchise as an ordinary voter and not under a distinctive title. These voters have no more right to an exceptional position than any other citizens. Barristers would have a very much stronger claim, being on the barristers' roll and members of a very ancient corporation. Trade unionists also could well, in comparison, put forward a claim for a privileged position as practisers of skilled crafts. So far as I can see, one of the reasons of the city companies is that they 1890 want to retain the privilege of voting for the Lord Mayor, with the right to nominate from the list of aldermen the gentle. man to fill that position. They have at present also the right to elect a sheriff. I think these are the main reasons why they want to keep this exceptional and separate position on the electoral roll. This Bill has been before Parliament for nearly a year, and there is behind it a strong public opinion in its favour as a democratic measure. It will create an unfortunate feeling if in the City of London the members of these companies are placed in a position different from that of electors in other parts of London. The HOUSE has already male a concession to the City in allowing it two members, when it is only entitled to one, if any at all. The City should be satisfied with that concession, and not ask that these particular electors should be kept apart from other electors.
§ Colonel Sir HERBERT JESSEL
My hon. Friend and colleague in the representation of St. Pancras objected to a difference being made in the electoral roll, but I cannot agree with him. It is a privilege given not only to the City of London freemen, but to other freemen throughout the country. It really makes no difference; it creates no new franchise; it is simply allowing, as in other cities, these electors to register in a way that does not hurt anybody else. I do very much object to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. He poses here as a sort of sea-green incorruptible Robespierre. I do not know whether it is because he has not enjoyed some good dinners in the City such as I and other hon. Members have enjoyed and which I hope, when the food restrictions are done away with, to enjoy there again. I have no connection at all with the City, but I must say that ail of us who are connected with London resent the unwarranted attack on the livery companies of London. They have done extremely good 'reek in the past and they are doing wonderful educational and charitable work to-day. The hon. Member made allegations of sinister motives on this most harmless Amendment, but adduced no evidence in support of that statement. All I can say is let him go down to the City and dine there and come back in a better frame of mind, and not with ridiculous allegations about the city companies or the liverymen.
§ Mr. HANSON
In the unavoidable absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, I rise with much diffidence to very earnestly repudiate, on behalf of the City and of the livery companies, the most ungracious motives which have been attributed to the liverymen by the hon. Member for Market Harborough (Mr. Harris). I would like to say that there is not a shadow of foundation for a single suggestion of motive which has been made by the hon. Member, and I regret immensely the prejudice which has been evinced in that speech, and yet I am not surprised. I very earnestly beg the House not to listen to the specious arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North St. Pancras (Sir W. Dickinson), and to accept the lucid and comprehensive statements of motives and reasons which have been addressed to us by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I cannot for one moment pretend to add anything to the statements or the information which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman or by the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), or by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. What we are asking for is not the right to an additional vote or a privilege which would enable us to influence by one shadow or one iota any Parliamentary election whatever. We only ask that we may be permitted to exercise as liverymen the vote which we should be able otherwise to exercise as business men. That is a concession so small and so immaterial in its relation to the Bill that I cannot believe for a moment that the House will allow itself to be prejudiced or to be sufficiently ungracious as to deny to the liverymen of the City the gratification of a sentiment which is very deep-rooted indeed—a sentiment which is the growth of centuries. The right hon. Member for North St. Pancras has told us of the corruption of the City companies.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me? I did not say that at all. I said that in the past the freeman vote in the country had been corrupt.
§ Mr. HANSON
I venture to say that for centuries this vote, as it has existed hitherto, has invariably been exercised in the interests of the country. The members of guilds are devoted to their livery, and all they ask is that they max preserve this connection with it in the 1892 form in which it is proposed this evening. I hope the House will support the Lords Amendment.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I hope the House will disagree with the Lords Amendment. I have been looking up the Debate which we had in this House on the Report stage when the hon. Member for North Islington (Sir G. Touche) proposed an Amendment which would have had the same effect as the Amendment now brought down from another place, and I have been reading the reply of the Home Secretary, when that Amendment was moved, in which he used language which, I think was quite convincing to the House at that time not to carry the Amendment which was put before the House very eloquently by the hon. Member for North Islington.
§ Mr. GILBERT
Then the point is that the Amendment we are now considering is that he can only use the alternative if he has business premises in the City. I read it as being very much the same thing, and I apologise to the House for the mistake. In the early stages of the Bill I moved an Amendment that we should have in the register a record of the soldiers' and sailors' services, and of the regiment or boat to which the soldiers or sailors belonged. That Amendment was not accepted by the Government. It does seem to me that if there is any class of people who ought to have a special register to themselves it is the soldiers and sailors who have been fighting in this War. That has not been agreed to, and I cannot. for the life of me see why a few hundred liverymen of the City of London who have these business qualifications should be allowed to have this special list in the register, and be entitled to claim this alternative vote.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I think we ought to look at this proposition from something like a business standpoint. We have been trying to make a rational, sensible Bill, on clear and distinct lines. Above all things, the point we have had in view has been to make the register as simple as possible, and to give the registration officer the least possible amount of detail 1893 work. Now we have a proposition put into the Bill in another place which it is admitted, by those who defend it, does not give any extra power or right to the liverymen. They admit, against their will, no doubt, that the separate vote of the liverymen or the livery companies is gone. But they are not satisfied to allow themselves to be entirely swept off the register, and desire to live in one form or another. They are now asking, not that they shall have any extra political power—that they have denied; they say they have no desire for it—but they want an extra register. What for? Anyone who has studied the livery question and is acquainted with the position before the Bill was passed is quite well aware that the greater number of liverymen who had the right to vote in the City of London had no other qualification within the City. There was always the members of various liveries who did have a business qualification. Possibly in the old days—to trace back the livery franchise to its source—everyone had the vote inside the City, because those of us who belong to the guilds—and I am a member of one of the oldest in the City, and one that does look after its own affairs at the present time— knows that the livery franchise was the popular franchise in those days; the member of the livery was the employer of the locality and had the popular vote of the locality. Since then we have got household suffrage and other franchises which have superseded entirely the old livery franchise. 'What are we asked to do? To keep in existence a figment of a sham. We are told that the opposition to it is pedantic. Can you think of anything more pedantic than that we should be asked in a rational House of Commons to give the registration officer the task of making out in a part of his register a list for a separate body who have no other qualification than that they are liverymen? Because they know the suggestion is indefensible in itself they have found it necessary to put a second Section in this proposed new Clause offering the same to any freemen throughout the country. That even makes the proposition worse! It makes it that in every place where there is in existence a small body of freemen that you are going to plc on the registration officer of that locality the same task that you arc going to pile on the registration officer of the City of London. I say there has been no single word of reasonable defence for this proposition. I am surprised that the 1894 Government have accepted it. I do hope that in the name of common sense, that in a Bill like this before the House in which we are terribly in earnest to make a democratic register, that this Amendment will not be accepted.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I should have hoped that my hon. Friend would have been willing to accept the suggestion of the Home Secretary and to agree to the Clause being inserted in the Bill. I have no knowledge of the matter as regards London, but I know something of the freemen of the City of York. I speak as one of them, and I think that the compromise that is suggested is a reasonable and common sense one. I am glad to think that the freemen of the City of York keep pace with modern thought and development, and have very largely passed over their lands to the city council. I am perfectly certain that it is not a had thing for Radicals to keep a certain amount of sentiment in their mind. My hon. Friend opposite says that the freeman vote has been corrupt in the past but many other votes have been corrupt in the past, and I am glad to think that they lave been reformed. As long as you do not give them an additional vote I cannot see why in order to preserve the historic and sentimental interest he should not be allowed to vote as a freeman. It would not mean a lot more paper, because the freeman is asterisked.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I am sure they would be; they have been in the past. I hope the House will accept the suggestion of the Home Secretary and agree to this Amendment.
§ Mr. M. HEALY
I can assure the hon. Member who has just sat down that he is quite wrong in saying this is a mere matter of an asterisk, because a separate freeman list has to be prepared in every borough. You must first have a list of those who are to have the asterisk. One of the greatest advantages of this measure is its simplicity and uniformity with which it extends to the whole country. The freeman franchise differs in every borough. Each borough has its own customs, and, although many of them resemble one another, the fact remains that they are not the same, and the qualifications of freemen in different boroughs are not the same. In the borough of Galway the qualification was that you had to be a tradesman. There was no apprenticeship, and 1895 all you had to do was to say you were a tradesman living in the borough and you got the freeman franchise, and that at a time when the rest of the population could only get a. vote by having a high valuation.
The first thing you do by this Amendment is that you create to some extent a different franchise in every Parliamentary borough. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] With great respect I say that the qualification of freemen differs in different boroughs, and, of course, there is no qualification in common. I was glad that the. Home Secretary adopted an Amendment on another point with the object of making the county and borough franchise the same. There is riot the slightest reason now why there should be any difference. One of the last acts of the Home Secretary was to sweep away one of the last distinctions of the county and borough franchise on the ground of the desirability of securing uniformity, and now we have introduced a Clause which begins by making a complete difference between the franchise as it exists in counties and in boroughs. I took no part in these discussions in Committee because I regarded it as an English question. It was then limited to the question of the liverymen of the City of London, and the decision was quite immaterial to me, but now it. is extended to other boroughs, and, so far as Ireland is concerned. I know nobody who wants the freemen's franchise. It involves the building of two Courts. The rights of the ordinary voters are decided by the authority set up by this Bill. Formerly it was the revising barrister; now it is the registration officer. There is, for the purpose of the freemen's franchise, an inquiry first by the Mayor under the Municipal Corporations Act. The preliminary admission of the freeman is affected by the Mayor and not by the registration officer: That will be one of the consequences if this Amendment is adopted. We shall not only have a different registration law as between county and borough, but we shall have two different Courts in the borough: First, the Mayor admitting the freemen and afterwards the registration officer adjudicating on the general rights. I am riot in the least interested in it as a concession to the historic memories of London. The City of London has already been specially favoured in the matter of its representation, having 1896 been separated from the rest of the administrative county, and now, as a consequence, this wretched freemen's franchise is placed upon our books in every municipal borough in the country. It is most objectionable. It is disorder for order, and difference for uniformity. And what is it all for? The hon. Gentleman speaks of sentiment. Sentiment is a very good thing, and I have no objection to it, but the notion that you are a better man because you walk into the polling booth as a freeman instead of as an ordinary citizen is perfectly ridiculous. There would be some sense in it if it gave you a special right, but the demand is based on the proposition that it gives you no special right—you merely vote as a liveryman instead of in respect of residence.
Question put, and agreed to.