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Chapter XXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 5

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Eight days afterwards they had changed their minds. Another amendment was proposed in the meantime, and Mr. Hardy, in the debate which followed, gave an artless explanation of what the Government intended by their emphatic cry of " personal payment." He said: " The Government insisted upon the personal payment of rates. But the bill had not the phrase, 'personal payment of rates.' That was a description rather of the Government's intention. The bill required that a man should be responsible for his rates. It was necessary, in order to come within the provisions of the bill, that a man should have his name upon the rate-book, and be personally responsible."

But Mr. Hardy forgot, in stating this as the essential principle of the bill, that he was only stating what was already law. He forgot that the Small Tenements Act provided that rates assessed upon the landlord are recoverable, not only by distraint upon the landlord's goods, but by distraint upon the occupier's, " in the same way as if the rates were assessed on such occupiers." That is to say, the occupier was, and always had been, " responsible for his rates." The compound householder was as much responsible as the non-compounding householder. Mr. Disraeli's bill, if this was its foundation, was founded upon an illusion. Ministerialists and Opposition were fighting about a phantom. This fact seems to have suddenly broken upon the minds of the House of Commons between the 13th and the 17th of May. On the latter day, Mr. Hodgkinson, member for Newark, moved the insertion of the following words; which Mr. Disraeli afterwards calmly called, " not an amendment, but a proviso:" - "Provided always that, except as hereinafter provided, no person other than the occupier shall, after the passing of this Act, be rated to parochial rates in respect of premises occupied by him within the limits of a parliamentary borough, all Acts to the contrary notwithstanding."

This was to cut the Gordian knot, to solve the insoluble problem, to take away the matter of contention in a moment, by the short step of abolishing the compound householder altogether. It had been shown, in the course of previous debates, first, how illusory was the test of " personal payment;" and secondly, how uneven was the working of the Act, which allowed, but did not compel, the parish authorities to place the names of compounders on the register of voters. The electoral returns showed that while (for instance) in Clerkenwell it was the practice to put compounders' names on the register, in the next group of parishes - the Holborn Union - no compounder was ever put on the register. Mr. Disraeli, it is true, had in his paradoxical way asserted, early in the session, that irregularities like this were advantageous; but he had begun to change his opinion. Mr. Hodgkinson brought forward his amendment, the effect of which clearly would be to make all occupiers of tenements personal ratepayers, and therefore, according to the bill, voters. In other words, household suffrage pure and simple was offered to the acceptance of the House. Mr. Gladstone saw the importance of the moment: he saw that the question lay between " an extension of the franchise, limited, unequal, equivocal, and dangerous," accompanied with certain social and economical advantages, and "an extension of the franchise which was liberal, which was perfectly equal," without those social and economical advantages. As the leader of the Liberal party, he chose the " lesser evil," he preferred the liberal extension, and he was willing to sacrifice the convenience of compounding. That was only to be expected from the Liberal leader; but what was the amazement of the House when Mr. Disraeli, by a sudden coup de theatre, rose to accept Mr. Hodgkinson's amendment likewise! Nay, he rose not only to accept the amendment, but to greet it with strong welcome and approval. Not only, he said, was Mr. Hodgkinson's amendment not opposed to the principles upon which the bill of the Government is founded; but " if the policy recommended by the clause should be brought into action, it would enforce the policy which we recommend, give strength to the principles which we have been impressing on the House as those which are the best foundations for the franchise, and give completeness to the measure which we have introduced." It is true that, on the 9th of May, eight days before, Mr. Disraeli had declared that the advice of those who wished to supersede or repeal the Rating Acts was " rash counsel." It is true that, on the 13th, only four days before, Mr. Disraeli had branded with two names, which immediately became famous - " obsolete incendiaries," and " spouters of stale sedition " - a deputation of 360 gentlemen, headed by seventeen members of Parliament, which had waited on Mr. Gladstone, with a view to remove the disqualification laid by the bill on the lower class of ratepayers. It is true that, on the morning of the 17th, the Government " whip " had sent out a circular to the Conservatives, asking their attendance at the House, plainly with the intention of opposing Mr. Hodgkinson's amendment. These facts, however, were nothing to Mr. Disraeli. He was bent on a coup, and he made it. The bill was entirely transformed in a single evening; and the Government, through their Chancellor of the Exchequer, vowed that they had all along been meaning to produce the transformation scene themselves. To show the importance of the change, it is enough to say that the total number of new voters which the original bill would have made was 118,400, and that the number of new voters added by the bill, plus Mr. Hodgkinson's amendment, was 427,000. Nothing more is needed to show that the compound householder was a person of importance, and that it was only natural that his destiny should be a matter of interest to both sides of the House.

The concession made by Mr. Disraeli was not accepted without a protest on the part of some of his own followers, and a still louder protest on the part of the consistent anti-reformers, Lord Cranborne and Mr. Lowe. Lord Cranborne insisted upon at least an adjournment, that the House might not vote blindfold; and Mr. Lowe spent the three days' recess in preparing a new philippic. Both sides of the House came in for their share of reproof from this impartial censor; both alike, he said, were weary of the subject of Reform, and willing to adopt any solution of the question; both were afraid of a dissolution; both alike were miserably anxious not to give offence to the classes about to be enfranchised. He declared that no great number of members really and honestly either desired or approved the change about to be made. Which party in the House, save and except a few of the extreme Liberals below the gangway, really wanted household suffrage and the enfranchisement of the new voters? The question had changed since last year. " The question now is not - what is the opinion of the élite of the working classes? but - what is the opinion of the unskilled labour class? For instance, in the borough which I represent you will, I rather think, give us some Wiltshire labourers with 8s. a week wages. Will any gentleman favour me with a précis of the politics of these men?" It was like 1866 over again; but Mr. Lowe was powerless to change the intentions of the House. The amendment was adopted without a division on May 20, though Mr. Disraeli attempted, a short time afterwards, to tone it down and practically to replace what it had abolished, by making it optional to continue the compounding system. The attempt, doubtless suggested to him by some timid follower, was unsuccessful; and the law came to be that " no owner of a dwelling in a parish, either wholly or partially within a borough, is to be henceforth rated to the poor rate instead of the occupier." In this way the vexed question of " personal rating " was solved, and household suffrage in its simple form was established in the boroughs.

With regard to the county franchise, the history of the bill was not so full of incident. The original proposal of the Government had been to give the franchise to " rated occupiers of premises of any tenure within the county of the rateable value of fifteen pounds and upwards;" the words " any tenure " referring to the various modes - freehold, copyhold, leasehold, annual tenancy, &c. - on which premises may be held. There were also various " fancy franchises " proposed in the counties as in the boroughs, but these were very soon withdrawn. The substantial proposal of the Government was modified in various ways. On Mr. Colvile's motion, the franchise was extended to copyhold tenants of premises of the value of £5 per annum - that is, to such persons as, without being freeholders, were practically the owners of their dwellings; and very soon afterwards the Government acceded to the proposal of Mr. Hussey Vivian to extend the franchise to " leaseholders under sixty years' leases of lands worth £5 a year." Finally, Mr. Locke King proposed to substitute £10 for £15 as the figure down to which county occupiers were to have a vote; and though he did not press his motion, he obtained from the Government the concession of reducing the figure from £15 to £12. The numbers of voters enfranchised by the Act may be gathered from the following figures, quoted by Mr. Homersham Cox from the Electoral Returns; -

Male occupiers at £12 and under £50 - 240,277
Male occupiers at £15 and under £50 - 186,392,
Male occupiers at £50 and upwards - 155,800

We have no precise data for deciding how many of the newly-enfranchised occupiers claimed their right to vote, but something may be inferred from analogy. Out of the number of £50 occupiers, the whole number on the register of electors was 116,860 - that is, about 75 per cent, of the whole. Supposing the same proportion to hold in the case of new voters, we have a total number of new voters of about 180,000 under the £12 occupiers' clause. If the original proposal of the Government for a £15 franchise had been carried, the number would have been about 140,000. Hence we may assume that Mr. Locke King's motion extracted from Mr. Disraeli a concession of 40,000 voters. And, taking the whole number of county voters on the register in 1867, we find it was 542,633. To this were added, as we said, 180,000 £12 occupiers, and a certain unknown number of £5 leaseholders and copyholders - a number, probably, not much more than 20,000. The total number of new voters in the counties is therefore about four-elevenths, or rather more than one-third, of the number already existing; while, as we have seen, the number of new voters in the boroughs (450,000) was nearly equal to the whole number of old voters.

We have already spoken at some length about the second part of the bill - that part which related to the redistribution of seats. This part, as we have said, was very roughly handled during the early stages of the bill, and the treatment it received in committee was equally severe. But when all was done there still remained much that failed to satisfy the reforming party in the country.

The Government proposed to deal with thirty new seats - namely, with the seven provided for them by the total disfranchisement of Lancaster, Reigate, Great Yarmouth, and Totnes, and the twenty-three from the same number of small boroughs which were to lose one of their two members. This number was soon enlarged. On May 31, Mr. Laing, member for the Wick Boroughs, moved that " no borough which had a less population than 10,000 at the census of 1861 shall return more than one member to Parliament."

This motion, which gave thirty-eight seats to the House in place of twenty-three, was carried by a great majority (306 to 179), though the Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed it. There, however, the House seemed inclined to stop in the process of disfranchisement. Mr. Serjeant Gaselee's motion to extend the principle of Mr. Laing's amendment, by wholly depriving towns of less than 5,000 inhabitants of their member, was not carried.

Mr. Disraeli's treatment of the delicate task of redistribution was this. He proposed to give twenty-five seats to the counties, two new members being given to each of the following: Cheshire, Derbyshire, Devonshire, Essex, "West Kent, North Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Somersetshire, Staffordshire, East Surrey, and the West Riding of Yorkshire, and one new seat being given to South Lancashire. A member a-piece was to be given to thirteen large manufacturing or commercial towns, till now unrepresented: Barnsley, Burnley, Dewsbury, Darlington, Gravesend, Hartlepool, Keighley, Luton, Middlesborough, St. Helens, Stalybridge, Stockton, and Wednesbury. Chelsea and Hackney were to be constituted boroughs, each with two members. Salford and Merthyr Tydfil were each to return two instead of one. The Universities of London and Durham were to combine to return one member.

This scheme was far from satisfying the reforming party. It enfranchised a certain number of new towns, and its county redistribution in some cases gave a more direct voice to the industrial population; but it left the great manufacturing towns of Birmingham, Manchester, and the rest exactly where they were, and it retained what was thought to be too much power in the hands of the small boroughs. A few years afterwards Mr. Disraeli had discovered that the main strength of the Liberal party lay in the small boroughs, the large towns and the counties being in the main Conservative. That at least was the doctrine he expounded on the occasion of his visit to Glasgow, to deliver his speech as Lord Rector of the University; but in 1867 his opinion and that of his adherents in the House can hardly have agreed with it. He declined the proposal of Mr. Laing to give a third member to the six great manufacturing and commercial towns - Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, 'and Bristol; and again he opposed Mr. Hadfield's and Mr. Berkeley's proposal in favour of Sheffield and Bristol. And when he assented to Mr. Horsfall's motion to give a third member to Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, it was only on condition that the members given to them should be taken away from some of the other towns which the Government admitted to have claims for increased representation.

The final state of the representation of counties and boroughs is well exhibited in the following table, which we borrow from Mr. Cox's valuable book: -

Population 1861 (Number of Representatives)
Counties, exclusive of boroughs - 11,266,000 (187)
19 boroughs with pop. above 100,000 - 4,669,000 (46)
19 boroughs with pop. between 100,000 and 50,000 - 1,385,000 (36)
51 boroughs with pop. between 50,000 and 20,000 - 1,567,000 (77)
49 boroughs with pop. between 20,000 and 10,000 - 692,000 (81)
68 boroughs with pop. under 10,000 - 420,000 (68)

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