Page images
PDF
EPUB

the extent of the difference between the two franchises. At present it is a common occurrence for two men, working in the same factory or establishment, possessed of equal skill, intelligence, and education, to be, the one an elector and the other disfranchised by the simple fact that one resides within the limits of the borough, while the other, the disfranchised, resides just over the boundary line. This is a hardship, an injustice, and an anomaly under the present law.

The great bulk of the miners and agricultural laborers of the country are without will or vote to influence the law and government of the country. The bill now before Parliament proposes to remedy present evils to the following extent: It provides for an addition to the existing borough franchise of what Mr. Gladstone has described as the “service franchise”; that is to say, it gives electoral rights to the inhabitants of dwellings, whether they shall be landlords or tenants. This clause will enfranchise the gardeners, the coachmen, and, generally, the chief servants of establishments; and when extended to the counties it will enfranchise the present inhabitants of cottages upon farms and estates, and of the villages of the great mining districts of the country, owned by the mine-owner and occupied, rent free, by the miner. The new bill further proposes to extend the £10 ($48.60) yearly-value qualification now enjoyed by “occupiers” of houses and land to the occupiers of land only. In brief, there will be, under the proposed act, first, the freehold franchise of 1832; second, the “lodger franchise” of 1867; third, the household franchise of 1867, amended in subsequent years; fourth, the -- service franchise;" and fifth, the already-mentioned "ancient franchises." These will constitute the principles of the borough franchise under the new bill; and the great reform will really be effected by applying these provisions of the measure to the people of the counties of the Únited Kingdom.

The present strain upon the Government is great. From without, it comes from Egypt and the Soudan; from within it is caused by the disaffection of ship-owners towards the board of trade and the proposed shipping bill. But if Mr. Gladstone can retain power for six months the great electoral reform bill will become law, and enfranchise 1,300,000 men in England and Wales, 200,000 in Scotland, and 400,000 in Ireland. In otber words, it will elevate to the dignity of electors nearly 2,000,000 of people, mainly composed of the toilers in the mines or in the fields of the United Kingdom.

WORKINGMEN IN PARLIAMENT.

Even under the existing franchises of the United Kingdom the political influence of the working classes is great and increasing, and the electoral possibilities of that class may be described as supreme. They not only hold the balance of power, but possess a positive majority of votes in all the great manufacturing and commercial centers of the country. The great bulk of the workingmen are adherents of the Lib. eral party, and if united as a class for electoral purposes they could carry all the borough constituencies, and thereby overpower the county electors. But they do not vote “ like a flock of sheep,” nor exercise their suffrages in a hostile or tyrannical spirit. They are not, and must not be, ignored in the selection of candidates; but they are far from insisting upon candidates from the ranks of labor in a tyrannical spirit. They have sent only three workingmen representatives” to Parliament. Conspicuous in the triumvirate stands Thomas Burt, esq., the member for Morpeth. He is a veritable workingman and Northumberland miner, at once modest and able ; amiable at all times, but with the courage of his convictions. He is in no danger of losing his independence of thought and action through that insidious but somewhat exaggerated monster, “the social influence," on the one hand, nor in consequence of evanescent pauics created by political charlataus on the other. He stands above the average moral and intellectual height of the House of Commons, and is an bonor alike to bis constituency and to the august assembly, where he is recognized and respected for his inherent worth. Mr. Broadhurst, M. P. for Stoke-on-Trent, is also a highly creditable member of the House of Commons. That the working classes could multiply their class representatives is undoubted; that they will do so, as eligible candidates present themselves, is equally true. They have made an excellent start in this regard, and are anxious to maintain their good repute. The fact that members of Parliament. are not paid for their services as legislators is a serious impediment in the way of workingmen candidates.

Mr. Burt supports himself by his salary of £500 ($2,430) a year as secretary to the Northumberland Miners' Association, augmented by work of a literary character. The increase of members of Parliament from the ranks of labor will perhaps be made after tbe model of Mr. Burt's conditions. The presence of such men in the House of Commons is recognized by their colleagues as a valuable acquisition. They speak with authority upon subjects intimately connected with workingmen, such as legislation dealing with mines, workshops, sanitary laws, temperance, employers' liabilities, &c. The Liberalism of workingmen as a class and of their leading representatives has a decided democratic leaning. Their agitation and influence favored the passage of the factories act, the employers' liability act, and the Sunday closing act for Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and their continued agitation for years, and more especially during the summer of last year, forced and encouraged the present Government to bring in the franchise bill now on its passage through Parliament.

Religious and social questions bear a close relationship to party politics. Adherents of the Church of England may be classed as Conservatives, while Nonconformists, as a rule, support candidates of the Liberal party. An exception to this general rule prevails in England, where the Wesleyans are somewbat evenly divided between the two po. litical camps. But in the principality disestablishment is the leading question in political consideration, and the Nonconformnists, as a rule, are in favor of disestablishment, and, generally, of advanced Liberal principles.

Formerly the temperance question was supported by but a small minority among Liberal politicians. Witbin the last balf dozen years, howerer, temperance bas become fashionable. A goodly number of bishops and other dignitaries of the church, as well as Nonconformist ministers, have become total abstainers in practice as well as in theory. But notwithstanding the acquisition of "my lord bishop," deans, and canons as stanch supporters of temperance, it remains true that the main strength and support of the principle, both in advocacy and practice, comes from the ranks of Yonconformists and Liberals in polities.

There is an affectation in this country that party politics have no in. fluence upon municipal elections. It is a mere affectation. In some of the boroughs of England and Wales the votes of the council, eren upon sanitary and other measures, are sometimes carried upon strict party lines. The political creed of candidates is always a potent factor in an election. But within the local parliaments of some towns political prejudices and considerations are to a very great extent, though not altogether, ignored by the members.

It is remarkable that of all the industrial classes of the United King. dom the miners are tbe most keen politicians. If Mr. John Burnett, the leader of the nine hours' movement a few years ago, occupied among the pitmen of the North of England or of South Wales a position corresponding to that which he holds as the secretary of the Amalgamated Engineers, he had long since been a member of Parliament. Constituencies have, to my knowledge, been offered him; but no discreet man would accept a seat in Parliament without a certain though a modest income. There are Conservative workingmen, but the great body of the workinen are staunch and emphatic Liberals.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN ENGLAND AND WALES.

Before proceeding to speak of the electoral rights of the people in local and municipal affairs, it is perhaps desirable that a brief outline should be given of local government in England and Wales. It would be out of place to trace the growth of these democratic institutions from Saxon times; but it may be said that local government came into tangible existence in England with the reform act of 1832. They may be briefly divided into municipal borough and urban sanitary districts, or local boards. The municipal boroughs number 240, while the local boards are upwards of 800 in number.

These urban districts, or local boards, are constituted by the rate.pay. ers. Upon the requisition of twenty or more owners or rate-payers a meeting of rate-payers may be convened in any locality, and such a meeting may, by resolution, declare that a given community, with defined boundaries, shall be constituted a local board district; and upon receipt of such resolution the local government board may declare “such place to be a local government district, and from and after the commencement of such order such place shall become a local government district, and be subject to the jurisdiction of the local government board." The law allows great latitude favorable to the formation of local boards. No stipulations are made as to numbers and the smallest village or cluster of houses, as a center, may enjoy to this extent the luxury of self-government. Upon receipt of an order from the local government board a register of owners and occupiers qualified to vote is prepared and an "owner" is de. fined by the local government act of 1875 to be “any person for the time being in the actual occupation of any kind of property in the district for which he claims a vote ratable to the relief of the poor and not let to him at a rack-rent, or any person receiving on his own account, or as mortgagee, or remembrancer, in possession of the rack rent of any such property."

A "rate payer" is defined, for the purposes of the election of a local board, as one who has been rated to the poor for one whole year iinmediately preceding the day of tendering his vote, and who bas also paid the poor rate for the immediate past year. Voting at such elections is by ballot, and property is possessed of advantages as follows: Electors paving a rental of less than £50 ($243) a year have one vote; £50 ($243) and up to £100 (8486), two votes; £100 ($486) to £150 (729), three votes; £150 ($729) to £200 ($972), four votes ; £200 ($972) to £250 ($1,215), five votes. A voter paying a rental of £250 ($1,215) and upwards is entitled to six votes. A voter who is at once the owner and the bona fide occupier is entitled to vote in both capacities. No man is eligible as a member of the local board who is not an owner or a ratepayer, and he must reside within seven miles of the district, and be rated for the poor at not less than £15 ($72.90) a year. Members are elected for three years, but one-third of the board must retire each year.

The powers vested in these local boards appertain almost entirely to health and sanitary measures. It is their duty to provide suitable and sufficient sewers, to compel house-owners to make proper drains into the same, to enforce the necessary closet accommodation, both in dwelling. houses and in factories, to provide for cleaning the streets, removing the rubbish, cleansing the repositories of tilth, and of such houses as they may consider in an unhealthy sanitary state. They may prohibit dwellings in cellars and basements, provide hospitals for the treatment of infectious diseases, regulate the prevention of epidemics, establish mortuaries and public cemeteries. They are authorized by the local government act to appoint a medical officer of health, a surveyor, an inspector of nuisances, a clerk, a treasurer, and such other assistants as may be found necessary to carry out the provisions of the act.

The local authorities are empowered to borrow money for permanent works, which, however, shall not exceed two years' ratable value of the district. Incalculable good has been effected by the urban sanitary authorities, created under the provisions of the act of 1875. Villages which were formerly periodically decimated by visitations of typhoid and-typhus fever, and other virulent diseases, are now, thanks to the sewers and the system of drainage and health regulations, enforced by the local boards, resorts of health, and the home of a sound and thriv. ing population. The extent to which the people of England and Wales have availed themselves of the act is highly creditable to them. These local boards have no judicial authority nor control over the police; in this respect they come under the county administration.

The municipal boroughs have tolerably complete local government, including the protection of the peace and the trial of wrong-doers. This form of local government is constituted by royal charter upon the prayer and petition of the inhabitants of the town or community. Inquiry is ordered into the claim of the inbabitants, who support their petition by facts relating to population, local importance and circumstances, the feelings of the community, and the ratable value of the property which they represent. Evidence for “the other side” is also adduced, and upon the case a report is made to the privy council by whom the Crown is advised either to grant or reject the prayer and petition. If the request is favored, a charter is granted, à municipal borough is constituted, and the rate-payers proceed to elect otficers. All rate-payers, male and female, who have resided, or occupied property within the borough for one year, and who reside within seven miles of the town, and who have paid either personally or through their landlords all rates due at the time of the preparation of the register, are entitled to vote in the election of town councilors. A borough is divided into wards, similar to what they are in American towns.

The number of councilors is not prescribed, but no borough has less than 12 or more than 48 councilors. Any rate-payer is eligible for election as a member of the council. Councilors are elected for three years, but one-third must retire each year, being, however, eligible for re-election. When the councilors first assemble they elect aldermen in the ratio of one-third of the number of councilors. Aldermen are elected for six years, one-half retiring every third year, being eligible for re-election. Rate-payers, not members of the council, are eligible to be chosen as aldermen, but, as a matter of fact, they are not so chosen. Aldermen and councilors, upon joint ballot, elect the mayor or chief magistrate of the town.

The mayor must be a member of the council. He is recognized as the first citizen of the town during his year of office. He is a magistrate and presiding justice by virtue of his office. The election of council. ors takes place on the 1st day of November annually. Any vacancies in the aldermanic bench are filled on the 9th of November, when, also, the mayor of the town is elected. It will be observed that the council. ors are elected by the rate-payers, that the aldermen are elected by the councilors, and that the mayor is elected by the joint vote of councilors and aldermen.

The municipal authority thus constituted appoint a town clerk, treasurer, medical officer of health, an inspector of nuisances, a chief con. stable, and other necessary officers. The authority of the municipal law is tolerably complete, and includes sanitary powers, control, through the watch committee, of the police, through their own magistrates of the peace of the borough, and power, generally, to make, inaintain, clean, light, and regulate the streets, provide an efficient system of drainage, guard the public health, establish lunatic asylums, and inspect dwelling houses, remove nuisances, enforce the adulteration acts, provide hospitals for the treatment of infectious diseases, baths, parks, mortuaries, pleasure grounds, the establishment of cemeteries, supply gas, water, and electric light, control markets and fairs, regulate weights and measures, establish and maintain, with the assistance of a committee, free libraries and museums, and other public buildings necessary to the well-being of the borough; to provide fire brigades and maintain an efficient force of police officers and detectives for the protection of the well disposed of the cominunity.

It will be observed that the qualifications for membership of the town council are within the reach of the humblest of thrifty workingmen. And here again, so far as my experience extends, I must bear witness to the discretion they exercise in the selection of candidates from their own ranks. I know a goodly number of workingmen, masons, tailors, boilermakers, and other craftsmen, who are members of the town councils of England and Wales; and in the instance of Mr. Laird, a Newcastle journeymen tailor, a Liberal of democratic sympathies in politics, it is within my own personal knowledge that Conservatives and Liberals alike, men of wealth and position, not only united to support bis elec. tion, but urged him over and over again to stand as a candidate. He is an extremely modest, capable, fair-minded man.

I am not acquainted with any serious and long-standing grievance entertained by workingmen towards the municipal boroughs of this country. At all events, the remedy is within their reach.

Subjoined will be found a list of the counties of England and Wales, showing the division of local government into municipal boroughs and urban sanitary districts, together with the population in the year 1881:

« EelmineJätka »