HC Deb 18 February 1818 vol 37 cc510-4
Mr. Wynn

having moved the farther consideration of the report of this bill, said, he was desirous of proposing a clause, which might obviate an objection made when the bill was going through the committee. The objection was, that in some counties there were separate general sessions of the peace and quarter sessions, holden for the different divisions of such counties, and that in such places the session might elapse without the bill being taken any notice of. To prevent this, he should propose the following clause:—"And whereas in some counties there are separate general sessions of the peace, and quarter sessions holden for the different divisions of such counties: be it further enacted, that in all such cases the high sheriff shall summon a general session of all the justices of the peace for such county, by public advertisement, to be holden at such place where such general sessions or meetings are usually holden, upon some day not more than two months from the passing of this act, for the purpose of carrying this act into execution; where such appointment of the number of the polling places for such county shall be made, subject to the like regulations herein before directed."—The clause was agreed to.—Mr. Wynn then said, that on the suggestion of the member for Rochester, he should propose an amendment to the ninth clause; although it did not occur to him that in its present state it could produce the inconveniences he apprended.

Mr. Barnett

feared it would be attended with some evil, if, according to the provisions of the clause in question, it became necessary that 400 voters should have polled on the second day. He knew that in the place which he had the honour of representing, the question of residence was frequently agitated, and often gave rise to such delay as would render it very difficult to poll 400 voters by the close of the second day.

Mr. Wynn

said, that the bill provided for the erection of many booths in which the undisputed voters might be received. There was, besides, to be another booth in which the returning officer should sit to decide upon any such questions as that of residence. This would, in his opinion, obviate the inconvenience. The returning officer would thus be enabled to settle disputed cases, while the poll was going on without interruption in the other booths.

Mr. Lamb

said, he felt considerable alarm from many provisions of the bill. The necessity that 400 voters should have polled on the second day, unless it could be proved that they were prevented by riot from making their appearance, went to place a dangerous kind of power in the hands of the returning officer. That power being subject to inquiry before the House, would be hardly a sufficient guard against the abuse of it. The returning officer by this means might be enabled to decide immediately upon the election of a candidate, in cases where, if not prevented by riot from voting, the other candidate might have had a superior number of electors. It might frequently happen, as it did in the late election for Norfolk, that a candidate could not bring up a sufficient number of voters at the time provided by the act. For these reasons he was desirous that such parts of the bill as were questionable might be either postponed or their operations merely tried at any elections which might take place during the sitting of the present parliament.

Sir. W. Burroughs

would agree that there were some objections to the bill. In the borough which he represented, many of the electors lived at some distance from the place in which the election was held. Some as far as ten or twelve miles. The bill, with respect to many, would have the effect either of disfranchising them, or of throwing upon candidates the unnecessary expense of bringing up non-resident electors. He feared that some of its provisions held out no small temptation to riot.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, it did not appear to him, that it was too much to require, that 400 voters should have polled on the second day. The clause, which made an exception to this, in the event of riot, so far from encouraging that evil, would, he thought, contribute to lessen it. Persons would then be more cautious in commencing any disturbance to prevent voters from attending at the polling places, because such disturbance would naturally give rise to a suspicion that it originated in unworthy motives. The bill did not require that each candidate should, on the second day, have polled 400 voters, but that 400 on the whole should have voted. As to the inconvenience of bringing up non-resident voters, he believed, whatever the candidates might feel upon the score of expense, that such voters had no objection to come occasionally as well to see their friends, as from some other little considerations that might be of service to them. The clause could not be attended with inconvenience to the candidate, whose strength lay principally in non-resident voters.

Lord Milton

did not think that the clause in question could be attended with the inconveniencies which some gentlemen seemed to apprehend. The committee to which the measure was referred for consideration, were not of opinion that to require 400 persons to have polled on the second day, could be of any inconvenience. An objection was made in the committee, that an unfair advantage might be taken of the clause against those candidates whose strength lay principally in non-resident electors. He did not think that any danger of an unfair election could arise from this. The only thing he wished to suggest was, that throughout the bill, wherever the word polled occurred it might be struck out, for the purpose of inserting the words "tendered their votes." This, in his mind, would be a considerable improvement

Mr. Marryat

feared that the bill would throw an unnecessary expense upon candidates, by obliging them to bring up voters at a time when there was no occasion for them. For this and other reasons he was desirous that it should be postponed.

Sir W. Burroughs

could not but apprehend that the bill would cause great inconvenience and unnecessary expense, in many cases, to candidates whose strength lay in non-resident electors. In the heat of an expected contest they would naturally be induced to bring up as many voters as the bill required, even when there was no occasion for them.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he knew many instances of election, in which 400 voters were nor polled on the two first days, nor upon any day up to the tenth. The clause requiring that such a number should poll, would have the effect of placing within the reach of the returning officer a great degree of partiality in the exercise of his power. He might continue to object to any single vote even for the space of two hours.

Mr. Wynn

said, that the number of booths for receiving votes which the bill provided would obviate the inconvenience apprehended. It did not matter how long the returning officer might be deciding upon a disputed vote, because, in the meantime, the election would be going on in the other booths. From all he had heard upon the subject, the opinion seemed to be, that any candidate who, on the two first days, was not able to bring up 400 electors, could have no chance of success. Such being the case, would they now, by postponing the bill, leave all the cities and counties throughout the kingdom subject to the inconvenience, and candidates to the unnecessary expense of a protracted election? This might be done as the law stood at present, by any individual who could on each day bring up seven electors. There were numerous instances of this. In Devonshire the poll was kept open for three days by a person who had only nineteen votes. In Bristol it was not closed for nine or ten days. In the county of Berks it was kept open for fifteen days by an individual who Gould bring forward only 500 votes. He remembered a borough, in which there were only 200 electors, and in which the poll was not closed in it for eleven days. Such were the evils which were intended to be provided against by the measure. Knowing that they existed, he would submit it to the House whether it would be politic to postpone the bill to a more distant period.

Mr. Lushington

expressed his hopes, that the bill would be put into such a shape as would secure its passing into a law.

Mr. Brougham

said, he was a friend to the principle of the bill, and to most of its details; but he had some doubts as to the number of 400. Perhaps it would be better to have a smaller number of voters or a greater number of days. An objection might also be made to throwing the expense of the candidates upon the electors, and perhaps the present time might be regarded as peculiarly unfit. The clause respecting the assessment to the land tax, was much to be approved of, as since the redemption of the land tax the present mode was almost equal to a forfeiture of the qualification.

General Thornton

was of opinion, that the clause would increase the expense of bringing down the outlying voters; an exception should therefore be made in their favour, or else the clause should be withdrawn. Instances had occurred of the poll having been kept open after the third candidate had withdrawn, to enable the second candidate to get to the head of the poll.

Sir W. Burroughs

said, that the bill ought to be recommitted. Should that not be agreed to, he should feel it his duty to move that the House be counted.

Mr. Wynn

thought he had cause to complain of the proceeding of the hon. gentleman, as the bill had already been put off for ten days, that there might be ample time to consider the subject. He should move that the bill be re-committed for to-morrow, and he hoped it would be read a third time the next day. If gentlemen would look to the case of Norwich, they would find that 3000 voters had polled in the course of two days. That fact appeared to him a sufficient justification of the clause in the bill respecting the 400 voters that were required to poll in the course of two days.

The bill was ordered to be recommitted to-morrow.