HC Deb 26 April 1826 vol 15 cc633-6
Mr. Sykes

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to declare the rights of freeholders in separate districts, or counties corporate, to vote at the election of knights of the shire of the several counties from which the said districts have been separated. The hon. member observed, that, although his motion remotely touched the question of Parliamentary reform, he apprehended that it would not be resisted even by the most timid and sensitive of the alarmists upon that subject, while it would be supported by all who thought that popular feeling was not sufficiently represented in that House. Hon. gentlemen were, perhaps, aware, that by various charters from the reign of Edward the 3rd to James the 1st, portions of counties had been separated from the rest, or, in other words, had been erected into counties corporate. In many cases the freeholders of these counties corporate had ceased to exercise their right of voting for members for the shire; and, in some instances, they did not even vote for the representatives of the counties corporate. He did not mean to deny the right of the Crown, exercised from the time of Alfred, and perhaps earlier, to divide counties; but he disputed the power of the Crown to interfere with, and deprive parties, of their elective franchise. Upon this point he felt quite decided, and he directed the attention of the House to some authorities, to show that the king possessed no such power. He relied principally upon the opinion of lord Coke, in his 4th institute, followed by a decision of the committee on the Chippenham case, and by the opinion of the court of King's-bench in Johnson v. Dalton. Such being the real state of the law, the object of his bill was, to declare, that, notwithstanding the separation of parts of counties by royal charter, the freeholders in these parts of counties retained their right of voting for knights of the shire. He claimed this concession as a matter of right, without trenching upon the rights of any other parties. In all there were nineteen towns—county or counties corporate; but, for various reasons, he should only include nine of them in his bill, in which the freeholders had, for many years, exercised no franchise at all, and were, in fact, totally unrepresented. The measure he hoped to obtain leave to introduce, went no further than to declare, on the foundation of lord Coke's opinion, that the right of voting continued, and that the freeholders ought to be allowed to exercise it.

Sir M. W. Ridley

seconded the motion. The bill, he said, proposed to go no further than to reinstate the petitioners in the rights which had before belonged to them. The Crown might establish a separate community, but could not deprive free- holders of their franchises. It was, therefore, evident, that the proposed measure was just and proper.

Mr. Jones

supported the motion.

Mr. Littleton

did not see that any reasonable objection could be made to it.

Lord John Russell

said, that the petitioners were entitled to the right of voting for the return of members. He thought, however, that it would be better to confine their right of voting to the town itself, than extend it to the county at large.

Mr. Sykes

disclaimed any intention to confer a double right of voting. His object was merely to restore the ancient constitutional right.

Mr. Wynn

doubted whether this was a proper time for the introduction of such a bill. At all events, the hon. member ought to give the House sufficient time to consider the subject.

Mr. Sykes

observed, that he had given notice of his intention to introduce this measure some weeks ago. If it was a proper one, it ought to pass without delay.

Mr. J. Benett

observed, that this was merely a restoration of rights, by which nobody could be injured; and, since the right could not be questioned, the sooner it was restored the better.

Mr. Ellice

said, that a decision on the matter in question had taken place in a committee up stairs. The freeholders of Coventry had voted for the county of Warwick, and their votes had been disallowed. The county was under great obligations to the hon. member for bringing forward this subject, but he hoped the hon. member would not press it forward with such haste as to deprive him of the support of the gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Bright

said, that this was merely a declaratory law, and he only regretted that the hon. gentleman proposed to confine its operation to nine places. As to the double franchise, no good argument could be founded on that; for, he believed, there were few members of the House who had not a double franchise. The measure ought to be extended to all the places which had lost their ancient rights, otherwise the places not named might be deprived of their rights by implication.

Mr. R. Smith

thought, that the operation of the bill should be, in some degree, restrained; for, if it restored all the rights that lay dormant, it might, on the same principle, deprive electors of such rights as they had acquired by usage. It was clear that the Crown could not, by any charter, take away the elective franchise.

Dr. Phillimore

consented to the introduction of the bill, but would not pledge himself to support it throughout.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.