HC Deb 25 March 1828 vol 18 cc1348-50

On the order of the day for the second reading,

Lord Althorp

said, he had sufficient experience in that House to know, that if he put off the second reading until after the holydays, he could not carry the bill through afterwards. The most suitable way would be for those who objected to the bill, to let it pass the present stage, and take the discussion on the motion for going into a committee.

Mr. Huskisson

confessed he had not yet been able to give the bill all the attention it deserved. From what he had seen of it, however, he thought that many of its regulations would disappoint the expectations of the noble lord. Instead of saving expense he thought it would effect a perpetual system of taxation. In the present state of the House, he wished the merits of the bill not to be brought under discussion.

Lord Lowther

expressed his determination to oppose the bill, because it was a most impolitic measure, and would make the law more complicated and expensive than it now was. He was also greatly afraid of the noble lord's committee, when he saw the hon. baronet (sir J. Graham), the great reprehender of committees, upon it. Words had been put into the mouth of an eminent solicitor which he had never uttered. That gentleman was represented to have said, that, in a great contest, one third of the votes sent to the assessor were objected to, on the ground of the land-tax. Now he believed that the proportion of votes disputed was never even one tenth, and he had found that there was no instance in which one-tenth of the votes had been questioned. The only case that approximated to this calculation was that of his own election for Westmoreland, in which every vexatious objection that the ingenuity of man could devise was urged, and yet, in that case the proportion was only one twelfth; and in that of Devonshire, the next in degree, one twenty-eighth. The effect of this bill would be, to establish throughout the year one continued election contest. It would exclude all minor voters, and throw the representation into the hands of the wealthy freeholders. The bill was only a copy of Mr. Bearcroft's bill in 1788, which was just as complicated a measure as this. The payment of the land-tax had been found by experience to be the best criterion of the possession of the property qualifying a man to vote as a freeholder. For these reasons, and for others with which he would not detain the House, he would move, that the second reading be postponed for six months.

Sir James Graham

denied that he had ever treated committees with contempt. He thought no measure could be rendered perfect without the labours of a committee. The noble lord had referred to the evidence of an eminent solicitor. Now, he knew that solicitor to be a gentleman of unimpeachable veracity, and he had said, that one third of the votes that went to the assessor in the contest at Glocester arose out of the land-tax. At Westmoreland, that gentleman had said that one out of eleven were objected to on the same score. He must contend that this bill was much less complicated than the present law. Serjeant Heywood, a good authority, had said, that the land-tax bill had raised more doubts upon the law of election than all the other enactments put together. The noble lord had expressed the most fastidious jealousy lest this bill should increase the expense of election. He was bound to believe the noble lord sincere, but he was quite sure he was wrong. His noble friend, the member for York, had expended 120,000l., without polling a single vote. As to the effect which the noble lord contended the bill would have, of throwing the influence into the hands of powerful families, and excluding the 40s. voters, he was sure that no such principle would be listened to by that House. The effect of the bill would be to give extension to the elective franchise.

The Attorney-General

objected to the bill, though he admitted it was strongly recommended, as coming from the noble lord. But the principle was, that the constituent body should not be exposed to expense and litigation in defence of their rights. He admitted that, if any steps for that purpose could be taken preliminary to an election, much might be done to reduce expenses; but this bill did not profess any such intention. It established an operose course of inquiry into the validity of voters, which was to be repeated every year. No person was to be allowed to vote, unless his name was in the register. If à priori, any elector could know whether a contest would take place, he might decide whe- ther he would put himself to the trouble and expense of going through the ordeal of this bill but not otherwise. He objected to the enormous expense and inconvenience which the complicated provisions of the bill would impose upon the constituent body. To the principle of the bill he was favourable. He was satisfied of the intention of the noble lord to accomplish a practical good; and, if it were divested of the cumbrous machinery with which it was at present embarrassed, he should be glad to co-operate with the noble lord in the object he had in view. The practice of serving a summons on non-resident voters, the power which the bill proposed to invest in under-sheriffs, and the various and intricate modes proposed for procuring the requisite tests of qualification, as freeholders, constituted the objectionable parts of the bill.

Lord Althorp

maintained that the bill, by lessening the duration of the poll at county elections, would materially lessen their expense. This was a result no less desirable to voters than to candidates, for at present the enormous expense of standing for a county often left the freeholders scarcely any choice as to their representative.

After a few observations from colonel Wood, Mr. Dickenson, Mr. Marshall, and Mr. Hobhouse, the House divided:—For the amendment 17; against it 32; Majority 15. The bill was then read a second time.