§ Lord Althorp,
in moving the fifteenth clause, said, that Ministers wished to take that opportunity of explaining their views as to voters in cities and counties. In considering this measure they had felt considerable difficulty with respect to the vote which should be given to freeholders whose freeholds were situated within the limits of cities or borough towns. In some of these the freeholders voted for the counties in which they were situated; in others, for the borough only; and in some places, both for the borough and county. It was 163 reasonable and necessary, that they should have votes somewhere, and the question was, whether they should be allowed to vote for the city or the county. If they had decided in favour of allowing such individuals to vote for cities, then another question would arise—namely, whether that right should be exercised on the same principle as it was exercised in counties, without any reference to residence. If this were admitted, it would create a number of non-resident voters, contrary to the principle of the Bill, that principle being, to give the right of voting in boroughs only to individuals who were actually resident, while, on the other hand, the principle of voting for freehold property in counties, was against any restriction as to residence. The principle which had all along been maintained, and which Ministers wished to carry into effect, was, to grant the right of voting in boroughs to inhabitant householders paying a certain amount of rent; and they were also anxious to distinguish bonâ fide freeholders from those who were created for the purpose of assisting elections. Balancing the evils which appeared on both sides, and looking particularly to that which was connected with non-resident-ship, Ministers conceived that, on the whole, it would be better to give to freeholders possessing freeholds within the limits of boroughs or cities, the right of voting for counties, instead of running the risk of allowing non-residents to vote for boroughs. It was his intention, in order to prevent fictitious votes from being created hereafter, to propose (the rights at present possessed by individuals being preserved) that in future no annuitants should gain a vote for a less sum than 10l. a year. The system of thus creating votes had not, generally speaking, prevailed much in England, but in some places there was no doubt that fictitious votes were thus created. Within all boroughs the present right of voting would be continued; but he thought that, with respect to freeholders in such boroughs, the rule of residence ought to be enforced. Having said thus much, he would now propose the fifteenth clause.
It was read from the Chair as follows:—"And be it further enacted, that for the purpose of electing a Knight or Knights of the Shire to serve in any future Parliament, for the East Riding of the county of York, the North Riding of the county of York, 164 and the several counties enumerated in the second column of the schedule H to the Act annexed, shall respectively include the several cities and towns, being counties of themselves, mentioned in conjunction therewith, and named in the first column of the said schedule H; and that, for the like purpose, the county of Glocester shall include that part of Bristol which is situate on the Gloucestershire side of the river Avon; and the county of Somerset shall include that part of Bristol which is situate on the Somersetshire side of the said river Avon."
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, he had given every attention to the explanation of the noble Lord, but he had not obtained a clear idea of his intentions. Was he to understand that all 40s. freeholders whose right of voting was derived from property lying in places which were counties in themselves, were to have their votes conferred by the condition of residence?
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he meant first to state, that he had proposed the clause merely as it stood, and secondly, in order to meet certain objections respecting it, it was his intention to propose separate and distinct clauses, applicable to counties at large, and to protect the rights of this particular class as the rights of freemen were protected. The condition of residence applied to boroughs only.
§ Colonel Davies rose to state the grounds of the amendments he meant to propose upon this part of his noble friend's arrangement, and the nature of those amendments. He rejoiced at the abolition of nominal freeholders, and he should endeavour to make the principle involved in that more complete. His object was, that all freeholders in cities and boroughs should have the right of voting in those places, and not for the counties. He had hitherto abstained from expressing his opinion upon any of the objectionable parts of the Bill, and from joining in those debates which had consumed so much of the time of the House. He had even given votes which he felt in his conscience were not in conformity with the principles advanced by his Majesty's Ministers, rather than appear to do any thing which could be considered hostile to the measure. But the time was now come when he felt it his duty to speak out, and as the friend of the principle of Reform, and of his Majesty's Government, he told them, that although the measure contained much that 165 gave satisfaction to the country, yet it also contained that which was daily spreading discontent. So friendly was he to the measure, that he had hitherto, almost invariably, and most cautiously, abstained from taking any part in those protracted debates to which it had given rise; but if he could show, that in many points the Bill was inefficient as a remedial measure, and he could point out different provisions in it which conflicted with each other—if he could prove, that the machinery of the Bill was defective, and could not operate well—then he thought that his noble friend, if he would not agree to the amendments which he wished to propose, ought at least to adopt some amendments for the purpose of making the Bill effectual. He regretted that ministers had not, during the recess which was occasioned by the late dissolution of Parliament, applied themselves more anxiously to the improvement of the Bill, and endeavoured to remove from it those anomalies by which it was disfigured. He admitted, that there were many beneficial provisions in the Bill, but they were mixed up with so much "baser matter" as to be rendered comparatively useless. The object he contemplated in the proposition of which he had given notice was twofold; first, to exclude county freeholders from voting in boroughs and towns; and, on the other hand, to confine boroughs and towns to their own inhabitants, and not suffer them to overwhelm the counties, and return both their own Members and those for the county. By one of the provisions of the Bill, freemen were entitled to vote, provided they lived within seven miles of the place of election. It appeared to him, therefore, that the 10l. householders should also be restricted to the same distance. The twenty-fifth clause enacted that any borough entitled to send Members, must have 300 10l. houses, and where there were not that number, the Commissioners were empowered, or rather compelled—it was not left to their discretion—to take in additional parishes to an extent of seven miles round the place. They were not left at liberty to take in any part of the adjoining parishes which might supply the necessary number of voters, but they were compelled to take in the whole extent of seven miles round the borough. Now, he knew that there were many places which would not supply 300 10l. houses within the surrounding seven miles. He could quote 166 twenty instances in which no constituency could be formed according to the present provisions of the Bill; but he would only detain the House by mentioning two. In the case of East Grinstead, the papers before the House gave a return of forty four 10l. houses, so that the Commissioners would have to go into the neighbouring parishes to seek the great mass of the constituency. But he would undertake to say, that they would not find 300 10l. houses within twenty miles of East Grinstead. Another case which he should name was that of Northallerton, where, to make up the required number, they must go sixteen miles. But even then, when they had found the houses, it by no means followed that they would obtain 300 voters. The Bill did not require, that there should be 300 persons, but houses, counting-houses, and warehouses, in conjunction with land, of the annual value of 10l. Now, many of these might be empty, and others inhabited by females; and as the list was to be taken of houses, counting-houses, and warehouses, separately, one of each might be in the possession of one person, and the number of voters would consequently be only one-third. If these difficulties were found in the English boroughs, what must be the case in Wales? In Anglesey there were only 210 10l. houses; in Cardigan, 260; and in Radnor, 127. To make up the necessary constituency they would be obliged to go to the utmost limits of the counties. What then became of his noble friend's doctrine of non-residence, or where were they to find voters for the respective counties so circumstanced? In Cornwall there were, he believed, eight boroughs left by the Bill, and to make constituencies in no less than six of these it would be necessary to take in the adjoining parishes, so that each of them would take from the county Representation a circle fourteen miles in diameter, the Commissioners being, as he had said, left without any discretion, and compelled to take in that extent. But in the case of their not being able to find 300 10l. houses within the circle of seven miles, what were they then to do? Were they to return, that the required number of voters could not be found, and then were such places to go unrepresented, or return a Member with less than the required number of constituents? So much for the smaller boroughs, but when they came to the larger, they would find their diffi- 167 culties increased in another way, particularly when the borough constituencies were large, and the counties divided. What would be the effect of such a state of things in the county of Warwick, if Birmingham was included in one division of that county? Why, Birmingham had 2,000 freeholders of its own, and would therefore, of course, command the return of at least one county Member. In Leeds; there were 1,700 freeholders, a number sufficient to command the return for one of the Ridings of Yorkshire. There were other parts of the Bill which it appeared to him impossible that the House should pass as they stood, and upon which he should certainly feel it his duty to move; amendments. Even if the machinery of the Bill provided constituencies for the places to which it allotted Members, he still contended, that it would do so by the most inconvenient and objectionable means. The Bill as it stood said, that if there were not 10l. householders enough in the towns, they must be taken from the counties, and the deficiency in the counties so created must be made up from the freeholders in the towns. Thus, on the one hand, they would take the farmer to choose Representatives for a commercial or manufacturing population, and, on the other, they would send the weaver, or the gun-maker, or the sailor from Liverpool, who believed their interests to depend upon a repeal of the Corn-laws, to elect a Member for those who thought they could only be protected from ruin by further restrictions. He would confidently ask the House and the country, whether it would not be more rational, and more consistent with the fair Representation of all interests, to let the freeholders in towns vote for those towns, and leave the county Members to be elected by the country residents? These were the principal objections which he saw to the Bill; but there were many others of a minor importance, but which did not the less excite dissatisfaction and discontent. Amongst these were the inequalities with which the elective privilege would be distributed to some individuals, and taken away from others. He could assure the noble Lord, that if these inequalities were not removed the country would not be satisfied. Men who had long been in the honest exercise of that privilege saw it suddenly wrested from them, and given to their next neighbour, who had never before possessed it, and all this was caused by the 168 operation of some capricious rule in which they could recognize neither utility nor necessity. A man, for example, might be living in a country town most respectably, and yet in a house of a less value than 10l. a-year, taken in conjunction with land worth 200l. or 300l. a-year. The Commissioners might refuse to annex the land to the house if they thought proper, and such a person would have no vote for the town; while, at the same time, if his land stood within the precincts of the borough, he would be deprived of that vote for the county which he before possessed. In this situation he might very probably cast his eyes round and see his own labourer, or persons in his employment, placed in the possession of that privilege which had been taken from him, because they lived in a house paying a few pounds more rent. Another case was to be found in the operation of the sixteenth clause. To enable a leaseholder to vote for the county, he must hold a lease for seven years, at a rent of 50l. a-year, while a 10l. tenant-at-will would have a vote for a borough; so that there might be a bonâ fide resident householder, a farmer who rented a farm, holding it at will, of the annual value of 500l., but being outside the boundary prescribed by the Commissioners, such person could have no vote, while his neighbour, holding a house only of 10l. annual value, if it happened to be within the boundary, would have that privilege. Was it to be supposed that the people would be contented with the Bill when they saw it produce these effects? Was it necessary to the principle of Reform that men should be so deprived of their rights, or that these subjects of discontent and jealousy should be cast amongst them? What he meant to propose as a remedy for this was, to allow freeholders to vote for the boroughs where their property was situated, and to give, in small towns, 5l. householders, whether resident or not, the right of voting. It was well known, that such a qualification would bring as respectable and intelligent men into the constituency in those places as 20l. in large and populous towns. The nonresident freeholders would, undoubtedly, be few, from the fact of the greater portion of persons holding such freeholds, generally having business in the various places in which they were situated. In all probability, too, that would in most cases give a sufficient number of voters, without 169 breaking in upon the counties to procure them. He also meant to propose, that in case the joint operation of the admission of 10l. householders, of freeholders, and of 5l. householders should not create a sufficient constituency in any borough, then the Commission should have the power to add what parts of parishes they might think proper within the surrounding seven miles, so as to touch upon the county constituency as tenderly as possible. These were improvements which he thought indispensable to the Bill to make it acceptable or beneficial to the country. It had been his most anxious wish to have given a silent vote in favour of all its clauses if he could have reconciled it to his conscience to do so. He was told by his friends not to offer amendments which would cause delay. It was said, "Oh, never mind amendments now; let them be made after." But he wished to ask whether they were so sure that they should have another opportunity of making them if the present opportunity were neglected? They must not forget, that the Bill would have to go through another House before it came back there. And there were rumours that in certain quarters the principle of the Bill was opposed, and that an opportunity would gladly be taken to get rid of it altogether. The question was, then, should they, by sending up a bad and imperfect measure, give the opponents of Reform an excuse for rejecting that question altogether? One of the great recommendations of the Bill had been, that it was to be a permanent and final settlement of the question. But if they were not to make it as complete as they could, by endeavouring to remedy its palpable defects, what would become of the recommendation derived from its presumed permanency? Let them remember, that they might not again have the same opportunity of rendering it perfect. If this Bill were found by the people not to work well, and he contended that as it now stood it could not work well—then it must be expected that the people would have different feelings on the question. They would believe that they had been betrayed by those in whom they confided, and, after sending different men to that House, would not be satisfied with the extent of change which they were now contented to receive. The hon. Member concluded by moving that clause fifteen be rejected.170
§ Lord Althorp
fully concurred with his hon. friend, that it was the duty of the House to send this Bill up to the other House of Parliament in as perfect and unobjectionable a shape as possible; and he agreed with him, therefore, in saying, that it was of the utmost importance that amendments proposed in the Bill should be fully discussed. It would be vain to say that Government had not heard, in the discussions which had hitherto taken place, much that was very important, and it would be in vain to deny, that they had profited by it. If, however, the objections of his hon. friend to the Bill were as strong and as numerous as he declared them to be, it was quite obvious, that the amendments suggested by him would not remove those objections. He would, however, proceed to notice some of the objections of his hon. friend. His hon. friend's first objection regarded the enactments of the Bill with respect to residence. His hon. friend complained that they were depriving some who now possessed votes, of their franchise, on account of non-residence, while, at the same time, they conferred votes on householders, without making residence a qualification. But the householder, the occupier of a house, must, under the very words of the Act, be resident. The occupier of a warehouse could not always be resident, but then he would never be very far distant; and the reason of this regulation was, that it had been found that, in large towns, persons of the greatest substance resided in villas, in the vicinity of the town. With regard to what his hon. friend had said of the distance they would have to go for a constituency, he was pretty well satisfied, from all the inquiries which had been made, that there would not be many instances in which it would be necessary to go so far as seven miles in order to get a full constituency. This, the House would see, was very different from the great distances from which the out-voting freemen were now brought. If his hon. friend thought, that the distance of seven miles was either too far, or not far enough, let his hon. friend bring forward his views on that subject, when the clause respecting non-resident freemen came under discussion. The Government had been convinced that there must be some limit prescribed, in order to guard against the evils which now resulted from the right of voting vested in non-resident freemen. His hon. friend had said, that, 171 in many places, it would be difficult to get a constituency of 300. He thought his hon. friend was much mistaken upon this point; but, it must be recollected, that the Bill did not say, that there must necessarily be that constituency. The Bill only endeavoured to procure that constituency, where it did not at present exist. His hon. friend had remarked upon the great hardship a tenant-at-will, with 500l. a-year would sustain, if his property was just outside the line of a borough district, while a tenant within that line, with only a 10l. house, had a vote; but what was the case at present? Did not the man with a lease for ninety-nine years, close to a scot and lot borough, see his neighbour or workman vote for that borough, while he was excluded from it. Instead of creating hardships on those not included in borough districts, it conferred a benefit, by giving seven years leaseholders a vote for the county, which they did not possess at present. The great inconsistency, as his hon. friend called it, of the Bill, was, that by throwing the districts into the boroughs, and the borough freeholders into the counties, it swamped the boroughs in the districts, and the county freeholders in the borough freeholders. His hon. friend, however, had not attempted to shew how these consequences would result from the Bill, and he could not perceive how it could possibly produce any such effects. His hon. friend wished to get rid of this inconsistency, as he called it, by enacting that the freeholders in boroughs should vote at the election of Members for such boroughs, and not at the election of the Members for the county in which the borough was situated. There certainly might be cases where the voters in an adjacent district were more numerous than the voters in a borough, but the case could not be of frequent occurrence. In Birmingham, at present, a freeholder in the town had a vote for the county of Warwick, but after the Bill should have been passed, he would only have a vote for the newly-erected borough. He thought, however, that it would be most dangerous to admit the freeholders of small boroughs to vote at the election of the Members for the boroughs. By such an arrangement, they would enable any man who possessed large freehold property in a borough, to convert such borough into a nomination-borough. If, too, the constituency of some of the boroughs would be as small under the 172 Bill as his hon. friend had wished to make out, then, if a man had freehold property in one of these boroughs to the amount only of 300l. a-year, and chose to grant 40s. leases for lives, which would be freeholds, he would obtain a command over 150 votes, which, according to his hon. friend, would be the majority in some of the boroughs. He thought the arrangements of the Bill much more desirable than the suggestions of his hon. friend.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that the noble Lord, following the hon. and gallant Gentleman, had gone into questions not immediately before the Committee. He concurred generally in the doctrines laid down by the gallant Officer, for he believed it would tend to simplify the Bill, if a person's right of voting was restricted to the district in which he resided. The 15th clause, which included towns and cities that were counties of themselves within the adjoining counties, for the purpose of county elections, was the subject now before the House, and to that he proposed to confine himself. He must, however, in the first place, thank the noble Lord for his free, though somewhat tardy, acknowledgment, that the discussions which had been raised on the Opposition side of the House, had, instead of producing unnecessary and useless delay, furnished the Ministers with many important improvements in the Bill. This candid and honourable acknowledgment of the noble Lord, was his (Sir Robert Peel's) answer to Common-councilmen and Political Unions, who threatened them with the application of external force for the expediting their proceedings.
§ Lord Althorp
said, across the Table, that he for one had never charged the other side of the House with interposing needless delay.
Sir Robert Peel
was happy to hear the noble Lord again so candidly allow, that the object of those who had opposed the Reform Bill was, to make it as perfect as it could be rendered. The practical proof that the noble Lord was right, was furnished by the fact, that because the House had accidentally proceeded faster than usual with the Bill for one or two days, the Government found it necessary to postpone a most important clause, because it had not been amended in conformity with the suggestions of that (the Opposition) side of the House. He would, with the permission of the Committee, make some observations upon the 173 clause now proposed for their adoption. There were, in all, nineteen corporate towns in England, and these, with the exception of the county of the city of Bristol—which was dealt with specially—were enumerated in schedule H, annexed to this Bill. He wished that every Gentleman would take the trouble to peruse a treatise, of singular ability and research, on the subject of towns and cities which are counties in themselves, written by Mr. Corbet. All the facts relating to the history of those towns, and all the constitutional learning bearing upon those facts, would be found stated, with great learning and clearness, in this treatise. In ten out of these nineteen corporate towns, the freeholders had no right to vote, either for the county of the town, or, if he might be allowed to use the expression, for the parent county. These ten corporate towns were Carmarthen, Chester, Coventry, Exeter, Gloucester, Kingston-upon-Hull, Lincoln, London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Worcester. In four of them—namely, in Canterbury, Poole, Southampton, and the Ainsty of York—the freeholders had the right to vote for the parent county. In five of them—namely, Bristol, Haverford-west, Lichfield, Norwich, and Nottingham—the freeholders had a right to vote for the city, in conjunction with the burgesses. Now, although these anomalies existed at present in the rights of freeholders in these corporate towns, yet he did think, when they were overturning the ancient fabric of Representation, and constructing a new one, that it would have been much better, and much more in conformity with the general principles of the Constitution, to have given to the freeholders of such places the right of voting for the county of the city, rather than making them vote for the parent county. These places were, for municipal purposes, completely separated from the county surrounding them, and were, to all intents and purposes, counties of themselves. They, in general, had their own Sheriffs, to whom the writ was addressed. He did not, of course, object to the parties now having a right to vote retaining their right, but to the mode in which it was proposed to confer that right on them. The circumstances of the different corporate counties might vary; in some places their limits were confined to the place where the town stood; in others they extended to some 174 distance beyond it, but the connexion of the freeholders was generally a town connexion. This was particularly the case in those five counties in which the freeholders had hitherto possessed the right of voting for the city or town. Why were such persons to be turned over to the parent county? In Staffordshire, for instance, the greater part of the boná fide freeholders of Lichfield would be transferred from that city, wherein they had at present votes, to the county constituency for that division of the county to which Lichfield would belong. A weaver of Nottingham, with a 40s. freehold, would have a vote, and it was admitted on all sides, that he ought not to be deprived of his right; but surely it would be a much more desirable arrangement, to allow him to exercise that right for the place where he resided, and in which all his interests and connexions were centered, than to transfer him to the parent county, with which he had nothing whatever to do. And to what class of freeholders would this change be most prejudicial? Why, to the very lowest—to that class which was least able to bear expense. A 40s. freeholder was to have no vote for the town in which his freehold was situate, but was to be put to the expense of travelling thirty or forty miles to give his vote, even though an election for his own town might be going on at his door. Such an arrangement was injurious to the small freeholder, and also to the character of the county affected. It would not be said, that these counties of cities and towns were not strictly counties; for so strongly had the House felt them to be so, that when Mr. Fleming was Sheriff of Hampshire, it held, that he was not disqualified to sit for Southampton, which was the county of a city. That in itself, perhaps, was sufficient proof that the corporate counties were, in the eye of the Constitution and the law, bonâ fide counties; and in support of that position, he would quote the authority of Mr. Prynne, who stated, that the town and county of Bristol elected two Representatives, who were as well knights of the shire as burgesses of that city. Even at the early period when the charter was granted to Bristol, forming it into a county, this was felt to be the case. In that charter it was expressly provided, that the city of Bristol should not be burthened with the support of more than two Members of Parliament, and likewise, that 175 these two Members should be considered as representing both the county of the city and the city. In those days the appetite for Representation was not quite so strong as at present; and the city of Bristol apprehended, that, on its being made the county of a city it might be called upon to return four Members—two for the city, and two on account of its new distinction. He apprehended, that the suggestion he was now making would be no infraction upon the principle of the Bill, and, on general principles, he was convinced that the arrangement he proposed would be a strong guard against those abuses which would result from this part of the Bill, as it now stood. He thought, that the freeholders of the county of a city should be allowed to vote at elections for the city, in conjunction with the householders, and the freemen who were allowed to vote under the Bill. He was sure that great abuses would result from the present arrangement, which sent the freeholder of a town to vote for the parent county instead of the town. If a man attached a piece of ground, ever so small, to his warehouse—a garden, for instance—he would thus acquire a right to vote for the county. This facility of creating a double right of voting was pregnant with abuse, and he had no doubt, that Birmingham and Coventry would find means to return the county Members, as well as the Members for the town. The noble Lord said, that he would prevent any such effect, by adopting the system in force with respect to freeholders in Ireland, and require a 101. qualification. That was an important alteration in the Bill, and afforded another proof, if proof were wanting, of the utility of suggestions made, and discussions raised, by this side of the House. It should be recollected, that in the first instance the principle of the Bill, as stated by those who had brought it forward, was to confine the right of voting in towns to resident voters. In fact, non-resident voters were altogether excluded in the first draft of the Bill. An important alteration had, however, been subsequently made in this portion of the Bill—an alteration, of which he entirely approved, but which, at the same time, it could not be denied, was a complete departure from the original principle of the Bill: that alteration, consisted in making the possession of counting-houses and warehouses confer the right of voting in towns, and by 176 means of such an alteration, the right of voting was given to 3,000 or 4,000 non-resident voters in Manchester alone. He thought that his Majesty's Ministers did wisely, in admitting such persons to the right of voting in towns; but when they did so, why would they not admit freeholders also? He was of opinion, that it would greatly simplify the Bill, if the general principle should be adopted, to confine the right of voting accruing from the possession of property, to the district in which that property was situated. Let the freeholder whose freehold is in Lich-field or in Newcastle, vote for the member for Lichfield or Newcastle, and not for the member for Staffordshire or Northumberland.
The Attorney General
said, that the right hon. Baronet had taken another opportunity, to attack the general principles of the Bill, and at the same time to claim for its opponents the honour of amending its provisions. But it should be borne in mind, that this Motion was brought forward by a warm friend of the Bill, by one whose anxiety for its complete perfection led him, perhaps, to view too minutely its supposed defects. His hon. and gallant friend, not sufficiently considering that no human measure could be faultless, had brooded over the blunders he thought he detected, and strained his ingenuity to devise means for removing them, till both the extent of evil, and the virtue of the remedy, assumed a most exaggerated character. He would admit, that, generally speaking, the habit of severe scrutiny was one of the most useful qualifications for a Member of Parliament; yet he thought, that in the present instance it ought to be sparingly applied; and he hoped to convince his hon. and gallant friend, that his amendment could not produce any advantageous result. Before he should allude to the arguments, he could not avoid noticing a topic to which the right hon. Baronet had adverted, and which had been a subject of considerable triumph with the opponents of the Bill for some nights past. Because a clause had been postponed on a former evening, in consequence of the rapidity with which the Bill was going through the House, his Majesty's Ministers were reproached with delay; this admission of his was, to relieve their opponents from that charge. Now the fact was, that this amended clause was ready written and prepared some days 177 previously, and it was only owing to the indisposition of the noble Lord who was to bring the clause forward, and whose papers, in consequence, were not in the House, that he (the Attorney General), somewhat surprised by the rapid rate at which they travelled through Wales, had been obliged to make that momentary apology for the postponement of the clause, of which so great a handle had since been made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. He hoped, after this explanation, to hear no more on that subject from the other opponents of the Bill; he was confident that he should not from the right hon. Baronet. The question on the present occasion was, whether the freeholders in corporate towns should have the right of voting in those towns, as the right hon. Baronet contended that they should; or should have the right of voting at the elections for the counties in which such towns were situate, as was provided by the Bill. In discussing it there could be no necessity for entering into the other objections which the ingenuity of Gentlemen opposite suggested. There were nineteen places which were counties in themselves, and in which this principle of Representation was called into action. In some of those counties and cities there was a rural population. Coventry and Lincoln, for instance, had four parishes purely agricultural, and he asked, whether it was not more proper that the freeholders in those agricultural parishes should vote for the county Member, rather than for the Representative of the town? The right hon. Baronet thought this portion of the population had more the character of town voters than of county voters; but on that point he was at issue with the right hon. Baronet. He would assert, that the agricultural population in the neighbourhood of those towns, though resident within the actual legal limits of the town, being employed in the culture of the fields, and bringing their produce weekly to the markets of the town, was much more in accordance with the interests of the population of the county at large, than with the interests of the freemen, tradesmen, and artisans of this city. This dissimilarity of character, and this absence of all sympathy and connection with the town voters, was a reason why this part of the population, at all events, should vote for the counties, and not for the towns. The natural arrangement, he contended, 178 was, to keep one class for the town constituency, and the other for the county constituency. The Bill as it stood secured the Representation of property in the counties, and the Representation of persons in the towns. That was the object and the principle of the Bill, and it was upon such grounds that he would contend, that the agricultural population in the neighbourhood of corporate cities and boroughs ought to vote only at the election of Members for the county. The accidental circumstance that population happened to be within the jurisdiction of the city or borough, made no difference in the application of the principle. There was no doubt that several of those towns exercised completely the rights of counties in themselves, as regarded the election of Sheriffs and of other officers; but it should be borne in mind, that there were various Acts of Parliament which restricted their jurisdiction. The danger, he thought, of the freeholders abusing the right of the elective franchise in such cases, for instance, as Nottingham and Lichfield, was much lessened by sending them to the larger constituency in the county, instead of retaining them in the smaller constituency in the towns. If prescription and usage—of which so much was said—was to have any weight in this case, the freeholders in counties corporate did, in general, vote for the county at large under the existing law, and that, without complaint or suspicion. He had never heard, for instance, that the freeholders in Canterbury did not properly exercise the right of voting for the county of Kent, or those of Poole for the county of Dorset. He could state, from his own knowledge, that the multiplication of freeholds had taken place in the town of Nottingham: some of the neighbouring gentry being opposed to the town's-people, bought freeholds for their tenantry within the town, to overpower the town voters. The town's-people, to counteract their manœuvre, created freeholds. Such an evil was provided against by this clause, which took away the object for which such freeholds were at present created in towns If the objection of his hon. and gallant friend should appear to the House to be a valid one, and if his Motion should be assented to, its effect, in the case of Nottingham, would be, to disfranchise in part a great number of the householders there, not being 10l. householders, who otherwise, 179 as freeholders, would have votes at the election for the county. He mentioned Nottingham, both because he was best acquainted with it, and because no other place was so much affected by the clause. But he had heard of no dissatisfaction from that quarter. The system of annuitants had been alluded to, and this abuse proved how much better it was, that the freeholders in counties corporate should vote for the county at large, where the constituency was necessarily large, than for the town, in which those annuitants might be able to overpower the rest of the constituency. Under this Bill, property would be represented in the counties, and persons in the towns. According to the alteration now proposed, however, if a man occupied, as a leaseholder, a 10l. house, the property of another, and had also a much larger freehold estate in the same town, his person would be represented, inasmuch as he might vote for the town Member; but his property would not be represented, as he would be deprived of the right of voting out of his freehold. In the town of Lichfield it had often been asserted, that there were 240 annuitants having the right to vote at elections, and exercising a considerable influence over the elections, but having no interest in common with the town. That a change in the existing system on this point was absolutely necessary—was quite inevitable—he thought could not be denied, and it appeared to him, that this was the best mode of effecting that change. He was ready to maintain, that the principle of the Bill was, to confer the right of voting on resident voters in towns, and that the giving that right to the proprietors of counting-houses and warehouses was no deviation from that principle. The owners of such property might, to be sure, live seven or eight miles from the town in which it was situated; but then they made their daily visits to the town, their capital was employed in it, its interests were of the greatest importance to them, and the mere circumstance of their not sleeping there did not bring them under the class of non-residents. When they spoke of residence as regarded voters, they did not mean that kind of residence which gave a right to a settlement, but that species of residence which consisted in daily communication, commerce, and occupation in the town in which the right of voting 180 was to be exercised. Such a residence as that would not exist in the instance of the owners of freeholds, for they would probably only call occasionally for their rents, and they would be in no way identified with the trading and commercial interests of the town where they might have a vote. In conclusion he would say, that there was something in the way in which the Bill had been prepared, that ought to give it credit with the real friends of Reform. It had been prepared by those who, sincerely attached to the great principle, were anxious to build up as excellent a system of Representation as possible, who were anxious to take counsel from all who Felt its importance, and had already adopted numerous suggestions from them. He appealed to every real reformer, whether it was not better to sacrifice his own doubts and scruples, however ingeniously they might be enforced, than to endanger the success of the measure, by giving a momentary triumph to the enemy, or even to retard its progress, by endless discussions on minor points. But if individual Members could not be persuaded to this course, he was convinced that the House would see that it was the best, and in every case of mere doubt, the principle of Reform itself ought to turn the scale in favour of his Majesty's Ministers.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
rose to ask a question of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He wished to know how the measure would operate with respect to the county rates? The inhabitants of counties corporate were compelled to pay particular rates, distinct from the county rates, and were absolved from contributing to the county rates. Now, he wished to know, whether those who held freeholds in counties corporate would be obliged to pay the rates in those counties of cities, and also the general county rate? or would a man be entitled to vote for the county, and be exempt from contributing to the county rate? He also wished to ask what was meant by residence? He had a house in Lincoln; but if his duties in that House obliged him to reside nine or ten months of the year in London, he begged to ask, whether he should be disfranchised as a non-resident, or favoured as much as an owner of a country-house or warehouse, and permitted to vote? He really put those questions with a desire to obtain information, as the Bill had been so much altered, and had become so complicated, 181 that he found a greater difficulty than ever in anatomising it, or knowing what it meant.
§ Mr. Croker
wished to know, whether the Commissioners who would be appointed by the Bill would not have a power over these corporate boroughs and cities with regard to settling their limits. In Lich-field and Coventry, where there was a large rural population, he apprehended that those Commissioners would have the power of restricting the borough population within its natural limits. If that should be the case, the limits set up by them would throw the whole rural population into the county, and the whole of the arguments which had been this evening urged on this subject, would fall to the ground.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that in his view of the case, these Commissioners would certainly have the power of deciding the extent of those corporate counties, as well as of other boroughs. As to the question which had been asked by the gallant member for Lincoln, he did not well understand to what that hon. Member alluded. This Bill was not to settle who were, or who were not to pay county rates. It said nothing about them. All that it did was, to settle the election of Members of Parliament, and it had nothing to do with rates.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the case which the hon. Member had given of himself, he (Lord Althorp) looked upon as a case of residence in Lincoln. The hon. Member, though he might be several months absent from Lincoln, kept a house and an establishment there. If he shut up his house, and removed his establishment, then he would become a non-resident in the sense of the Bill.
§ Mr. John T. Hope
was surprised to find the hon. and learned Attorney General standing up as a champion for the preservation of ancient usages. He could see no reason why the regulations should be different in counties at large, and in counties of cities. The hon. and learned Gentleman alluded to the freeholders in counties of cities, who, he said, had no connection with the town; but surely, if they had no connection with the town, they had as little connection with the county. The learned Gentleman had also remarked, that it would be a case of great hardship in such 10l. householders as might be entitled to vote for the towns, to be ex- 182 cluded, because they were freeholders, from voting for the county. Now, he saw no hardship in preventing a certain description of persons from having votes for two places. The hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) summed up his argument by saying, that if any doubt was entertained, the principle of the measure ought to turn the balance, and that the House would do well to adhere to the Bill, as the Polar star and beacon that should guide its course. He must, however, confess, that he could see nothing so perfect, so unalterable, or so final, in the Bill, as should induce him to adopt it as the standard by which he should form his judgment on any of its provisions.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, he thought it necessary to point out the extraordinary contradiction that appeared to exist between the fifteenth and eighteenth clauses of the Bill. By the provisions of the latter clause, those freeholders who had the right of voting for counties would lose that right, if a tenant occupying that freehold had the right of voting for any city or town.
§ Lord Althorp
begged for a moment to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman had called his attention before to the eighteenth clause, and he paid particular attention to his observations. He certainly thought it was an anomaly that a person should have a vote for the county merely by retaining a forty-shilling freehold in a town, which he did not himself occupy; whereas, if it was an occupancy of a larger amount, he would lose that right. This objection was of considerable weight, and had occupied much attention. One great object which they had originally in view, in arranging the Bill was, to diminish the influence of towns in county elections. With such views, the eighteenth clause was framed as it now stood. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had so fully satisfied them of its defects, that he meant to propose an alteration, the effect of which would be, that no person should be deprived of his vote for a county which he derived from property held in a town, unless he should thereby acquire a vote for such town. In the latter case, they thought such persons had no reason to complain, but they remained decidedly of opinion, that if a town freeholder did not acquire such right in the town, that then he should retain his right to vote for the county The proposed alteration in the clause 183 would make it stand thus—that where a man had a freehold in a town, which, by occupying it himself, gave him a right of voting for the place in which it was situated, he should not have the right of also voting for the county, and, on the contrary, if a man possessed such freehold, which he let to another, he should not, because his tenant acquired a vote for the town, be thereby deprived of his right to vote for the county.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, he felt much obliged to the noble Lord for the explanation he had given, and he felt great satisfaction at the attention he had shown to the objections he had previously thrown out on this clause, but he feared they were yet hardly understood. He had pointed out the inconsistency of giving votes to householders, when they took the same right away from men with fifty times their property, and he had instanced the Marine Parade at Brighton. Each occupier would possess the right of voting for the town, while the proprietor of the whole unless he chanced to occupy one of the houses himself, would have no right of voting either for the town or the county. He understood the noble Lord's principle to be distinctly this, that he would sacrifice the rights of the freeholders of the counties of cities, for the purpose of decreasing the influence of the landed proprietors at county elections. If after this the noble Lord turned round and said, he would throw into the county constituency all the small freeholders, who had no votes for towns, he departed from the principle he had before laid down, and totally defeated what he declared to be his own object. As the clause at present stood, it was wholly inconsistent with other parts of the Bill. If they attended to the first position, that it was necessary to preserve a considerable influence to the landed interests in the return of county Members, then the alteration now suggested would be the greatest innovation yet proposed. He would again take Brighton for an illustration. In that place there was much freehold property held by separate individuals; according to the proposed alterations each of these freeholders, not having a vote for the town, would be thrown into the county constituency, and must thereby necessarily decrease the influence which the noble Lord himself declared he desired the landed aristocracy to have. As he took it, the object of the noble Lord 184 was, to diminish the force of the democratic principle in the measure. How was it possible upon this principle to defend the giving of a vote to the 40s. freeholders, and the taking it away from freeholders of 200l. a-year. Again, if they referred to Southwark for an illustration; the county of Surrey would become a mere appendage to the borough, if the freeholders of Southwark retained a vote for the county. The same might be said of every large town. The county constituency would in this way be completely cut up, and leave merely a name. This also was his objection to the division of counties, because it would throw too much influence into the great towns. He was one of the last men who would cut up the counties into small nomination districts; and he thought that part of the Bill most objectionable. He therefore entirely dissented from the proposed alterations. He did not mean to object to the right of voting being given to the freeholders, but he would confine that right to the borough. If the freeholders of towns were admitted to the county constituency, the land would be deprived of the share of the Representation it ought to possess. He had always said, and he still retained the same opinion, that the Bill was too hastily prepared; that a measure like this, which went to change the whole Constitution, required long and serious deliberation; and the necessity of this was fully proved by the changes it was found necessary to introduce in almost every part of the Bill. The noble Lord now declared, that a man should have the right of voting for a county without being resident within it, and having no greater connexion with it than a 40s. freehold. If that was to be the case, why should it be insisted on that the 10l. householder must be resident in the borough for which he was to vote? a non-resident householder was as likely to have as much sympathy with the place in which he held his house, as the non-resident 40s. freeholder. The fact was, that each of them would make use of their franchise to support their own interests, and he would assure the noble Lord, that if he thought he could find a sound and upright constituency among 10l. householders, he would find himself most lamentably mistaken. As regarded the alteration of the 18th clause, he was fully of opinion, that the freeholders ought to be enfranchised, but the right of voting should be confined 185 to the district in which their freeholds were situated. He believed, therefore, that the 10l. constituency would be improved by the admixture of all the resident freeholders within the limits of the place, and he called upon the Committee to consider the circumstances he had brought under notice. For want of due consideration and preparation, Government went on jumping and skipping from one error to another, and endeavouring to correct in succeeding clauses the blunders that were made in preceding ones. It was vain to hope that this Bill would destroy the influence of towns in county elections. They on his side of the House were charged with unnecessarily impeding its progress. Now, were it not for them, it would have gone forth with all its imperfections on its head, and it was easy to see what the consequence to the country would have been. It was said, that the freeholders of counties of cities and towns were bad voters, being nominal freeholders; and was that a reason why these bad voters should be thrown upon the counties, which must have the effect of swamping small counties? He agreed, however, that it would not be right or proper to disfranchise them. Why not, therefore, let them vote where they were found? Why not let them vote with the 10l. householders in the towns, and introduce a clause to prevent any abuse from fraudulent freeholds. Upon this, as upon many other points of the English Bill, it was impossible to form a correct and satisfactory judgment, unless they had an opportunity of viewing it in connexion with the Irish and Scotch Bills. How could he know in what manner the changes made in this measure would bear upon the other measures for Ireland and Scotland? and if these changes of the constituency were admitted in one Bill, they could not be refused in the others. The hon. Baronet, the member for Waterford (Sir John Newport), in the debates on the Union, said, the Representation of Ireland was as popular as it could be, consistently with the safety of the country. He must look, therefore, at the probable effects of the three Bills taken together, and not solely at the operation of that now under consideration. They must be especially careful not to add to the evils of Ireland, by unnecessarily enlarging its constituency. His proposition was, that the freeholders of counties of cities and towns should vote 186 for their cities and towns with the 10l. householders. His wish was, though a friend to this Bill, that the Representation, so far as it went, should be real and not nominal, and that the people should be adequately represented, but he was anxious at the same time, that the due influence of the aristocracy should be preserved, and this could not be the case if 300 or 400 small freeholders of towns were to be thrown in upon the county constituency. It appeared that the boundaries of counties of cities and towns were to be settled by Commissioners. If that were the case, there seemed to be little use in debating this part of the Bill now, for how was it possible to secure the right of voting in places the limits of which remained yet to be determined? He would recommend that the Commissioners should not have the power to make any alterations in the limits of those towns and boroughs which were already well known and fixed. It was quite clear, that the measure was a failure in the hands of Ministers, and all must necessarily fail who undertook to strike out at one heat a new Constitution for England, and totally to alter a system, which, with the lapse of ages, had been gradually adapting itself to the varying circumstances of the country.
§ Lord Althorp
would not argue the present clause, for this reason, amongst others, that it would be better understood after it had been printed. Thus much, however, he would observe, that it gave no new right to the freeholders of towns, because they had already votes for the county and that, at all events, the landed interest would have no reason to complain, seeing that leaseholders, copyholders, and different tenants of land were invested with the right of voting; although on the whole, therefore, the influence given to towns was greater than before, yet much had been done for the landed proprietors, to balance this, by the admission of certain descriptions of tenantry to the privilege of voting. Neither would he then discuss the 18th clause, but would wait till it came before them. It was contended by the hon. and gallant Officer opposite, that the effect of the clause would be, to increase the influence of the landed aristocracy; but the force of his reasoning upon that subject would, he had no doubt, be justly appreciated by the House. The effect of the clause would be, to place the freeholders of boroughs, and of counties of cities 187 upon the same footing. As to the powers given to Commissioners, he declared that he should be exceedingly sorry to give them any power not rendered necessary by the machinery of the Bill, and therefore he should not, and did not, support an arrangement for enabling Commissioners to alter existing boundaries. Where they had been accurately ascertained and defined, no change was meant to be introduced. Such was the plan proposed, and he had not yet heard any other mode suggested for the formation of new boroughs, or the definition of old. He wished to know where the power could be more advantageously placed? Something had been said of the irresponsibility of the Commissioners, and he did not deny that there might be some weight in the objection founded upon that circumstance. The clause stated, that the Report of the Commissioners should be laid upon the Table of the House, and he saw no impediments to its being declared that such reports should not be deemed valid until they had the sanction of Parliament. He admitted, that the subject was of importance, and therefore thought it desirable that the report of the Commissioners should not be considered valid, till it had been approved of by both Houses, and each House had voted an Address to the Crown, praying that it might be adopted.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, there was then another most important alteration now proposed by the noble Lord in the principle of this Bill, and an alteration which he had previously declared he could not concede. They were continually altering it. Every day produced a change in the measure. The noble Lord at first told them, that these Commissioners were to determine the limits and boundaries of places without any sanction from Parliament. Now, however, it appeared, that their Report must be first approved of by an Address to the Crown from that House. Why this at once changed one of the most important features of the Bill, and went far to overturn its principle. Gentlemen opposite seemed to feel no interest in these matters, and it was no wonder they should not, as their minds were made up, and they were prepared to vote for the appointment of Commissioners upon any terms. It was now, however, proposed entirely to alter a large and most important feature of this unchangeable Bill. His learned friend the Attorney General, 188 charged them on his side of the House with a paucity of topics, and he would retort the observation by saying, that if there was a paucity of topics on one side, there was a remarkable penury of speakers on the other. Without any intimation before of his intention, the noble Lord now, by way of parenthesis, proposed to reverse the whole principle of the Bill. For his part he had decided objections to the provisions of the 15th clause, and he agreed with his hon. and learned friend, that it could not be properly understood without reference to other clauses. Only the other day the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) told them, he would give to the landed interest an equivalent compensation for the influence given to towns, first, by an increase of county Members, and secondly, by the division of counties. Now, if Commissioners were to have the power of transferring voters from towns who were rather more of a commercial and manufacturing class than agricultural, and of adding them to counties, it was in vain to be arguing now upon this principle laid down by the noble Lord. Would it be giving an equivalent compensation to the landed interest, to take a number of voters from the towns and throw them on counties? In Lichfield, for instance, there were 500 or 600 40s. freeholders annuitants, created for the purpose of making votes, and if these were all to be added to the county of Stafford, would not the principle of the noble Lord be completely upset? He must therefore enter his protest against this clause. His hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General) seemed to think it was the duty of reformers to see no faults in the Bill, or, if they saw any, to shut their eyes to them and hold their tongues. He censured the gallant Officer (Colonel Davies) for not being totally blind to its defects; and because he saw them, and pointed them out, and proposed a remedy, it seemed he was guilty of a crime which even holy water could not wash out. He could assure his hon. and learned friend, if the objections to this clause had not been pointed out by the gallant and hon. member for Worcester, they would not have passed unobserved. A more absurd hypothesis, or a grosser contradiction could not be proposed, than that of turning the small freeholders of cities and boroughs into the constituencies for counties: they were by this scheme taking away with one 189 hand what they gave with another. Was the noble Lord aware, or did he or any of his Majesty's Ministers inquire, whether great advantages were not enjoyed by the freeholders of counties of cities and towns? Did he know that they were exempt from payment of county rates, and from serving on juries for counties? These privileges they enjoyed by a compact originally entered into, when they were separated from the counties, and formed into a separate jurisdiction, and he knew that they wished to remain as they were. The question he wished to have answered was this—were they to be disfranchised, as freeholders of the town or city, for all purposes as well as for that of voting for the place in which they resided? were they to continue exempt from county rates, from serving on juries; and were they to retain their separate jurisdiction? Did these questions ever occur to the lucubrations of the reformers? Upon every ground the change appeared to be uncalled for and injudicious. In many places it would injure, if not destroy, the power of the rural constituency. He had before instanced Stafford being deluged with 500 or 600 nominal 40s. freeholders from Lichfield alone, while large districts of that county were to be connected together in the form of boroughs. In the Potteries what must be the effect of these alterations, but that the landed aristocracy must be wholly overwhelmed? Again, part of Bristol was in Somersetshire, and another part in Gloucestershire; were the freeholders of Bristol to be let loose on these counties, and overrule the elections in both? He knew something of Bristol, and he believed the electors would much prefer being left as they were. If this was the bonus the noble Lord held out to the country gentlemen, he could tell him, that his bonus was an ignis fatuus, intended to impose upon their good nature, and set at nought their common sense. It was a positive mockery for the Government to tell Gentlemen it was protecting their interests, when it was throwing into the county constituency a class of miserable town voters, created for the purpose of voting in the towns where they resided, and who had no interest or feeling in common with the landed proprietors. He felt strongly upon this part of their arrangements, and decidedly protested against them.
§ Sir Andrew Dalrymple
wished to say a word or two as to the effect this Bill 190 would have in the county of Warwick. If the county was divided so as to leave Birmingham in one division, and Coventry in another, the consequence would be, that Birmingham would return two of the county Members, and Coventry the other two. There were more freeholders in Coventry than there were in Birmingham. The rural constituency would be completely disfranchised by its operation, therefore the boon of additional county Members, which had been held out to the landed interests, was in many instances a complete delusion. He was sure that the effect of the Bill would be to injure those interests. He was in Warwickshire during the last election, and he had his information from a gentleman thoroughly well acquainted with the county. He informed him that the Birmingham Union brought large bodies of voters to the election, and other voters to support them. It was a matter of considerable hardihood for a person opposed to them to present himself, and the result was, that they returned Members of their own way of thinking, having overawed by these means those who opposed them. He strongly suspected one of the effects of this Bill would be, that county elections would be placed under the nomination of Political Unions of the same description as Birmingham.
§ Lord Althorp
was surprised at the inconsistency of the hon. Member who spoke last. The hon. Member said, that in point of fact the Birmingham Political Union did return the two Members which Warwickshire sent to that House, and yet taunted Ministers with their Bill as being likely to produce the effect already in existence. He was by no means however prepared to admit, that the freeholders of Birmingham, with all the influence of the Political Union added, would obtain the power which the hon. Baronet seemed to apprehend. The hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, in his usual erratic manner, told them, that he cared not whether the electors belonged to the towns or to the counties. He believed the hon. and learned Gentleman; he believed that it was a matter of perfect indifference to him how the Bill or its clauses were worded, or in what form it passed into a law, though he would gladly get rid of it. Otherwise, he could not account for the taunts of the hon. Member which he aimed at Ministers, for having yielded to the suggestions of expediency, and consented to submit 191 the report of the Commissioners on the divisions of counties, and on the boundaries of boroughs, to the ultimate decision of the House. He should have rather expected the commendation of the hon. Member, as the proposition had emanated from his side of the House, and had been adopted by Ministers for its intrinsic merits, regardless of all imputation on the score of change. But, after all, what did this great change amount to? Certainly it affected not the principle of the Bill, and was a mere question as to a point of its machinery. But thus it was, that the hon. and learned Gentleman magnified every mole-hill into a great mountain. Of this disposition to exaggerate they had a striking instance in the hon. and learned Gentleman's allusion to Staffordshire. The Bill, said he, will have the effect of pouring in 500, nay, 600 town freeholders from Lichfield alone, among the county electors. Now what was the fact? Simply, that there were but 240 such freeholders in the whole district, and out of those they would have to deduct those voters whose freeholds bestowed upon them a vote for the Representatives of the towns.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
said that the Bill would bestow a preponderating influence upon the towns compared to the rural electors. Indeed, the last election showed, that such was too much the case, even under the present system. From returns which he had seen, he had reason to believe the town freeholders were, in almost every county, more numerous than the rural freeholders. Under such circumstances he would support any hon. Gentleman who would move that "the freeholders of counties of cities shall not be thrown into the county constituency."
would not deny the influence of the Birmingham Political Union in Warwickshire, or that a strong feeling existed in the late election of that county against anti-reform candidates, but would maintain, that that influence, and that feeling, were not carried to such an extent as to deprive anti-reformers of a fair hearing.
Mr. Evelyn Denison
said, that if he were left to the necessity of either voting for this clause as it now stood, or for the amendment of the hon. and gallant Officer, he had no option but to vote for the amendment, and against the clause in its present form. For giving this opinion, as a county Representative, he felt called 192 on to trouble the Committee with his reasons. He had no wish to advance the landed interests in undue proportion over those of trade and commerce, for which, as the late Representative for Liverpool, he of course had the highest respect, but he had a wish to preserve, which was deemed expedient to Reform, the just balance of power between the interest of the land and other interests; and to preserve that, it had been held necessary that the landed interest should be predominant in the return of county Members. The clause now before them was not of material importance, and therefore, whatever might be their decision respecting it, the Bill itself would not be materially affected. The only question was, whether town freeholders of a certain description should vote for the town where their freeholds were situated, or vote for the county. It had been said by his hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General), that the freeholders of the counties of cities did not in general belong so much to the towns as to the counties. His hon. and learned friend had also remarked, that many such persons were nonresident. He had referred to documents on the Table on hearing this assertion, and by these he found, that from 700 to 750 such persons were actually resident in one town. From this fact it must be evident such parties must be more materially interested in voting for the place of their residence, than for the county, with which they could have no connexion. His hon. and learned friend had also asserted, that such kind of votes in Nottingham were usually made to balance opposing interests. This statement was a further corroboration of his opinion, for those who had been accustomed to vote in a particular way, ought surely to be acquainted with the interests they voted for; but the actual and precise number of such manufactured voters was of not near so much importance as the consideration whether such persons would contribute to their own interests, and the advantage of the community, by having votes for the town and for the county. At present they were connected with the manufacturing interests, and perhaps bound to some particular parties. Now he would appeal to his hon. and learned friend, if he could see the bonds severed between himself and his constituents at Nottingham without regret? If these votes were taken from this connexion, and thrown into the mass of county electors, would it 193 not do them an injury, by breaking up all their previous interests, and would the county voters receive no injury from the addition? This selection of voters also appeared somewhat invidious, if it was considered, that while the better description of voters in such towns, those who had the most knowledge, and enlarged views, such as bankers, and principal merchants and traders, who could exert a useful influence, were to be subtracted from the county electors, persons of small or nominal property were allowed to add their numbers to the county constituencies. If this clause could therefore be so adapted as to divide these respective interests in a proper manner, it would be much better to have some portion of the principal inhabitants and the chief intelligence of the towns, to mix with the county constituencies, than to have only persons of uncongenial habits and opinions added to the counties, whom no common bonds of interest connected with the rural voters. In some towns in which freeholders had no votes, the question might be open, whether, if they lived in rural districts, they might not be annexed to the county constituencies. But when they found, in other instances, that such persons had been accustomed to vote in the towns where they resided, it was not wise to alter this custom, and therefore a distinction should be made. To avoid one small anomaly they ought not to allow themselves to be drawn into sanctioning great and practical anomalies.
said, before the House went to a division, he should take the liberty, as he saw Gentlemen present who were not in the House when he had brought forward his proposition, to apprize them, that the question was, whether clause 15th should stand as part of the Bill; he had moved, that it should be rejected, on the ground, that freeholders of cities and boroughs should vote for the towns within which their freeholds were situated, and not for the counties in which such towns were placed. He could not consent to allow them to vote for both city and county if he could avoid it. Should he not succeed, he should be compelled, when the 21st clause was proposed, to add thereto, that freeholders of cities and boroughs should have the right to vote for those places.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acheson, Viscount||Horne, Sir W.|
|Althorp, Viscount||Host, Sir J.|
|Astley, Sir J.||Howard, R.|
|Atherley, A.||Howard, P. H.|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Howard, H.|
|Baring, F. T.||Howick, Viscount|
|Barnett, C. J.||Hughes, J.|
|Benett, J.||Hughes, Col. W. L|
|Bernal, R.||Hunt, H.|
|Blake, Sir F.||Ingilby, Sir W|
|Blamire, W.||James, W.|
|Blackney, W.||Jeffrey, Rt. Hon. F.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Jephson, C. D. O.|
|Bouverie, Hon. D. P.||Jerningham, Hn. H. V|
|Bouverie, Hon. P. P.||Johnston, A.|
|Brayen, T.||Johnstone, J. J. H.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Kemp, T. R.|
|Brougham, J.||Killeen, Lord|
|Bulwer, E. L.||King, E. B.|
|Bulwer, H. L.||King, Hon. R.|
|Buck, L.||Knight, H. G.|
|Burke, Sir J.||Knight, R.|
|Burton, H.||Lamb, Hon. G.|
|Callaghan, D.||Lambert, H.|
|Calvert, N.||Langston, J. H.|
|Campbell, J.||Lawley, F.|
|Carter J. B.||Leader, N. P.|
|Cavendish, C. C.||Lefevre, C. S.|
|Cavendish, W.||Lemon, Sir C.|
|Chapman, M. L.||Lennard, T. B.|
|Crampton, P. C.||Lester, B. L.|
|Chichester, J. B. P.||Littleton, E. J.|
|Clive, E. B.||Lloyd, Sir E. P.|
|Creevey, T.||Lumley, J. S.|
|Currie, J.||Lushington, Dr.|
|Dawson, A.||Maberly, Col. W. L.|
|Denman, Sir T.||Mackenzie, Sir J.|
|Dixon, J.||Mangles, J.|
|Don, O'Connor||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Dundas, Hon. J. C.||Martin, John|
|Easthope, J.||Maule, Hon. W. R.|
|Ellice, E.||Milbank, M.|
|Ellis, W.||Milton, Lord|
|Etwall, R.||Morison, J.|
|Evans, W. B.||Mostyn, E. M. L.|
|Evans, W.||Mullins, F. W.|
|Ewart, W.||Musgrave, Sir R.|
|Ferguson, R. C.||Norton, C. F.|
|Fitzroy, Lt.-Col. C. A.||Nugent, Lord|
|Gisborne, T.||Offley, F. C.|
|Godson, R.||O'Connell, D.|
|Graham, Sir J. R. G.||O'Grady, Hon. Col.|
|Grant, Right Hon. R.||Ord, W.|
|Grant, Right Hon. C.||Osborne, Lord F. G.|
|Handley, W. F.||Paget, T.|
|Harcourt, G. V.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Pendarvis, E. W. W.|
|Heneage, G. F.||Penlease, J. S.|
|Hey wood, B.||Penrhyn, E.|
|Hill, Lord G.||Petre, Hon. E.|
|Hodges, T. L.||Pepys, C. C.|
|Hodgson, John||Philips, G. R.|
|Polhill, Captain||Vernon, G. H.|
|Ponsonby, Hon. G.||Villiers, T. H.|
|Ponsonby, Hon. W.||Waithman, Ald.|
|Power, R.||Walker, C. A.|
|Poyntz, W. S.||Warburton, H.|
|Protheroe, E.||Warre, J. A.|
|Ramsbottom, J.||Watson, Hon. R.|
|Rice, Hon. T. S.||Western, C. C.|
|Rickford, W.||Westenra, Hon. H.|
|Rooper, J. B.||Weyland, Major|
|Ross, H.||Whitbread, W. H.|
|Ruthven, E. S.||White, Colonel|
|Sanford, E. A.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Scott, Sir E. D.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Sebright, Sir J.||Wilde, T.|
|Stanley, E. J.||Wilks, J.|
|Stanley, Right Hon. E.||Williams, W. A.|
|Stephenson, H. F.||Williams, Sir J. H.|
|Strickland, G.||Williamson, Sir H.|
|Strutt, E.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Stuart, Lord P. J.||Wood, Ald.|
|Stuart, Lord D. C.||Wood, J.|
|Tennyson, Charles||Wood, C.|
|Thicknesse, R.||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Throckmorton, R. G.||Wrottesley, Sir J.|
|Tomes, John||Wyse, T.|
|Venables, Ald.||Macdonald, Sir J.|
|Vernon, Hon. G. J.|
|Adam, Admiral C.||Labouchere, H.|
|Anson, Sir G.||Lennox, Lord J. G.|
|Anson, Hon. G.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Baillie, J. C.||M'Namara, W.|
|Barham, John||Maberly, J.|
|Bayntun, Capt. S. A.||Macauley, T. B.|
|Belfast, Earl of||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Belgrave, Earl of||Newport, Sir J.|
|Berkeley, Captain||O'Neil, Hon. Gen.|
|Blount, E.||Ossory, Earl of|
|Brabazon, Viscount||Paget, Sir C.|
|Browne, D.||Payne, Sir P.|
|Buxton, Thomas F.||Pelham Hon. C. A.|
|Calvert, C.||Portman, E. B.|
|Campbell, W. F.||Philipps, Sir R. B.|
|Chaytor, W. R. C.||Price, Sir R.|
|Coke, T. W.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Creevey, T.||Robinson, Sir G.|
|Duncombe, T. S.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Dundas, C.||Russell, Lord|
|Dundas, Hon. Thomas||Sinclair, G.|
|Ebrington, Viscount||Stewart, Sir M. S.|
|Fazakerley, J. N.||Skipwith, Sir G.|
|Fergusson, Sir R.||Smith, John A.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Smith, John|
|Foster, J.||Spencer, Hon Capt.|
|Fox, Lieut-Col.||Surrey, Earl of|
|Gillon, W. D.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Grattan, J.||Thompson, P. B.|
|Hume, J.||Tufton, Hon. H.|
|Johnson, J.||White, S.|
|Kennedy, T. F.|
§ The Chairman read the first part of the 16th clause, to this effect; "And be it 196 enacted, that from and after the end of this present Parliament, every male person of full age, and not subject to any legal incapacity, who shall be seized of and in any lands or tenements for life."
Mr. Davies Gilbert
said, his great object was, that real voters only should be had, to the exclusion, if possible, of fictitious voters, which were manufactured to a considerable extent, to his knowledge, in Cornwall. It was only necessary for a landlord to grant a lease for lives, or to insert an annuity for life, generally that of an old man, into leases for a term of years, in order to make votes; for that qualified such annuitant to vote for the county. He, therefore, to avoid this abuse, desired to limit the right of voting to 40s. freeholds of inheritance; and those who held life estates should have the qualification raised to the amount of 10l. per annum, which would put them on the same footing as copyholders were to be placed by the Bill. It was obvious, that no gentleman would give away a fee simple to the annual amount of 40s., because the receiver would be immediately independent; but the case was different when a man had only a life interest of that small amount in the beneficial lease of a farm, for he was then completely under the influence of the landlord. He should therefore move, after the word "incapacity," there be inserted these words, "seized of an estate of inheritance of the yearly value of 40s. at the least, and every person seized of an estate for life, of the yearly value at the least of 10l."
The Chairman wished for the directions of the Committee how he should proceed. There were already three notices of amendments to be moved on this clause, and he was at a loss to know how to proceed in point of order.
fully appreciated the importance of the suggestion made by his hon. friend. It was undoubtedly of great weight, but this was not the proper time to enter into it. The proposition they were about to consider was, whether new rights should be added generally to the existing ancient rights, and not whether they should limit those already established.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
suggested, that the proper time for discussing the hon. member for Bodmin's amendment, would be at the close of that on the clause itself.
§ The Chairman having again read the first part of the clause,
§ Lord Althorp moved, as an amendment, that the word "have" should be inserted in the clause, instead of "be seized of and in any."
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, it had been repeatedly ruled in Courts, both of Law and Equity, that "seized" was the correct legal word; it had been so decided in the case of the Annuity Act.
The Solicitor General
said, that the reason for proposing the word "have" instead of "be seized of," was, to make the Act uniform. In the old Statute of Edward the 6th, the word "having" was used. The question, however, was merely a technical one; and he supposed, that if the Committee preferred the word "seized," there could be no objection to it. The Committee was, of course, aware, that the law, as it at present stood, extended the right of voting to equitable rights equally with legal seizures. There was really no distinction in fact, between leaseholders for lives, and freeholders. In most cases, several lives must fall in before the end of the tenure; and with respect to leaseholders holding for a term of seven years, upon an annual rent of 50l., it was considered that such parties were of so respectable a description, and had such a permanent value in the land, that they might be intrusted with the elective franchise. The object of the clause was, whether such person was in actual possession of the land or not, provided he proved, that he had an interest in the lease, to give him a right to vote. But, if he had assigned away his interest, then he was also to lose his vote. With respect to Church leases, it was intended, that the right of voting should be vested in the lessee, to the exclusion of the freeholder or his assignee. When land was sub-demised to other persons for a term of sixty or seventy years, then such sub-lessee of the first lessee, if he was in possession and had a sufficient lease, ought to be considered as the person who had the right to vote for it. Consequently, there might be two votes given in right of the same property, provided the first leaseholder retained a sufficient interest in the land, but was not in possession, and his sub-lessee was. The clause, therefore, would not affect the existing right of any freeholders, or take away any man's right. It would place the copy- 198 holder entirely on the same footing as the freeholder, and, therefore, wherever the freeholder had a vote, the copyholder would have one, with this difference, that the property or beneficial interest of the former must be of the annual value of 10l., and that of the latter, 40s. To prevent any distinction relating to such persons, the 17th clause had been introduced.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
objected to going then into any statement of the right of voting; and, therefore, thought the hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation of it ill-timed. The question before the Committee was, whether the words "be seized" should or should not stand part of the clause. The observations of his learned friend were undoubtedly important, and they would, no doubt, give rise to a debate. He proposed, however, to confine himself to the verbal arrangement of the clause. He thought the words, as they now stood, would better embrace both classes of voters than as it was proposed to amend it. By the observation of his learned friend, it appeared possible, that the same property might give four votes—the vote of the freeholder, the vote of the copyholder, the vote of the lessee for sixty years, and the vote of the sub-lessee. Thus they might cumulate four votes on the same property. The Committee would observe, that as the clause stood, a man who had only an interest for a few days in a leasehold about to expire, would be entitled to vote. It was, therefore, absurd to say, that a man in this situation had an interest of 50l. annual value. He thought, that the clause would not even answer the intention of his learned friend, and that it would not work well.
§ Sir James Scarlett
inquired, whether a man who held a lease of the value of 10l. for sixty years, if he granted a sub-lease, reserving to himself, as landlord, one shilling a year, would that create two votes, one on the right of 10l. a year, and the other in right of the shilling.
The Solicitor General
No man could have a right to vote, unless he held a lease for seven years, of the annual value of 50l., or a lease of sixty years of the value of 10l., and was in possession; and, therefore, in the case put by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the person would not have a right to vote.
§ Sir James Scarlett
Suppose a man had a lease for seventy years, at 10l. 199 a-year, did that give him a right to vote?
§ Sir James Scarlett
Then this lessee for seventy years paid 10l. a year rack rent for ten years, and then sells his remaining lease for sixty years, perhaps to create a right of voting at the same rent of 10l. a year. Now, the 10l. a year being paid, the land being only worth that rent, the landlord gets his 10l. a year, and the lessee retains his vote.
§ Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
was decidedly averse from the clause, because it would have the effect of giving lessees and landlords a power of creating votes ad libitum; and should a clause of the same tendency be introduced into the Scotch Reform Bill, should infinitely prefer abiding by the present system of Representation, pernicious as that system had been found in its operation. He did not object to giving votes to the tenancy, nor to the fair and natural influence of the landlord, but he objected to the clause, because it would give the landlord a power to create votes, and give those who held leases a similar power. The clause gave lessees a power to give votes to those who held under them, and he contended, that no person but the original lessee, if he retained possession, or the tenant in possession, ought to vote. The vote of the intermediate party should not be allowed. The clause would create a temptation to divide estates into 5l. leaseholds.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, the object of the noble Lord was, that the lessee should, under particular circumstances, be placed passibus equis with the freeholder, but in this clause the lessee went a step further than the freeholder. There could be but one vote out of the same freehold, but there might be two out of the leasehold. He did not object to the principle of the leaseholder voting in particular instances, and of certain value, but he did object to any person voting but the tenant in possession.
did not object to derivative votes, provided the parties had profitable interests to the amount named in the Bill; but according to the terms of this clause, a man who had land for a term of 200 years, might create 140 votes out of it. Letting it out to one man for 199 years would create one vote; then that man underletting it for 198 years would be the second, and so on till it came down to sixty years; for each of the 200 lessees or assignees to whom it was to be so leased or assigned would, according to the wording of this clause, be an assignee or lessee of the "original term." If this were not the meaning, it should be so stated in the clause itself. But the best cure for all these anomalies would be, to make the profitable interest in the land, and not rent, the criterion of the franchise. Let no man vote on any lease or assignment who had not an interest of 10l. a year profit on it.
objected to the clause, as introducing rights into voting for counties that had never existed before. It would give a right of voting to the man who held land on lease, for which he paid 50l. a year out of his capital, while it would not allow a man a vote who paid 500l. a year without a lease, and made a fortune by his bargain. He admitted, that copyholders were independent enough to be allowed to vote, though they might be dependent to a certain extent on their landlords. He did not object to copyholders, but he had a decided objection to giving the franchise to leaseholders, because he believed, that its tendency was oligarchical. It introduced a class of men who were more dependent on their landlords, and who were likely to overbalance the independent interest in counties. If this was intended as a sort of compensation to the landed interest for the loss of influence they were supposed to sustain by the slaughter of the small boroughs, then he must say it was quite at variance with the avowed principles of the Bill. This extension of the franchise to 10l. leaseholders, would have a material effect upon the division of landed property, injurious to agriculture, as that property would have a tendency to run into those divisions and tenures which gave the franchise under the Bill, rather than unto those masses which best promoted the interests of agriculture. He confessed, he dreaded the prospective effects of the clause, for he thought it had a great deal too much of a tendency towards oligarchy, and that it would ultimately produce the most injurious effects. His view of the principle of the Bill was this—that it was intended to give a vote to all classes, and to amalgamate all rights. He protested, therefore, against the arguments of which they had recently heard so much, for giving Representatives to particular classes. He wished that all classes, manufacturers and 201 agriculturists, should meet together at the poll with the same union of object, and amalgamation of feelings and of principles, as that which prevailed among the Members of that House. With this opinion he could not look with indifference on anything which tended to divide the voters into classes; and he therefore objected to the part of the clause which gave so much power to those who were little above tenants at will. He would, therefore move, when the time came, that that part of the clause extending the franchise to leaseholders be annulled.
§ Mr. Western
observed, that the objections of the noble Lord, if carried into full effect, would go to the disfranchisement of half the tenantry of England.
The Attorney General
said, he thought the nature of the clause had been already fully explained; but lest any doubt should remain on the subject, he would take leave to state again shortly the four points of right which it embraced. The clause, in the first place, preserved the right of voting to freeholders; in the second place, it conferred the right on a certain description of copyholders; next, it placed long leaseholders in the same favourable situation as freeholders; and, lastly, it admitted to a participation in the same rights, a great body of yeomen. Now the only objection to the clause seemed to be, that there was too much contained in it, and he thought that if the part relating to the freeholders and the copyholders was separated from that which referred to the leaseholders, it would be more perfectly understood. With respect to the suggestion of his learned friend (Sir J. Scarlett), that the landlords and lessees would be able to create a number of fictitious votes, similar to those which now constitute the rights of freeholders in Scotland, he thought it not likely to prevail, because it would involve liability to the rent and covenants of the original lease. He did not know, however, in what manner it was to be avoided, or by what other process they could get at the person who did possess the profits of the land or tenements. There was no more anomaly in four persons having a right to vote for the same property, if they had a 10l. interest in it, than there would be in allowing twenty persons to vote out of the same property, with a 40s. interest each. As to profit, and not rent, being the criterion of the franchise, he contended, that the only 202 certain criterion to go by was rent. It would be impossible to go over a tenant's accounts to see whether he had a profit of 10l. or not, but the rent was always certain, and it was fair to assume, that no man would take a lease of a property to lose by it; or, if he did lose, he was still the representative of property, for he must lave capital to enable him to go on losing. If he had not that capital, he could not go on, and then, in all such cases the alleged anomaly would cure itself.—No mischief, in fact, could arise from the practice, even if it was attempted to any extent, which he thought it never would be. On the objections of the noble Lord (Milton), he could only observe, that the principle of the Bill was, the extension of the right of voting to the respectable and intelligent classes of society; and he believed there were few disposed to deny, that the yeomanry of England, in property, character, and intelligence, well deserved the power which was about to be bestowed on them, and that they would use it uninfluenced by any considerations, save their sense of what was due to the interests of their fellow countrymen. If there was any doubt about the meaning of the words as they stood, the introduction of a few more, such as "lessees or assignees of the original term," would set the matter right.
Sir Robert Peel
thought the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the admissions which it contained, were calculated to prove beyond question, that the House had assented too hastily to the preceding clauses of the Bill. He should not, in the present instance, go through all his objections to the clause, as he considered one of them alone would be sufficient—namely, that relative to the grant of the franchise in counties to the leaseholders for terms not exceeding seven years. He would say, that persons holding land for such short terms, and attempting to improve such property, were, by their own attempt at improvement, bound to the land under any terms, and consequently, more at the control of their landlords than tenants at will were. The hon. and learned Gentleman admitted, that the clause was defective, and that it must be amended. It was now evident, that the subject was one of infinite importance, and he thought the objection of his learned friend, the member for Cockermouth, so conclusive, that 203 it was impossible they could go further without the most mature deliberation. Was it not, then, most desirable, that in the present position of affairs, with their numbers thinned by the absence of those who were suffering under indisposition from long and protracted attendance to their duties, they should not persevere in attempting to pass the Bill at present, but at once adjourn for three months, in order to give time for the perfection of this Bill, by a better consideration of its details. He would put it, therefore, to the noble Lord (Althorp)—and he never was more serious in his life in making any proposition than at that moment—whether it would not be advisable that he should tomorrow propose an adjournment of three months, in order that the House and the Government might be better prepared by due deliberation to make this their new Constitution perfect. It was no impeachment of the judgment of the Government, that they were compelled to adopt such a course, and that they were not found to have proposed a measure of such importance, containing so many complicated details, and involving so many different interests, free from all defects. He trusted, therefore, that the noble Lord would at once make up his mind to relieve them from further attendance, and that, pressed as they were by so many other questions of foreign and domestic policy, the Ministers would not continue, night after night, urging forward a Bill, which, it now appeared, according to their own admission, was so defective, that it required many considerable amendments. He would not enter at length into an examination of the clause; but he might observe, that while the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) seemed to be of opinion that no practice of creating fictitious votes would be resorted to, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after describing the extent to which the multiplication of freeholds had been carried, was, along with the learned Gentleman, about to put it in the power of landlords to resort to similar abuses with reference to leaseholds. It would operate to increase all the abuses of electioneering influence, and tempt men to divide their property. If it were asked, how were they to do this? he (Sir Robert Peel) would say, their agents could do it. A landlord had merely to empower his agent to grant leases, or give the agent himself a lease, and the whole machinery 204 was put in motion. He must object to the ambiguous manner in which the clause was worded, and to the bad effects which the clause, as it regarded seven years leaseholders, would have on the situation of the tenants at will in the midland counties. He concluded by repeating his hope, that the Government would at once put an end to these difficulties, by proposing a long adjournment, to give time for a better consideration of the various provisions of the Bill.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he had heard the proposition of the right hon. Baronet, and he was sure the right hon. Baronet did not expect him to accede to it. With respect to the objections which had been urged by the hon. and learned member for Cocker-mouth (Sir James Scarlett), and he was ready to admit that the clause must be amended, he would again state the object of this clause; it appeared to him, that the occupiers of farms should have Representatives in this House, if such farmers had a lease of seven years. The Government thought, that the landed tenantry should have a right of voting for Members to this House, and that was the main object of the clause. Church leases and others gave beneficial interests to those who held them, and therefore it was considered necessary, that the occupying tenantry should have votes for the election of Members of Parliament. He would not enter into the legal argument, and was only anxious briefly to shew what was the object in bringing the clause before the notice of the House. He did not consider it would be necessary to adjourn this debate merely to suit the views of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel).
§ Mr. Sergeant Wilde
felt little gratitude to the right hon. Baronet for the offer made in all candour and kindness to the House, of getting rid of the Bill for three months, in order to strengthen the hands of the opponents of Reform. Indeed, he had witnessed a too great facility on the part of the Ministry and the noble Lord, to make concessions in this Bill when appealed to by its determined enemies. The first question was, whether the right of voting had been given where it ought not to have been given; and the second, whether, if it had been given where it ought to be given, it was liable to abuse. He maintained, that it had been properly given, and that it was by no means liable to the extent of abuse alleged by the opponents 205 of the measure. The alteration which had been made of the word "seized" for the word "had," was an advantageous one; the latter being the word introduced into all previous election laws. The hon. and learned Gentleman, entered into an examination of the section of the clause immediately under consideration, and denied that it was uncertain in its construction, or that it involved any ambiguity. He could not believe, that a case would frequently occur in which an individual would give up the possession of his property for a long term of years, in order to create additional rights of voting; and he denied the probability of under leasing for such purposes. The clause was regarded as a boon to the landed interest; but he must confess he was, on principle, not so friendly to the admission to the franchise of tenants for very short terms. Upon the whole, however, he approved of the clause, and maintained that it ought to stand part of the Bill.
§ Sir James Scarlett
said, that upon the legal construction of the clause, he did not differ from his hon. and learned friend. But it so happened, that a landlord demising his term would always reserve a right to distrain for the rent to be paid to the landlord, as the case might be, whether it related to land, or ground for building houses. If this clause were divided into three parts, it would be much more convenient for discussion. He put it to his hon. and learned friends on the other side, and the noble Lord, whether it ought not to be so divided. He had some objection to the votes of copyholders under peculiar circumstances, because, in the cases of mines and timber, neither landlord nor tenant could act independently. The question, however, was one of importance. In the newly-proposed Constitution, this arrangement might be very useful, indeed it might be necessary, but the voters for seven years he considered to be dangerous to the interests of those for twenty-one years. He threw this out as a matter of consideration, whether this clause should not be made the subject of future consideration.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, he had heard seven lawyers speak upon this subject, one of whom had been absent from the House, and now came in, like a giant refreshed, to tell them over again all that they had heard before. He had no doubt the effect of the clause would be, to create two or 206 three fictitious votes on long leaseholds of the value of 10l. a year. He considered that a Yeoman, by which word he meant a freeholder, had his own property, be it ever so small, and was, therefore, independent; but a rack renter of 50l. a year, was the most dependent man in the community. If this clause were to pass in its present state, it would give to 10l. a year for a term of sixty years, three votes at the rate of 4s. a-week, and what would the mechanics who earned 3l. a-week say to it? They gave the original freeholder one vote, the original lessee another, and the person in possession a third. They were told, night after night, that they were to have the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill, yet they had alterations made night after night, and he was happy to observe that the noble Lord (Althorp) shewed a disposition to listen to proper objections properly urged. At the same time, he was opposed to anything so ridiculous as the delaying the question for the next three months.
objected to the clause as it stood at present, because it tended to create such votes as Scotch superiorities. He hoped that a franchise upon the principle of profitable interest would be adopted instead.
§ Lord Althorp
said, the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman did not exactly apply to the question under the consideration of the Committee, which simply was, to substitute the word "have" for the word "seized." He did not anticipate much difference of opinion with respect to the question of giving the elective franchise in counties to copyholders, and he, therefore, proposed to go on with the clause to-night, until such part of it as related to copyholders should be disposed of, when they could proceed with the proposed amendments.
§ Sir James Scarlett
felt several strong objections to giving votes to copyholders, as they must be under the influence of the Lord of the Manor.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
was of opinion, as this was an important clause, and many Gentlemen would like to speak on it, that it ought not to be further proceeded with, and that the House ought now to adjourn.
thought, that copyholders ought to be placed on the same footing as freeholders with respect to the right of voting; but as the subject could 207 not then be done justice to, he hoped that the noble Lord would then proceed no further.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
agreed with his hon. friend, and suggested, that copyholders of 40s. should possess the elective franchise. He did not see why copyholders and freeholders should not be placed on the same footing, though he did not wish to discuss the clause then.
The question was then put on the first part of the clause and agreed to, including the amendment of Lord Althorp, which made it as follows:—"And be it enacted, that from and after the end of this present Parliament, every male person of full age, and not subject to any legal incapacity, who shall have any lands or tenements for life."
The Chairman read that part of the clause which gives the right of voting to copyholders possessing property of the value of 10l. a-year.
thought it was time for the House to adjourn. If the House proceeded with the consideration of this clause, he should move that copyholders possessing property of the value of 40s. a-year should be entitled to vote at county elections.
§ Lord Althorp
was not favourable to the suggested amendment. He thought, that the number of bonâ fide copyholds of less value than 10l. was very small.
thought that copyholders ought to be put on the same footing as freeholders for the purposes of this Bill. He wished to give every encouragement to the lower classes to aim at independence; and, in his opinion, no better mode could be adopted for producing that effect, than that of enabling them to exercise the elective franchise. It was a privilege calculated to stimulate their feelings of pride, and to make them anxious to avoid any application for parochial assistance; because, as Gentlemen well knew, the vote of him who received parochial assistance would not be received. The noble Lord might smile; but such he believed to be the fact, because he who received parochial assistance must have given up all his property, and could then have no right to vote. In the year 1785, Mr. Pitt wished to admit copyholders to the franchise; and he did not think, that at this time of day he could be censured for taking the same course. In doing this, his great object was, to raise the lowest 208 class of society from the state of degradation in which they must see that too many of them were plunged, and to give to them that interest in the welfare of the State, which, at the present moment, they had too many reasons to believe did not exist. If his amendment (which was to substitute 40s. for 10l.) was rejected at one o'clock in the morning, when he had been forced to bring it forward—if the case of the 40s. copyholders was to be neglected, while that of the 50l. renters and sixty years' leaseholders had been discussed irregularly during the whole evening, he would only say, that in bringing the subject before the House, he had done what he conceived to be his duty, and those who were interested would form their own opinion of the manner in which their claim had been dealt with.
§ Lord Althorp
opposed the amendment; but denied, that he or his colleagues wished unjustly to exclude 40s. voters. On the contrary, they were desirous of bringing the franchise as low as they could with propriety.
§ The amendment negatived, and this part of the clause, giving the right to vote to copyholders of 10l. value, agreed to.
§ The House resumed; the Committee to sit again the next day.