said, that the question was, that the blanks in the following part of clause twenty-one, "That any house assessed to the duty on inhabited houses, to the yearly value of not less than or any house, warehouse, or counting-house, being either separately, or jointly with any land owned and occupied therewith, or occupied therewith under the same landlord, of the clear yearly value of not less than or rated to the relief of the poor, upon a yearly value of not less than" be filled up by the insertion of the words "ten pounds."
§ Mr. Mackinnon
rose, to bring forward the Amendment of which he had given notice, to the effect "That, in all cities or boroughs, which contain from 300 to 500 houses of 10l. rent, the qualification to vote may remain as stated in this section; but that, in those cities or boroughs, which have from 500 to 1,000 houses of 10l. rent, the qualification to vote shall be 15l. yearly rent; and that, in those cities or boroughs, which have 1,000 houses, or upwards, the qualification to vote shall be 20l. rent." The hon. Member stated, that the ground on which he submitted this motion was, that in boroughs of a small and confined description, the 10l. renters of houses were of much greater respectability than persons who occupied the same description of houses in populous towns. It would be only introducing a degree of equality, therefore, and in no respect in contravention to the principles of the Bill, if the qualification in populous places was increased. By adopting the scale of rent, as he proposed, the principle of equality would be maintained, but not otherwise. The middle classes were, in all towns, the persons who ought to have the greatest power and influence at elections. By adopting the sum of 10l. as a qualification for all towns, however, in very populous places the lower classes would obtain a preponderating influence. In every large town or city, he believed the great majority of 10l. householders were of the lower class—that class which, without meaning any thing invidious, he might say, was more liable to excitement and undue influence than the middle class. To bear out his statement, he would beg leave to refer to the parliamentary returns as to the number and value of houses in the parish of Marylebone. There were in 600 that parish 12,418 houses, of which 6,814 were under 49l. a year rent, and 5,604 above that sum, therefore the right of sending Members would be in the hands of the lowest description of householders. The gross rental of the parish was upwards of 730,000l. per annum, of which the houses under 49l. a year rent, paid only about 166,000 l., and those above 50l., 565,000l. Those returns fully proved the fact he had been endeavouring to impress on the House, that in populous places, the lower classes would have a great majority of votes; while the amount of rent they paid was only as one to three and a half. Under those circumstances, he put it to the noble Lord's (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) candour and fairness, whether he ought not to reconsider the clause, and accede to the amendment, or introduce some alteration himself to the same effect.
suggested, that the amendment now proposed would come more properly after the registration clause.
§ Clause withdrawn, and blanks filled up as proposed.
§ The next question was, the omission of the following words in the clause, as it stood in the original Bill. It was proposed to omit at line seven of the clause, in the old Bill, after the words "ten pounds," the following words—"and in respect of which house, warehouse, counting-house, or land so respectively assessed or rated as aforesaid, or of the yearly value or rent as aforesaid, all the rents, rates, and taxes then due shall have been paid."
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, that this clause went to introduce into this realm a pure democratic right of voting, which was little short of Universal Suffrage. Indeed, in many places, the franchise under this clause would amount to Universal Suffrage. In truth, this clause, as well as the whole Bill itself, had been so often changed, and re-changed, and changed back again that it was not easy to discuss it with any degree of intelligibility, and it had, in fact, been rendered above the comprehension of most people. The present Bill, in its amended shape, of which he believed they did not possess a perfect copy, had been completely altered from the old bill. It had gone through so many successive changes, from the original draft, that 601 it would be as rational to expect a man to understand it by comparing it with the original, as to suppose that a man having read the Delphin Terence, and then the Aldine Terence, would be able to give all the intermediate readings and versions of that author. The clause, as it originally stood, made the payment of the rates and taxes be precedent to the exercise of the right of voting. As the amended clause, however, stood at present, there was merely a proviso that the rates and taxes should be paid on a certain day. Now, if the election should take place several months after the 1st of July, which was the day named, on the payment up to which of the rates and taxes an individual obtained the right of voting, such an individual might happen to be in arrear of his rates and taxes, and he would still be qualified to exercise the right of voting. The Birmingham Union had compelled Government to accept terms, by which persons who paid their rent monthly, or even weekly, or daily, would have a right to vote, and by that means, create a pauper constituency, for in most large places, and particularly in Scotland, such persons would be found in the proportion of five or six to one of the better classes. Such a state of things as that, he would contend, would not merely give a facility for bribery, but would render the occurrence of bribery absolutely unavoidable. When the Bill should be put into a somewhat more intelligible form, he was determined to advert to this subject on a future occasion. He would only say, at present, that it was an imposition and a delusion to suppose, that this clause would limit the right of voting to bonáfide tenants.
§ Lord Althorp
would state, in two or three words, the meaning and object of this clause. The only leading alteration in the clause, from the form in which it originally stood, was this—that where a man claimed a right to vote, in consequence of being rated or assessed to the amount of 10l., it was not necessary for him, under the present amended clause, in addition to the payment of his rates and taxes, to prove the payment of his rent. That was the only substantial alteration in the clause, from the form in which it had been originally framed. The other alteration which was now proposed in the clause was, to render the fact of registration sufficient to give the voter who should come up to the poll the right to vote, and 602 the object of that was, to prevent any delay in the polling. With that view it was therefore proposed, that the having his name in the register should give him the right to vote at the poll, without any other question or any delay. If a man paid his rates and taxes up to the 1st of July, his name would be entered in the register, to be made up to the last day of August, in each successive year. Though it was possible that, under such an arrangement as that, there might occur instances of persons voting with arrears of rates and taxes undischarged, he thought that the twelve months' residence which the Bill required, previous to the payment of the rates and taxes, enabling a man to have his name put on the register, and the circumstance of the voter being still obliged to reside in the tenement from which he derived his vote, he thought, that such precautions as these sufficiently guarded against the occurrence of instances of voters being in arrear of the payment of their rates and taxes. The hon. and learned Gentleman, also was in error, when he asserted that the proportion of the smaller householders was as five or six to one, as he would convince him from the returns on the Table. He would take the metropolitan districts. In the Tower Hamlets, the total number of houses rated above 10l., was 26,297; of these, the number between 10l. and 20l. was 12,830, which was a minority of the whole. In that district which included St. Giles, the total number rated in the same manner was 23,626, of which only 5,178 were under 20l. In Marylebone, the number was 22,637, of which only 3,019 were under 20l. In Lambeth, the number was 16,872, of which 7,648 were under 20l. The hon. and learned Member must therefore be convinced, that his statement was much exaggerated. He would deny altogether, that the operation of this clause would give rise to bribery. It was well known, that bribery was at present principally practised through the payment of rates and taxes for voters who were in arrear. He should like to see the candidate who would be inclined to pay the rates and taxes of all voters who should happen to be in arrear when this Bill was in operation.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
admitted the truth of the latter observations of the noble Lord, who had selected the most choice dishes of the feast, but the case would appear very different if the returns 603 of Manchester were referred to: As a general proposition, he still adhered to his original opinion, and would contend, that the actual right of voting made the payment of rent and taxes a necessary qualification. This clause, as he understood it, would permit a right of voting without the payment of taxes, or even of rents; and, as he had before stood, he felt it his duty to oppose it, and would continue to do so. Why should the ancient usages of the country be destroyed? Then it appeared according to what the noble Lord said, that July and August were not the periods up to which the Poor-rates were settled or paid, and, therefore, the fixing such a period for conferring a right of voting would produce the arrear of rates, of which he had already complained, and which would lead to bribery at elections. It was well known, that the amount of Poor-rates and Assessed Taxes on a tenement rated at 10l. a year could not amount to more than 7s. or 8s. a quarter, and a candidate could easily buy up the votes of these small housekeepers, even in a numerous constituency without such a very great outlay. If money, therefore, was not actually paid to voters, these taxes might be paid by agents, nothing could be more easy to effect or more difficult to detect, and that payment no man could deny to be bribery. The Bill, taking it altogether, was of a republican character, and as such he would strenuously oppose it. To this clause he had insuperable objections, because it would make the poorer voters the victims of intrigue and bribery.
said, that all the holders of small houses in Manchester and the other great towns in the north, paid their rents weekly, and yet it would be most unfair to call them lodgers, particularly when it was recollected, that a year's residence was necessary to entitle them to vote. Mere weekly tenants would have no right of voting. The 10l. qualification would not diminish the respectability of the constituency so much as the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to anticipate. He believed, that in all those towns, the houses above 20l. per annum were far more numerous than those let below that sum. In the manufacturing towns, there were more houses rented from 15l. upwards than were rented between 10l. and 15l. He would, therefore, strenuously support the clause as it stood.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, that the returns from the districts in the metropolis, quoted by the noble Lord, would give he House no information as to the 10l. voters in the small towns throughout the country, which would predominate over the occupiers of the larger houses. As to the 10l. rent in London, why every man knew, that a tolerable dog-kennel could not be had at a less rate; but in many parts of the country, an excellent house could be had for that amount of rent. The clause, therefore, was wholly unequal in its operation; in some places it would amount to Universal Suffrage, in others it would disqualify most respectable persons. Besides, this clause created three or four classes of voters, at rates even below 10l., and to that it was, that he had so often objected. He contended, that this clause would give the right of voting to a man who only paid an actual rent of 8l. a-year, provided his house was rated at 10l. If he paid 10l. rent, and his house was only rated at 8l. he would have no vote; and as he read the clause, provided the rates were paid, the voter might dispense with paying any rent whatever. If he were wrong, he wished to have information as to the real state of the noble Lord's intention. This clause, as he read it, was an exquisite piece of absurdity. There could be no safety against fraudulent votes, if any one person should have more than one vote for any house which he might occupy. He wished some reasonable limit to be put to the splitting of votes; but if this clause were to remain a part of the Bill, it would cause great confusion and bribery; it would lead to republicanism, and should always have his most unqualified opposition.
§ Mr. Alderman Copeland
saw no reason why, in the parish of Marylebone it should require a qualification of 25l. to vote for a Vestryman, when 10l. would entitle a man to vote for a Member of Parliament; surely the latter was the greater and the more important trust; and if 25l. were deemed not too much in the case of a Vestryman, how much greater ought the sum to be in the case of a Member of Parliament? The real fact was, that the qualification was too low for London, and too high for such places as Sudbury. He, therefore, would be ready to agree to any proposal which went to establish a different criterion for London and for other towns.
§ Lord Althorp
observed, that the hon. member for Boroughbridge had contended that candidates would be called on to pay the rates of the voters whose suffrages they solicited, but he felt assured, that the least reflection would satisfy every hon. Member that that could not be the case. From the regulations made, it would be next to impossible to effect it. Another hon. and learned Member attacked the clause on other grounds, noticing the probable effect of the measure upon the metropolitan districts, but there his argument must fail, for the proportion of 10l. householders must necessarily be smaller in the metropolis than in provincial towns, while in those latter, the holders of 10l. houses would belong to a more respectable class. The chief argument against the present clause was, that it let in a disreputable class of voters; that was the argument; but how was that consistent with the statement made on the other side, that in the provincial towns the voters from 10l. houses would be more respectable than in the metropolis. The hon. and learned Member also complained, that eleven persons residing in a tenement rated at 100l. a-year would not be allowed to vote, while ten would. That was, however, according to the principle of giving 10l. householders a vote, and he saw no absurdity in it.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
complained, that there was a disposition in the supporters of the Bill to carry every clause, notwithstanding any arguments that could be made against it. He conceived that the present was the most important clause in the whole Bill, and he wished that Ministers would only pause and consider whether, by the clause, they were going to enfranchise a class of persons whose condition and habits in life rendered it likely that they would answer the objects for which the Bill was framed. Could any man flatter himself that the 10l. voters, generally speaking, would be more free from corruption, or more impervious to bribery, than those whom the Bill would deprive of their rights? Ministers had disturbed the elective system, which had grown out of the wealth, intelligence, and condition of the nation, without reflecting that they did not, in their changes, distribute the franchise which they created among the wealthy and intelligent parts of the community. They had done the very reverse of this, for they had given 606 the rights of voting in a manner which had a direct tendency to increase bribery and corruption, and all those evil pratices, the existence of which was the ostensible ground of their pursuing measures of Reform. What sort of a constituency was the Bill about to establish? Where was the cottager who did not pay 5l. a-year? and where the inhabitants of a large town or city who did not pay 10l.? The principle of almost Universal Suffrage was the basis of the measure; and could he shut his eyes to the palpable fact, that, out of such a system as would spring from such a source, greater evils might spring than those which were produced by what is called the system of the boroughmongers? The alarming feature of the Bill was, that it confined its operations to prevent the rich practising bribery, without taking into consideration the readiness of the other classes to receive bribes. The middle and lower orders were not accused by the Bill, nor were the elective jobs committed by and for their benefit, taken notice of, yet it was notorious, that there was a species of corruption tenfold more base, and tenfold more mischievous and degrading, than that borough corruption against which the Ministers had directed all their power and influence. He alluded to a system which prevailed in great towns, of keeping people in clubs, congregated to drink and to smoke, and by these means, a constant system, of bribery in the shape of feasting, was continued from one election to another. These persons were kept together by somebody who addressed them as the Blues, and who told them that the blues had always stuck together as long as the Reds had been heard of, and that if they let the Yellows in, they would all be thrown over the bridge together. On the eve of an election, this speaker went up to London, where he said to some man of property, "If you pay me the 500l. I have spent in keeping these people together, and give me 5l. a man, I will engage to bring you into Parliament." It was wrong to hold up the borough corruption to the obloquy of the lower and middle classes, without holding up to equal obloquy the other classes of corruption that were known to prevail to a great extent. He would only refer to what had taken place at Liverpool and at Dublin. In the second and third cities of the empire, bribery had prevailed in the most flagrant degree, and to the disgust of every honest reformer. 607 If the system of Reform was to work well, Ministers must cut up by the root those small shades which had been allowed to exist between what was called corrupt influence and justifiable influence. They must cut up the system which placed the interest of honest men at variance with their duties. To make the Bill work well, they must form a constituency capable of appreciating the qualifications of candidates. Was such a constituency to be found in the 10l. a-year householders? He was sorry to say, that such was the general corruption, so corrupt had been the influence of the old system, that bribery in its worst nature now went into much higher classes than 10l. a year householders. It was by no means uncommon to hear, some days after an election, a respectable tradesman remark, "that it was very extraordinary that a person had left 10l. with his wife, which he said, had come from Mr.——,whom they had just returned to Parliament." "Why, that is whimsical enough," says his neighbour, "for the same thing has happened with my wife." A third allowed that the same occurrence had happened at his house; but then a bystander asked, "Do you, respectable tradesmen as you are, not mean to return this money?" "Oh no," said the whole trio at once, "we have got the money, and we intend to keep it." So degrading was this pernicious practice. But it was not to these classes that bribery was confined, for it was well known that so extensive had the system grown, that it existed among persons who held commissions, or who practised respectable professions, and were in a station and under circumstances which ought to put them above being made the objects of such practices. He wished the noble Lord had taken the line marked out for him. He wished, for instance, in such a parish as Marylebone, he had taken the 20,000 tax or rate payers, and had made the third, or the 7,000 who paid the highest taxes, into a constituency. This would have been forming a system upon data already established. He wished also to call the attention of the Committee to the probable operation of this clause in many of the rural districts of boroughs. It provided, that every one who had a house valued at 10l. a-year, and all his rates paid up, should have the right of voting, but if the rates were unpaid, he would lose that right. In many of such places it was the 608 custom to keep six months rates in arrear, many of the inhabitants would therefore be deprived of their votes for the district, and by the operation of other clauses of the Bill, many of them would be prevented from voting for the county. He therefore considered, that all these matters required amendment, and that they were legislating upon unsound principlss.
Mr. Edward L. Bulwer
said, that the arguments of Gentlemen opposite were repeated a hundred times, and, if they were repeated a hundred times, he was sure it was not because they had not been a hundred times answered. Indeed, it seemed to be the peculiar province of those Gentlemen, not to know when their arguments were answered. They regarded their arguments in the same light as a poet had spoken of his warriors:—They'd not believe the vital spirit fled, But still fight on, nor know that they were dead.How often must it be stated, in answer to their opponents, that by adopting the 10l. clause, they fixed that as the minimum rate of voting, and thus excluded none of the upper classes, while they excluded all below those inhabiting a 10l. house? How many places were there, where this would be universal suffrage? Was the value of houses not constantly varying, and were they not inhabited by persons of every degree of respectability? It was said, that the qualification was too high or too low, according to the extent and situation of the place, so that the same amount of rent would produce aristocrats or democrats. If either were true, the other argument of the hon. Member fell to the ground. This was "to make the giants first, and then to kill them." What could be better than to establish a system of voting which would allow of such diversity? There was no truth more apparent than this, viz. that where men congregated in large masses, the more enlightened and intelligent they became. Consequently it followed, that to adopt a sound system, when they were about to rebuild their constituency, the suffrage should be more extensive and popular in the large towns, than in the small districts. The poor were exempted, not only because they were poor, but because they were ignorant also, and subject to the influence of the richer persons about them, while those clubs which the hon. Member had endeavoured to ridicule, promoted intelligence among the members, and by that means lessened the influence which could 609 be exercised over them. The clubs made them better qualified to possess the elective franchise. It followed, too, as a matter of course, that in large towns, the more persons were excluded from voting, the more enemies the Constitution had. Those who were not electors, were a disorderly and disaffected rabble; all those who were raised to the rank of electors were converted into citizens, and interested in the preservation of the public safety. In large towns where excitement was freely communicated, and mobs easily collected, it was prudent to give the generality of persons an interest in political matters, beyond a momentary and drunken enthusiasm. In elections, the men who had no votes were always the most troublesome, and there was no better collateral means to preserve good order, than by shortening elections, thereby making them cheaper, which would tend to convince the poorer people of the value of a vote, and to encourage those who had none, to exert industry and energy to obtain them. It was consequently wise, to allow the qualification to be so fixed, as would enable the poorest man, by the exercise of these qualities, to elevate himself to the consideration of a citizen, from that of being merely one of a disorderly mob. Another favourite argument was, that a numerous constituency would be likely to return demagogues as their Representatives; but were l0l.householders to be compared with the scot and lot voters of some large towns at present? They would not be so numerous, and were likely to be much more orderly. And were the potwallopers found to return such persons generally? The House furnished proofs to the contrary; look at the hon. members for Lincoln and Durham. He therefore concluded, that hon. Gentlemen who made the remark, were not competent judges of who and what were really demagogues; and the cause of Reform at present before them furnished an illustration They affirmed, that the desire for Reform was a violent passion; that the majority o the country were blind and deluded: he on the contrary, affirmed, that the desire for Reform was rational, and that the blindness and delusion were both on the side of the minority. He would appeal to the people generally for proofs; where could any other parties be found better acquainted, more intelligent or alive to their own interests? He would appeal to any hon. Gentleman who had ever been a 610 candidate for a large town, whether he had not to gain the middle as well as the lower orders; whether it was not usual to find some of this former class, who possessed, from a conviction in others of their superior knowledge or integrity, great influence over the lower orders? These persons must be convinced by reason that their interests as a body was comprehended and contemplated by the candidate. The strong-headed and sturdy middle classes were remarkable for a warm and hearty attachment to the security of property, and for a plain and dogged shrewdness of sense, both of which qualities rendered them extremely averse from all dangerous vehemence of opinions. The progress of liberal opinions was in exact proportion to the progress of education, and it was impossible to influence such persons without addressing their judgment.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
said, he was no advocate for diminishing the constituency, as had been insinuated by the hon. member for St. Ives. All he had meant to say was, that where the constituency was very numerous, the qualification should exceed 10l. He approved of the extension of the suffrage to the tenants at will, and the hon. Gentleman, when he talked of the candidates of populous towns being compelled to conciliate the middle classes, and through them to influence the lower, must know very little of what frequently occurred. In several of the Irish elections, it was not uncommon to prevent the voting of the electors opposed to the popular candidate, by force. And, to go no further than Westminster, occurrences had taken place, which proved sufficiently that unless a candidate went with the current of popular favour, he appeared there at the hazard of his life. At Clare it was proved that a butcher kept guard on the O'Brien voters, and they were detained in durance until they had consented to vote against their own party. He must also apprise the hon. Gentleman, that these influential persons he had referred to, among the middle classes in large towns, generally came under the description of those persons he had brought under the notice of the House as agents, and it was likely the hon. Gentleman would some day be assured of the fact, that such partisans derived the principal part of their influence through the agency of party clubs and meetings.
§ Mr. Trevor
said, the hon. member for St. Ives had been pleased to assert, that Gentlemen on his (Mr. Trevor's) side of the House did not know when they were answered. He must certainly plead guilty to that grave and serious accusation, if the hon. Member had given an answer to the speech of his right hon. friend who preceded him. He denied, that the elective franchise was at all likely to be exercised with more purity by the 10l. voters of London and its purlieus, than by the nonresident freemen whose rights were to be stripped from them altogether. Instead of giving the franchise to the talent and wealth of the country, they were about to give it to the passions and violent prejudices of a portion of the people, and take rights and privileges from others who at least would exercise them better than the class on whom they were to be bestowed. One of the most absurd anomalies in the Bill was, to put an end to bribery and corruption in the non-resident freemen, by enfranchising the 10l. householders, a class which would be found quite as open to bribery as the non-residents. Whatever benefits hon. Members on the other side expected from the measure, he feared they would be disappointed. The eyes of the public began to be open to its imperfections; many of the persons whom he had the honour to represent, who were at first clamorous for the measure, now exclaimed against it with equal violence. These facts would show themselves in spite of all the sophistry that could be uttered in that House to gloss them over. He must, therefore, notwithstanding the disapproval of the hon. member for St. Ives take to himself the right of speaking and protesting against the measure, as often as he thought it necessary in the discharge of his duty to those constituents. They had sent him to that House, pledged to a course very different from that to which Gentlemen opposite were pledged. God forbid, that he should say that they were improperly pledged, and he trusted they would allow his motives to be as pure a their own.
Sir John Bourke,
with a view to recall the attention of the Committee to the subject-matter actually under its consideration, requested the Chairman to state what that subject-matter was.
§ The Chairman accordingly read the clause as above.
Lord John Russell
said, he did not rise 612 for the purpose of making any remarks on the general merits of the clause, but merely to state what he thought was the best mode of proceeding. The course adopted by some hon. Members was very inconvenient, and he was sure Members would consult their own convenience, as well as shorten the discussion, if they were to adhere to the general practice, and argue the merits of any particular clause, either when the whole clause was first put, or when it was moved, that such a clause stand part of the Bill. He thought, therefore, it would be better to go on with each of the divisions of the clause, and speak to them only, and then discuss the general merits of the question, when the whole clause was put by the Chairman.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
would not enter into the question, whether or not the mode proposed by the noble Lord, was the best or the most usual, but he thought the important question was, whether they should discuss the clause at a time when the House was full, or leave it to a late hour, when they were not capable of doing justice to it.
Lord John Russell
said, all he proposed was, to go on clause by clause, and, if there should not at the end be time to discuss it fully, he would make no objection to postpone it till a more suitable hour.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, he had been informed, that in his absence the hon. member for St. Ives (Mr. Bulwer) had passed some strictures upon the frequency with which he addressed the House upon this question. Perhaps his remarks were not very palatable to the hon. Member, but he should certainly not put them forward the less frequently on that account. He as well as others found great difficulty in persuading Gentlemen on the other side to allow them a hearing, so much so that, on the previous night the confusion in the Committee was so great, that he began to think it would be necessary for the Chairman to read the Riot Act. He still continued to entertain the opinions he ever had done with respect to this clause; it would give political power, and the elective franchise, to the dregs of the community. He wished to repeat a question which had been put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, whether he meant to include as voters that class of persons, for whom their landlords paid rates and taxes, and who in some places could be considered 613 in no other light than paupers? Probably the hon. member for Liverpool would condescend to inform, him, whether a large class of the 10l. householders of that town were of so low a grade, that their landlords, by a bye-law, were bound to pay their rates? If so, the elective franchise would be reduced to the grade of three-halfpenny householders, and this was the description of voters the Bill and the whole Bill would establish. On that occasion he should say no more, but reserve his further observations on this subject to the period of bringing up the Report.
An Hon. Member
complained that two or three hours had been consumed in a fruitless discussion, and by hon. Members who complained most of delay.
as a member for Clare, complained of the frequent allusions which had been made to the election for that county, and denied distinctly any participation or knowledge of the transactions to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
said, his observations did not apply to the hon. Gentleman as a candidate. What he had censured were the practices of the other candidate (Mr. O'Gorman Mahon), and these practices were fully proved before the Committee which had unseated that Gentleman.
§ Mr. John Weyland
said, that in such towns as Brighton, Cheltenham, and others, it was probable that the houses of a higher rent than 10l, constituted the greater part, but in other towns, and taking the great towns generally, the houses rented between 10l. and 20l. would be more than double the number of houses of a higher rent. To give votes to the 10l. householders, therefore, was, in his opinion, handing over the franchise to the lowest classes, who had objects of their own to obtain, and would return Representatives most likely to gratify their passions. He was sorry to express this fear, but he had such a fear; and he was further afraid, that on any popular questions—such as the Corn-laws, the great accumulation of property, the National Debt, and such questions—there would arise great danger to the best interests of the country. Gentlemen would be mistaken if they thought that they could influence the people, when under excitement, as they might wish. This was the most important clause in the Bill, 614 and he hoped it might receive a statesmanlike consideration.
§ Mr. Hunt
had listened to the statesmanlike speech of the hon. member for Hindon (Mr. John Weyland), and to the novel speech of the hon. member for St. Ives (Mr. Bulwer); he had listened also for three hours to different speeches, and not one word had he heard about the business before the House. He wished to learn from the Chair whereabouts the House was, for he did not know.
stated, that he had already read, three or four times over, the Clause before the Committee, and had previously stated the Amendments proposed.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, he was sure that the hon. member for St. Ives would at length be obliged to agree to his plan, of giving the franchise to all householders. He thought the noble Lord, too, would avoid many difficulties, evade many objections, and render the Bill much more satisfactory to the country at large, if he at once adopted that suggestion, and allowed a vote to every householder who contributed to the rates and taxes. Numbers were, he was sure, the best of all securities against undue influence, and the use of bribery. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. F. Lewis) told a foolish story about the wives of voters receiving bribes, but he would tell that right hon. Member in return, that he knew nothing of the matter if he supposed the wives of respectable tradesmen would condescend to receive a paltry bribe of 10l. He knew also, that the lower orders, as they were called, were the least likely of all persons to be bribed. Look to Preston. There were seven thousand voters in that town, and he should like to see the man who would attempt to obtain their votes through the means of bribery. Look again at Liverpool; were the lower classes the only persons who accepted bribes? He had received information, on which he could rely, that at the recent election for that place, Magistrates were paid for their votes. With respect to that part of the clause which required the payment of a rent of 10l. to qualify a householder to vote, he should like to know whether those persons would be qualified who paid a sum of 10l. as rent, but a part of which went to the landlord on account of rates which he engaged to pay for them? There were a vast number of houses of that description, both in the country and in the vicinity of 615 the metropolis. Some distinction should be made with respect to these, as had been already observed. A house that would let for 10l. a year in a town, might be had for a third of that sum in the country, and that made it necessary to lower the qualification for the latter. Reflections had been cast on the respectability of the 10l. householders, and it was said they were in the country composed of grocers and chandlers; but he could tell the House, that the grocers and chandlers of a market-town were persons moving in the better ranks of life, and composing what is called the middle classes of society. It was very different in the vicinity of the metropolis. In Lambeth, for instance, where you could not enter an alley or a lane, in which the occupiers of the houses did not pay much more than 10l. rent, and even let out single rooms in them by the week to others, at a rent amounting to 10l. or 15l. yearly. It would be a hardship in such persons if they were to be deprived of their votes, when they paid their landlord an additional rent to avoid the trouble and vexation arising from parochial charges, unless by the operation of this clause, they paid these rates for a year before they could enjoy the privilege of voting. The clause should be so worded, as to admit such parties to vote without being subject to this proviso.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that he would adopt the suggestion made by the noble Lord, and postpone the discussion on the principle of this clause, until all the amendments had been made in it, and the question was put, that these amendments stand part of the clause. His reason for doing, so was, that he did from his heart sympathize with the noble Lord as to the delays interposed to the progress of this Bill, not by its opponents, but by its supporters. All the Gentlemen opposite were ready enough to hasten over the destructive part of the Bill, but now, that they had come to the constructive part of it, more strenuous advocates for delay could not be found. He saw from the Order-book, that one Gentleman who had supported the second reading of the Bill, had given notices of four amendments upon it; at least, he saw the name of Mr. Hughes Hughes appended four times to such notices. As he saw no prospect of getting through these amendments, at their present rate of progress, in four months, 616 he would postpone to the period which he had before mentioned, the discussion upon this clause. He rose, at present, to ask the noble Lord opposite a single question. At present, to qualify a renter of a house of not less than 10l. yearly value to vote, all the rent which shall have become due from him previously to the 1st day of July in each year must be paid up. Now, in the midland counties of England, the practice was, not to collect the rent, legally due at Michaelmas-day and at Christmas-day, until three months after each of those periods; and if this clause were passed in its present shape, the result of it must be, to alter the present practice; for no tenant would have a vote unless he should have paid up his rent on the day it became due. This would cause great dissatisfaction in the country; for it would deprive the tenant of a privilege to which he had been long entitled. He wished to know whether this point had attracted the attention of the noble Lord.
Lord John Russell
replied in the affirmative, and said, that it had caused an alteration to be made in the clause to suit that practice. As the clause stood now, the tenant was not called upon to prove that he had paid his rent, unless he claimed to vote entirely upon the amount of his rent. If he could show that rates and taxes upon a rated amount of 10l. had been paid previously to the 1st of July, that would be enough; but if he could not do that, and claimed to vote as a 10l. renter, he was called upon to show in that case that the amount of his rent was 10l., and that he had paid it, as well as poor rates and taxes. Such being the case, he thought that no inconvenience would arise from the clause as at present worded.
Sir Robert Peel
The clause as amended will open a wide door to bribery and fraud. For the candidate will only have to pay up the poor-rates and taxes of an insolvent tenant, who is in arrear to his landlord, to entitle him to vote; by such means corruption will prevail to a greater extent than ever before known.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that at an election which took place fourteen or fifteen years ago in Westminster, it was reported that poor-rates and taxes to a very considerable amount were paid up to qualify a number of individuals to vote for one of the candidates. Now what had happened at Westminster might happen again 617 under this clause. He also wished to remind the noble Lord, that the rates were collected at Christmas and in June, and not between July and August. As the clause stood at present, considerable inconvenience would arise to the public from that arrangement.
§ Lord Althorp
The objection to this part of the clause is, that it opens a door to bribery, because the paying up of rates and taxes by candidates is a mode of bribery. The right hon. Baronet must, however, observe, that whatever is done by a candidate in the way of paying up rates and taxes under this Bill, must be done every year to enable the voter to be entered in the registry. Under the present system, if the rates are paid up at the moment of the election, it is enough; but under the Reform Bill, if a candidate wishes to keep a voter on the registry, he must pay up his rates and taxes twice every year, even though he may not want him, and there may be no election during the year. I do not say, that it is impossible, that any man will do this; but I will say, that the temptation to do it is much lessened. I therefore am of opinion, that the objection of the right hon. Baronet does not apply to the present arrangement.
Sir Robert Peel
replied, that people were generally aware sometime beforehand when a general election would take place. The consequence would be, that when a general election was expected, the candidate would pay up the voter's rates and taxes for the previous half year. He would thus get the voter's name on the registry, and the voter might then forget to pay up the rates for the next half year. Besides, he wished to know whether it would be bribery for a candidate to pay up a voter's rates and taxes which were due a year before the election? He believed that a Committee of that House had decided, that to pay up the rates and taxes of a voter, to enable him to vote, was not bribery.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
thought, that the Committee ought not to forget, that the most usual time for a general election was between the 1st of July and the middle of August; the very periods of time so unfortunately fixed in this clause.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that if an election were to take place in July, 1833, the voters must be registered in August, 1832. The candidate must, therefore, foresee in August, 1832, that the election would take 618 place in July, 1833, and, foreseeing that, must pay up for the voter all rates to August, 1832. Now, he really thought that no man would think it worth his while to go to such an expense for the mere sake of catching a contingent vote.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
called the attention of the noble Lord to another point. He had been long a resident in London, but he had never been called on to pay rates in the interval between the 1st of July and the middle of August. Would the nonpayment of rates during that interval, when he might be absent from town, and when he might not know where to find the rate-collector, disqualify him from being registered as a voter?
reminded his right hon. friend, that if he were absent from town, he might leave directions with his agent to seek out the tax-collector, and to pay his rates, and by so doing he might get his name entered on the registry. His noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had already given a most satisfactory answer to the objection of the right hon. Baronet; but he might have added, that Parliaments did not always die a natural death, and that, therefore, a candidate must have great sagacity who could foresee, from afar, in which year of its legal existence its dissolution would take place. He had, however, one objection to that part of the clause which allowed the voter to vote on his proving, that he was a 10l. renter. It opened a door to fraud in this manner. A man might let another a house at a rent of 8l.; but in order to give his tenant a vote, might stipulate that the tenant should give him 10l. a year, of which he would return 2l. to the tenant. This was the case at the late Dublin election, for many fictitious votes were created by this process. A put a bank note into B's hand, and received a receipt; the note was then returned, and a smaller sum than that specified really paid as rent. How, in such cases, could the fraudulent be distinguished from the bonâ fide voter?
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, that he had put all these questions to the noble Lord at an early period of the evening, and that he had received the same answers as his right hon. friend from the noble Lord,—answers which, in point of fact, amounted to nothing. Suppose an election should take place in the beginning of July. It was almost impossible but many tenants would then be in arrear. In that case, 619 every 10l. tenant would be a tool in the hands of his landlord, who could prevent him from voting, or enable him to vote, just as he pleased. There must be considerable arrears of taxes at the time of registration. It was his most deliberate opinion, that the working of this clause would be, to exclude many respectable householders, and to bring the holders of small tenements completely under the control of their landlord, he managing that the rent should be paid with a view to the period of registration, so that, according to his pleasure, the tenant should, or should not, have the franchise.
§ Lord Althorp
had stated already, three times, to the hon. and learned Gentleman, that this argument was founded on a part of the clause which had been altered, and did not now exist; and he would not waste the time of the Committee by endeavouring to explain the same point a fourth time to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
wished to know what remedy the tenant would have, in case a landlord, with a view to disfranchise his tenant, got out of the way, and refused to receive his rent before the day of registration?
§ Lord Althorp
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman had asked him what was to be done, in case a landlord, who was entitled to receive his rent in June, would not receive it, in order to disqualify his tenant from being registered in August? He really must say, that he did not consider himself called upon to meet such improbable objections, which could have no foundation except in the ingenuity of the objector. He would only observe, that unless a landlord-had a great number of tenants, he could produce no influence on an election by thus getting out of the way; and if he had a great number of tenants, the rent which he would have to receive would be a sufficient security that he would not get out of the way to disfranchise his tenants.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
But a landlord can recover his rent at any time, and therefore he will be no loser by allowing the payment to be withheld from him for a short period.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that the custom at Westminster was, to collect the rates and rents due at Christmas and Midsummer, three months after each period. As the time of registration was fixed for the 1st 620 of August, he would suggest, that six months at least after such rents and rates were due ought to be allowed to prevent, on the one hand, the influence of the landlord being improperly exercised, and, on the other, the exclusion from the right of suffrage, consequent upon the neglect or inadvertence of not paying such charges duly up.
The Chairman then put the first part of the question, that all the words after 10l., in line seven of the old print of the Bill, down to the words "rent as aforesaid," be omitted. This was carried without a division. He then put the second part of the question, which relates to the insertion of the amended clause, in lieu of the words omitted.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
thought, that an interval of more than six weeks should be allowed for the collection and payment of the rates and taxes.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that if his right hon. friend had been in the House at an earlier part of the evening, he would have learned from the explanation of his noble friend that there was nothing in his objection. He wished that a person should be allowed to vote notwithstanding he was six months in arrear with his rents and taxes. By the clause, as it now stood, if a person proved that these were paid up to the 25th of March, 1831, he would be entitled to be registered in the August following for a twelvemonth. As to the objection, that rates were not usually paid for a quarter after they were due, he did not understand there were particular days to demand them, and the objection could otherwise be of no weight, because the householders might always send them to the collector.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, his noble friend, as the Minister of Finance, must, of course, be well aware that it was not the usual custom to collect the Midsummer rates until September. He would assert, without fear of contradiction, that this was the case at Westminster, and the result would necessarily be, that all those persons who were out of town at that time, and whom the tax-gatherer knew he could depend on to pay their rates, upon their return would run the risk of being disfranchised.
Lord John Russell
said, that though the assessed taxes were by law due every quarter, it was the custom to collect them only twice in the year. One portion became due on the 5th of July; it was, 621 however, generally collected in September and October. By placing the 1st of July in the clause, they excluded the taxes due on the 5th of July. The assessed taxes due in February were collected in April or May, and those taxes must, by this clause, be paid previously to the 1st of July.
observed, that the assessed taxes were also due in April and in October, and that, on the 5th day of each month, they were collected or collectable. As to the parochial rates, they were invariably paid quarterly [cries of "no."] They were certainly so in the metropolis, for he had recently looked over forty local Acts, and had not found one exception to that rule.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
admitted the correctness of Mr. Wilks's observation, but said, that the taxes were only collected half-yearly.
§ Mr. Hunt
reminded the Committee, that the poor-rates might be collected twelve times a year. He believed that this clause, which stipulated that all rates and taxes due up to a certain day must be paid before a man could vote, would be a good fiscal plan, but he was sure that it would not be a good measure for the people.
in reply to the hon. member for Preston, begged to observe, that he could not see how this clause could be considered oppressive on the people. They were allowed, three months under it for the payment of their rates, which surely was ample time.
§ Lord Althorp
asked the hon. member for Preston, what was the case already with regard to all scot and lot boroughs? Was it not necessary that all taxes should be paid up to the time of voting?
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, he was quite sure that the Gentlemen who were making those noises were not Reformers; for he was now standing forward as amicus populi. He wished the House to look at this popular Bill; for he was now acting the part of a popular Reformer. As the clause was now worded, if a man had not paid every farthing of his rent, he was not entitled to a vote, even though he had paid all his rates and taxes.
§ Lord Althorp
wondered how the hon. and learned Gentleman could persist in arguing upon a blunder which he had already pointed out to him three or four times. The hon. and learned Gentleman assumed that, in all cases, it would be necessary for the voter to prove the payment of his rent. That was not so. He had repeatedly explained to the hon. and earned Gentleman, that the proof of the payment of rent was only necessary when he voter claimed to vote exclusively in right of occupying a house of 10l. rent.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
observed, that by this Bill one of four things must be done to acquire a vote in boroughs. In the case where the vote depends on the payment of a certain amount of rent, the rent of June must be paid before the 20th of August. In his part of the country, and he believed in most others, the custom was, to pay one half-year's rent under another; that is, to allow the tenant to be always half-a-year's rent in arrear. But the farmers were at present so poor, that they would not be able to pay the rent of the July half-year by the 20th of August, and thus the franchise which rested on rent would be reduced to a nullity. The next condition was the payment, up to the day, of the poor-rate, at 10l.. a-year. Now this, it should be remembered, did not amount to the same thing as living in houses of 10l. a-year value, for many houses, it was notorious, were rated at half their value, and others at even less than one-tenth. He, therefore, conceived, that such inequality of rate would encumber the exercise of the second right with considerable difficulties. In most parishes a new valuation would be necessary to meet this, which would be attended with considerable expense. Another qualification depended on the rating by the house-tax, and the effect of this would be, to impose a penalty of tax upon many farmers (at present exempted), in order to entitle them to vote. He believed farm-houses were exempted by law from the payment of this tax, and the clause, by obliging the occupiers to pay it or lose their elective franchise, would be a severe penalty on them, and, coupled with the inconvenience of paying, rents and taxes before the time usually appointed for that purpose, would create great dissatisfaction. The other mode of qualifying was, however, the most reprobated and the most objectionable of the 623 whole—namely, the abstract valuation of the premises, for it created the necessity of introducing complicated and embarrassing machinery, inasmuch as it required the interference of a Valuer, an Overseer, and a Barrister. Every part of the clause was calculated to produce much hardship.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he had so often replied to the objections respecting the payment of rent, that he would not weary the Committee by repeating them. With respect to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, that certain farmers were always six months in arrears with their rent, and by that means would be deprived of their votes, this could only apply to those who paid 50l. yearly rent, and surely the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to say, that such persons were not rated for the poor-rates. He was ready to admit, there was some foundation in the objection as to the poor-rates and taxes being paid up; and, to obviate this, they extended the right of voting to houses of 10l. value. It was very difficult to settle the question of actual value and the accuracy of rates, and these were the reasons why other modes of qualification were resorted to. One of the right hon. Gentleman's objections in some degree neutralized another, as the circumstance of some houses being rated below their actual value was the reason which induced Government to propose the other modes of qualification.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, the clause had been justly called the landlord's clause, and he should move, that the word "rent" be left out, as he considered, that the clause as now constituted would very much aggrieve the 10l. householders by its operation [coughing.] This was the way in which he always found himself received when he attempted to assert the rights of the poor, but the public should know that hon. Members endeavoured to cough him down, and they should also be made aware of the reason why he had been so treated. The landlords' clause, making the voters pay up to the day, he insisted would never answer [much coughing.] Since he now found that this conduct was persevered in, so as to prevent him from expressing his opinions, he should move an adjournment, and stand upon his right to be heard so long as he had any thing to offer. Order having been restored, the hon. Member repeated his objections to the clause, and said he should take the sense of the House upon it.
remarked, that the hon. Gentleman's Amendment would make mere nonsense of the entire clause. Great numbers would be qualified by the payment of rent only, and such persons this omission would wholly incapacitate from the exercise of their franchise.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
admitted, that the intention of the hon. Member was good in itself, but its effect unquestionably would be, to defeat the interest which the hon. Member had stood forward to advocate. The necessary consequence of a decision in the affirmative must be, that the right of voting would be limited to householders who paid from 10l. to 15l. a-year, and that, he apprehended, was a result which the hon. Member had not either desired or anticipated. He regretted to perceive, that the attention of the hon. member for Preston appeared to be otherwise directed, as it was to him in particular that he was addressing his remarks.
said, he was quite sure he need not impress upon the hon. Member, that he was pursuing a course which seemed to require explanation. He felt particularly convinced, that the hon. Member would never have so acted, except under the impulse of a momentary excitement produced by the heat of debate.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey,
in conclusion, observed, that in general no rent which had been due at Midsummer was ever paid before October, and the rent due at Christmas was paid in March or April; to declare, therefore, that no person should vote who had not paid his Midsummer rent in July, would exclude many from the franchise. He hoped, therefore, the noble Lord would consent to some alteration in this respect.
§ Lord Althorp
could not see, that the particular period at which rent was paid made any material difference: the general object of the clause was, to ascertain that the rent due at Lady-day was paid before the time of registration.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, a man might not have a receipt for his rent paid, from some arrangement between his landlord and himself, and, therefore, this was the worst security that could be devised to obtain bonâ fide voters.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that if the payment of 10l. a-year was to be a qualification at all, it was absolutely necessary there should be some security that it had been regularly paid up to the particular day specified. If a person could not prove the payment of his rent, he would lose his vote for the time, but would recover it when the arrears were paid up.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that in periods of distress, according to his noble friend's own shewing, many persons must be disfranchised. In many such cases the landlord allowed the arrears to run on, and this would give him great facilities to influence the votes of his tenants.
§ The Committee divided on Mr. Hunt's Amendment; Ayes 10; Noes 353—Majority 343.
|List of the AYES.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Miller, W. H.|
|Freshfield, J. W.||Stuart, J.|
|Lindsay, Colonel||Trevor, Hon. A.|
|Loughborough, Lord||Yorke, Captain|
|Miles, W.||Hunt, H.|
§ The Chairman put the question—"Provided, also, that no tenant so occupying such premises as aforesaid, at a yearly rent of not less than;" the Question was, that the blank be filled up with "ten pounds."—Agreed to.
§ The Chairman read the remainder of the Clause—"Shall, by reason thereof, acquire a vote in the election for any city or borough, if, by any agreement or contrivance, or by virtue of any Act of Parliament, or otherwise, the landlord shall be liable to the payment of the rates for the relief of the poor, in respect of such premises."
§ Mr. John Campbell
In rising to move an Amendment, of which I have given notice, I must begin by complaining of my hon. and learned friend, the member for Boroughbridge, who was pleased to observe, that by giving this notice, I 626 showed that I was no friend to the Bill. Sir, it is because I am a sincere and ardent friend of the Bill, that I wish to remove from it a defect, which, I conscientiously believe, will endanger its success in Parliament, and will bring odium upon it should it pass into a law. But it is with the greatest reluctance that I present myself to the Committee, and I am only impelled to do so by an imperative sense of duty. This is my consolation, that I do not proceed on any speculative notions of my own. I support the Bill as it was presented to the House by his Majesty's Ministers. My object now is, to guard against what I must consider the mischief of having something much beyond the Bill. I would not interrupt the progress of the measure for a single hour, by attempting to correct any omission which might afterwards be rectified, but the mischief I seek to prevent would be irremediable. I wish to withhold the elective franchise from weekly tenants and lodgers. If once conferred, it could not be taken from them. As the Bill was originally framed, and approved of by the public, they were not intended nor understood to be included. The qualification was, "occupation for a given time of a house of the yearly value of 10l." In point of law, there must still be a yearly taking by the clause as it is now framed; but it will be evaded by the following contrivance—"I let you a house for a year, at 10l., payable by weekly payments of 3s. 10d. a-week, to be paid weekly, and a week's notice to quit shall be sufficient reciprocally." Thus, a weekly hiring is converted into a yearly tenancy, without any alteration in the rights or liabilities either of landlord or tenant. But this would be a mere evasion. Where there is a bonâ fide yearly letting, the rent never is reserved more frequently than quarterly. I appeal to all professional men, to all landlords, and all tenants, in the House. Weekly tenants will thus be admitted. See the mischiefs:—In the first place, the tests of sufficiency to enjoy the elective franchise specified in this clause are unequal, and lead to different results. There is only one qualification—occupying a house of the yearly value of 10l. The assessment, rating, and rent, are taken as criteria of value. They are all fair, if the rent is a yearly rent: yearly rent and yearly value are the same; but weekly rent and yearly 627 rent (or yearly value) are wholly different. If let by the week, there is the trouble of collection, and the risk is run of the house being empty a part of the year, as well as of the insolvency of the tenant. In practice, they are very different. At Sessions I have known many instances where a weekly payment of rent amounting to 10l. has been proved not to be worth more than 5l. or 6l. if let by the year. The consequence is, that the same house, in the same town, will give a vote or not, according to the manner in which it is occupied or let. If occupied by the owner, or let for a year to a substantial tenant, no vote is gained; but the weekly tenant has the elective franchise conferred upon him. Then, consider what the classis on whom the elective franchise is thus to be conferred. I feel, that it should be given to all who can be safely intrusted with it—all, even the lowest, have an interest in good government; and I must ever admire the sentiment contained in the writ of Edward 1st, by which the House of Commons was first regularly assembled—"quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur;" but some limit must be put to the exercise of the right. Who are these weekly tenants? Journeymen workmen, in the great manufacturing towns—dependent upon their master and their landlord—I am afraid often improvident and thriftless, and, for that very reason, weekly tenants. This must likewise be considered, that, in many cases, the weekly payment is made for a loom or machine attached to the lodging, the value of which ought to be deducted from the value of the house, although, in point of law, the rent would be considered to be in respect of the house. Remember, likewise, that under the name of "house" every lodging is included, to which there is an outer door in the command of the tenant or lodger. Therefore, if there be a common staircase, there may be many houses under the same roof. Why are the payments weekly? From want of capital or want of credit. Is he to acquire the elective franchise whom the landlord will not trust for three months the trifling amount of 2l. 10s.? He could not, by such a renting, acquire a settlement as a pauper. The noble Lord stated, that a deputation had waited on him, of great intelligence. A similar deputation might have been sent from other classes—from domestic servants—and might have displayed equal intelligence, and brought 628 forward equally plausible claims. If the favoured weekly operatives are respectable, and ought to be admitted, then, do not exclude others in the same town, at least as respectable and independent—the owners or yearly tenants of 8l. houses. If the annual occupation is enough, then stick to that; make that the only qualification, and disregard value altogether; but if value is an ingredient, act upon it uniformly. I now come to state an objection to this class of voters, which, to my mind, is conclusive. I mean their dependence upon the landlord. The answer attempted to be given to the objection as to agricultural tenants at will was, that they could only be turned out by a six-months' notice to quit, expiring at the time of the year when the tenancy commenced; so that it may be many months before the tenant can be ejected. But this class of voters may not only be immediatly punished for their vote, but they may be actually disfranchised between the teste of the writ and the day of election, nay, between the proclamation of the election and the day when it takes place; between which two days, there may be an interval of a week. A notice to quit is given; the tenant either quits, or he does not. In either case, he is equally disfranchised; for if he remains, he is not a tenant, he is a trespasser, The qualification in respect of which he was registered is gone, and, if he takes the oath, he is guilty of perjury. Whoever proposes, that such men should have the elective franchise, ought certainly to add Vote by Ballot for their protection. Do not let it be supposed that aristocratic influence is thus increased. The landlords of such tenants are not great landed proprietors, but speculating builders, who seek to turn a piece of ground to the best account, and will introduce the sums they receive for the votes of their tenants as an item in the balance sheet. I could mention one man, who, in Southwark, is the owner of 500 houses, let to weekly tenants. He may be very respectable; but is such power to be conferred upon him, and is he to be made a borough lord? To remedy this evil, it has been proposed to enact, that no landlord should give his tenant a notice to quit upon a general election, or on a vacancy while Parliament is sitting. But this would be a most improper interference with the contracts of individuals. The tenant has said—I agree to quit at any time upon a week's notice. What 629 right have you to say, that such notice shall not be given, or that the tenant shall continue to occupy, in spite of it? The true remedy to prevent evasion is, to enact, that rent shall not be payable more frequently than four times a year. This can produce no hardship; for if the house really be of the value of 10l., and the tenant has credit or capital to be trusted, it may easily be converted into a bonâ fide yearly hiring, or he may prove the yearly value, or be assessed or rated upon the yearly value. Nor does this regulation impose any additional inquiry as to payment of rent; for as the clause stands, payment of rent must be proved, and if the payment be proved, it will be seen how it was payable. For these reasons I feel, that I am bound to offer my Amendment. I differ a little from my hon. and learned friend, the member for Newark, in the admonition he last night addressed to us, which, I own, seemed to me to savour too much of the doctrine of passive obedience to the Minister of the day. I have hitherto voted for this Bill on every division, not because it was brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers, but because, after the exercise of my own deliberate judgment, I approved of its provisions. Upon this occasion, I must use the freedom to say, that I stand up for the Bill, and its authors have deserted it. But I care not for the taunts that proceed from the one side of the House, or the dissatisfaction which may be felt on the other, while I boldly discharge what I consider to be my duty. The hon. Member concluded by moving as an Amendment, "that no tenant shall be admtted to the exercise of the elective franchise, who may be compelled to pay his rent more frequently than four times a year."
§ Lord Althorp
admitted, that the propositions of the hon. and learned Member deserved consideration. The first objection of any weight urged by him was, that a class of persons would be admitted to vote under this clause, whom their landlords would not trust for a longer time than a week. But he did not think the objection taken to such weekly tenants possessing a vote was good, because they must have been, at least, by the Bill, one year in possession of their tenements before they became entitled to their registry, and must have paid 10l. He therefore was decidedly of opinion, that persons who had done this, whether by monthly or weekly payments, 630 were entitled to vote, and the regulation as to the time of payment was often for the convenience of the landlord. As to the power with which the landlord would be invested by this clause, all he could reply to the observation of the hon. Member, respecting the misapplication of such power, was, that the landlord, by giving notice to his tenantry to quit at a week's warning, would thereby incur such a loss as no exercise of the influence possessed by him would compensate for; and where such an influence as that said by the hon. and learned Member to exist, was created in a tenantry of 500, why he doubted whether any landlord would readily sacrifice such a certainty to the precarious chance of an influence in the return of a Member to that House. Although the objection, therefore, had an alarming appearance at first sight, yet it was not much to be dreaded, for the very number of the tenantry would tend to counteract the influence which he might otherwise attempt to assume. Numbers, in this case, as in many others, was a security against corrupt intimidation. Besides which, it must not be forgotten, that if the landlord of these houses should pay the rates, the tenantry would no longer be eligible to vote, and that was the case in the majority of these minor weekly tenancies in large towns. The fact was, that the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member would tend to disfranchise the whole of the operative classes, who, in his opinion, were the most intelligent, and, consequently, that class who were most fit to become enfranchised. It was that class which he felt it to be most important to satisfy, because they were most numerous: and he should be sorry to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member, as it would tend altogether to disfranchise them, and deprive them of that boon which it was his object to confer by the Bill at present before the House. He conceived that gave the requisite security to prevent great abuses, by enacting that twelvemonths tenancy must be previously required, and that the landlord who paid the rates of his tenants, thereby deprived them of their votes. He was determined to support the clause, and endeavour by all means to carry it.
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
thought the arguments of his hon. and learned friend had not been answered by the noble. Lord. He saw no reason why the proposal 631 of his hon. and learned friend, to exclude all those who did not pay their rents quarterly, should not be complied with. He had any wish rather than one to impede the Bill, but he felt it his duty to support this amendment, because he was anxious to select the respectable portion of the class which this clause proposed to benefit, and enfranchise them, to the exclusion of those who could not be so considered. He thought a person whose residence at one place was so precarious that he could not take his dwelling by the year, or who was so poor that a landlord would not give him credit for 21. 10s., the amount of a quarter's rent, could not be considered respectable according to the noble Lord's idea: nor were these the constituents who could be supposed to be independent, and incapable of corruption. The noble Lord argued, in support of the clause, that in many cases weekly payments were for the convenience of the landlord more than from any doubt of the solvency of the tenant. But when it was considered, that the former was generally an opulent person, comparatively, it was very futile to say it could be of any advantage to such a man to receive a few shillings a week instead of a considerable sum quarterly. If the Amendment were not adopted, there would be more dangerous combinations in elections, than the country had ever yet witnessed. Already they heard of clubs for the building and leasing houses for the sole purpose of letting them to weekly tenants for the creation of voters. He would entreat the Committee to look at the consequences of this plan. The entire constituency would be regulated by such clubs, and in every town returning Members, if the Bill remained as it at present stood, there would be juntas more corrupt, more unconstitutional, than any that had yet existed. This would be the consequence of allowing persons who lived from day to day, or from month to month, to have any concern with elections, which it should be the desire of every well-wisher to the institutions of the country to preserve free from abuse. Would any hon. Member stand up and say, that persons depending on their daily receipts for their current expenses would form a desirable constituency? The great object of the Bill ought to be, to extend the franchise, but, at the same time, to make the constituency independent. Who was there that could 632 prefer a numerous to an upright constituency, if he had to make the selection? Whatever may have been said respecting the right of every Englishman to a participation in the elective franchise, in theory, yet, in practice, he must desire it to be limited to the independence of the holders. The objection of the greatest weight, and which had not been attempted to be answered, was, that it would be in the power of a landlord, on the day of election, to disfranchise his tenant. Were it for no other reason than this, he would oppose giving votes to weekly tenants, and in this course he trusted to be joined by all those hon. Members who did not wish to see the independence of the constituency utterly annihilated and destroyed. He was firmly of opinion, that the securities which the noble Lord fancied the clause provided for the prevention of bribery and corruption, would be utterly worthless, and that, unless they required quarterly instead of weekly payments, they could neither hope to control the influence of the landlord, on one hand, nor the desire to barter his vote on the part of the tenant, on the other. If a landlord would not trust his tenant to the extent of 2l. 10s., and receive him as a quarterly, instead of a weekly tenant, such person could not be a desirable constituent. For all these reasons he would support the Amendment.
said, he would oppose the Amendment. In the neighbourhood of the place he represented (Leicester), the class of persons referred to were respectable, and lived in comfort and independence.
Mr. Hughes Hughes
would give his decided opposition to the Amendment. In Oxford there were 2,000 electors, of whom 1,000 were disfranchised by the Bill, as being non-residents, and these persons supported the Bill, under the impression that they would get a franchise by renting else where a house of the value of 10l. The residents were also disposed to sacrifice their rights and those of their children from the same conviction. This Amendment would disappoint them in that expectation, and he should therefore decidedly oppose it. He had voted for the amendment of the noble Marquis (the Marquis of Chandos), for giving the franchise to tenants at will, because he would not consent to place so much power in the hands of the landlord, as would permit him, arbitrarily to withhold 633 the franchise by not granting leases. And here also he objected to the Amendment, by making it necessary for the enjoyment of the franchise, that the landlord should regulate the periods at which rent was to be paid. The hon. and learned member for Stafford had remarked upon a notice of an amendment which he (Mr. Hughes Hughes) proposed to bring forward, to disable landlords from disfranchising their tenants on the eve of an election, by giving a week's notice; and had been pleased to say, that such an interference as the clause he proposed, between the two parties, was improper. But he would contend, that it was necessary for the protection of the tenant, and one for which the landlord received an equivalent, by the franchise being attached to his property, whereby its value was increased. His object was, to provide that a notice, under such circumstances, should not debar the tenant of his right.
§ Mr. Pearse
said, he should support the Amendment, on the principle that it was desirable the Bill should be founded on something like property, and if the labouring classes, who rented tenements at 3s. or 4s. a week, were admitted to the franchise, the qualification of 10l. a year would be almost destroyed. As the clause now stood, its effect would be little short of Universal Suffrage.
opposed the Amendment, which, he said, would disappoint the inhabitants of the manufacturing districts, where it would materially diminish the amount of the elective franchise. The hon. and learned Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that a landlord could turn out upon a week's notice those tenants who were yearly tenants, merely because they paid their rent weekly. The notice must be according to the tenure, and not according to the time of the payment of rent.
§ Sir James Scarlett
said, that the hon. and learned member for Kerry, as a radical reformer, was quite consistent in opposing the Amendment; but as he (Sir James Scarlett) was not a radical reformer, never had been, and never would be a radical reformer, he was determined to support it. The hon. and learned Member was wrong in supposing, that a yearly tenant could not be ejected for not paying his rent weekly, according to agreement with his landlord. An agreement was paramount to law. The Amendment 634 would leave the elective franchise in possession of independent operatives, and would prevent interested landlords from creating a class of voters who would be completely under their influence. If it were the object of the Bill to permit men to vote according to their judgment and consciences, the Committee should adopt the amendment. As the clause stood, the greater part of the 10l. voters would be the slaves of their landlords, and a worse system of corruption and dependency would be created than had ever yet existed. The evils of nomination boroughs, as they had hitherto been known, were nothing to the evils which would arise from the new system of nomination which the clause without amendment would lead to.
The Attorney General
said, that his turn, and learned friend would obtain credit with the Committee for not being a radical reformer, for he (the Attorney General) was at a loss to discover that he was any reformer at all. His hon. and learned friend's argument would have come with better grace from one who had supported the Bill throughout. The question related to the admission of a numerous class to the elective franchise, than whom he believed none were more entitled to it, as there were none, whom it was more important to conciliate to the Government. [cheers from the Opposition.] Did that pointed cheer insinuate, that he spoke only of the popularity that might thus be earned by the present Government? [repeated cheers.] The insinuation, if intended, evinced neither justice nor candour, and such suspicion, received into young minds, augured ill for the part they might hereafter take in public affairs. He spoke not of the temporary favour of the people, but of their permanent contentment, which would enlist them on the side of the laws, by awarding them a just share in their enactment. He did not hope to convince his learned friend who proposed the Amendment, that his views were erroneous; on the contrary, he agreed there were objections to granting votes to those whose tenure of property was so insecure. Ministers, for this reason, had at first excluded weekly tenants: but when it was made clear that by so doing they must exclude the great mass of the artizans and manufacturers, it became them to revise that decision. Hundreds of thousands of his intelligent countrymen, who were in every 635 respect fit to be intrusted with the franchise, would find themselves disappointed and deprived. His learned friend argued, that if numbers were to be added for the purpose of conferring independence, numbers ought also to be taken away, in order to effect the same object. But he appeared to forget, that the best security for the independence of individuals was to be found in a large constituency. It was an extreme case to suppose, that landlords would turn out by thousands the tenants on whom they depended for their incomes. He implored the Committee to consider the effect which would be produced upon the country by the adoption of the Amendment. Was it to be endured, when the elective franchise had been extended in counties to multitudes at least equally dependent on the will of another, that the working classes, kept independent by their own exertions, were to be intrusted with none? Such a proceeding would create the greatest possible distrust and dissatisfaction throughout the country. With regard to the period of notice, it would be very inconvenient to persons employed in manufactories, who might be under the necessity of removing from one place to another, or wishing to remove to better and more convenient premises, for the purpose of carrying on their business where there would be an increased chance of employment, that they should be limited to three months. Whenever election rights were talked of, a forced construction was immediately put upon the motives and passions of mankind; and it was supposed, that they were all called into some kind of diseased action: such remarks might be warranted by past experience, but he trusted, that in future, under a better Representative system, they would no longer be thought just; and it was to overlook the general interests of society to require this description of legislative exclusion. The hon. and learned Member observed, that clubs and large bodies would vote together. Why, then, the less would they be under the influence of the landlords; and in large districts, the latter would have less influence in returning Representatives. What would be the consequence of excluding this class from all share in the Representation? The House had, on former occasions, had opportunities of seeing the consequences arising from great bodies of men remaining strangers to the Constitution. Maddened 636 by severe distress, which they ascribed to the want of proper Representation, they became the ready instrument for every factious demagogue who chose to disturb the peace of the country: unite them to the Constitution, and its enemies are converted into friends and defenders. Believing that the Amendment would exclude from the exercise of the elective franchise a most respectable, independent, and intelligent class—that their admission would give security to the State, and their exclusion must endanger it—he would give his decided support to the clause as it stood.
Sir Robert Peel
said, if the persons to whom the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded, formed a class of most respectable, independent, and intelligent voters, how did it happen, that a bill had been laid upon the Table of the House, within six weeks from the time when the hon. and learned Member was speaking, to disfranchise the whole of them? At what period had it been discovered that they were a most respectable and intelligent class of voters? Government proposed to give them the right of voting by the original Bill; but after two months of mature deliberation, the Ministers became alarmed at the work of their own hands. They had created a power, endowed, like the Monster in the novel, with tremendous physical energies, and when they found that they could not subject those energies to the control of moderation and reason—then it was that they shrunk appalled from their own success, and tried to destroy what they could not command or regulate. They then came down with another bill, by which they attempted to establish a more discreet class of voters—namely, those who paid their rent half-yearly. The real reason of the re-introduction of the clause which gave the right of voting to the intelligent and respectable class described by the Attorney General was, that Government had excited hopes which they were afraid to disappoint. That was the reason, and the only reason which could justify the re-insertion of the clause, but Ministers shrank from acknowledging it. When the Government had once told the artisans of Birmingham and Manchester, that they should have the right of voting, and when the proposition had become the subject of discussion in the Political Unions, it was not to be wondered at that Ministers 637 found it difficult to retract the original concession. But why did they not maturely consider their plan in the first instance? Why did they first propose to give the right of voting to hundreds of thousands of persons, as the Attorney General said, and six weeks after bring in a bill to take it away, and then once more propose it again? In his opinion, there was no class of voters more likely to be under the influence of their landlords, than that of tenants who were liable to be ejected at a week's notice. Manchester, Norwich, Birmingham, and other large towns would have a sufficiently large constituency without this extension of the franchise. Those tenants in towns were in a very different position from that of the agricultural tenant at will, who could retain his farm six months after notice to quit had been served upon him. It by no means followed that a constituency of 30,000 voters, ensured a freer or fairer Representation of a populous town, than a constituency of 3,000 or 4,000. Weekly tenants were to be found chiefly in the manufacturing towns, in which there existed already a numerous independent and respectable constituency, who would be overborne by the numbers of the class which the clause enfranchised. The introduction of that class into the constituency would deprive property and intelligence of their due influence, and, so far from improving, it would have the effect of degrading the Representation. The powers which were given to Assistant-barristers and to Overseers, and the system of annual registration projected by the Bill, would give rise to yearly electioneering contests; there would be no such thing as an election without a contest, and the contest would be renewed at every returning period of registration. The system which this clause would establish, would be an imitation of the elective franchise of the United States in its worst feature. The House had been told, that the Government was now, for the first time, to be carried on without patronage, For his part, he (Sir Robert Peel) thought it just and reasonable, that the Government should exercise some influence over those whom it employed. On that account he had not voted on another night against the government of Ireland, for doing in a very clumsy and undisguised way that which other Governments before them had done with more discretion. 638 Although he could not go the whole length of saying with the right hon. Secretary or Ireland, that preceding governments in Ireland had done the same thing to the same extent, yet he thought it natural and proper that they who were the immediate servants of the Government should support the Government. The House, by their vote the other night, had sanctioned, at least had positively refused to condemn, the exercise of such influence by the executive government. On what pretence, then, would it refuse to the possessor of property the exercise of a similar influence? The occupiers of houses paying a weekly rent, would be peculiarly subject to that influence. They were under the immediate control of their landlords, from the facility with which they could be dispossessed of their holdings under him. On all ordinary occasions they would be passive instruments in his hands, and in times of popular excitement, when ordinary considerations of interest were overborne by the clamour and fever of the moment, their whole weight would be thrown into the scale of vehement democracy. He could see no public advantage, either in the ordinary, or the extraordinary agency, of such a class of voters.
Mr. Evelyn Denison
supported the Amendment. By the clause, as now worded, a party who paid rent by weekly instalments, though he paid neither poor-rates nor taxes, would have the same rights as another who paid all these, and he was of opinion the right ought to be limited to the payment of taxes. If the clause were carried as proposed by Ministers, it would lead to a new assessment all over the kingdom.
supported the Amendment, because, in the manufacturing towns particularly, it would introduce voters who were neither intelligent nor independent.
An Hon. Member
opposed the Amendment, the effect of which, he observed, would be, to disfranchise a large number of his constituents, who, though they paid rent weekly, were as independent as any who paid it quarterly.
§ Mr. Croker
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) had deprecated this Amendment as invidious and dangerous, and not to be endured; yet, on looking at the Scotch Reform Bill, it would be found, that this dangerous and invidious principle was preserved.
The Attorney General
admitted, that it was so when the Bill was introduced, but, at that time, Government was not aware of the respectability and intelligence of that class which it would exclude from the franchise.
§ Mr. Croker
said, that the Bill in which it was preserved was laid on the Table as late as the first day of July, which was a sufficient answer to the assertion of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Gillon
said, he had inquired into the probable effect of the clause in Scotland, and had ascertained, that it would produce no effect at all, as all the payments of rents were quarterly.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, that those who were the sincere friends of Reform would support Ministers in this clause. Many of those who had supported Ministers the other night against this clause, did so, because they thought the rejection of it would injure the Bill. One effect of the Amendment would be, to disfranchise a large body of respectable individuals, not only in the manufacturing towns, but also in the metropolitan districts.
§ Mr. John Campbell
hoped the House would support Ministers in the clause, as they had introduced it originally, and which refused the franchise to any but yearly tenants. His hon. and learned friend, the Attorney General, had said, they should by no means exclude so respectable a class as those who paid weekly rents; but he wondered why his hon. and learned friend stopped there, and did not recommend the custom as practised in the United States, for the same arguments applied to both. The principal reason for extending the franchise to weekly tenants was, as they were told, because many such persons lived in comfort. This was entirely a new test, and how could hon. Gentlemen say to what extent that might be carried. A man who lived under a hedge, with no covering but a blanket, might fancy that he enjoyed comfort. The noble Lord had said, that all who paid 101. a year rent, ought to have the franchise; but those who paid at that rate by weekly payments, could not be considered as paying that amount. This was his objection, and the clause, as it stood, would create a temptation to speculators to build houses, in order to acquire political influence, and the occupiers could have no protection but the Vote by Ballot, which few hon. Gentlemen were prepared to support.
Lord John Russell
said, that many who paid rent by monthly and quarterly payments, had their houses with an agreement o quit at a week's notice, so that, in fact, they would be as much in the power of the landlord as the weekly tenant.
§ Mr. John Campbell
said, that the noble Lord would find, on inquiry, that no houses were let on such a tenure.
§ Mr. Gisborne
could state, from his own knowledge, that it was a common practice in Lancashire to have houses let with a clause to quit at a week's notice. Landlords did so, because they did not know when they might have occasion to turn those houses into manufactories.
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 142; Noes 210—Majority 68.
§ House resumed. The Chairman reported progress—Committee to sit again next day.