HC Deb 11 August 1832 vol 14 cc1328-33
Sir John Hothouse

said, he had then a Petition to present from a numerous body of his constituents, who held a meeting last night at the Crown and Anchor Tavern. He feared that his noble friend would think his worthy constituents very persevering in not being satisfied with the explanation of the operation of the Reform Bill, which his noble friend had already given. They contended, and, he thought, upon very strong grounds, that the effect of the Bill in its present form would be, to disfranchise a very large proportion of those who had hitherto had votes in the city of Westminster; it must therefore give rise to great and extensive discontent. Through several Parliaments he had had the honour of sitting as the Representative of a city which contained no fewer than 18,500 electors; should he be returned to the next Parliament it would only be as the Representative of the comparatively small number of 4,000. In the parish of St. John, out of 1,791 electors, not more than 554 had paid, which left 1,237 without votes. In St. Paul's, out of 549, only 298 had paid, and 251 had not. In St. Ann's, out of 1,403, only 535 had paid, leaving 868 without votes. In St. James's, out of 3,032, only 891 had paid, leaving 2,141. These four parishes yielded a total of no more than 2,268. In the parish of St. Margaret from 600 to 700 voters would be disfranchised, and he feared that the great parish of St. George, which included Pimlico and Chelsea, would be in a similar situation, as well as St. Clement Danes. The electors of Westminster, he was sure the noble Lord would agree with him, would be amongst the last to make any complaint against the Reform Bill, had they not been driven to do so by the situation in which it placed them; and they not only entertained apprehensions for themselves, but for the electors of the whole country, nearly one-fourth of whom would be disfranchished by the new Bill. That surely was an injustice which the promoters of the measure never contemplated, and he therefore trusted that some mode might be devised for remedying the evil.

Lord Althorp

said, that the new right of voting, as far as scot and lot boroughs were concerned, did not do more than alter the time at which the rates were to be paid up. Formerly, in all scot and lot places, the rates must have been paid before the election; the only difference now was, that they must be paid at the time of registration. The old test of qualification had been retained in the new Bill, and he confessed he saw no reason sufficient to make a change necessary; and if the electors found themselves, as they said, disfranchised, they had only to attribute the circumstance to the fact of their not having paid up their rates in due time; for they certainly would have nothing to complain of, in any instance, where it could be shown that the rates had not been demanded. Suppose a dissolution of Parliament had taken place, and that the day of election happened to be fixed for that upon which the payment of rates had been fixed, would not the electors have been placed in that situation of which they now so loudly complained? He confessed he did hoar with great surprise the statement which his right hon. friend had just made, for he was utterly unable to understand how so large a proportion of the electors of Westminster could be disfranchised. He could not conceive how in the wealthy parish of St. James's there could be 2,000 householders who had not paid up their taxes; and he was sure that upon inquiry it would turn out that there had been much misapprehension and exaggeration.

Colonel Evans

thought, that the noble Lord took too favourable a view as to the number of persons who would be entitled to vote, and that they had been over-rated even by the right hon. Baronet himself. According to the view which he (Colonel Evans) took of it, he would contend that according to the old right, there was scarcely an elector in Westminster who would be entitled to vote—and there were very few, indeed, who would be entitled to vote under the new Bill. He did hope, therefore, that the noble Lord would not allow a new Parliament to meet until this question was set at rest, and until what he called the evil of it was remedied. The people would think that they were taken by surprise, and that it was the intention of Government to limit rather than to extend the franchise.

Lord Althorp

repeated, that if rates were not demanded of those who heretofore had the right of scot and lot voting, they could not be disqualified by the nonpayment, and therefore every elector could qualify up to the day of registration. He had no wish to limit the franchise or to disqualify any elector by the operation of this Bill. He might, it was possible, lose the confidence of the people by a misap- prehension in this respect; but if that should happen (which he should exceedingly regret), it would still be a satisfaction to him to reflect that be was a member of the Government who carried the Reform Bill. But he had little fear of losing the public confidence on any matter connected with that measure.

Colonel Evans

said, that the noble Lord might be mistaken in laying that flattering unction to his soul; for though he gave him full credit for his intention to extend the franchise, the people might not be satisfied when they found that no means were taken to remedy that part of the Bill which would operate to the limitation rather than the extension of the right of voting.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, that there seemed to him to be an erroneous opinion as to the power of altering and amending the Reform Bill in the present Session. That power, he conceived, fully existed according to the forms of the House; for, by a clause in the Boundary Bill, it was enacted, that that Bill, when it did pass, should be taken as part and parcel of the Reform Bill, as much as if it had been embodied in it; and by a subsequent clause in that Bill it was enacted, that it might be altered and amended in the present Session. He had consulted several eminent lawyers on the subject, who all gave it as their opinion that the Bill might be altered and amended in this Session.

Lord Althorp

apprehended that the technical ground which the hon. member had taken would not do, but he (Lord Althorp) had not gone upon any technical ground in the measure which he had proposed to bring in on this subject. He had withdrawn that measure, because, if it were opposed, there would not have been time to pass it before the 20th of August, the period to which he had proposed to extend the payments; besides, he did not feel disposed to press a matter for discussion in so thin an attendance when opposition was offered to it.

Mr. Warburton

expressed a hope that if the Bill was to be amended, it should not be by a Parliament which still included schedule A. He regretted very much that the operation of any clause of the Bill should tend to limit the franchise in any part of the kingdom; but still he would rather have it amended by a Reformed Parliament.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

did not think that the noble Lord could at all be blamed for the operation of this clause, nor for his desire not to bring the subject again under discussion in the present Parliament. At the same time he should feel no objection to the introduction of a bill to remedy any defect that might be found in the Bill.

Sir Charles Forbes

was not surprised that many of the electors had neglected to pay their rates when they had been advised by several hon. Members not to do so. He had heard it said, that the hon. member for Middlesex had advised several persons not to pay their rates, and the hon. Member himself had not denied the fact. If electors, therefore, had chosen to disqualify themselves, they must take the consequences.

Sir Francis Burdett

said, that the statement of his noble friend as to the scot and lot right of voting, ought to be satisfactory to those who had heretofore exercised that right, namely, that payment of all rates demanded up to the day of registration would be sufficient. He thought that there was something in the point alluded to by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hughes Hughes), as to the power of altering and amending the Bill in the present Session; but even if that ground did not exist, he saw no reason why the Bill should not be amended in the present Session if necessity required it. There was no act to prevent such an alteration, even though a clause had not been introduced to declare that it might be so amended. The only practical objection that could be made to such Amendment would be, that many Members had gone away who probably would have remained had they thought that the Bill was to be altered; but that objection could not well apply to this case, as no alteration of the Bill itself was contemplated, but merely an extension of the time at which voters might qualify. They had recently heard much of pledges, but it appeared to him that the public had a right to expect that the pledges which that House had made to give them an efficient measure of Reform should be redeemed, and that if the measure was found to be less efficient than was intended, the defect should be remedied before it was too late.

Petition read.

Sir John Hobhouse

said, that, as he viewed the clause relating to the payment of rates, he feared that the electors of Westminster were put in a much worse situation than they were before. At all events, a vast number of them had got into a predicament from which they could not easily extricate themselves, and, therefore, he was anxious that, if the difficulty which they apprehended existed, it might be removed.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

, in explanation, observed, that what he stated was, that the noble Lord was not to blame for the defect of the Bill as it stood; but so far was he from opposing the remedy for that defect, that he would have no objection to the introduction of a bill for that purpose, which should go through all its stages in one day.

Petition to be printed.