§ The House then resolved itself into Committee.
Lord John Russell
observed, that Clause 17 of the Bill had been postponed, at the suggestion of the right hon. member for Aldeburgh until the Committee decided on the 24th Clause. As that clause had been agreed to, he would move that the House should proceed with clause 17 of the Bill.
§ Mr. Croker
said, that his only motive in desiring the postponement of this clause until the 24th was agreed to, was, that as both involved the same principle, one decission would answer. The House having agreed that clause 24 should stand part of the Bill, he, for one, would not offer any opposition to this clause.
§ Mr. Praed
begged to trouble the House with one observation. It was complained that the progress of the Bill in Committee was delayed. Now, he happened to remember when the clause, to which they were about to agree without any discussion, was discussed in the last Session, it occupied a considerable period on three several nights. It could not, therefore, be said, that the unnecessary delay was offered by the opponents of the Bill.
§ On the question, that the clause stand part of the Bill,
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that, as the Representative of Lincoln, it would be necessary for him to trespass on the attention of the House for a short time. He did not expect that his observations would reach the public, inasmuch as he understood that all the public journals—even those which professed to advocate the cause of Anti-reform—had come to a determination of Burking the highly-important observations which he found it sometimes necessary to make on behalf of the interests of his constituents. He must, however, state, that the proposed division of the county of Lincoln was in direct opposition to an Act of Parliament, he alluded to the 52 George 3rd, which had for its object the navigation of the river Witham. The divisions of the county there established were contrary to those put forward by this clause. He did not mean to say, that an Act could not be altered or modified by succeeding Acts, but such a thing was never done without the necessity of the required alteration being clearly shown; and certainly the proposers of this Bill had made out no such case. As he knew it was of no use 1205 arguing any question in the face of so great a majority as supported Ministers through thick-and-thin, he would content himself with moving these words in addition to the clause, "that all the freeholders whose freeholds are situated on the north side of the river Witham shall vote for the Representatives for the district of Lindsey, and that all those whose freeholds are on the south side of that river shall vote for the Members proposed to be given to the districts of Kesteven and Holland." It was his intention to have taken the sense of the Committee on the Motion, but, as the attendance of Members was extremely small he would defer doing so until the Report was brought up.
Lord John Russell
said, that the sense of the last Committee had been taken on this point, and he should not, therefore, go into the question now, but should leave the hon. and gallant Member to pursue any course he might please. He would only add, that he believed the convenience of the present division would be found to be greater than that proposed by the hon. Member.
§ The Amendment was negatived without a division.
§ Mr. Croker
thought, as one of the clauses now stood, the freeholders of the county of the city of Lincoln would, though the noble Lord did not intend it, have a right to vote in both divisions.
Lord John Russell
said, that when the counties came to be divided that difficulty would be obviated, and that was to be effected by a future bill.
§ Mr. Croker
thought it would be right to apply the remedy when the evil was discovered, and not to look to future events to obviate it.
Sir William Ingilby
concurred for once with the gallant Colonel. He agreed with him, that the proposed division was not the most convenient that could be devised. He saw no good reason for taking four or five parishes from one division of the county, and adding them to the other. He, must, however, at the same time say, that he did not at all agree with the gallant Colonel's frequent assertions respecting the sentiments of the county of Lincoln. The gallant Colonel might misrepresent the city of Lincoln as much as he pleased, but when he came to misrepresent the county of Lincoln, it became necessary for him to interfere. He had heard the gallant Colonel talk about impossible 1206 things, till the gallant Colonel at last, came to believe them, so that he reminded one of a certain Baron in Germany. The Baron in Germany talked about going up to the moon till be believed he could get there, and the gallant Colonel talked of the no less extraordinary circumstance of a reaction in the county of Lincoln, until he really believed it, though there was not the slightest ground for the supposition. Not long since, a public meeting of the county had taken place, at which the gallant Colonel ought to have been present, but he was not, though, if he had been, he would have found that there was no such thing as a re-action on the subject of Reform in the county of Lincoln. Stronger resolutions than at first had been intended were proposed and carried. Having said this, he would now add one word upon another circumstance, to shew how little ground there was for talking of re-action in the county of Lincoln. The state of the opinion of the county had been manifested at the time appointed for calling out the Militia. He did not know the reason; but something occurred at Stamford upon the subject, and the Lord-lieutenant thought fit to disband the Militia. The pretence put forth was, that the weather was too inclement, but he hardly know how that could be admitted as the real reason for the Lord-lieutenant's conduct, when it was known that the Militia of other counties were called out at even a later period. He believed the true cause of this disbanding was to be found in the fact, that the Southern Regiment of Militia had uttered that fearful word "Reform." He thought that fact shewed how little ground there was for saying that there had been a re-action in the county.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that he seldom had the pleasure of hearing the hon. Baronct's voice in that House, and, therefore, when the hon. Baronet did speak, he felt inclined to get up and answer him. But on this occasion it was impossible for him not to reply—happy as he was to seize every opportunity of contesting with the hon. Baronet his opinion as to the county of Lincoln. He had been asked why he did not attend what the hon. Baronet called the last county meeting—a meeting which took place in November? He did not attend it for two very cogent reasons—the first was, that he was closely confined to his bed by sickness; but had he been 1207 able to attend, he should not have done so, for he would not have compromised himself by attending a meeting which the hon. Baronet called a county meeting, but which he understood, out of a population of above 300,000 persons, did not amount to 400, and not 150 of these were freeholders of the county. Much as he respected that county, and he had good reasons for respecting it, he must say, that when he read what had fallen from hon. individuals who were at the meeting, so unbecoming as it was, he was glad that he was not present. He must say, that, when he read what had been said at that meeting, he did not think the meeting had done any credit to the county. The hon. Baronet had touched upon matter foreign to the subject when he spoke about the Militia. The hon. Baronet did not understand the matter—he was no soldier, and never had been one, unless he had belonged to some awkward squad in a volunteer corps. When the hon. Baronet talked of a Militia regiment expressing their political opinions, he ought to know that such an expression of opinion was opposed to all propriety. He (Colonel Sibthorp) had been in the regular service, and he was now in the Militia; but he asserted, most positively, that he never had, and never would be connected with a regiment which interfered with political matters; and he would tell the hon. Baronet, that if he was under his command and violated his duty by giving utterance, as an officer, to political opinions, he (Colonel Sibthorp) would put the hon. Baronet under arrest. He should now only add, that if the reasons given by the hon. Baronet for the disbanding of the Lincoln Militia was the true reason, he was glad of it. He begged to say, that he had not misrepresented the county of Lincoln; and when the hon. Baronet accused him of often having done so, the hon. Baronet ought to have refuted the misrepresentation earlier. He was utterly incapable of misrepresentation; but though he had known the hon. Baronet for years, and had met him frequently in friendship, he must say, that the statement was unfounded in truth. He asserted that there was a considerable re-action in the county of Lincoln, to the hon. Baronet's discomfort, and however facetious the hon. Baronet chose to be upon it, he was well acquainted with the fact.
Sir William Ingilby
said, that the gallant Colonel was a well-bred soldier, and 1208 it was a pity for the county that he had not the command of the Militia there; and the gallant Colonel was no doubt right when he said he would put a man under his command under his arrest, if that man violated military discipline by the introduction of politics. He should have no objection to serve under the gallant Colonel, for he was sure the gallant Colonel would act in a straight-forward manner, which the present authorities had not done when they got up a miserable squabble at Stamford, and misled the Government by their account of the matter.
§ The 17th Clause was then agreed to.
§ The 25th Clause, enacting that no person shall be entitled to vote for a county in respect of certain copyholds and leaseholds in a borough, read.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
, in reference to this clause, requested the noble Lord would inform him whether a burgess, who had the right of voting as owner or occupier of a 10l. house, could vote in a borough as a freeman, and in the county as a freeholder? He meant, of course, when such person did not claim the right of voting in the borough in virtue of the house he occupied.
§ Lord Althorp
observed, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, that there was no intention to give an individual two votes. A person might have his option, either to vote in the borough as a freeman, or in the county as a freeholder, if his premises were under 10l. value annually, but he could not be allowed to vote for both.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On the 26th Clause, enacting that possession for a certain time, and registration, are essential to the right of voting for a county,
§ Lord Althorp
stated, that, under the circumstances of the present Bill, which was not likely to pass so early as to render it necessary to make a specific enactment for the registration of the present year, he would move, that the blank be filled up with the words "the 20th of June."
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, he would take this opportunity of repeating the suggestion he had made last Session, that, for the purpose of expediting the Bill, and to afford time for deliberation upon other subjects, it would be highly desirable to divide the Bill, after the 34th or 35th clause, when the rights of voting were all determined, and to leave the question of registration and subordinate details for 1209 separate discussion. These, he thought, might be much better discussed in a Committee up-stairs.
§ Lord Althorp
must object to the proposition of his right hon. friend. He thought the House would never pass a Bill which granted certain rights of voting, without determining the mode in which such rights were to be exercised.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On the 27lh Clause being read, which enacts, that the right of voting in boroughs shall be enjoyed by occupiers of houses, &c., of the annual value of 10l.,
§ Mr. Hunt rose to propose the Amendment of which he had given notice. He hoped, for the sake of the principle, it would meet with better success than it did last Session, especially after the convincing speech of the hon. member for Thetford (Mr. Baring) last night. His amendment was, that all householders, all payers of rates and taxes, should have a vote. The principle was one known in the Constitution, and was acted upon in Westminster, Southwark, and other places. The principle was, that all persons who occupied a house, and paid taxes, should have a vote; and every man liable to be called upon to serve in the Militia, had as great a stake in the good Government of the country as the first Peer of the realm. Nothing could be more complicated than the right of voting given by this Bill. It would give rise to endless litigation, unless some measure was had recourse to, to simplify these rights. All he required was, a vote for every householder who paid taxes, and the Bill even went beyond that principle in some instances, by allowing persons who lived in lodgings, and who, therefore, in many instances, had no property whatever, the right of voting. Besides this, the determining the value of 10l. houses would give rise to endless disputes and litigation. What was now going on at Quarter Sessions relating to the law of settlement, which rested upon houses of that value, would be transferred to the Barristers' Court. Surveyors would be called on, who would give contradictory opinions, and everlasting squabbles must be the inevitable result. The annual registry would cause more excitement than an Annual Parliament, which he had always advocated, but would be attended with unmixed evil, as there would be no means to carry off the local effervescence which would prevail from one registry to another. 1210 He believed many Gentlemen agreed with him in these opinions, but would not avow them, although they talked of the intelligence, loyalty, and good sense of the people of England. They would not follow out the necessary consequences flowing from such sentiments, and give every father of a family a vote. He had no hope of carrying the Motion now, but he had no doubt that in a very few years either this or some still stronger measure would be adopted. He wished, therefore, to place his opinions on record, and would content, himself with moving, "That all householders paying taxes, shall have a vote for the respective Members to be chosen in the next, and every succeeding Parliament."
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
opposed the amendment, It would be in the recollection of the House, that this proposition was discussed, and unanimously decided against the hon. Gentleman, in the course of the last Session of Parliament. He certainly thought that Ministers, in giving the vote to 10l. householders, had gone as low in the qualification as they ought to go; but there was a great deal of good sense, however, in the remarks which had been made with respect to the advantages which would arise from the qualification being got at by means of the rates of the whole of the country, if they could be fairly and equitably assessed. In that case, he had no hesitation in saying, that he would not merely require that the voters should be rated to the poor, but also to the full extent of the value of the House; and he would provide that no person should have a vote in any borough who was not rated to the full value of 10l. a-year. It was impossible, however, that this proposition could be carried into effect in the present state of rating, because it was so unequally and differently proportioned, that it was quite impossible, from it, to say whether a house was worth 10l., 12l., or 20l. The present Bill, however, was undoubtedly better than the last, as far as the 10l. clause was concerned, but there were still opportunities for abuses and evasions. This was a most important clause, particularly when it was taken in connexion with the succeeding one; and he wished to call the noble Lord's attention to a statement he was about to make respecting it. The clause, taken by itself, provided that no person should have a vote who was not in the occupation of a house of the value of 10l.; 1211 this occupation, if the occupier be fairly registered according to the provisions of the Bill, would enable him to vote, provided he was rated to the poor, and had paid up all his rates. What he was about to state was most material with reference to the next clause, because that introduced an entirely new principle; he would not say whether it was right or wrong, but he was sure it demanded the most serious consideration That clause—the twenty-eighth—said that it was not necessary a person should have occupied the same premises during the whole time, but lie might have occupied different premises in succession. To shew how this provision would work was his object. It was in the power of any person in possession of premises, to go to the overseer and insist upon being rated: he had a right to be rated on the very day he entered upon the occupation. A person might occupy twelve different houses in the course of the twelve months; and it would only be necessary for him to have paid the rates for the premises, in respect of which he claimed the right of voting. It appeared to him there was no provision whatever that a person must have paid the rates for any other tenement than the last he occupied. He thought an amendment should be introduced, having the object of making a man prove the payment of the rates for all the successive premises he might have occupied during the year before he was entitled to be registered. There was one improvement in the present Bill over the last, however, that the registry was not to be completed until three months after the insertion of the names therein. This would afford some additional security for a bonâ fide occupation, for that time at least. He confessed, however, he thought something was still wanting to secure the advantages of permanence and stability in the constituency. He should prefer a fixed qualification of even 5l. a-year to a shifting and fugitive one, whereby a class of voters might be let in without respectability or character. A general registry of the whole kingdom, for the qualification of voters, was certainly a desirable object, but it would be exceedingly difficult to attain.
Sir Robert Peel
said, the learned Gentleman who spoke last had observed, that he could not assent to any proposal for altering the 10l. qualification by the substitution of another amount of annual value in lieu of 10l.; and possibly if there 1212 was any necessity for fixing a specific qualification to be indiscriminately and universally applied, he might agree with him. But he must deny that any sufficient reasons had been alleged for adopting the 10l. qualification as the rule without exception for every town and borough. His great objection to this qualification was, that it was applied to every place in the United Kingdom, no matter what the size, wealth, or population of that place. It was quite a mistake to say, that, this would produce uniformity of voting; for the class which paid 10l. rent in one place was very different from the class which paid the same amount of rent in another. He was prepared to place the qualification below 10l. in several towns and boroughs; and he had felt some surprise that the noble Lord did not retain the scot-and-lot franchise in all the old boroughs that were to retain their franchise, in which he found the scot-and-lot right in existence. The objection to this was, that the scot-and-lot franchise was more liable to abuse, in consequence of the poverty of many of those by whom it was exercised. He would venture to say, however, that there was scarcely any place in which the scot-and-lot voters would not be found as respectable and as independent as the 10l. rent-payers in very large manufacturing towns. The objection arising from poverty applied with at least equal force to the latter class of voters. When it was considered that a class of persons were to be admitted to the franchise who had no fixed habitations, as they might shift them several times in the course of a twelvemonth, who were not trusted by their landlords for more than a weekly payment of rent, it would be seen that the 10l. qualification was no test of respectability. By retaining the scot-and-lot voters, more variety would have been given to the franchise, and a link of connection preserved between the Representative body and that class of householders which paid the smallest amount of rent. Acting under this opinion, he would certainly have preferred the raising of the qualification above 10l. in the largest towns, and adopting in the smaller a course somewhat similar to that adopted by the noble Lord with respect to freemen of corporations, by giving a right of voting to all householders who pay rates. He repented, that, by this plan, they would have secured an equally independent class of 1213 voters, and, at the same time, preserved the link which unites the poor voter with his richer neighbour. He could assure the noble Lord that this class of men were all above poverty, and, in small towns, capable of exercising their right with discretion and independence. With respect to the large towns now about to be enfranchised for the first time, he was not at that time prepared to say that 10l., 15l., 20l., or any other given amount, would be the proper and just qualification; but he must declare, without wishing to introduce into the consideration of this question any topics connected with the general principle of Reform, that he bitterly lamented that the Government did not take more time than six weeks to consider the details of their measure. After the Ministers had come to the determination to introduce a Reform as extensive as this, six months might have been fairly required by them for the purpose of maturely considering the details of that Reform, and the various classes of constituency to be established under the system. Take the case of Manchester, Birmingham, or Leeds, which are to be enfranchised. The constituent body of those towns ought certainly to be so numerous as to ensure a popular right of election far out of the reach of any individual control, but it ought also to be formed on such principles as to ensure the just weight of intelligence, character and property combined. The true interest of those great societies would not be consulted by turbulent elections and return of reckless demagogues. He did not see any impossibility in carrying into effect the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Thetford last night, that they should take 3,000 or 4,000 of the highest-rated persons in a large town, and give them the right of voting. The question would be, whether by such a proceeding they would not establish an independent system of Representation, free from abuse, and ensuring to the intelligence, knowledge, and respectability of the town, their just influence. He saw no reason why this suggestion should not be adopted in cases wherein the Legislature was about to confer new privileges, and might, therefore, proceed on what principle it pleased. He wanted no restriction on the right of voting in such places as Manchester and Birmingham, save that which might be necessary to prevent the predominance of numbers over property—and of popu- 1214 lar passion over the deliberate judgment of the educated and reflecting classes. The relations of those towns to the community at large were very important—their interests were very varied and very complicated, and he was satisfied that, those relations would not be comprehended, and those interests would not be promoted, by the triumph of demagogues. He could not then say what was the precise amount of qualification which should have been fixed for the great manufacturing towns, but of this he was assured, that the right of Representation would be a curse instead of a benefit to those towns, if that right did not ensure to properly and intelligence their just influence in the return of Members. Entertaining these opinions on the principle, he had strong objections to the manner in which it was proposed to determine the value of the property that was to confer a vote. A house and land, paying together 10l. rent, was hereafter to give to the person occupying it a right of voting. He much feared that serious evils would arise from this. It held out to landlords an inducement to take away land from the poor occupier who now held it, and to add it to a 5l. house, for the purpose of bringing the rent of house and land together up to 10l. Its tendency was to create a petty oligarchy in every town more offensive than that which they superseded. He was confident, indeed, that the difficulty of determining the value, and ascertaining the qualification in practice would be so great as would lead to the necessity of reconsidering that part of the Bill. He would give them an instance of that difficulty out of many he possessed, from the borough with which he was best acquainted. His Majesty's Government had wished to ascertain the number of houses of the value of 10l. annual rent, within the limits of the borough of Tamworth. Two persons were selected to procure the necessary information, the town-clerk, and the churchwarden—men in every respect well qualified for such a task, and possessing all requisite industry and information. The return was made. The town-clerk stated, there were 202 houses rated at 10l., and the churchwarden returned 325, and these conflicting returns were made for a borough containing only 729 inhabited houses. Ample time was given to make the return, and he believed it was as complete as it could be made; but the dif- 1215 ference arose from the town-clerk taking the Poor-rates as his guide, and the churchwarden taking the Church-rates. Now, he would just ask the House to consider the condition of a stranger going down for two or three days to one of these boroughs, to make a return of the number of houses valued at 10l. What was the prospect that his judgment could be relied upon when men so intimately acquainted with the localities presented such discrepancies in their statements? He would give them another case, which occurred a fortnight ago in a southern county, without the parties having the slightest conception that it would ever be appealed to as an argument in a question of Reform:—A doubt arose whether a party had gained a settlement by occupying a house of the value of 10l. Two days were occupied in the hearing. Fourteen Magistrates were on the bench. Elaborate speeches were made on both sides, and at the conclusion the Magistrates divided: seven of the fourteen were of opinion that the house was of the value of 10l., and seven were equally satisfied that it was not. Now, if it were so difficult to decide on a disputed question of value, in a case wherein there was so little either of interest or passion, or party feeling, to disturb the judgment, what must be the obstacles to be surmounted in an inquiry before a stranger in cases wherein so many and such powerful personal feelings and interests would be brought into collision? He apprehended that he did not exaggerate much, when he said that the expense, and the delay, and the difficulty would form a serious obstacle to the working of the Bill; and he regretted much that the noble Lord and its framers had not looked a little more closely at the qualification in the Jury Bill, which was of a much simpler character. The Juryman was qualified, either by the occupation of a house rated at 20l. to the Poor-rate, or of a house having fifteen windows. The expense of procuring evidence to ascertain the value of 10l. houses would be great in all disputed cases. Supposing a person, resident in London, who had a vote in Cornwall in right of a house of the description in question, were compelled to prove his right, to how much inconvenience, and to how much expense might he not be put? The witnesses were to have a viaticum, and, as he understood, graduated according to their condition in 1216 life. These expenses were to be of constant recurrence. They must be defrayed every year, and by whom? By the party claiming a right to vote? No; but by the whole community, and the unfortunate scot-and-lot voters who were deprived of the franchise, would have to pay the expenses of those on whom it was conferred. He implored the House to pause before they burthened the Poor-rates with such a charge as this, and to endeavour to ascertain whether a more simple test might not be devised for ascertaining the qualification.
Lord John Russell
said, the principal objection of the right hon. Baronet was, that there was too great a variety, instead of there being a general uniformity, of suffrage; and that the right of suffrage, instead of being low in the small towns, and higher in the large towns, was, on the contrary, too high in the small towns, and too low in the large towns. This the right hon. Gentleman considered to be a great defect. Now, he must contend, on the other hand, that if they had made the franchise low in the small boroughs, and high in the large towns, the system would be much worse, and must of necessity be mischievous to the principles of practical Reform. Let the House, in the first, place, take the smaller boroughs. There was no one acquainted with elections in this country who would not admit, that. boroughs where the scot-and-lot system of voting prevailed were exceedingly corrupt, and were the most disgraceful blots that existed in the Representation. In two or three of these boroughs a constituency was to be found of so wretched a character, that they were always ready to receive twenty or twenty-five guineas, as the price of their suffrages. When they were allowed to send Representatives to Parliament, it was deemed necessary that their suffrages should be founded on something above that which was merely nominal. It was considered just and wise, that men possessing the elective franchise should be above the temptation of a bribe. Then let them take the larger towns, and consider whether any good reason existed for raising the right of suffrage higher with respect to them. The right hon. Baronet stated truly, that the scot-and-lot franchise brought a great number of the lower sort of voters more immediately in contact with the Constitution, which he viewed as a circumstance of great importance. But 1217 he thought that the right hon. Baronet was mistaken in his application of the just and equitable principle on which his argument was founded. This lower description of voters in the small insignificant boroughs had little knowledge of political rights, and paid less attention to them; those who really considered these subjects were to be found in that great and numerous class of tradesmen and artisans who inhabited large towns. They took an interest in political questions, and they would therefore be likely to select men calculated to represent their interests arid to support the interests of the country in Parliament. Now, if the right hon. Baronet's suggestion were followed, it would let in the suffrages of voters in small boroughs, who took no interest, or scarcely any interest in political matters, and it would keep out the suffrages of those who really did take an interest in them. In both respects, by making the right of suffrage lower in the small boroughs, and higher in the great towns, they would injure the Bill; and in both respects they would injure the constituency of the country. The right hon. Baronet had stated fairly the objections which might be raised against taking value as the criterion of the right of Suffrage. On that point he could only say, that, if any mode could be devised by which the right of suffrage could be ascertained without trouble, inconvenience, or expense, he would most readily adopt it; but until such a mode was discovered, he would adhere to that which the Bill contained, as being, under all circumstances, the best. If the right of voting were to be decided by rate, it would not answer; because rating was very different in different places. In some places a house was rated on the value of 10l. a-year, which was barely worth that amount; whilst in others that rate was affixed to a house worth 50l. or 60l. a-year. But it was perfectly evident that there was no way of framing a clause free from objection if they admitted value at all, whether actual or rated, as the criterion. He, however, saw no mode less objectionable than that which was proposed. If rent was taken as the criterion, the punctual payer would in some cases be deprived of his right of voting, while the person who did not so pay would retain it. For instance in Manchester there was a person who had a number of small houses let at from 10l. to 11l. a-year. 1218 Those tenants who had paid regularly had an allowance, which brought the rent down to 9l. or 9l. 10s. Now if rent were the criterion, these last would be excluded, while the persons who did not pay punctually would have a vote. The right hon. Baronet had apparently overlooked one essential difference between the respective operations of the jury laws and the elective franchise; in the first, the person was called upon to exercise a burthensome and in some instances expensive duty; in the latter case a privilege was conferred. Further he believed the right hon. Baronet was not correct in supposing that the expense of litigation would fall upon the Poor-rate. There were some other points urged by him which would, be more appropriately answered in a future stage of the proceeding.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, he was as much opposed to the 10l. franchise in the present Bill as in the former. Indeed it appeared to him, on the whole, that the operation of it would be found still more objectionable. The former Bill afforded four tests by which the qualification might be ascertained—the rent actually paid, the agreement between landlord and tenant, the being rated at 10l., and the value of the house. The framers of the present measure had, however, thought fit to abandon three of these tests, and to adopt "value" alone. Now, in his opinion, in doing so they had chosen the very worst criterion. It would give rise to innumerable disputes, and who, he wished to know, was to defray the expense of this litigation? Why, the individuals who had no votes would be favoured with the agreeable privilege of paying, to ascertain the right of those who had. An odious oligarchical distinction would be thus established. The man who possessed a 10l. house would be allowed to vote, while his neighbour, whose tenement was not worth quite so much, was excluded from the right of suffrage. And the individual possessing this oligarchical distinction had also this advantage, that the man who had no vote contributed to pay the expense of ascertaining the other man's right. This would be, it was true, an oligarchy of shop-keepers, but it would excite as much ill-feeling in its sphere, as that oligarchy which was so much spoken of in that House was supposed to do. If a man's name were omitted in the list of voters, what would be the consequence? Why, he must 1219 prosecute his right before the Barrister—he must call evidence; and he believed very few men would go to the expense, but would sooner forfeit their claim. He very much doubted, also, whether the lists would be fairly made out—whether they would not be tinctured by political intrigue and political feeling. His great objection to this provision was, because it appeared to him that it would be found impracticable to carry it into effect. Men beneficially occupied in London would be very unwilling to proceed to a great distance to prove the value of a house. They had heard of oligarchy, but there might be an oligarchy of carpenters and builders who would keep up the value of houses. The clause would give an influence which shop-keepers ought not to have. Having expressed his objection to the clause, he did not wish to enter into other provisions, but he could not avoid protesting against the tyranny of making the valuation of houses the foundation of the franchise, forcing men to go through litigation, to establish their right of voting. He appealed to the Ministers, having in vain appealed to the Aldermen of London, whose bowels were closed up. He appealed for mercy and candour, which could not be found in the palaces of Mayoralty. His hope was, that they would answer his appeal. He hoped that the worthy Alderman opposite would condescend to give them, on a subject like this, more of his arithmetic and less of his taunts and jokes, and that he would apply himself to the showing how this clause would possibly work well. There was no part of the Bill which, in his (Sir Charles Wetherell's) opinion was more objectionable than this clause, and neither the taunts of the worthy Alderman, nor the sneers of all the Aldermanic body of the City of London, should prevent him from doing his duty.
Sir Robert Peel
referred to Clause 55, page 28, and objected to the provision which made all the expense incurred by Overseers in every parish in making out lists fall on the fund collected for the relief of the poor; and that of the returning-officers of cities, boroughs, &c., was to be defrayed by the Treasurer of the county. In the latter case it was not, indeed, called poor-rates, but it was, in fact, the same fund. The amount of these joint demands would be very large, and the evil would be increased, from the payers not having a due control over these expenses.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the expense of summoning witnesses would not be thrown on the county or the poor-rates, but that the intention of the Bill was, that it should be borne by the parties themselves, for whose benefit they were summoned, and who would have to tender the viaticum, as was the case under similar circumstances at present. In the course of this discussion the Motion which had been made by the hon. member for Preston appeared to have been altogether lost sight of. Now, he thought that it would be better and more convenient to dispose of that Motion in the first instance, before they should proceed further with the discussion on this clause. With regard to that hon. Member's Motion, he might observe, that it was not one that the Committee were at all likely to accede to, and he, therefore, hoped, that that hon. Member would excuse him for not going into any of the arguments which might be offered against such a motion. Such arguments were not necessary, for the Members had already made up their minds on the subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had said, that there were four tests of value in the last Bill, and that there was only one to be found in the present. But though there was only one particularly specified in the present Bill, the others still remained, and could be had recourse to for the purpose of testing value where they should be deemed necessary.
§ Mr. Sadler rose, amidst a call for the question. It was not his intention to confine himself exclusively to the amendment. He wished to address a few observations to the noble founder of the measure, who had just stated, with apparent complacency, that the fixed amount of the qualification would, in consequence of the difference in the value of houses in large and small towns, vary the franchise, and obviate the objections urged as to the apparent equality of the proposed qualification. He must remind the noble Lord that there was one feature which bore a most dismal uniformity; it was one which could not satisfy the people of England. That was a disfranchisement of several millions of the most industrious parts of the population, the greater proportion of whom resided in houses under the value of 10l. He knew not on what ground a Reform in Parliament could be admired when it had the effect of diminishing the benefits derived from the Constitution of England. 1221 At the time they proposed to give the people additional influence, they entirely disfranchised a large part of them. The industrious classes in every part of England would lose their birthright. They would be left without any Representation whatever, and that at a time when the principle of virtual Representation was stigmatized as much as possible; and yet this measure was exalted by its propounders as resting on a basis broad, liberal, and open, though nine-tenths of the population of the kingdom were excluded from its supposed benefits. When the noble Lord spoke of quieting the people of England, he wished to know whether the people could rest satisfied with such an arrangement as this. They were preparing to injure the most meritorious men in the country—men who stood forward in the moments of danger to defend the nation. Those men were to be disfranchised. He had represented a constituency in which there were many of the poorer classes, and among them he had never seen the corruption which distinguished persons living in larger houses. Many industrious men would not only be disfranchised, but deprived of their political rights. He had then in his eye individuals who would be injured by the Bill. Individuals who wished to live in small houses for the purpose of bringing up large families would lose their political rights. Every one above the rank of a pauper was entitled to the elective franchise.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, that the wit of the hon. and learned Member for Boroughbridge had nothing whatever to do with the question before the Committee, and the profuse display of it, which that hon. Member was wont to make on occasions like the present, led to nothing but an useless waste of the time of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman was always exceedingly ready to be facetious at the expense of the Aldermen of the city of London. He did not know whether the Recorder of Bristol was an Alderman; but of this, at all events, he was quite certain, that the Aldermen of the city of London maintained their ground as well as the Aldermen of Bristol, and that some of them, at least, wore as well skilled in horsemanship as any amongst the civic dignitaries of that now, unfortunately, too celebrated place, His name was to be found, he believed, in every division, though 1222 it was not recorded, two or three times every night in the debates. In fact he had heard of one hon. and learned Gentleman speaking thirty-six times on the same question. For his own part he had always done his duty towards the large body of constituents that he represented, and he should be always ready to defend his conduct against the uncalled-for attack of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who, though he talked to him about his facing his constituents at the hustings, had probably never seen even the semblance of a hustings, and yet who took up more of the time of that House than any other hon. Member of it, in talking absolute and downright nonsense.
§ Mr. Trevor rose to express his opinion, although he did not represent so large a constituency as the worthy Alderman, he considered it his duty to say this Bill proposed one thing, and brought about another. It proposed to give an increase of elective suffrages, but deprived a large and respectable portion of the community of the franchise which they had derived from their ancestors. He could never believe this would be a popular measure. He should assert the Bill would not give satisfaction to the community; on the contrary, it would produce disappointment. It had been thrown like a firebrand through the country, and when the population became cool it would be hailed as the greatest delusion that ever deceived the public.
§ Mr. Hunt
asked, why his Motion had been Burked by the noble Lord. Why should the liberal Ministers prefer the Motion of the hon. member for Lymington to his? Persons who lived in houses under 10l. had been described as living in places only fit to breed the Cholera Morbus. He could only say, that the houses at Preston which let for 6l. a-year were better than many in London and other places which let for 14l. or 16l. There were no less than 8,000 voters in Preston at present, and by the operation of this Bill they would be reduced to 900. Why were they to be disfranchised? Was it because they had sent him, a troublesome Member, into that House? All who paid King's taxes and parochial rates ought to have the right of voting. He did not expect his Motion to be carried, but he could not avoid feeling regret that a liberal Ministry had made up their minds to Burke such an amendment. He had seen all the friends of the noble Lords take the 1223 hint; they obeyed the whip, and not one word was said in support of what he considered a liberal proposition.
§ The Committee then divided on the Amendment; Ayes 11; Noes 290—Majority 279.
Mr. Evelyn Denison
said, that although it might not be possible to decide on the merits of the whole clause that night, yet that perhaps the Motion of which he had given notice might be discussed. It was "to introduce provisions by which the right of voting in boroughs to be derived from the occupation of a house of not less than the clear yearly value of 10l. may be fixed on a more certain and permanent basis than is proposed in the Bill." The proposal of one great uniform qualification for voting had been hitherto unknown in this country, and he feared that the machinery proposed by the Bill would not be equal to the pressure upon it. The parochial assessments in the manner now designed would not, in his opinion, answer the object proposed: however, passing at once to the question of value, he would mention what he thought would answer better than the plan developed in the Bill. He thought it would give a character of permanency to the intended qualification, were it allowed that a house and premises having been once admitted on the list as of the value of 10l., should be permitted there to continue for a certain period without examination every year, and that the mere possession of such a house should entitle the occupier to vote.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
said, that the hour of the night had arrived at which they were last year accustomed to adjourn, though always with this understanding, that the proposition about which they might happen to be engaged at the moment when the customary hour of adjournment arrived, should be resumed next day. He hoped that there was no intention of meeting on Saturdays, but really if they persevered in the practice of leaving unfinished the clause about which they might happen to be engaged at the hour proposed for adjournment, he saw no alternative but meeting on Saturdays.
§ Lord Althorp
thought the House might go on for a short time longer without opposing itself very much either to the wishes of the hon. Baronet, or of those Gentlemen who just then cried out "No." The Motion before them lay within a very narrow compass, though he fully agreed 1224 with the hon. Mover, that it was a very fit subject to be brought under the consideration of the Committee. The Bill provided that all the occupiers of houses of the value of 10l. should have votes. His hon. friend, if he understood him rightly, wished for the means of establishing, in some measure different from the Bill, a decision as to what should be taken and esteemed to be 10l. houses. But the Bill, if he took the trouble to look at it, would effect that object in a manner the most complete and certain. If it were once decided that all occupiers should have a vote for a period of five years, it would create a species of franchise similar to that of burgage tenure. The effect of such a system, he apprehended, would be, to lead to the buying up of houses for election purposes. There was not one of the objections to the Bill which the adoption of such a motion would obviate.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
differed from the noble Lord in thinking that the question lay within a narrow compass, and was, therefore, favourable to an adjournment of the debate.
Mr. Evelyn Denison
said, that the noble Lord did not entirely comprehend his meaning. The same objection would apply against the Bill as it stood, as against his proposition; for it was only these houses that could confer the right of voting.
§ Mr. Croker
thought, that the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Wrottesley) would see how impossible it was to adopt his suggestion; for in the present clause, there were two most important questions to be disposed of. The first was, to decide whether the right of voting should be conferred by a 10l. or 20l. house, or by any other such qualification; and the next was, how were they to get at that qualification. These were subjects so serious, that it would be impossible to get through them this night.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he understood it was the wish of the Committee that the discussion should be postponed; he, therefore, begged to move that the Chairman report progress.
§ House resumed.