§ The Chairman having read the commencement of Clause 27 (the 10l. Clause),
Mr. Evelyn Denison
rose to propose his Amendment, the consideration of which had been postponed last night. This proposition, he said, would go to fix the franchise on the rates, and on the houses themselves, instead of on the rent, which he conceived was the preferable way for determining it. If they sent forth the 10l. Clause in its present state, so encumbered with machinery, and so much calculated to give rise to squabbles and litigation, it would do away with any good that might be otherwise expected from it. This proposition, while it freed the Clause from those objections, was based, at the same time, exactly upon the same foundation. By this means the necessity of an annual registry would be obviated, and the value of the houses might be ascertained in the same way as was done by the Commissioners for the inhabited house duty. He begged, therefore, to move, that all the words after the word "city or borough," in line twenty-eight, down to the words "ten pounds," in line thirty-three, should be omitted, for the purpose of inserting the following words—"any premises answering the description hereinafter to be mentioned."
§ The Amendment having been put,
Lord John Russell
did not see how he could possibly admit the proposition made by the hon. Gentleman. That proposition went to attach the franchise to the houses, and not to the persons, and to determine the number of houses that for a certain period were to be entitled to the franchise in a borough. He did not think that such a regulation would be just or fair towards those persons who might build new houses in a borough. Neither would it be fair to the tenants of such houses, for they would be deprived for five 1235 years (that, he believed, was the period contemplated by the proposition of the hon. Member) of that franchise which others enjoyed. The argument urged by the hon. Member was, that when the value of a house was once fixed, there would be no further necessity to look to it; and that the franchise would rest upon the house itself, and not upon the occupier. But the same rule would hold good with the plan proposed by the Bill, for when once a House was put into the Registry as being of the value of 10l., any future occupier would generally be admitted to vote for it without further inquiry. When the registry was completed, therefore, there would be little trouble in keeping it up, and they had an example that the principle would work well. At Norwich there had been disputes of long standing relative to the Poor-rates, and an act had been brought in to enable persons holding houses or lands and tenements of the value of 10l. to vote for guardians of the poor. This bill was revived and amended in 1827, and the qualification was almost exactly that proposed by this Bill. This had been found to act well, though the community of Norwich consisted of 11,000 occupiers, amongst which there were 4,000 houses of 10l. value. He also thought that, although there might be difficulties with respect to ascertaining the value of houses when settlements were concerned, yet questions of that nature were not at all similar to those which would arise under this Bill. All questions of value relative to the franchise would be tried with favour, while in cases of settlement there was and would be a leaning against the allowance of fresh charges on a parish. This made the cases materially different, and he (Lord John Russell) had no doubt that the magistrates who divided seven and seven on a case of settlement, would have divided twelve to two in favour of the right to vote.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that the object in voting for guardians of the poor was very different from that in voting for the election of members of Parliament. At contested elections particularly there would be a very close examination of votes. The noble Lord had said, that the general rule would be in favour of the franchise. But how could that be known, as it must vary with the feeling of the Barrister who had to decide? There were, for instance, many houses which would be declared by 1236 the surveyors not to be worth 10l., which, nevertheless, might, from peculiar circumstances of business, &c., be worth more to the occupier; and in deciding upon these, the assessor would have a task of great delicacy. Suppose a doubtful case, of a house in a town, for which 8l. only was paid, and which the owner looked on as worth 10l., this would not be admitted into the list for the city; and if it were freehold, and that he then wished to have it registered for the county, the occupier would have no opportunity of registering it any where until the ensuing year.
§ Lord Althorp
was ready to admit that it was easy enough to imagine a case where such a proposition as that laid down by his right hon. friend might hold; but to legislate, as was said de minimis, had never yet been considered wise. The case put was that where a man might be rejected from a city list; but if regard were had solely to the appeal, the man would have only to appeal against the decision of the Overseer, and then the Magistrates would immediately admit him into the register for the county. It would, in fact, be impossible to find any system that would not be liable to trivial objections.
Sir Robert Peel
doubted much whether the Norwich act would strengthen the noble Lord (John Russell's) argument, for that Act laid down strict rules as to the valuation of property, and enacted that the corporation or the guardians of the poor should assess the rate according to the full annual value of the property within the city, and according to five-sixths of the value of the property in the adjoining hamlets. Of course, this full value having been ascertained, it must be easy, so far as Norwich was concerned, to decide on the qualification of voters. If this change were to be made at all, he still retained his opinion that the Poor-rate would be the best criterion of the value of premises. Even with respect to the county rates, the directions of the statute were, that the full value of all rate able property should be ascertained, and the assessment to the county rate made accordingly. Now if there were to be two modes of ascertaining value—one according to the county rate Act, and another under the Reform Bill, great confusion would ensue. Surely it was absurd for the Legislature to require two different modes of ascertaining the value of the same property. In his opinion means should be adopted for ascertaining the value of property in all those 1237 towns that were to return Members, and the rates should be levied, and the qualification for voting ascertained, on that full value. Thus should we be enabled to dispense with the annual registration—a fruitful source of annual contention and discord—or at any rate we might make registration (after it had once taken place) available for a period of three or five years, making some provision by which property that had increased in value in the interim, should entitle its owner to a vole.
Lord John Russell
would have been inclined to abide by the Poor rates as a measure of value, but that, from all the information he had received, he felt convinced that the assessments were so irregular in different parishes, that it would not be possible to have recourse to them with effect. He had known instances of houses in different parishes of the worth of 30l. or 40l. a-year not rated in the proportion of three to four, but in one ease at three, and the other at fifteen. In fact, in different parishes no proportion whatever was preserved. His own opinion was, that, from the acknowledged inequality of value and inaccuracy of the parochial assessments, the people themselves would, in the course of a very few yeas, go to the trouble and expense of correcting the anomalies that now prevailed, and then no difficulty could exist. But the question at present was, whether a rule was to be taken which, in particular cases, might be subject to doubt, or whether, a great number of bonâ fide holders of properly to the amount required were to be disfranchised. The Committee might no doubt, adopt the simple rule recommended by the right hon. Baronet for ascertaining value, but its effect would be, by ruling the present standard of qualification, to disfranchise a great number of persons to whom the Government meant honestly to give the franchise.
Sir Robert Peel
said, the noble Lord might easily get a cheer if he held out the lure that the effect of the proposal mentioned by him would be to disfranchise a great many persons. His proposition, however, had no reference to excluding any one; it only went to secure what was just and fair, for it those who were not qualified were allowed to vote, it would be defrauding those who were justly entitled to the franchise. If there were cases such as the noble Lord alluded to, of houses not being rated in the proportion of three- 1238 fourths of real value, but the proportion of three-fifteenths, they were cases of fraud and injustice. He did not believe that such instances were numerous, and the noble Lord was thus legislating on cases which constituted not the rule but the exception.
§ Lord Althorp
had no doubt that all rating should be at the full value of the property, but certainly that principle was not followed throughout the country. The right hon. Baronet's desire for a uniform right to vote was just, but the right hon. Baronet himself knew that the attempt to effect this would cause the greatest difficulty in every town, and would only throw greater obstacles in the way of the object they had in view. A good deal had been said of the difficulty now experienced at Quarter Sessions; there, however, the value for a series of years, was inquired into, which increased the difficulty; but the inquiry under the Bill was not to be conducted in that way. No doubt difficulties would exist, but he believed they were greatly exaggerated.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
knew from experience the difficulties now existing, as he often had sat a whole day listening to a host of surveyors and appraisers, who usually held very contradictory opinions of the value of premises. It had been alleged, in some instances, that the value of a small quantity of fruit in the garden, increased the worth of a House, so as to bring the occupier within the laws of settlement, but these difficulties would increase when a barrister was to decide, who would be a stranger, and prejudice being likely to arise, there would be greater temptation to appeal.
knew that the inequality of the rates was, even at present, a constant source of complaint in every populous town, and it was his belief, that wherever a difference of political feeling existed, the first effect of this Bill would be to cause a re- assessment of every such town. It was of consequence, therefore, to make the rule as simple as possible, and he thought that the machinery of the clause would be simplified by some such amendment as that proposed.
hoped that Ministers would not be beguiled by any seeming plausibility, into adopting the Amendment of the hon. Member, particularly as recommended by the right hon. Baronet who followed him. The right hon. Baronet 1239 seemed to desire to engraft on the Reform Bill a scheme for correcting the proportional assessments of parishes to counties. It might be expedient to devise a scheme for determining accurately the parish rates of the several towns and boroughs to be affected by the Bill; but Ministers would be guilty of absurd rashness if they made such a scheme a part of a measure for improving the Representation of the people. Such a plan would be immediately opposed by the Representatives of many towns, in obedience to the commands of their constituents, among whom it would be very unpopular. A general parish assessment at the full value would excite general discontent. The Ministers had acted wisely in confining themselves to the narrow comparative scale of the Bill.
Sir Robert Peel
was convinced by the arguments on the other side, that there was nothing to be urged against his proposition. As to those arguments, he was not surprised that some Gentlemen should make use of them; but that the hon. Member, a mathematician, should resort to them somewhat astonished him. The hon. Gentleman said, that if the suggestion was adopted, the parishes would be rated at their full value, instead of, as at present, at three-fifths, or whatever the proportion might be. And he complained of this as a great grievance. But pray what difference would that make? If there was 100l. to be raised, each parishioner would have to pay the same amount of rate, whether rated at the full value, or only at three-fifths, so long as the same rule of rating prevailed—as it must prevail—throughout the whole parish. He knew something about this matter, for he met with the same difficulty when he introduced the New Police Act. He then wanted to raise 8d. in the 1l. on the real value of property, but he did not for that reason require that a new valuation should be made: though some parishes assessed themselves on the full value, others at three-fourths and four-fifths. Let the House look at what the Legislature declared in 1825. In that year, Parliament passed an Act placing on record the difficulty of taking the alleged value of a tenement as a criterion in determining the right of settlement; alleging in the preamble that it had given rise to expensive litigation, and ought, therefore, to be avoided. It was, that very expensive liti- 1240 gation he was anxious to counteract; and he repeated, that to have two criteria of value in the same parish with respect to the same identical property, appeared to him a great absurdity; and so far from preventing dissension, was likely to produce it. He did not make his proposition with the intention of disfranchising one single person; but because it would be the means of avoiding much dispute and expensive litigation.
§ The Solicitor General
begged the right hon. Baronet to bear in mind that the various tests, of which the Poor-rates was one, for ascertaining the actual value of tenements in towns were but so many means to an end—the condition for exercising a political franchise. There was this objection to the Poor-rates, that if adopted as the basis of the Bill, they must be altogether remodelled so as to be universally applicable upon the same principle throughout the kingdom; and all the good to be arrived at by this elaborate process was already secured by the Clause as it stood.
was sure that if the Poor-rates were adopted as the basis of the qualification, and they were to be levied on the full value of property, many voters whom the Bill intended to invest with the franchise would be capriciously deprived of it. Making the payment of such rates the foundation of the right of voting; would be open to other serious objections; for instance, a sound discretion was often exercised in exonerating persons of large family who inhabited small houses from the payment of rates, but to prevent a man of that description from voting for a member of Parliament, because he was endeavouring to bring up all his family without parochial relief, would be a great drawback upon personal exertion to attain independence.
§ Amendment negatived without a division.
§ Mr. Granville Vernon
rose to propose the amendment on this clause, of which he had given notice. He had seen no less than eighty lists by different parish officers, all of whom had great difficulty in ascertaining the numbers and qualifications of the rate-payers. To direct such persons to establish a uniform rating by value, as proposed by the right hon. Baronet, must be attended with great trouble and expense. Parishes must either be re-assessed on the statement of the parties 1241 themselves, or the value of their houses must be taken. Besides, it was objectionable on many accounts to appoint parish officers to such a duty, for they would thus be converted into a sort of Parliamentary agents. It must also be recollected that they were sometimes appointed, and always approved of, by the Magistrates, and of course, therefore, they might in some degree, be under their influence. The consequence of the course proposed in the Bill was, that every parish would become, yearly, a scene of political contention. If what the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) stated was correct, namely, that the assessment would right itself in the course of time, and become proportioned to the real value of the property, there could be no force in the objection of the hon. member for Bridport. His object was, to give to the Overseers acting under this Bill a merely ministerial and not a judicial character. If the amendment he meant to propose should be adopted, they would get rid of nearly the whole of the machinery of registration. In his opinion every person who was ready to pay rates, should be permitted to vote, and he apprehended few persons but those really entitled would volunteer to pay more than their regular share for the purpose of voting at the next election for members of Parliament, even if some did so, it would be the interest of their neighbours rather to encourage than to oppose them, for the more rate-payers there were the less burden would fall upon each comparatively. He therefore begged leave to move an amendment, "That, after the word 'landlord' these words be inserted, 'rated to the relief of the poor, or, in places where there has been no such rate, to the county.' "
§ Mr. Freshfield
said, he had an amendment to propose in a previous part of the clause, and hoped the hon. Member would postpone his amendment for the present.
§ Mr. Freshfield
said, the amendment he should propose was, that the words "under the same landlord" be left out. As the clause now stood, a person occupying a house, shop, or warehouse, with land, of the value of 10l. a year, under the same landlord, was entitled to a vote. Now if the landlord should die, leaving the house to one person and the land to another, the occupier would thus have two landlords instead of one, and would accordingly be deprived of his vote. He could not sup- 1242 pose that such was the intention of the Government, and therefore proposed that the words should be left out.
§ Lord Althorp
said, such a case was not likely to occur often, and the general rule which this amendment would establish was liable to great objections. He considered the alteration proposed would be extremely detrimental, and as such he must oppose it. The cases alluded to could not be of very ordinary occurrence.
§ The Amendment was negatived.
put the Amendment proposed by Mr. Granville Vernon—that all persons rated to the poor at ten pounds, or in lieu thereof, and if no such rate existed in the towns, if they were rated to the county rates at that amount, should have the right of voting.
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
said, the object of the clause they were now considering was, to give every person a vote who occupied a house of the annual value of 10l., and the difficulty was how to obtain a correct list of such persons. The amendment proposed by the hon. Member was, to take the tenant's own word for the value, provided he was disposed, and actually paid rates upon the house to that extent, although the premises he occupied might not in reality be worth a fifth of that amount. This was a summary way of settling the question, but it was open to the great objection that the rates might actually be paid by some other person, who would influence the voter. Many votes might be manufactured in this manner, at a small expense, in districts where the rates were small. He considered that some well-devised plan might be struck out for a register of qualified houses, the owners or occupiers of which should be entitled to a vote. At present, perhaps, no assessment of a general nature could take place, although in ten years at least some such step might be found necessary. He would, under all the circumstances, support the original clause as it stood.
considered that the inequality of rates upon houses would prevent the possibility of being able to ascertain, with any degree of accuracy, the number of individuals in their respective parishes, who were entitled to vote. This would apply particularly to large parishes, where they must have recourse to the landlord, to know the value of his houses, and there were often local Acts by which the rates upon certain houses were to be paid 1243 by the owner, and not by the occupier. He, therefore, wished that the elective franchise should be given only to those who paid poor or county rates upon premises of 10l. value; this would not require a new registry, as the poor-rate would always speak for itself.
feared the clause would create great litigation, particularly if taken in connection with the next. By that clause, the same premises might not be occupied for a year, but inhabiting a succession of 10l. houses conferred the right of voting; so that, in case of any dispute as to the parties' right of voting, a surveyor would have to ascertain the value of the various premises he had occupied. The expense of a new and general valuation would not be half so great as would arise from these petty vexations. They would encourage the lowest description of Attornies; but, undoubtedly, in his mind, the best foundation for the privilege of voting would rest on the proposed amendment, when, to the other considerations urged in its favour was added this, that the rate was constantly payable, although an election might not take place in four or five years.
Lord John Russell
said, the object he had in view was to enable persons who had 10l. houses to vote for Members of Parliament. He admitted the inequality of parish rates. It might be desirable to have an equal rate in all parishes, but until that could be effected, the House should not delay the grant of a right of franchise to the 10l. householders. In Liverpool alone, it required seven months to get at an equalization of rates; and what must it not be in every parish in England? The Amendment could not be admitted, because it did not affect the object of the Bill, which was not to encourage the payment of Poor-rates, but to enable 10l. householders to enjoy the right of voting for a Member of Parliament. He would not delay the Bill for any such problematical arrangement.
Mr. Philip Howard
was willing to support the largest extension of the elective franchise compatible with that certainty and simplicity of arrangement which was the very essence of legislation; but, convinced that a qualification depending upon "value" would be open to much litigation, collusion, and fraud, and hold out but too many temptations to perjury, he should support the amendment of his hon. 1244 friend, the member for Bassetlaw. Another advantage would arise from taking assessment as the test of qualification: it would materially diminish the expense and difficulties attending registration. Considering assessment as a most faithful test, whilst ruinous and protracted scrutinies before a Committee of the House of Commons would, on the other hand, be the inevitable consequence of adopting the uncertain standard of the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, he approved of the amendment. It was of importance to consider, that, upon the smooth and well working of this portion of the Bill the success of the whole measure, as well as the stability of the Constitution in its renovated form, might ultimately depend.
Lord John Russell
said, the Overseer would of course take out all the names in his list of those who were rated to the poor at the value of 10l. and upwards. A provision was made for publishing the names of the claimants throughout the parish; and any person who felt himself aggrieved could apply to the Barrister to have his name inserted.
feared all these precautions would not prevent Overseers, particularly in large parishes, putting such names on their list of voters, as they thought fit, whether qualified or not.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
thought, that the arguments urged against the Amendment of the hon. member for Bassetlaw proved that there was no good reason for resisting it; on the contrary, all that had been said showed that Ministers had not made out their case. The noble Lord said, the Overseer would take the names of persons occupying houses at and above the value of 10l., and would form a list for the Barrister, and there was no penalty on him for leaving the name out of this list. If the Overseer, therefore, left a name out, it would give trouble to the parties to carry on an appeal before the Barrister, and many would rather abandon their right to vote than take that trouble. The noble Lord said, that the Overseer's list was only to serve as a guide to the Barrister; but that was taking a circuitous course for attaining an object which could be reached by a straight one. The register of voters might at once be taken from the list of the payers of the parish rates, and quite as correct a list could thereby be obtained as by the method proposed by the clause, and with infinitely less trouble. A man who paid his 1245 rates regularly upon 10l. a-year would take care to claim his right to vote. Again, if a person was under-rated, there was an inducement to pay his fair proportion of the Poor-rate that he might be put in the list. The plan of his hon. friend was not only less expensive and troublesome than that of the noble Lord, but would also contribute to form a more correct valuation of houses for the purpose of rating. The hon. and learned Solicitor General said, that the object of the framers of the Bill was to obtain, as nearly as possible, the real value of houses; and the only question was as to the means. He was convinced, the mode proposed by the noble Lord would lead to continued litigation, for the course of proceeding was involved and troublesome. The noble Lord, however, said, that if the suggestion of his hon. friend was adopted, it would be necessary to make out new parochial assessments, and that he should be unwilling to involve himself in a work of so much magnitude. He did not apprehend there would be any considerable difficulty in having a new parochial survey; and it would be desirable: and when they were engaged upon a measure to change the whole of the Representative system, they ought not to be scared by presumed difficulties. The plan of registration proposed by the noble Lord would be found inconvenient: it was unnecessary, and would lead to dissensions in all parts of the country. It was always better to avoid, as much as possible, the introduction of new machinery into any part of the Constitution, and more especially as regarded the system of Representation, when the old mode of attaining the end was adequate for the purpose. This he thought could be proved by the series of Acts relating to the laws of Settlement, and for the assessment of poor-rates. The Act passed in 1825 was the last; it made some important alterations in the previous state of the law relative to valuations. The Committee was aware that the old law of settlement depended on an Act of Charles 2nd, which was in force until a few years since. In 1819, an Act was passed relative to the valuation of houses, and was intituled "An Act to amend the Laws respecting the Settlement of the Poor, as far as regards renting Tenements." Under the operation of this law, it was found necessary to make a new valuation of a great many parishes and the difficulties which were supposed to lie 1246 in the way of a tolerably correct valuation, were not found to be nearly so great as had been anticipated. This Act says,—"Whereas great difficulties have arisen from the settlement of the poor, as far as regards renting tenements," &c.; and then proceeds to enact "that the value of any such tenement shall be determined by the rent." This was the test applied by the 59th of George 3rd, cap. 50, for the purpose of attaining the real value of houses. This Act remained in force for six years; but in 1825, in consequence of the difficulties that were found to lie in the way of the working of this Act, another Act was passed for the purpose of remedying these, and of defining the mode of taking the valuation. It stated that, "Whereas the settlement of the poor has been made, in some instances, to depend upon the annual value of tenements which they may have rented, or upon the annual value of tenements in virtue of which they have paid parochial rates; and whereas, the ascertaining such value in such respective cases has given rise to very extensive litigation; and whereas, doubts have arisen as to the interpretation of former Acts." It then enacted, "That no person shall acquire a settlement in any parish or township, by reason of renting or paying parochial rates for any tenement, unless such tenement shall consist of a separate and distinct dwelling-house or building, or of land, or of both, bonâ fide rented by such person at and for the sum of 10l. a-year at the least, for the sum of one whole year," It provided also, that the rent for such house must be actually paid; but it concluded with these words, "Provided, that it shall not be necessary to prove the actual value of such tenement, anything in any Act or Acts, or any construction of or implication from any Act or Acts, or any usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding." The declaration that the actual value ought not be proved, arose from the circumstance that it was impossible to find a constant test. Thus, there was a Statute specifically providing that the "actual value" of a tenement should not be taken as a test, as that would lead to constant litigation. Now, however, they were called upon to adopt a course which it had been found necessary to abandon. The noble Lord recommended the adoption of an indirect course to arrive at the value, when there existed a simple mode of attaining the same object. The 1247 noble Lord, when he introduced the Bill, said, in allusion to this clause, in consequence of a complaint, that it would be found to be attended with great difficulties in operation—that he had directed inquiries to be made into the subject of local rates, and had satisfied his own mind that the difficulty might easily be overcome, but although he might satisfy his own mind, he had not condescended to perform the same office for others. Nothing had astonished him more in the proceedings respecting this Bill, than the paucity of information furnished to the House respecting the several details contained in it. This was certainly one of the most important clauses, for it not only introduced into the Constitution a new species of franchise as regarded the places upon which the right of Representation was to be conferred, but it also introduced a new constituency into all the cities and boroughs in the country. The subject-matter of this single clause was so important, that it would not be too much if a Committee were to sit for a whole Session to inquire into the subject, and to collect adequate information. There certainly was a mass of information relative to the 10l. householders, which had been obtained by the Commissioners; but there was no information how that information was obtained, or the correctness of it. They were considering, therefore, a most important clause, which was to determine the mode of calling into existence a large constituent body, with almost an entire want of information on the subject.
§ Mr. John Campbell
said, it appeared to him that much less inconvenience would be experienced under the plan laid down in the Bill than under the operation of the amendment of the hon. Gentleman. He was aware, however, that it would be impossible to carry into effect such an extensive register, without some inconvenience. It was well known to most Gentlemen, that, in the greater part of the parishes in England, the Poor-rates were not calculated upon the rack-rent, but upon a varying scale. If a new survey were to take place, and a valuation made at the full rental, it would produce universal alarm. No real increase would be made in the amount of the Poor-rates; but the higher valuation might be considered a prelude to a tax imposed by the State for political purposes, and thus the Reform Bill would indirectly occasion discontent. This might, 1248 indeed, produce the reaction which had been hitherto looked for in vain. To shew that such a result might be fairly anticipated, he would merely refer to the circumstance that the General Registry Bill had been represented, and very successfully as mere machinery for a new land tax. Besides the assessment of one year would not do for the following year; and he was fully persuaded that the charge for actually surveying all the parishes, and for the constant alterations that would be necessary, would be much greater than any expense that would be consequent upon the legal assistance that might be requisite for registration. He denied that the Overseer was a ministerial officer, and it would be most inexpedient to clothe such a person with the power of making out a register which he would have if the rate were to determine the franchise. By means of the Barrister, a security was obtained against the partiality of the Overseer; for even the risk of exposure in the Court of Registration would operate as a check against dishonesty. According to the Bill, the return of the overseer was only to be primâ facie evidence of the existence of the right of voting; but the hon. Gentleman's amendment went to the extent of making the Overseer's list final. It was intended, he was informed, that there should be an appeal to the Quarter Sessions; but what expense would that lead to? They all knew it would amount to the positive denial of the poor man's right. He, therefore, was decidedly of opinion that calling in the assistance of the Barrister was the best possible course that could be adopted. The Barrister had his professional character to sustain—his proceedings were to be public, and all the responsibility in the decision of each case rested with himself. The appeal to the Quarter Sessions would be a mockery. From the jobbing he had seen in these places, he was inclined to believe that leaving the decision to the Magistrates would be almost as bad as referring it to the determination of an open Committee of that House. Each case would be treated as a political question, and gentlemen on the bench would be as much pressed for their votes as Members of Parliament.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
was well aware that this particular clause had excited very great attention throughout the country. He did not understand how the Ministers could have voted last night against the 1249 proposition of the hon. Member for Preston, and could yet determine on supporting the clause as it now stood. They had opposed it, as they said that it had a strong tendency towards Universal Suffrage. Now, he must confess that he did not think there was much difference between the two, for people of the very poorest classes would equally come under the operation of both clauses. If the Ministers said, as they had done, that they did not support the clause of the hon. Member for Preston because it had a strong tendency towards Universal Suffrage, he must say that, in his opinion, the present clause was not much short of Universal Suffrage itself. He was still prepared to contend, as he always had done, that the Government had taken the worst criterion in taking the value of houses; and he, therefore, could not support the clause. Those who supported it were bound to state the grounds upon which they had abandoned the former tests, and taken up this. All the evidence and experience they had, taught them that the things against which they ought particularly to guard were, this one of value, and particularly this value of 10l. Any of the other three criteria would have been preferable to this. The 10l. standard of value had been tried in the case of the Poor-rates and voted a universal nuisance, insomuch that it had been found necessary to make landlords responsible for houses of that description. In the metropolis the 10l. franchise would be Universal Suffrage. There was no house to be got—you could not get a stable for your horse and scarcely a respectable dog-kennel, without paying 10l. a-year for it. Yet every man must know, that in the country the occupier of a 10l. house was in a respectable class of society. But what was the difference between the rural population and those of the manufacturing cities and towns? The noble Paymaster of the Forces had told them, that the population of large towns were more accustomed to political excitement, and politically better informed, and therefore their influence was to be encouraged, and the sound and honest opinions of the country disregarded. The political information obtained by these classes was collected in Unions and Clubs, and nobody knew better what sort of politics were taught in those schools than the noble Lord. It was in such assemblies, actuated 1250 by such principles and motives as had been openly declared by them, that the noble Lord sought for the politicians who were to exercise a domination over the public mind. The difficulty of ascertaining the value of property would be very great. Suppose, for instance, that a man rented a house at 4l. a-year, and on account of his poverty was only rated as upon a rent of 1l., and paid no inhabited house-duty, he might insist upon a right to vote, and might bring a cloud of witnesses to swear that with his pig-stye, and his bit of ground, and his goodwill for the house, and his goodwill in the house, it was worth 10l. a-year. In such a case as that the aid of the Overseer would decide the matter. Humble an individual as he was, he would undertake, if the Overseer were given to him in any town under the new Bill, to return the Members. Give him but the Overseer—all he asked was the Overseer—it was a modest request—but if he had but the Overseer with him in making up the register, he would answer for carrying the election. One of the greatest objections to the measure was also to be found here, in the fact that it went to transfer elections from before the face of a free people, as they were now held, to this private manufactory of the lists of voters before the Overseer, the Barrister, and the Attornies, whom the former might get to assist him. And why, he would ask, was the registry required at all? No man's house could be legally rated to the Poor-rates above its value, and no man was to be allowed to vote unless he had paid his Poor-rates. Why, then, they had a registry in the Poor-rate, and no other was necessary. He would tell the noble Lord, with a confidence which every day's experience confirmed, that if he passed the Bill with this franchise, and with this machinery, it would never give content to the country. He spoke not of the Anti-reformers, but of those who were friendly to the Bill, though not to a franchise which would go to overwhelm the influence of property and intelligence, and leave the institutions of the State without safeguard or defence. Not that he wished to shut out even the lowest of his countrymen from such a share in the Representation as would be safe, and in proportion to their weight in the scale. On the contrary, he protested against the exclusion that would be perpetrated by this Bill. At present the 1251 Constitution included and protected all classes. He did not say, that the Representation of some might not properly be extended; but, more or less, all were now represented. The humblest, but not the least deserving, were by this measure to be deprived of all their political right for ever, and, to make the violation more nefarious, it was to be accompanied by heavy expenses, which they must help to pay. Gentlemen who voted for this measure, and treated it like a common turnpike bill, would hereafter find that it would produce consequences which would compel their serious attention. In a Reformed Parliament the first necessary effect of the Bill would be that this 10l. standard must be altered. Taken as a general standard, it would be found too low for any of the purposes which Representation had hitherto been made to serve in this country. But if it were to be tried for the noble Lord's purpose of bringing into action all the political excitement of the country, then they would be obliged to resort to the proposition of the hon. member for Preston. The House would do well to remember that this clause would have to be considered in another place, where it never could pass in its present state; and it would reflect disgrace upon that House if it were passed without consideration. The effect of the joint-occupancy right would be to convert the occupier of every floor in a house having a common staircase, for which a rent of 3s. 10d. was paid, into a voter for Members of Parliament. Nay, the occupier of every shed and every warehouse in the city of London would be entitled to the same privilege. He had formerly understood that the members for the city of London were instructed to oppose this part of the Bill. But now all opposition was hushed; the Gentlemen opposite were not permitted to make their objections; and therefore it was, he supposed, that they did not like to hear the arguments of independent Members, who were determined to hold up the deformities of the measure to the public view, and to let the country know what it really was. He believed that the country would, upon reflection—he knew that it would upon experience—not endure that such persons should exercise such a privilege, and the same objections would be held against persons voting upon separate holdings, which the Bill provided, and which he 1252 thought equally objectionable. Upon these grounds, and for the reasons which he had stated to the Committee, he should support the Amendment, believing it to be a great improvement of the clause.
§ Lord Althorp
agreed with the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down, that the clause now under consideration was one of the utmost importance. It was the clause on which he set the greatest store. The hon. and learned Gentleman had argued that it would be an improvement to introduce the provision making it necessary that the householder should be rated to the Poor-rates, as the other test—the 10l. value—was not sufficient. It was well known, however, that many persons were rated to the Poor-rates who did not occupy houses of 10l. value, and he had particular reason to know that such was the case at Leeds; and, on the other hand, many persons occupied 10l. houses, and were not rated to the Poor-rates. The clause, therefore, did not go to the length of the proposition of the hon. member for Preston, and fell far short of Universal Suffrage, which the hon. and learned Gentleman had described it as nearly amounting to. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected that the alteration made in this clause, as compared with the corresponding clause in the last Bill, would lead to a great extension of the franchise, because, in the last Bill, there were several tests necessary, in addition to the value of the house. The intrinsic value of the house, however, was felt to be the simplest test, and all the others had been dispensed with. He (Lord Althorp) did not see what difficulty the Barrister could find in deciding against the right of a man to vote, in the case put by the hon. and learned Member, when he only lived in a house for which he paid 4l. rent and 1l. rate. The Barrister would first ask, "Do you pay Poor-rates?" the answer would be "Yes;" the next question would be, "Do you pay assessed taxes?" and when the answer "No" was given, the Barrister must be a very different one from the hon. and learned Gentleman himself if he admitted the right. Another objection to this clause was, that while in the rural districts respectable persons occupied 10l. houses, and houses of a smaller value, in large communities, houses of that value were generally occupied by persons of the humbler classes. He agreed with his noble friend (Lord John Russell), however, 1253 that persons occupying 10l. houses in large communities, from the political knowledge, and the information which they often possessed on public matters, were well entitled to vote, and might exercise the elective franchise with great advantage to the public. All the information which he was possessed of, led him to the conclusion that, under this clause, the franchise would not be extended in large towns to unfit persons or those who would be incapable of exercising it beneficially. Being rated to the poor-rates was an additional security, as it would give a great facility in discovering who persons were, and where they resided, upon their claiming the right of voting. With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman's objections as to joint occupancy, he did not admit that it was well founded. Persons occupying the several floors in a house with a common stair-case could not vote under the clause, unless their holdings were taken as separate tenements and separately rated to the Poor-rates. If rated as separate tenements, he did not see that there was any objection to the exercise of the franchise by persons so occupying. He should not detain the Committee further, but conclude by expressing a hope that the Committee would confirm the clause as it now stood, it being one of the most important clauses in the Bill.
§ Mr. Hunt
would vote against the amendment, because the effect of it would be to lessen the total number of voters, to which he was opposed on principle. If the principle now advocated was good, he could see no reason why they should not sell the franchise at once, and let every one who could buy it have a vote.
§ Mr. Granville Vernon
begged to be allowed to state again why he proposed the amendment. He was a sincere friend to the Bill; but he thought the noble Lord, by this clause, was putting it in the power of the Overseers throughout the country to decide who should or who should not have votes. This would turn every Overseer into an election agent, and, in his opinion, would greatly detract from the benefit which he hoped the country generally would derive from the passing of this measure.
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment:—Ayes 184; Noes 252—Majority for the Original Clause 68.
§ The blank in the clause was then filled up with the words "ten pounds"
|List of the NOES.|
|Althorp, Viscount||Gordon, R.|
|Atherley, A.||Graham, Sir J.|
|Baillie, J. E.||Grant, Right Hon. R.|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Guise, Sir W. B.|
|Baring Sir T.||Handley, W. F.|
|Baring, F. T.||Harvey, D. W.|
|Barnet, C. J.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Bayntun, S. A.||Heathcote, Sir J.|
|Beaumont, T. W.||Heneage, G. F.|
|Benett, J.||Heron, Sir R.|
|Berkeley, Captain||Heywood, B.|
|Biddulph, R. M.||Hill, Lord G. A.|
|Blake, Sir F.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Blamire, W.||Hodgson, J.|
|Blount, E.||Horne, Sir W.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Howard, H.|
|Bouverie, Hon. D. P.||Howick, Viscount|
|Bouverie, Hon. P. P.||Hudson, T.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Hume, J.|
|Brougham, J.||Hunt, Henry|
|Bulkeley, Sir R. W.||Ingilby, Sir W.|
|Buller, J. W.||Jerningham, Hn. C. V.|
|Bulwer, E. L.||Kemp, T. R.|
|Bulwer, H. L.||King, E. B.|
|Burdett, Sir F.||Knight, H. G.|
|Burton, H.||Knight, R.|
|Byng, Sir J.||Labouchere, H.|
|Byng, G.||Langston, J. H.|
|Calvert, C.||Lee, J. L.|
|Calvert, N.||Lefevre, C. S.|
|Campbell, J.||Leigh, T. C.|
|Carter, J. B.||Lemon, Sir C.|
|Cavendish, Lord||Lennard, T. B.|
|Cavendish, Hon. C. C.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Cavendish, Hn. Col. H.||Lennox, Lord G.|
|Chaytor W. R. C.||Lester, B. L.|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Littleton, E. J.|
|Clive, E. B.||Lushington, Dr. S.|
|Cockerell, Sir C.||Macauley, T. B.|
|Cradock, Colonel S.||Macdonald, Sir J.|
|Crampton, P. C.||Mackintosh, Sir J.|
|Creevey, T.||Mangles, J.|
|Currie, J.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Marshall, W.|
|Denison, J. E.||Mayhew, W.|
|Denman, Sir T.||Milbank, M.|
|Duncombe, T. S.||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Dundas, Hon. Sir R. L.||Mills, J.|
|Dundas, Hon. J. C.||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Easthope, J.||Morrison, J.|
|Ebrington, Viscount||Mostyn, E. M. L.|
|Ellis, W.||North, F.|
|Evans, Col. de Lacy.||Norton, C. F.|
|Evans, W.||Nowell, A.|
|Evans, W. B.||Nugent, Lord|
|Ewart, W.||Paget, T.|
|Fazakerley, J. N.||Palmer, General|
|Fellowes, H. A. W.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Fergusson, Sir R. C.||Pendarves, E. W.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Penleaze, J. S.|
|Foley, Hon. T. H.||Penrhyn, E.|
|Folks, Sir W.||Pepys, C. C.|
|Fordwich, Lord||Petit, L. H.|
|Franco, Sir R.||Phillipps, C. M.|
|Gisborne, T.||Phillips, G. R.|
|Ponsonby, Hon. J. B.||Wood, J.|
|Poyntz, W. S.||Wood, M.|
|Price, Sir R.||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Ramsden, J. C.||Wrottesley, Sir J.|
|Robinson, Sir G.||SCOTLAND.|
|Robinson G. R.||Adam Admiral,|
|Rooper, J. B.||Campbell, W. F.|
|Rumbold, C. E.||Dixon, J.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Ferguson. R.|
|Russell, Lieut-Col.||Fergusson, R. C.|
|Sanford, E. A.||Gillon, W. D|
|Schonswar, G.||Grant, Right Hon. C.|
|Scott, Sir E. D.||Haliburton, Hon.|
|Sebright, Sir J.||Jeffrey, Rt. Hon. F.|
|Skipwith, Sir G.||Johnston, A.|
|Slaney, R. A.||Johnstone, J. J. H.|
|Smith, Hon. R.||Loch, J.|
|Smith, G. R.||Mackenzie, S.|
|Smith, J.||M'Leod, K.|
|Smith, J. A.||Ross, H.|
|Smith, M. T.||Stewart, E.|
|Smith, R. V.||Traill, G.|
|Spencer, Hon. Capt.|
|Stanley, Rt. Hn. E. G. S.|
|Stanley, E. J.||Belfast, Earl of|
|Stephenson, H. F.||Blackney, W.|
|Stewart, P. M.||Bodkin, J. J.|
|Strickland, G.||Boyle, Hon. J.|
|Strutt, E.||Brown, J.|
|Stuart, Lord D. C.||Browne, D.|
|Stuart, Lord P. J.||Burke, Sir J.|
|Talbot, C. R. M.||Carew, R. S.|
|Tennyson, C.||Chapman, M. L.|
|Thicknesse, R.||Copeland, W. T.|
|Thomson, Rt. Hn. C. P.||Doyle, Sir J. M.|
|Throckmorton, R. G.||French, A.|
|Tomes, J.||Grattan, H.|
|Torrens, Colonel||Grattan, J.|
|Townley, R. G.||Hill, Lord A.|
|Tracey, C.||Jephson, G. D. O.|
|Troubridge, Sir E. T.||Killeen, Lord|
|Tynte, C. K. K.||King, Hon. R.|
|Uxbridge, Earl||Knox, Hon. J. H.|
|Venables, W.||Lamb, Hon. G.|
|Vere, J. J. H.||Lambert, J. S.|
|Vernon, Hon. G. J.||Leader, N. P.|
|Villiers, F.||Macnamara, W.|
|Villiers, T. H.||Mullins, F.|
|Vincent, Sir F.||Musgrave, Sir R.|
|Waithman, R.||O'Connell, D.|
|Walrond, B.||O'Connell, M.|
|Warburton, H.||O'Conor, Don|
|Wason, W. R.||O'Farrell, R. M.|
|Waterpark, Lord||O'Neill, Hon. General|
|Watson, Hon. R.||Ossory Earl of|
|Wellesley, Hon. W. L.||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Weyland, Major||Ponsonby, Hon. G.|
|Whitmore, W. W.||Power, R.|
|Wilbraham, G.||Rice, Hon. T. S.|
|Wilde, T.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Williams, Sir J. H.||Sheil, R. L.|
|Williams, J.||Walker, C. A.|
|Williams, W. A.||Wallace, T.|
|Williamson, Sir H.||Westenra, Hon. H.|
|Wood, C.||Western, C.|
|White, Col. H.|
|Wyse, T.||Duncannon, Viscount|
Mr. Davies Gilbert,
on the Committee proceeding with the clause, said, he had no desire to delay the Bill, but he really believed that the very lowest description of persons were those who were in the habit of taking houses at considerable rents, for the purpose of letting them by floors, and he wished to exclude them from obtaining the franchise; he, therefore, begged leave to move as an amendment, that after the words "ten pounds," there should be inserted the words "above the value of any part or parts of such property underlet in any manner whatsoever."
§ Lord Althorp
felt it his duty to oppose the amendment. He had no doubt that houses were often taken for the purposes described, and by the description of persons mentioned by the hon. Member, but there were also many most respectable persons who let part of their houses, and the lodgers frequently paid the whole rent. This was particularly the case with shopkeepers, and as it would be impossible to draw any distinction between the two classes of persons, he hoped the Committee would agree with him in thinking that the amendment ought not to be agreed to.
§ Amendment negatived.
said, that he should have presented a petition from the National Union relative to this clause, if he had had an opportunity. He had not been able to do so, but he should now state some of the objections which were contained in the petition, and which occurred to himself. The petitioners stated, that from what they knew in Westminster, the making of the payment of rates or assessed taxes, particularly of rates, a condition of voting would lead to bribery. Every one knew that such things had taken place as candidates paying rates for poor voters, and he feared that that practice would be resorted to under this provision, in spite of any act against bribery which might be introduced. He conceived that the objects of making the occupation of a house of a certain value the qualification for voting, were, that the voter should have some stake in the country, and also that he should be above improper influence. By making such a condition as this, the voter instead of being more independent, would be rendered more liable to corrupt control. The hon. Gentleman moved the 1257 omission of all that part of the clause which made the payment of rates a condition of voting.
§ Lord Althorp
must oppose the amendment. His hon. friend must see the difference between the payment of the rates before a name could be registered, and the payment of them on the eve of an election. If such a practice, therefore, ever had prevailed at Westminster, as the petitioners described, the provision in the Bill was calculated to remove or at least abate the evil.
Sir John Hobhouse
said, he did not know what might have been the case in ancient times, but he did not believe that any such practice had prevailed since he had been connected with Westminster.
said, he alluded to ancient times, but not so far distant as to be beyond the memory of man. He believed many of the petitioners were personally acquainted with the fact.
begged the noble Lord would inform him how the qualification was to be taken in those districts where there were no Poor-rates?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Lord Althorp
said, objections had been made, that the Bill contained no specific regulations regarding the residence of voters; he, therefore, intended to propose a proviso should be introduced into the clause before them, making a residence of six months previous to the last day of July, in the city or borough, or within seven miles thereof, necessary to entitle a person to vote.
§ Sir James Scarlett
remembered an argument used by Mr. Fox, which he considered applicable to the present question. That eminent man had said, that the original Representation of England was made up wholly of local interests, created for the purpose of considering what portion of aids each place should contribute towards the public expenditure, or the King's revenue; and while that was the only object of their meeting, such a system of delegation was proper, in order that correct information might be obtained of the means of the 1258 particular places which were called upon to pay. But when Parliament began to take the principal part in framing the laws of the country, it became important, that the Members should represent the nation generally. This argument applied particularly in the case of out-voters, and besides, he thought that the House would lose a part of its dignity if it ever became the Representative of local interests only.
§ Lord Althorp
could not imagine that the effect of the clause would be to create more local Representatives, and he thought the House lost more dignity by having Members who represented no constituents at all, than having many who might be biased by local connexions and habits.
An Hon. Member
begged to ask the noble Lord, how distance from the place of residence was to be computed—whether from the place of election or from the boundaries of the borough.
§ Lord Althorp
replied, that it was intended to calculate the distance from the limits of a borough, and not from the place of election.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, the noble Lord ought to have given notice that he intended to move a proviso which might so much affect the rights of voting.
Lord John Russell
begged to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he had given notice that it was intended to move such a proviso, although, he admitted, he had not given the exact words.
§ Proviso agreed to.
§ On the question that the clause do stand part of the Bill,
§ Mr. Hunt
rose, and said, that he should not trouble the House at any length upon the motion which he had to make upon the present question, as it had already been discussed. He should, therefore, content himself with saying, that the proviso which he wished to add to the clause, was in strict conformity to the principles of the Constitution, which did not contemplate subjecting any subject to taxation who had no share in the election of the Representative who assisted in imposing taxes. His motion was—"that all persons who should be excluded by the operation of the present Bill from having any share in the election of the Representatives in Parliament of the nation, should be exempted from the payment of rates and taxes, and also should not be called upon to serve in the militia, or be made liable to impressment for the army 1259 or navy." The hon. Member declared he should not divide the House upon this proviso.
§ Question, that this proviso be added to the clause, negatived.
§ On the question being again put from the Chair—"that the clause, as amended, do stand part of the Bill,"
§ Mr. Hunt
rose for the purpose of bringing forward the motion of which he had given notice last night. He wished to exempt the borough of Preston from the operation of the measure, and he begged to be informed on what principle it was to be so hardly dealt with? He had never heard any charge brought against the electors of corruption. No Committee of that House had ever been appointed to inquire into charges of that nature; and here was a body of between 7,000 and 8,000 electors, who were totally free from any imputation of venality, about to be Burked at once by this Bill, which was miscalled a Reform Bill. Why was it, he must ask the noble Lord and his colleagues opposite, that, out of a body of 7,000 or 8,000 electors, only 800 or 900 were to be suffered in future to exert their privilege? If the clause passed, one of the largest boroughs in the whole kingdom would be reduced to a condition as rotten as Old Sarum. For a great number of years the borough of Preston had been equally divided between the Whig and Tory interests. The noble house of Derby had influenced the return of one Member, and the large manufacturers in the town had returned the other. The people of Preston, however, had emancipated themselves from the former influence, not out of any disregard to the hon. Member whose return was so influenced—the present hon. member for Windsor—but because they had thought proper to select himself for their Representative. He was not there, and knew nothing of their intentions. They raised a subscription, beginning with the sum of 10l., and, without his being present at all, they elected him as their Representative. Why, therefore, was it that the electors of Preston were to be selected for disfranchisement? He should feel it to be his duty to move that a proviso be added to the present clause to the effect, "that nothing in the present Bill do have any operation on the borough of Preston."
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the hon. Member had asked him, why Preston was selected in particular for disfranchisement? 1260 To this he must answer, that Preston was by no means selected from any other places, but it happened that a great portion of the electors fell under the general rule, which, for the benefit of all, it had been deemed advisable to adopt as the principle upon which the franchise was to be conferred, and the present electors would have no reason to complain, for their votes were preserved to them during their lives. The hon. Member had asked, why the Preston electors were disfranchised by him? Would the hon. Member allow him to ask, in his turn, why the hon. Member wished to disfranchise them himself, when he moved so recently that all who did not become entitled to a vote under this Bill should be exempted from the payment of rates and taxes?
§ Committee divided on the amendment, when there appeared—Ayes 5; Noes 200—Majority 195.
|List of the AYES.|
|Best, Mr.||Vere, Mr. Hope|
|Forbes, Sir Charles||TELLER|
|Shaw, Mr.||Hunt, Mr.|
§ Mr. Mackinnon
said, he would not detain the Committee many minutes, as they had permitted him to go on, although it appeared it was somewhat irregular, as he had missed the proper opportunity to press his amendment, which was simply to add the following provision to the clause: "that, in all towns or cities where the number of houses rated at 10l. and upwards, exceeds 500, the right of voting shall be granted to those persons paying 15l. yearly, and upwards; that in all towns or cities where the number of 10l. houses exceeds 1,000, the right of voting shall be in persons paying not less than 20l. yearly rent." In consequence of having had two of his suggestions adopted in the present Bill, he thought it possible his proposition in the present instance might be entertained by the Committee. He was apprehensive that if the clause was left to operate in its present shape, without some qualification, it would give the Representation in all the large cities and towns into the hands of the populace; popular clamour and excitement would prevail over intelligence and reason, and the mere mob would altogether swamp the persons of respectability 1261 and properly, and render the Members from such places the mere delegates of the lowest classes of the people. The only instance in the history of this country of such a sweeping alteration in the Representation was that made in the time of Cromwell. The close boroughs were then excluded, but the qualification was equal to 40l. of the present currency. He therefore considered that his proposition, which was more democratic than that of Cromwell, ought to be entertained.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that a similar proposition to this had been made last Session, and that the opinion of the Committee was then expressed against it. He objected most decidedly to the principle of this amendment, going, as it, did, to put some, towns on such a different footing from others; and if he did not object to its principle, he should object most decidedly to its details. He could not see why, where the number of 10l. houses in a town amounted to 500, the hon. Member should be so much afraid of them as to propose to raise the franchise to 15l., or why where they amounted to 1,000, he should go still further and propose to raise it, to 20l. He was satisfied that if a higher qualification for voting should be established in the large towns than in the small towns, that such a measure would be by no means a final or a permanent one; and he was quite sure that the people of Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, would not be satisfied with the right of voting at 20l. when in the smaller boroughs and towns the right of voting should be placed at 15l. and 10l. For these reasons he should vote against the amendment of the hon. Member; and he did not think it necessary at that late hour of the night to adduce any further arguments against it.
Mr. Yates Peel
felt it to be his duly to support the amendment, because without it property would not have its proper influence in the elections for large towns. The effect of the clause would be ultimately to reduce the number of voters. In one borough, which had 500 scot-and-lot voters, that number would be reduced to 200. If the hon. Member pressed his Motion to a division he should support him.
did not rise at that late hour to occupy much of the time of the Committee, but merely to express his intention of supporting the amendment. The first step, however, ought to be, to take the sense of the Committee as to the 1262 propriety of the principle of the mode of legislation proposed, without attempting to confine themselves to a particular number of Houses on a graduated scale, and without stating the minimum or maximum. Even in the Bill, democratic as it was, there was a provision of property. Then the question came, will you give the right of voting to the same nominal amount of property throughout when the real value is different in different places. Take the case of London and Westminster, suppose the House should be ultimately of opinion that the metropolitan districts should have the additional Members, as proposed by the Bill, was it legislating consistently, to say, that 10l. rent in the town of Horsham, shall be the criterion of the right of franchise, and that 10l. shall also determine the franchise in Marylebone? Was not that saying, that property should have considerable influence; and yet, by making the same criterion apply to small towns as to large—excluding, virtually, in the former case, several classes of persons, and concurrently, in the latter, giving the right of voting to another class not possessed of an equal amount of property? Not far from the neighbourhood of London there were persons perfectly respectable—he meant, persons having property, which is the qualification admitted by the Bill to be essential—and yet they did not live in houses of 10l. a-year rent; whereas, in this metropolis, itself, and other large towns, the very lowest description of persons, possessed that qualification. In the small towns, the Bill went upon the basis of property being necessary to the qualification; but in large towns, it went upon the basis of no property. The authors of the Bill, therefore, did not follow up their own principle. Last year he took the liberty of stating that there were very few voters in Southwark under 20l. The noble Lord opposite contradicted him at the time, and, thinking that the noble Lord had better information on the subject than himself, he yielded; but he had since made careful inquiry, and found that he was correct in his statement. He asked the hon. member for Southwark, whether the right of voting did not descend in that borough sufficiently low for the people to have what they ought to have—a fair Representation of their interests and opinions? But would the boroughs of Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, return such Members? Gentlemen might talk of the popularity of 1263 the Reform Bill, and certainly it was popular in those great towns now to be called upon to return Members to Parliament—places to which he had never objected giving Members, for he had supported the proposition that they should be directly represented, though he had the misfortune to disapprove of the sweeping measure now before the House; but admitting the popularity of the Bill in these towns, if those who supported it were to collect the opinions, not of the political unions, whether of Birmingham or of Westminster, but of the respectable shopkeepers of those very towns, they would find a very different result from what they might suppose to be the opinions generally entertained. If the noble Lords opposite were to collect these persons together, and ask them whether they thought that the 10l. voters would give the great and leading interests of those places a fair chance of being represented, and heard in this House, they would tell the noble Lords distinctly—No! True, they dared not say so openly—they could not call public meetings to declare that such was their opinion; but if the noble Lords would take these persons into their closets, and interrogate them, they would distinctly tell those noble Lords that the Representatives of such towns would be chosen by a class of persons whom he knew to be directly opposed to the great commercial and manufacturing interests of those places. The working classes of this country were in constant collision with their employers, and yet the House meant to give them such an influence by this Bill as would empower them exclusively, to choose the men who would hereafter have the controlling power over the great and varied interests of their masters. Though his views were unpopular, he begged to state, that the interests of the working classes were best consulted when the interests of those who give them bread were properly protected. He put it to the hon. member for Liverpool, whether he had consulted those persons among his own constituents who had some property to be protected, what their opinion was as to the probable effect that would be produced by the operation of the 10l. franchise in that town? Were the noble Lords to consult with them, they would tell those noble Lords that the Representation of such large places, by Members chosen by such a constituency, would not answer those useful purposes which it was intended to 1264 serve. He could not help observing that, in the progress of this Bill, his Majesty's Ministers, backed by their large majority, had not permitted one single amendment to be made by those who, though hostile to the general measure, nevertheless felt anxious to assist in making it as good as the nature of the Bill would allow. Whether or no all the wisdom of this assembly lay on one side of the House, he could not determine; but never had he seen a measure, affecting so many great interests, pressed onward with such haste, without any one who opposed it having a fair chance of being listened to, whatever suggestions he might offer; and yet some of those suggestions must be worthy of adoption. When a measure of this nature was under consideration—when the existing rights of so many persons were, by its operation, likely to be put in danger—and the proper protection of property weakened, if not destroyed—all feelings of party should be laid aside, and every one capable of assisting in its completion be consulted. But that rigid and inflexible determination, on the part of his Majesty's Ministers, not to admit of any amendment coming from the opposition side of the House, was not in the spirit with which a measure of this description should be conducted, or a means by which anything useful to the Bill was likely to be added to it in its progress. He begged to submit to the Committee, whether, in point of fact, the alteration now proposed was not likely to render this measure more acceptable to the respectable people; and whether, in reality, it would not give to the great towns more respectable and intelligent Representatives than they would otherwise obtain. He would advise the hon. Gentleman to adopt the alteration in his Motion which he had suggested, and to take the sense of the Committee upon the question, whether there should be any gradation in the qualification at all, or whether in both large towns and small, there should exist the same qualification.
§ Lord Althorp
did not rise to speak on the amendment which had formerly been sufficiently discussed, but to repel the insinuation which had been thrown out by the hon. Member who spoke last. Certainly nothing could be more exemplary than the patient attention lent by Government, to every hon. Member's objections, whether in the previous stages of the Bill, or in the Committee. As to a precedent 1265 for the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers in rejecting any variation in their plan of Reform, he would just remind the hon. Member that the Catholic Relief Bill was exactly a case in point where the late Government felt it to be their duty not to permit any suggestion or amendment to be adopted.
§ Sir James Scarlett
thought it was very desirable that nothing like party feeling should be evinced on a question of this important nature. It would be the greatest misfortune should it be made a party question, and he, therefore, was unwilling to say more on that subject. Many amendments were proposed last Session by Members on that side of the House, which had been adopted in the present Bill. With respect to the particular amendment before the Committee, he did not think the form was precisely what it should be. The principle was a good one, but the form was bad, for unless it be intended that the rent should be fixed by the rate paid by the present population of any place, it did not follow that the rent of the same place might not be 15l. this election, might sink down to 10l. the next. Approving of the principle, he should be happy to prepare a clause which should provide that in all the boroughs created by schedules C and D the qualification for voting should depend upon the valuation of the premises being 20l., while in all the existing boroughs the franchise should depend upon the rent being either 10l., or even lower, if he thought there was the least chance of such a clause being attended to. His reason was this—many persons, in small towns having considerable fortunes, lived in houses not so highly rented as 20l. a-year. In the town of Richmond, in Yorkshire, for example, there were many respectable persons and of good property, some of whom paid less than 10l. a-year rent, though they spent an income of 400l. a-year, derived from their landed property. But at Manchester, men paid out of their weekly wages a rent of 20l. a-year. On that account he did not like to disfranchise so many great interests, merely because the parties did not rent houses of 10l. or 15l. a-year. But he begged the Committee to observe, that they were acting on the largest scale. He would recommend a little caution in their proceedings. If it had been proposed to take one or two towns in order to try the experiment, he should not have objected, 1266 but to take all the large towns in England—many of them having a population of 10,000 persons—the experiment was too vast to be hazarded. The measure would throw a large majority of votes into the hands of a class by whom the property of the country must be ultimately overwhelmed. The noble Lord expressed his anxiety to give satisfaction to the working classes; but were they the only classes to whom he would give satisfaction? To many persons in the great towns it would give no satisfaction at all. A great majority of those who had property to lose, would be much better satisfied to have no Members at all. If the shopkeepers were generally canvassed through those towns, it would be found that the great bulk of them were against the measure. That was his opinion. If the Ministers chose to give the large towns the right of returning Members, at least, they ought to qualify that right so as to render property safe. He appealed to the Committee whether the experiment to be tried was not too vast; and whether to introduce a new constituency upon such a universal principle was not hazardous, especially in the great towns, where the persons who are to have franchise have no property. At Manchester, a large majority would be persons of that description: there would exist a majority in that town of 3,900 voter of the lowest qualification. Could such a right of voting work well for the great interests of the town of Manchester? It would throw the whole Representation into the hands of persons without education, or property of any kind. He should prefer confining the right of voting in all the new boroughs, to persons renting 20l. a-year; and that the numerous class of voters in the small towns should be qualified by paying a rent of 5l. He would support a motion of that description, but he could hardly support the amendment in its present form.
had no doubt householders of 50l. a-year would think that that was the precise rental which ought to give a vote, and no lower rent ought to be allowed one. That, however did not settle the question. He did not think that the proposed alteration would either satisfy, or benefit the large towns. He thought it desirable that the lowest classes, as well as the higher classes, should enjoy direct Representation, and that it should be given to them in such towns, as, from 1267 their number corruption would be impracticable.
contended that the number of voters in the large towns would be inconveniently large under the 10l. qualification. From the returns presented last Session, it appeared there would be nearly 21,000 voters in Liverpool, and 16,000 at Manchester. One of two things must take place with such a mass of constituents. Either the lowest description of householders would alone be represented, or where houses in great numbers belonged to particular landlords, as was often the case in manufacturing towns, these, by combining together, would carry the election by the aid of their tenants, who would be driven up like cattle to the hustings.
§ Mr. Heywood
said, the calculation of the hon. and gallant Colonel was not correct: by the returns it appeared that the number of persons assessed to the Poor-rates at Manchester under the amount of 10l. was 17,726, and those assessed at, and above that sum, was 8,026. Most of the operatives would not have votes. In one factory which employed 700 persons only 118 would possess the franchise from occupying houses of sufficient value. In another where 113 were employed, only seventeen would have votes, he, therefore, felt it his duty to resist the amendment.
§ Lord Morpeth
was convinced, from the inquiries he had made while in Leeds, that the alteration of the qualification proposed would give great dissatisfaction.
observed, that the clause proceeded upon a very fair principle; it would create constituencies too numerous and independent to be bribed, and yet not so large as to be unmanageable or tumultuous; he, therefore, must support the clause, and reject the amendment.
agreed with his noble colleague: he was bound, as the Representative of Liverpool to assert, that the clause gave satisfaction there, and that the number of the smaller descriptions of householders had been overrated, the number above 15l. exceeded those below it who would be entitled to the franchise.
could not permit the statement of the hon. member for Liverpool to remain unanswered. So far from the clause giving general satisfaction, as he had asserted, a very opposite feeling existed. There was a large majority of all classes, including those who had always advocated 1268 Reform, who considered the qualification of 10l. was too low for Liverpool, and were fearful of the consequences likely to result from it. Indeed it would be surprising if any other feelings could prevail, when they had witnessed the disgraceful scenes that had recently taken place there, and he recommended hon. Members who thought a constituency of 5,000 too numerous to be bribed to remember those scenes. He must also dispute the accuracy of the hon. Members statistics. He had reason to believe the voters under 20l. per annum would far outnumber those above that sum. As to what the hon. member for Lancashire had said about there being but 8,000 rated inhabitants at Manchester above 10l., he would find that number doubled at elections, from the practice of letting houses out in floors, all the occupiers of which would claim a vote.
§ Mr. Mackinnon,
at the suggestion of the hon. member for Thetford, withdrew his amendment. It was his intention to propose it in another shape.
§ Amendment withdrawn, and clause agreed to. House resumed.
§ Chairman reported progress, Committee to sit again.