HC Deb 10 March 1832 vol 11 cc84-8

The House, on the Motion of Lord Althorp, went into a Committee on the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill.

Lord Althorp

suggested certain amendments in the 57th clause, which were agreed to, and the clause adopted.

Schedule H, which regards the forms of lists applicable to counties agreed to; as were schedules I and K.

The postponed clause, regarding the remuneration of Barristers, was adopted without remark: it was fixed at five guineas per day, independent of travelling expenses.

Lord Althorp

then proposed an Amendment to the 68th clause, with an accompanying schedule, marked L, in order to provide for the possible demise of the Crown, and the consequent dissolution of Parliament before a Bill could be passed for finally fixing the limits of boroughs to be affected by the Bill. His Lordship observed that the schedule L settled those limits only temporarily; but he might state, that, in the Bill hereafter to be introduced, the limits would, in nearly every instance, be the same.

Sir Charles Wetherell

thought no Gentleman would willingly have supported a proposition which would have had the effect of preventing his Majesty from dissolving Parliament, and, therefore, the proposed arrangement was an improvement on that of the former Bill. With reference to the clause, he was convinced that the noble Lord had several difficulties to contend with, and the course he had adopted was very objectionable. The clause admitted, that, before a new Constitution could be established, a Bill must be passed to fix the boundaries of the boroughs to be created, as well as those already in existence, and to provide for the division of counties. Of course the registration could not take place until all these facts were determined; the clause, therefore, assumed that certain persons were to have the right of voting in certain places. They were to have the same right as if the lists of voters were already in existence. This would lead to the greatest confusion at the polling places; questions would arise as to the value of the Houses which would entitle the occupier to a vote, and there was no tribunal to determine the question. The noble Lord, by means of this clause, cooked up a number of temporary boroughs with imaginary boundaries, and these boroughs were to send the first Members under the new Constitution. He most strongly objected to this intermediate state of existence, until the Boundaries Bill had passed, and the registers were completed.

Lord Althorp

was ready to allow that there was much force in the objections taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He was aware that objections did exist to the present proceeding, but in the choice of difficulties, he thought he had adopted the least in proposing the present clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman thought it would be better should a general election occur previous to the passing of the Boundaries Bill, that the present system should be continued; that is, that the Reform Bill should be a dead letter, until all the measures connected with it should have been completed. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory to the people of this country than the adoption of such a course. A. Bill was to pass the Legislature, declar- ing that the Constitution of the House was such that a great change was requisite, yet they were to declare that the present system was to continue for some time longer. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman, that there was some difficulty in the present course; but the evil would be increased, in the greatest degree, by adopting the course he recommended. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated objections of such a nature as to shew the absolute necessity of registration. He very truly stated, that the questions which might arise under the Reform Bill would have to be decided before the Barrister at the polling place, and that such a course would lead to confusion. He admitted this; but it was an evil of the existing system. In case of dispute, the Returning-officer was obliged to go into an inquiry as to the right of the person claiming to exercise the franchise. The clause, therefore, only allowed so much of the present system of voting to continue in operation for a short time longer. It was extremely improbable that a dissolution of Parliament would occur between the passing of the Reform Bill and the passing of the Boundaries Bill, though, if it should, the evil would, undoubtedly, be great, though not greater than that which occurred at present in any place where there was a contested election. As to the division of counties, if the Boundaries Bill did not pass previous to a dissolution of Parliament, the elections for the counties would be conducted in the same manner as at present. In those counties which were to have four Members under this Bill, the Representatives would be elected as they now were in Yorkshire. The only change in the present mode would be, that it gave an enlarged number of Members to an increased constituency. He would merely add, that he begged the Committee to recollect that this clause was only a provision for a very improbable event, namely, a dissolution of Parliament occurring between the passing of the Reform Bill and the passing of the Boundaries Bill.

Sir Charles Wetherell

could not concur in the opinion of the noble Lord, that it was such an extremely improbable event that a dissolution should occur between the passing of the Reform Bill and of the Boundaries Bill, and he feared that the difficulties would be infinitely greater in such a case than the noble Lord seemed to anticipate. In all corporations, for instance, householders were to have the right of voting under this Bill, when, at present, only freemen vote. Now, lists of the freemen were kept, and there would be little difficulty, beyond identifying them, in determining the right; but, in the case of the householders, the question growing out of the value of the houses must be determined by the returning officer. Again, in scot-and-lot boroughs, every householder had a right to vote, without reference to the question whether the house he occupied was worth 10l. or 5l.. In scot-and-lot boroughs the present mode of voting was abandoned, and the substitute there provided was one of value which was difficult to be determined. As to the counties, he did not think the evil of the course proposed was very great. He should not oppose the plan of the noble Lord. He repeated now what he had often said before, that this Bill would soon be unpopular in large scot-and-lot places, like Westminster, where it would disfranchise so many persons.

Amendment agreed to.

Upon the question that the clause stand part of the Bill,

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that, by the clauses lately introduced in the Bill, the whole representative body would be placed for some time to come in a state of purgatory. He had often heard it said, that the Members of that House were corrupt, and perhaps it might be desirable to put them in a state of purgatory to purify them; but, by the Bill, the constituent body would be placed in purgatory also. In his opinion, the clause now under discussion was unjust, both to the old and the new constituent bodies. In the event of an election inextricable confusion must prevail, for he defied any returning-officer or assessor to say who should or should not be admitted to vote. He had the most decided objections to the principle of the clause, but, in the present state of the House [the hon. Member was surrounded by only a very few of his friends], he could not think of asking the purgatory Members to go to one side, and the antipurgatory to the other, but should content himself simply with protesting against the clause.

Lord John Russell

reminded the hon. and learned Gentleman that none went to purgatory but those who were to arrive hereafter at paradise; and if both Representatives and constituents were to remain for six months in purgatory, with the blessed prospect of paradise before them, he did not think they had much reason to find fault. He admitted that, in the event of an election before the Boundary Bill was passed, there would be a good deal of obstruction and delay in taking the poll; but he did not apprehend that it would lead to any such inextricable confusion as the hon. and learned Member seemed to think.

The clause agreed to.

Schedule L was adopted.

The question on the preamble of the Bill was carried sub silentio.

The House resumed, the Report was received and read pro forma, and ordered to be taken into further consideration.

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