HC Deb 09 June 1834 vol 24 cc341-4
Lord John Russell

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill, for the more effectual Registration of persons entitled to vote in the election of Members to serve in Parliament in England and Wales; and though it would be necessary to alter many clauses of the existing Bill, yet the original principle of that measure would remain unaltered. At that stage of the proceedings, however, he did not intend to trouble the House at any length. It had been found, that in consequence of leaving to the overseers the uncontrolled duty of registration, they had acted frequently upon their own notions, and in many places, especially in the county of Somerset, they had been very negligent in the discharge of their duty. It was proposed, therefore, to follow the practice of which they had an example in the Jury Bill, by which the Clerk of the Peace in counties should issue his precept at certain periods to the overseers to make out the lists of the names of the voters. With regard to boroughs, it was proposed, that the Town Clerk, instead of being obliged, as he now was, to put up the names and places of abode of freemen, should put up the notices of any new claims of parties to vote at elections of Members of Parliament, in the way which was practised with reference to the freeholders of counties. In the registration of towns it was proposed, that persons rated to the poor, instead of paying every year, should only pay one shilling the first time they should have their names put on the list, as in the case of county voters. There were, likewise, some provisions to prevent making frivolous charges and objections. With respect to this point, it was proposed, that if a person claimed the right to vote, the Barrister should have the power to decide; and, that if a party should make frivolous objections to a person claiming to vote, in such case the Barrister should have the power to allot costs to the person against whom such frivolous objections might have been made. Then there were the provisions of the Bill with respect to registration; and it had been his desire to make as few alterations as possible. There were, indeed, one or two points in which it had been necessary to make a change. At the time of the Reform Bill passing through the other House of Parliament, an Amendment, (in the Qualification Clause) was carried, which introduced the words, "or other building." This proviso had given rise to many complaints to the House: many abuses having arisen to the manifest injury of those persons who were intended to be benefited by the Reform Bill. He alluded to the practice of erecting sheds, or temporary buildings, in order to confer the right of voting on persons who were not substantial, but merely nominal and dependent, voters. With this view, it had been the endeavour of the framers of the Bill to define as clearly as possible what those buildings should be, which he thought would prevent the present abuse. There were some other clauses upon which many doubts existed. He would not go further into the matter, as the whole measure would be better understood in a future stage. The noble Lord concluded by making the Motion he announced at the beginning of his speech.

Mr. Wynn

said, he would not object to the introduction of the Bill of the noble Lord; but he certainly regretted that it had not been introduced much sooner, when it might have been more considered. He much feared that there would not be time this Session to give a Bill of such importance the consideration it deserved.

Mr. Pryme

thought, that no voter should be disfranchised from the fact of his removing from a place within the limits of a borough, to a place without them; he hoped, too, that though a party might not occupy the same messuage or tenement, his right should remain unprejudiced for a certain period.

Mr. Walter

said, that the subject of the noble Lord's Bill, was one of which he happened to possess some practical knowledge, and he was glad to find, that the Bill would be rendered applicable to an evil which he himself had experienced. One of the expenses to which he had been subjected was, the humbug claim of thirty-seven fictitious voters, who had registered themselves in fourteen different parishes; thus he had 518 objections to take against parties who had not the slightest claim in the world. But the notices being incorrectly served in one parish, one half of these spurious voters actually polled against him. Last year, however, he expelled the whole of them. He put it to the House, therefore, whether some penalty ought not to attach to offences of this description, more especially where the attempt had been repeated? A case of this sort had occurred in the person of a young gentleman named Somerset, the son of Lady Arthur Somerset, who twice offered himself as the occupier of a house, which, it appeared, belonged to his mother. He mentioned this without the feeling of pique at the present moment, but allusion having been made to the expenses incurred at the Berkshire election, he considered it was but fair to show by what methods these expenses had been really accumulated.

Mr. Ewart

suggested, that it would be an improvement, if the time of polling in boroughs was shortened. By a better arrangement, the poll might be taken in one day.

Lord John Russell,

in reply, observed, that, with reference to the suggestion which had been thrown out as to shortening the duration of the polling, he thought the matter worthy of consideration; and that, if any alteration were to be made, it ought to be introduced as a separate measure. He much doubted, however, whether if the time of polling were curtailed, many tricks and deceptions would not be resorted to.

Leave given, and the Bill was brought in and read a first time.