The Lord Advocate
moved for leave to bring in a Bill to explain and amend an Act of the 2nd and 3rd William 4th., chap. 65, to Amend the Representation of the people, and the Registration of the Voters in Scotland; and also to carry into effect the recommendations made by the Committee of last Session, for diminishing the expense of elections there. The right hon. Gentleman said he would shortly state the objects which he proposed to effect. He wished to put an end to creating votes. The Bill would put an end to creating such votes by subdividing property. That such attempts should be made to acquire political influence in Scotland, would not surprise those who remembered the paper qualification which existed under the old system, but it was the duty of the Legislature to prevent it as far as possible. The provision by which he proposed to guard against the extension of this practice under the new system of representation (where it was as yet in embryo only, but liable to increase into a positive evil) was, that there should be not more than two voters on any one joint property or joint farm, instead of, a properly or farm being divided among a great number of holders, each of whom had a vote. This will be the limit to which the creation of fictitious freeholds could now be carried,—in ordinary cases there would of course, be but one vote to each farm. The next point to which he had directed his attention was the difficulty arising from the opposite opinions and decision given in the Courts of Appeal on the validity of votes, a circumstance consequent on the nature of the Appeal Courts in Scotland. The 636 separate Courts of Appeal had in some cases pronounced opposite judgments, and it became necessary to declare the law on these disputed points. Another difficulty was, that when a person, registered on account of one house in a borough, quitted it for another of the same, and even of greater value, he lost his right of voting, until, at the next period of enrolment, he was able to qualify in respect of the new residence—in fact, he could not put in his claim till July, and the final adjudication upon it could not take place till October. He proposed that immediately after Whit Sunday, persons so situated, if they could make out a primâ facie case, should be allowed to be enrolled and to vote, thus giving them the enjoyment of the franchise, in the mean time, before the regular period of registration. Another objection to the existing law was, that too long a time elapsed between the receipt of the writ, and the day of the election. According to the present law, ten days at least must elapse after receipt of the writ by the Sheriff before the nomination could take place. That period could not be shortened, though it might be extended to sixteen days. This caused a very great and unnecessary delay; in addition to which there were the days of polling, and a further interval of a day before the declaration of the election could take place. That created great confusion and interruption to business, and was altogether uncalled for in the present state of the communication all over the country, except, indeed, in some counties where the great distance of some parts of the county from others made time necessary. The Bill proposed, that not less than four, and not more than ten days should elapse between the receipt of the writ and the day of election; which would be sufficient in all ordinary cases. In the distant counties composed partly of islands more time would be allowed. Another provision of the Bill was, that the declaration of the state of the poll might, in all cases, be made without delay after the polling-books were received. It had been a subject of complaint that many votes had been set aside in consequence of merely clerical errors, though such votes were substantially good. By the Bill, errors of a merely clerical kind in the statement of qualification, or in other proceedings with reference to the votes, were not to be deemed sufficient to vitiate such votes, 637 so as to defeat the claims of the voters. Finally, the time of polling was to be limited to one day, the Sheriff having power to increase the number of polling-booths, and the polling to commence at eight in the morning, instead of, as now, at nine on the first day, and at eight on the second. If, however, at the close of the poll on the one day, any voters should remain who, wishing to vote, had been unable to do so, the sheriff should have power to prolong the polling until those voters should have polled. He apprehended that confining the polling to a single day would obviate much of the inconvenience arising from the obstacles which, under the present system, were thrown in the way of the voters, and it appeared to him that no valid objection could be raised to the plan on the score of insufficiency of time, because the polling-booths were to be multiplied; and additional time was given where voters were present before the hour for closing the poll. Upon the whole, he thought the plan of limiting the polling to one day presented great advantages; but, whether it were adopted or not, it would enable the House to consider whether any better regulation could be devised. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ Leave given.