HC Deb 29 April 1836 vol 33 cc472-8

The House went into a Committee on the Registration of Voters Bill.

On Clause 51 being read,

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

proposed the insertion of the following proviso; "That where the landlord of any House situate within any city or borough should compound for the payment of poor rates or assessed taxes, the tenant in occupation of such House shall be entitled to be placed on the register of voters for any city or borough wherein the same is situated, notwithstanding he may not have claimed to be rated to the poor rate, provided such landlord shall have paid, on or before the 20th of July, all the poor rates and assessed taxes due in respect to such House previously to the 6th of April then next preceding. Provided also, that such tenant shall have resided in the House for six calendar months next previous to the last day of July in such year, and shall have paid, or be liable to pay, a rental of ten pounds and upwards per annum for the same, in addition to the sum compounded for by the landlord for the poor rate and assessed taxes."

The Attorney-General

opposed the introduction of the clause, as informal. It should be brought forward as a substantive clause, and not as a proviso.

Mr. Kemp

supported the clause. Unless some such were introduced many persons having a right to vote would be disfranchised.

Captain Pechell

took the same view. The clause proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury would make a difference of 3,000 voters in the Borough which he represented.

The Committee divided on the Amendment; Ayes 38; Noes 135: Majority 97.

List of the AYES. (Not official.)
Angerstein, J. Molesworth, Sir W.
Barnard, E. G. O'Connell, M.
Baldwin, Dr. O'Connell, M. J,
Bowes, John Pechell, Capt.
Brotherton, Joseph Pease, Joseph
Berkeley, —. Pryme, George
Brownrigg, John S. Parrott, Jasper
Buller, C. Pattison, James
Butler, Col. Power, James
Crawford, S. Robinson, George R.
Duncombe, T. S. Seale, Col.
Ewart, William Tancred, Henry W.
Grote, George Thornley, Thomas
Hume, Joseph Thompson, Col.
Hindley, Charles Wakley, Thomas
Hawes, Benjamin Whalley, Sir S.
Hector, J. C. Warburton, Henry
Kemp, Thomas, R. Williams, Sir J.
Leader, John T. Williams, W.

Clause to stand part of the Bill.

On the 52nd Clause,

Mr. Pemberton

said, he had heard with the greatest pleasure what had fallen from the Attorney-General, because unquestionably on the same principles his hon. and learned Friend must support him (Mr. Pemberton) in his opposition to the present clause. He (the Attorney-General) had stated that it was no part of the object or principle of the Bill to alter the right of voting, and that its object was to provide a more convenient registration, and to remove any doubts that existed as to the present right of voting. If, therefore, he found that this clause was one which beyond all doubt altered the right of voting, and destroyed existing qualifications, and made new ones, he called upon him (the Attorney-General), in common consistency, whether he approved of this clause or not, to concur with him (Mr. Pemberton) in throwing this clause out of the Bill. The clause stated that doubts existed upon the subject. Now, no doubts did exist, and if they did the clause would not remove them. He wished that either land alone or houses alone should give the right of voting.

Lord John Russell

said, that the clause was intended to remove doubts which existed, and for the better registration of voters. The framers of the Reform Act were aware that it would become necessary, from time to time, to take measures for the purpose of explaining parts of the Act, and that it would be requisite to apply to Parliament to make amendments in it. The object of the clause was to entitle any person occupying a house, or shed, or tenement, with land attached, to have the value of that land included in the valuation. He could not agree to omit the clause altogether, but he had no objection to put the other one to the sense of the House.

Mr. Pemberton

hoped if the noble Lord brought in a Bill to disfranchise these voters, he would also bring in a Bill to disfranchise the 40s. voters of Dewsbury.

Sir James Graham

said there ought to be a distinct understanding as to the point whether the house of the value of 10l. by itself, or a mere shed worth 10s., with annexed land worth 9l- 10s., should constitute the qualification.

Mr. Pemberton

hoped, that if the noble Lord meant to disqualify a number of existing voters, he would not overlook the multitude of faggot voters notoriously created in Huntingdonshire.

Mr. Charles Buller

said, that he should take the sense of the House as to whether or not dwelling houses shoulds not be excepted from the operation of the clause, because agricultural dwelling houses in particular districts were often estimated at a low value, and it was scarcely possible that fraudulent claims should be advanced with respect to them in the same way as they were put forward with respect to other descriptions of buildings.

Sir Robert Peel

entered his protest against the clause in the present Bill, because though the claim granted by the Reform Bill of a right to vote for land and tenements held jointly might be liable to abuse, still that was no ground for altering the nature of the qualification, because there were none of the franchises which the Reform Bill conferred that might not he said to have been occasionally abused. He thought it a dangerous precedent to introduce in a Bill for the purpose of consolidating the law relating to registration, a clause which would have the effect of changing the franchise.

Amendment withdrawn, and clause agreed to.

On Clause 57 being proposed,

The Attorney-General moved the omission of the third question which the Reform Act enacted should be put to the voter at the poll; and also the insertion of words making the register conclusive evidence on the point of continued qualification. As the law now stood, every voter upon coming to the poll was obliged upon oath, in answer to the third question, to state that the property for which he claimed to vote was the same as that for which he was registered. The effect of that was to disqualify many persons who had, between the time of registry and of going to the poll, removed into a house perhaps of a somewhat higher rent than the one which they had left; or letting off a portion of it, still retaining amply sufficient to qualify him; and who could not conscientiously swear that the property they now held was in every respect the same as that for which they registered. Some trifling objection might be raised against the alteration which, after the best consideration, he had proposed as a remedy to the hardship which the existing state of the law imposed upon voters; but he believed they would be more than counterbalanced by the advantage that would result from it.

Mr. George F. Young

felt it is duty strongly to object to the alteration proposed by the hon. and learned Attorney-General; he had no difference of opinion with the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the necessity of removing any injustice which the present state of the law in some cases might work, but he could not go with him to the extent of expunging the third question altogether, for he believed it would be opening a door to many frauds, which it was the object of those who had inserted that question to prevent.

Mr. Hume

did not agree with the hon. Member for Teignmouth. As the law now stood, a man possessing property of the annual value of 1,000l., and who had between the time of his registry and the poll, sold a small cottage worth probably 10l. a year, was disqualified, because unable to answer upon oath to the third question, though possessing perhaps ten times the amount of qualification required by the Act. The amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney-General, would remove that monstrous injustice; he (Mr. Hume) did not believe it would create any additional facility for fraud, and he should give it his cordial support.

The Solicitor General

was surprised to find an alteration which would do away with a hardship and injustice, operating equally upon all parties, should have met with any opposition. The hon. Member for Middlesex had pointed out one glaring injustice which it would remove; he (the Solicitor-General) would point out another. He had found, to his personal cost, that the greater portion of the time and expense consumed on Election Committees was consumed in sustaining and combating objections founded on the third question; and all this time and expense would be saved by simply enacting that to persons sufficiently qualified at the registry, and, therefore, in all human probability, likely to continue so up to the time of voting, the registry should be conclusive evidence of their right of voting. He would also observe, that the amendment was only carrying out the evident intention of the framers of the Reform Act; they had almost indeed hit the mark; they had provided, that if you change your residence during the year, you may still register, although the Act requires you should be in occupation for the twelve months next preceding the registry; and you may not have been resident more than two months in the house for which you register. It was clear from this, that the framers of the Reform Act contemplated a bonâ fide continuous qualification; and on these grounds he considered the amendment entitled to the reception of the house.

Sir James Graham

considered the amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Attorney-General as one which would work a great and important alteration in the elective franchise; and, as such, it ought to receive the most serious consideration of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney-General, had all of a sudden found out the necessity for an alteration, which had not been considered necessary by the framers of the Reform Bill; by the Select Committee to whom the Bill had been referred, by both branches of the Legislature. through which the Reform Bill had, after long and mature deliberation, triumphantly passed; and even, till lately, by the Government to which the hon. and learned Gentleman belonged. In order that no Member might be debarred an opportunity of stating his opinion upon the alteration proposed, as the House had been taken somewhat by surprise, (no Parliamentary notice having been given) he suggested that the amendment should be postponed to the bringing up of the Report; and that, in the mean time, due notice should be given.

Mr. Jervis

hoped the House would not consent to postpone the amendment. There was one feature in the existing state of the law which had not been adverted to, viz.— that it excluded just those persons from the franchise whom the House would be most anxious to see in possession of the franchise, and formed no barrier whatever against those whom it would be desirous to exclude. Honest, respectable, and conscientious persons, who would not even in appearance be guilty of deception, were effectually prevented, by the third question, from voting; while low and unprincipled persons, who would not scruple to perjure themselves, were admitted to the poll. It appeared that the only remedy that could be applied to this unjust state of the law was that proposed by the hon. and learned Attorney General, and he should feel it his duty to support it.

Mr. Strutt

saw no reason for postponing the amendment. It was true, as the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, had said, that the alteration proposed had not been considered necessary by the Government and Legislature at the time of the Reform Act. But if since that time Parliament had experienced that necessity of some amendment, surely, they were bound, if they could, to make it. Election Committees had been referred to, and thence a strong argument was to be drawn in favour of the amendment. He (Mr. Strutt) was, last Session, Chairman of an Election Committee, which sat for more than a fortnight; and how was it occupied principally? Why, in deciding objections upon this third question; objections, let it be remembered, that decided nothing as to the merits of the case, and produced no effect in the decision of the Committee, as both sides had generally an equal number of voters struck off on the same grounds. He hoped the Committee would decide in favour of the amendment.

Lord John Russell

admitted, that the original intention of the framers of the Reform Bill was, that some such question as that now proposed to be omitted, should be inserted; nor was that intention the result of any hasty investigation, but he was bound to say, it was formed after the most careful consideration of the case. At the same time, he had made this distinction between the third question and the second and first; that, whereas, the latter were questions which could not, from their being simple matters of fact, be answered falsely, but willingly, while the former was a question which might possibly mislead a man, involving, as it did, something of legal nicety, as well as plain matter of fact. He did not think it proper to subject a man in the latter case to be subjected to the peril of an oath, which was retained in the other instances. On a reconsideration, however, of the whole subject, with the experience afforded them by the Reform Act, the Government were of opinion that it would be better to have the question at once done away with, and, thus relieving the voter from the hardship and injustice that now pressed upon him, to remove the inconvenience which resulted from the present state of the law.

Sir James Graham

said, the object of inserting this clause had been first to remove a great practical evil which existed under the old system, viz.—the introduction into the franchise of non-residents, which was carried to an enormous extent, and secondly, to operate as a salutary check upon the 10l. franchise, by enforcing a continuous qualification; for though the Act permitted change of residence during the year, before registery it demanded continued occupation of a house, and within the parish, for the required time. The amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Attorney-General would do away with the check, and he begged to vote against it.

The clause as amended was agreed to.

The other clauses were agreed to, and the House resumed.

Bill to be reported.