HC Deb 11 July 1836 vol 35 cc105-10

On the Motion of Lord John Russell, the House went into Committee on the County Elections Poll Bill.

On the 2nd Clause limiting the election to a single day,

Mr. Goulburn

contended, that no necessity had been made out for such a measure as that before the House, and he saw no remedy in it for that which he considered an evil which was susceptible of remedy, namely, where persons had property in two different counties, they could not vote for both in consequence of the elections being fixed for the same day. Here they were prevented from exercising the franchise in both counties; and this he considered was a subject that ought to be provided for, although it was subordinate in its character. Another question was with regard to expense; and so far from diminishing expense, he thought the present Bill would add considerably to it, for the more the places of polling were multiplied, the more would the expenses of the candidate also be multiplied. He doubted very much whether the diminution of the expenses for conveyances for the voters to go to the poll, would not be equalled by the additional expenses arising from the polling places, which by this present Bill it was intended to create. Neither was he disposed to concur in the principle of confining the polling at elections for counties to one day. Another objection he had to the Bill was, that the elections were not to close until six o'clock in the evening. The consequence, therefore, must be, that they would have in some seasons to be carried on in the dark; and those persons who might desire to return a particular candidate might have the opportunity of so obstructing the poll on the part of the other candidates as to secure the return without the proper authorities being able to determine whether the obstruction was of such a nature or to such an extent as would justify the adjournment of the poll. At any rate, even if this state of things did not arise, he thought that confining elections for counties to one day would materially interfere with the exercise of the right of polling. The points to which he had referred, he considered to be well worthy the attention of the noble Lord before the Bill proceeded further.

Lord John Russell

said, that the system of reducing the days of polling in counties to two, had worked exceedingly well, and it was considered that by affording additional polling places, and greater facilities for taking the votes than at present existed, that the elections could be as easily accomplished in one day as they had been in two. He could not help thinking it an object of great importance that the Poll should be taken in one day, for he was persuaded that if two days were allowed much greater expense would be incurred, and greater opportunities given for corrupt practices to be carried on and undue influence exercised. It was an object which in his opinion might easily be accomplished: a clause of the same nature as this had been proposed in Committee on the Registration Bill by his noble Friend the Member for Devon, which had been much approved of by the House, and no difficulty was apprehended in carrying that into effect. The objections urged against this clause by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, were objections which must, and indeed were urged, with equal force against the alteration of the time from fifteen days to two. As to the objection urged by the right hon. Gentleman, that it would have the effect of disfranchising a class of voters who had property for which they would be entitled to possess the franchise in different counties,—that a person for instance possessing the franchise in Devon could not, if the time for taking the poll were limited to one day, give his vote for property situated in Yorkshire, which he might do if the time were extended to two or three days, he, (Lord J. Russell) thought it hardly possible that Parliament should legislate for such extreme cases.

Mr. Forster

could assure the noble Lord that he knew of more cases than one in which by limiting the poll to one day large bodies of electors would be disfranchised,—especially in the case of a town situate on the borders of three counties, the inhabitants of which held property in all three. This evil might easily be remedied by providing that in contiguous counties, the elections should not take place on one and the same day, in order to afford persons who had property in them an opportunity of exercising their franchises in each.

Mr. Pryme

considered this as an evil incidental to the Reform Bill, and an evil which persons choosing to hold property in several counties must run the risk of incurring. He himself was in the predicament described by the hon. Member for Walsall, and lost several votes in consequence at the last election. A freeholder had always the choice for what property he would give his vote, and he (Mr. Pryme) could not conceive it proper to alter the whole course of elections in the country to meet individual cases of this kind.

Mr. Baines

would merely give the House the result of his own experience in the working of the present system in the largest electorial division of the kingdom. He could state, from his own knowledge, that the East Riding of Yorkshire, in which there were at the last election 18,000 voters, and he believed there would be 28,000 at the next, the polling was carried on with the greatest ease in two days, and he believed that, by the additional facilities afforded by this Bill, the polling could as easily have been taken in one day as two.

Mr. Evelyn Denison

As the law stood at present, the objections urged by the hon. Member for Walsall might hold, but by a Bill which had gone through this House, it was provided that any voter might choose at what polling place in a county he gave his vote: whereas at present he was compelled to give it at the particular polling place of the district in which his property was situate. And surely the voter could have no difficulty even in the case suggested by the hon. Member for Walsall, in selecting the three polling places in the different counties which were nearest to each other, and so be enabled to give his vote in every one of them.

Sir Robert Peel

It might be true that when only two days were allowed in practice, the greatest number of votes were polled on the first day, but it did not necessarily follow that the elections should be limited to one day; for it was not quite plain that, if they were so limited, the evils apprehended by his right hon. Friend would not arise. In the first place he considered that if the proposed change took place, those residing in towns would have a great advantage over those who lived at any distance from polling-places. It was to be considered that when the poll closed at so late an hour as six o'clock, there must be greater apprehension of intimidation by the voters, than when those voters had the option of coming in to poll any time in two days. There was, too, a monopoly of carriages to be apprehended—that was more likely to come into operation where the polling was confined to one day. It might be attempted for one day but if there were to be a second day's poll, such an attempt would be defeated by the spirit it was likely to excite in the country. He considered that no evils had followed from the two days polling; no valid reason had been given for the change. As to the argument that expense would thereby be saved it was not quite certain, in his opinion that when (as they must necessarily be) the polling places were greatly increased in number, that would be the case: at all events he was convinced that a gentleman with a long purse would have much greater opportunities of using it under the proposed system, than at present and considering as he had said that no great evil had arisen from the period of two days being allowed, and that greater facilities for undue influence and intimidation would be given under the system proposed to be established by this Bill, he was in favour of the continuance of the present period.

Viscount Howick

could not help thinking that the right hon. Baronet never had the misfortune to stand for a county, or he would not have said that there was no valid reason for this change. He Lord Howick was convinced that limiting the poll to one day would make a great difference in the amount of expenses, at present very large indeed. But the right hon. Baronet objected, that it would lead to partial inconveniences and he (Lord Howick) was ready to confess that it might be possible to imagine cases in which such inconveniences might arise. But he did not believe they would be found arising to any extent. As to intimidation, he (Lord Howick) believed that in county elections intimidation was of infinitely more rare occurrence than in towns. [No! no!] He granted, that intimidation of a particular description might be more common incounties but he did not think that by limiting the elections to one day the power of the landlords would be increased. He was of opinion that the argument was much more applicable to towns than counties, with the additional polling places contemplated by the present Bill. As to a monopoly of the means of conveyance, if any such system were to be adopted, it must be known before the election took place, and must therefore be inoperative, and under the proposed system the distance which any voter would have to go would be very short indeed.

Mr. Evelyn Denison

His noble Friend had said, he could conceive of some cases in which the objections stated by the right hon. Baronet opposite, might arise. His (Mr. Denison's) imagination was not, however, so fertile as his noble Friend's, and he must say, he conceived of no circumstances under which these objections could possibly hold. The great objections of the right hon. Baronet seemed to be, first, that by the late hour at which the polls would close, some voters would be compelled to travel home, perhaps eight or ten miles, in the dark; and then, that the limitation of the poll to one day would facilitate a monopoly of carriages. Now, his (Mr. Denison's) answer to both objections was the same; viz, that under the proposed system, if the additional polling places were properly distributed, no voter would have to travel such distances as to render travelling dangerous in the dark; or as to render conveyances necessary.

Mr. Goulburn

begged to ask the hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Denison) what clause in the Bill prevented a person holding property in the northern, and residing in the southern division of a county, from having to go and give his vote in the northern division? ["the Registration Bill."] But that Bill was not yet law; and he (Mr. Goulburn) was not arguing upon that which might be, but that which really was the law.

Mr. Evelyn Denison

explained; he understood, that all along the discussion was conducted on the understanding that the Registration Bill would be passed. Undoubtedly, if it were not, he should agree with the right hon. Baronet in the necessity of some alteration in this Bill.

Mr. Goring

could confirm what was stated by the hon. Member for Leeds, as to the greater number of voters in a county being polled on the first day; and he could add from his own experience that those who polled the second day mostly resided in the vicinity of the polling places; and that if there were any bribery carried on, it was almost always on the second day.

Mr. G. Heathcote

thought it extremely hard where persons had property in two counties that arrangements were not made so as to enable them to exercise the franchise in both. In towns this was provided for, and he thought a clause ought to be framed by which this difficulty might be obviated.

Lord John Russell

had no objection to fill up the blanks, by enacting that the poll should open at eight o'clock and close at five.

Sir Charles Knightley

asked, if 6,000 voters could poll between eight and five on one day?

An Hon. Member: In the West Riding of Yorkshire, 13,000 polled in one day.

Sir Charles Knightley

observed, that in winter it was often dark at half past three. He should object to the clause even as amended.

The question was then put and agreed to, that the words eight in the morning, and five in the evening, be inserted in the blanks, instead of nine and six.

On the question that the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill, the Committee divided: Ayes 64; Noes 31—Majority 33.

The Bill went through the Committee. The House resumed, the Report to be received.

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