HC Deb 29 July 1836 vol 35 cc669-76

Lord John Russell moved the third reading of the County Elections Polls Bill.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

rose to state, that he should oppose the motion which had just been made. It appeared to him to be quite clear, that this Bill would prove a serious injury to those who desired to exercise the elective franchise. The principle of limiting the polling to one day might answer very well in cities, but in the case of counties it could not fail to be an injury. He was perfectly persuaded that if so short a time as one day only were allowed for polling, it would be utterly impossible, when an election might occur in the winter season, for those who resided a long distance from the polling places—suppose the case of a man being entitled to vote for each division of a county, and for a contiguous county—it would be impossible, under this Bill, for such party to exercise his right of voting in each place. An hon. Baronet, on a former occasion, had observed that a man might have a freehold in every county, and that no Bill ever could intend he should exercise his right in every instance; but this argument was, of course, one which went beyond all bounds. But he maintained that the proprietor of freehold property in contiguous counties had a right to exercise his privilege of voting, and that every facility ought to be given to him for this purpose. He had imagined that the first and great object of the Reform Bill had been to extend the elective franchise, and to give to every elector the power to record his vote. And he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, if they would only reflect on the matter, whether this Bill was not in direct contravention of what was professed to be the object of that Bill when the Reform Act was first introduced? It had been argued on the other side of the House that, in the case of towns, the limitation of the time of polling to one day had answered extremely well; and certainly, he was happy to say, the plan had not turned out so satisfactorily to his Majesty's Government as they had perhaps anticipated, especially in a contest which had occurred a few days since. By this measure gentlemen of landed property, who supported the agricultural interest, would be left in the lurch. He did not know with what object the Bill had been introduced, but he thought that hon. Members would agree with him that in the counties in England the elections had not turned out more propitious for his Majesty's present Government than in cities; and it might be an object with-certain parties to see whether they could not propose something to turn the tables. But in this Bill there was much which was unfair to the electors without effecting any good whatever. In small populous towns the elections would be carried by clamour. At present there was always a great difference in the polling on the first and second day. There were always to be found many voters who shrunk from the mob law, which always distinguished the first day of polling. It had, indeed, been contended that all elections were decided on the first day; but this proposition was not tenable; because, were it so, practically, they would not have had the benefit of the eloquence of the hon. Member for Middlesex, who polled a smaller number than his opponents on the first day. Now, he would say, that the Bill was one which would be most injurious to the agricultural interest, which was not so substantially represented in that House as it ought to be. Upon that ground, and also because he thought the Bill was in direct contravention to the Reform Bill, he would divide the House on the motion for the third reading of the Bill.

Mr. Grove Price

felt satisfied, that the effect of the alteration in the law, would be to give to unprincipled men the opportunity of creating tumult and confusion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

remarked, that the object of the framers of the Bill was to diminish the expense of elections, by lessening their duration. The principle was the same, whether in towns or counties, and the multiplication of polling places would effect the object without inconvenience to any party.

Colonel Sibthorp

objected to the principle of the Bill, feeling convinced that it was destructive to the rights, and was a direct blow aimed at property. He thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have spoken on this matter in the manly way he sometimes spoke of other subjects, and plainly told them that it was a Bill intended to prop up a sinking cause. He looked for protection in another place for property, which protection he could not procure within the walls of that House. He thought the Bill most unjustifiable.

Mr. Wilks

said, that if the, Bill had not been introduced, there were difficulties already which would impede the voting of persons of property. He knew a gentleman, a friend of his, who by right of property, had a vote in twenty-six counties. It was impossible that he could avail himself of all these opportunities.

Sir Charles Knightley

said, he had taken the trouble to look over the list of the division on this Bill on a former occasion, and he found upon dissecting them, that amongst the ayes, who formed the majority, there were only eighteen county Members. Now, in spite of all the tricks which might be played by the Friends of those on the opposite side—in spite of the practice of throwing brickbats at voters at elections, as in the case of the Warwick election, and though the cloven foot had stuck out in the counties, he only wished for an opportunity to try the practical working of this Bill.

Mr. Mark Philips

said, when the hon. Gentleman talked of brickbats having been used at the election in Warwickshire —if he talked of bludgeons also, that would not lie at the door of those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House. He could name a rev. Gentleman. ["Hear, hear."] If the hon. Member would take the pains to make inquiry, and would prove to him, that he (Mr. Mark Philips) had stated that which could not be borne out by facts, no man would be more ready than he should be to retract any assertion made under a wrong impression. Now, as to the difficulty of completing the polling in one day he could only speak from his own experience. He had attended a contest for Lancashire in 1832, when he acted as the representative of a friend of his who stood for the county; and he would not hesitate to say, that the number of votes polled on the second day bore no proportion to those polled on the first day. He could not say what percentage they formed to those of the first day; but this he knew, that they waited for hours without a single vote being tendered. Now it was proposed to have so many polling places, that men in all parts of the county would be easily enabled to vote.

Sir Eardley Wilmot

happened to have been in Warwick some little time since, and he could take upon himself to say, that from the evidence which he had read, and all that he had been told, he should say that there was not one single word of truth in the report which had been raised, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded.

Mr. Mark Philips

explained. He begged to assure the House again, that if he had stated that which was not correct he retracted it; but he felt called upon to state, that the clergyman to whom he had alluded, was reported at the time he was down at the election to which he referred to have taken a singularly conspicuous part. That statement remained uncontradicted whilst he was in that part of the country, and he certainly left it under the impression that it was correct. He was glad, however, to hear the refutation given by the hon. Baronet.

Sir Eardley Wilmot

had not exactly spoken from his own personal knowledge, but he had read the papers, and the conclusion which he had come to was, that the charge was utterly groundless.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

begged to say, upon his own personal knowledge, that he could give the statement which had been made a flat contradiction.

Mr. Palmer (Essex)

the right hon. Gentleman opposite had said, that the effect of this Bill would be to diminish the expenses. Now, he did not thank the Government for their measure, because it would deprive many men of the exercise of their elective franchise; and as to the expense, it would be as great in the one day as it now was in two days.

Colonel Gore Langton

thought the Bill would disfranchise many freeholders, and he would oppose it.

Mr. Robert Palmer

would vote against the third reading, because he was convinced that the Bill would increase, instead of diminishing, the expens of elections.

Mr. Hume

was convinced, that the saving of time would also be a saving of expense. To take all elections in one day would lessen the means and opportunity of obtaining votes corruptly.

Mr. Baines

adverted to the elections for Yorkshire, one of which, lasting for fifteen days, had cost 250,000l., while the last election, which occupied only two days, had not cost more than 8,000l.

The Marquess of Chandos

, as a county Member, must say, that his strong conviction was, that this Bill would increase the expense of all county elections.

Mr. Vernon Smith

contended, that the Bill would be of the greatest possible advantage in agricultural districts, by affording an additional number of polling places, where the freeholders might vote without going to a distance: he illustrated this point by reference to Northamptonshire, where, in default of large towns, polling places would be established in small ones. He did not think that the hon. Baronet (Sir C. Knightley) was at all warranted in what he had said about brickbats and bludgeons, when it was a fact that one of the leaders of a party in favour of the hon. Baronet had carried a double barrelled pistol.

Mr. Praed

thought, that the increased expense would be occasioned, not so much by the number of polling places, as by the fact that the election would be limited to one day.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

was of opinion that, the increase of the number of polling places would lessen the expense of elections.

Mr. Harvey

said, that it appeared to him that electors exercised the privilege of the elective franchise in such a manner as would lead one to suppose that they were conferring an obligation on the object of their choice, rather than impose upon him a heavy responsibility. Farmers found no difficulty whatever in attending races, and such places of public amusement. Why then should their convenience be so scrupulously attended to, when they were called on to go some distance to the place of polling, in order to exercise so important a right as the choice of representatives? He thought that such a number of polling places would destroy that salutary energy and excitement which should prevail on such an occasion as that of an election. The noble Marquess (Chandos) had said that confining the duration of the election to one day would have the effect of disfranchising freeholders who resided at a distance. Even though they were, he did not see that any disadvantage would arise from the circumstance, because he thought that one vote was sufficient for any elector. Besides, limiting the time of polling to one day would have the effect of compelling those who might be fairly termed political trimmers, and who at present always found some excuse for deferring their vote until the last day of the election, to vote at once for a candidate. Thus, by the proposed alteration, expense would be saved and voters made honest.

Mr. Goulburn

thought, that the hon. Member for Southwark was the only one of those who intended voting for this proposition who would take that course consistently, for the hon. Member plainly avowed that the elective franchise being a duty, and not a pastime, the performance of it ought to be attended with some inconvenience to the elector.

The House then divided—Ayes 93; Noes 44;—Majority 49.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Brotherton, J.
Angerstein, J. Burrell, Sir C.
Bagshaw, J. Burton, H.
Baines, E. Callaghan, D.
Baldwin, Dr. Campbell, Sir J.
Baring, F. T. Chalmers, P.
Barnard, E. G. Codrington, Admiral
Bernal, R. Donkin, Sir R.
Bewes, T. Evans, G.
Blake, M. J. Fergusson, Sir R.
Blamire, W. Ferguson, R.
Bowring, Dr. Fitzgibbon, hon. R.
Brady, D. C. Folkes, Sir W.
Bridgeman, H. Gordon, R.
Goring, H. D. Philips, M.
Grey, Sir G. Ponsonby, hon. W.
Grote, G. Potter, R.
Harland, W.C. Pryme, G.
Harvey, D. W. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Hastie, A. Robarts, A. W.
Hay, Sir A. L. Robinson, G. R.
Howard, P. H. Russell, Lord J.
Hume, J. Ruthven, E.
Hutt, W. Seale, Colonel
Labouchere, rt. hn. H. Seymour, Lord
Leader, J. T. Smith, R. V.
Lefevre, C. S. Strickland, Sir G.
Lemon, Sir C. Stuart, V.
Lennox, Lord A. Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.
Lushington, Dr. Thomas, Colonel
Lushington, C. Thorneley, T.
Lynch, A. H. Townley, R. G.
M'Namara, Major Tracey, C. H.
M'Taggart, J. Troubridge, Sir T.
Maule, hon. F. Tynte, C. J. K.
Methuen, P. Villiers, C. P.
Moreton, hon. A. H. Wallace, R.
Morpeth, Viscount Warburton, H.
Murray, rt. hon. J. A. Ward, H. G.
North, F. Whalley, Sir S.
O'Connell, J. Wilbraham, G.
O'Connell, M. J. Wilks, J.
O'Connell, M. Williams, W.
O'Ferrall, R. M. Wilmot, Sir J. E.
O'Loghlen, M. Young, G. F.
Oswald, J.
Paget, F. TELLERS.
Palmerston, Lord
Parker, J. Dalmeny, Lord
Parrott, J. Stanley, E. J.
List of the NOES.
Agnew, Sir A. Langton, W. G.
Alsager, Captain Lawson, A.
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Lincoln, Earl of
Brring, F. Lygon, hon. Colonel
Bonham, R. F. Palmer, R.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Palmer, G.
Canning, rt. hn. Sir S. Parker, M.
Chandos, Marquis of Perceval, colonel
Charlton, E. L. Praed, W. M.
Chisholm, A. W. Price, S. G.
Corbett, T. G. Price, R.
Darlington, Earl of Pringle, A.
East, J. B. Reid, Sir J. R.
Eaton, R. J. Ross, C.
Forster, C. S. Sandon, Lord
Freshfield, J. W. Scarlett, hon. R.
Gladstone, W. E. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Gordon, hon. W. Sibthorp, Colonel
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Somerset, Lord G.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J, Stormont, Viscount
Grimston, Lord Trevor, hon. A.
Hale, R. B. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Halford, H. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hamilton, G. A. Williams, R.
Hamilton, Lord C. Yorke, E. T.
Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.
Hardy, J. TELLERS.
Jones, T. Fremantle, Sir T.
Knightley, Sir C. Clerk, Sir G.
Mr. Forster

then proposed the following clause:—"And whereas it is expedient, that in the elections of knights to serve for any counties, ridings, parts or divisions of counties, which may be contiguous, the polls shall not take place on the same day; be it therefore enacted, that it shall be lawful at any general election for the Lord High Chancellor or Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, for the time being, to ascertain and define the several days on which elections in contiguous counties, ridings, parts or divisions of counties, may be conveniently held, and at the time of making out the writs to direct letters to be sent to the sheriffs or returning officers for the respective counties, ridings, parts or divisions of counties, requiring them to fix the days of polling as he shall appoint, in order that no poll be taken for any county, riding, part or division of a county, on the same day, with any contiguous county, riding, part or division of a county: and the said sheriffs or returning officers are hereby required to fix the days of polling accordingly, any law or statute to the contrary notwithstanding."

Lord J. Russell

thought the discretion was properly placed in the high sheriffs. If it were placed in the Lord Chancellor, as proposed, he could not help believing that imputations would frequently be cast upon that functionary of fixing a particular day to answer political purposes. He must therefore oppose the clause.

Clause withdrawn.

Bill read a third time and passed.