HC Deb 17 June 1836 vol 34 cc598-603

On the Motion of the Attorney-General, the Registration of Voters' Bill was committed.

On the 49th Clause,

Mr. W. M. Praed

proposed, an amendment for the purpose of allowing Counsel to appear in support of votes before the revising barristers.

The Attorney-General opposed the amendments.

The Committee divided on the original clause Ayes 68; Noes 22:—Majority 46.

Original Clause agreed to.

On Clause 50, which gives the right of voting to charitable trustees,

Mr. George F. Young

proposed as an amendment, that no trustee should be allowed to vote who was not a trustee for property of the amount of 30l. a year, and who was not in actual possession of the rents and profits.

Mr. C. Ross

objected to the clause, on the ground that it gave the power of voting to charitable trustees.

The Attorney-General

supported the clause. It was but just that all property should be represented.

Mr. George F. Young

said, that according to the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman (the Attorney-General), the property owned by females should be represented.

The Attorney-General

observed, that the property possessed by females was deprived of representation, precisely for the reason that property belonging to minors and lunatics could not be represented— namely, that from its very nature it was unfit to have the privilege of representation granted to it. The property under the superintendence of trustees, however, was capable of being represented, and therefore it was the object of the present clause that it should be represented.

Lord Stanley

thanked the right hon. Gentleman for his illustration respecting minors and lunatics, as it appeared to him to bear precisely on the present clause; for he was persuaded that, on the very same ground on which the guardians of the property of minors and lunatics should not have votes, trustees, to whom it was intended by the present clause to give the right of representation, should be excluded —namely, because they have no beneficial interest whatever to entitle them to vote.

The Solicitor-General

said, that if the noble Lord would look at the words of the clause, he would see that those trustees only who exercised a controlling power over the property of which they were appointed guardians were empowered to vote.

Mr. C. Ross

said, that the effect of this clause would be, that nominal charities would be created in every part of the country, in order to give a fictitious right of voting.

Mr. Foster

was in favour of some amendment of the Reform Act, as it stood at present, with reference to trustees, for he knew instances in which men having a trusteeship, without any beneficial interest whatever, were allowed to vote, though he, who was similarly circumstanced, had his claim disallowed.

The Committee divided on the original question, Ayes 44; Noes 23:—Majority 21.

On the question being again put, that the clause stand part of the Bill,

Lord Stanley

objected to it, as being opposed to the provisions of the Reform Bill. By the statute of William, trustees in actual possession were allowed to vote; but by the statute of Anne which followed, no trustees were allowed to vote unless they were in actual possession of the rents and profits for their use and benefit. In the Reform Bill there was one clause with regard to trustees which declared negatively that no person who was not in possession of the rents and profits should be allowed to vote, This clause did not certainly say, that they should be in possession of the rents and profits for their own use and benefit; but by a subsequent clause it was distinctly declared, in conformity with the statute of Anne, that no trustee should be allowed to vote, unless he were in possession for his own use and benefit. It was rather extraordinary that the latter restrictive clause was that relied on by the Attorney-General as a justification for the change now proposed, which must have the effect of materially enlarging this class of voters. He asked the Committee whether they would, in the face of the statute of Anne, in the face of the abuses which his hon. Friend (Mr. C. Ross) had alluded to, as the inevitable result of their sanctioning his proposal:—he asked them whether they would in the face of common sense and the plain meaning of the Reform Act, consent to the creation of a number of faggot votes grounded on no beneficial interest whatever? If this clause passed, a man having 60l. a year out of a school would have nothing to do but to make two or three trustees, and they would thereby be entitled to vote for Members of counties, they having no direct beneficial interest in the property. He called upon the Committee to reject the clause.

The Attorney-General

said, that the noble Lord happened to differ in his opinion of the right of a trustee to vote under the Reform Bill from the Chief Justice of the King's Bench. He had himself heard the Chief Justice declare, in the case of the parish of Mary-la-bonne, in which a question as to the right of trustees to vote arose, that under the Reform Bill a trustee had the right of voting. And any judge in England might, he thought, have expressed the same opinion. Before the Reform Bill passed trustees in possession had, under the Act of William, the right of voting. [Lord Stanley: But what do you say to the statute of Anne?] He did not mean to pass over the statute of Anne. But under the statute of William trustees in possession were considered to be entitled to vote. Then came the statute of Anne, which declared nobody entitled to vote unless he were in possession of the rents and profits for his own use and benefit. A doubt existed whether the statute of William was repealed by that of Anne; and then came the Reform Bill, in which was inserted the statute of William in totidem verbis. When, therefore, that statute was expressly re-enacted in law, how could the noble Lord argue that it was repealed by the Reform Act? By a subsequent clause of the Reform Act, however, it was declared that trustees were not entitled to vote unless they held for their own use and benefit. Taking this clause by itself, trustees certainly appeared to be excluded from the right of voting; but considering the two clauses together, it did appear to be a reasonable construction, that when the trustee was in possession as a mere receiver he should not have the power of voting; but that, where he was intrusted with a discretionary power over the rents and profits, his claim should be admitted, because sub modo he had a beneficial interest in the property. That interpretation of the Act appearing to receive the most general approval he had embodied it in the present clause, which he trusted would be approved of by the Committee.

Mr. Praed

contended, that unless, as argued by the Attorney-General, the words "for his own use" included trustees having a regulation or control over the trust funds, the objection taken by the noble Lord was not removed. He should certainly take the opinion of the Committee upon the point.

Lord John Russell

observed, that the object of the 26th Clause of the Reform Bill was to place the law in regard to trustees in the same state as it was placed by the Act of William 3rd.

Mr. W. Miles

was of opinion that the bonâ fide administrator of a charitable bequest had a valid claim to vote.

The Committee divided on the question that the clause stand part of the Bill—Ayes 90; Noes 50; Majority 40.

Clause to stand part of the Bill.

On Clause 52,

Mr. Praed

moved, that it be omitted. He objected to it on two grounds; first, as an infringement of the provisions of the Reform Bill: and, secondly, as a disfranchising clause introduced into a Bill of which the title and preamble were of an enfranchising nature. The clause of the Reform Bill which the clause before the Committee went to repeal, was one introduced by the House of Lords, and on its being sent down from that House, the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Kilkenny both expressed their approval of it. Unless, therefore, it could be shown that it had operated prejudicially, the House would be stultifying its own proceedings by repealing the clause. The only ground of objection which, he believed, could be found to the class of voters now proposed to be disfranchised was, that they were unfavourable to the present Government. That, however, was not a valid ground, or one which the Legislature could entertain. His objection, however, extended as well to the manner in which the clause was introduced, as to the matter it contained. If it was found necessary to meddle with the Reform Bill, it ought to be done openly, and the necessity ought to be stated in the preamble. The measure before the House was entitled, "A Bill for the more effectual registration of persons entitled to vote in the election of Members to serve in Parliament, and its preamble was of a similar enfranchising character. How, then, was a voter to know that, by a disfranchising clause smuggled into the centre of it, his right of voting was taken away? He should certainly take the sense of the Committee upon the question.

Sir Harry Verney

expressed his conviction that the clause of the Reform Bill proposed to be repealed was introduced into it by mistake, and Ministers had properly availed themselves of the present opportunity to destroy its operation.

Mr. Ewart

considered, that the clause proposed to be omitted, so far from being an infringement of the Reform Bill, was in strict conformity with its principles.

The Committee divided on the question that the clause stand part of the Bill. Ayes 86; Noes 44; Majority 42.

Clause to stand part of the Bill. Clauses to the 67th agreed to.

The House resumed: Committee to sit again.