HC Deb 13 December 1837 vol 39 cc1057-60

Lord J. Russell moved, that the Freemen and Parliamentary Electors Bill be read a second time.

Mr. Thornley

said, that with reference to the objects of the bill which it was now proposed to read a second time, he was convinced, from experience, that the freemen were the worst part of the constituencies of the country. An hon. Member had said upon a former occasion that the restrictions to be removed by this bill had pressed very heavily on a certain class of electors, and ought to be removed. The bill, however, said that other restrictions upon the household voters should also be removed. Now the restrictions on the freemen were the only guarantees for their being bonâfide entitled to vote while the restrictions on the householders deprive them of their franchise. In its present shape he thought the bill had no chance of passing the House, and the Government were thus defeating one object by uniting it with another which was every way objectionable. Though he would not oppose the second reading of the bill, yet he suffered it to pass that stage only in the hope that some alteration would be made in the Committee.

Mr. Hodgson Hinde

said, that as the freemen had been deprived of the principal part of their former privileges, they ought not to be required to pay a tax for the remainder. It was complained that the rate-paying clauses of the Reform Bill were a hardship upon the new constituency created by that bill, but the tax upon the admission of freemen was far more unjust. He would not oppose the bill now, but would do so at a future stage.

Colonel Sibthorp

would never hear the freemen of England abused without rising to say a word in their defence. He did not know what the freemen of Wolverhampton were. If they were the mad set of people the hon. Member for Wolverhampton considered them to be he begged to say, that the freemen of the city which he (Colonel Sibthorp) had the honour to represent, were a very different description of persons, and he should not like them to come in contact with the freemen of Lincoln, because a scabby sheep would endanger a whole flock. He would not oppose the second reading of the Bill, although, at the same time, he begged leave to say, that it was one of those very many bills which the noble Lord found himself obliged to introduce from time to time, to show that the Reform Bill was not what it had been represented to be, a final measure. He had long endeavoured, but in vain, to induce the noble Lord to give him some idea of what had been the expenses attending the printing of the Reform Bill. In his conscience, he believed that a better man than the noble Lord did not exist in private life, but a worse man never showed himself in public life. His policy had been dark and crooked, and he had been working, like the mole, under ground. The freemen had been treated shamefully, disgracefully, and faithlessly. They had been told that their rights would be preserved, but such was not the case. He would say nothing of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's conduct, but, without meaning anything disrespectful, it appeared to him, that the noble Lord and his Friend were like the Siamese twins. He hoped the freemen of Stroud would, some day, remind the noble Lord of his ingratitude towards the entire body of freemen, some of whom, when he was kicked out of another place, had sent him to that House.

Sir A. Dalrymple

approved of the Bill so far as it went to relieve bona fide householders and rate-payers from the clause which compelled them to pay the taxes due in April before the 25th of July, as from that clause the greatest inconvenience had arisen. He protested, however, against the sweeping charges and unwarrantable insinuations which were made against the freemen of England by Gentlemen on the other side, who represented an entirely different class of persons.

Mr. Williams

would not be a party to what the hon. Baronet had so justly designated the unwarrantable insinuations which had been thrown out against the freemen. He had the honour to number a good many of them amongst his constituents, and not one of those persons had ever received a single farthing for his vote. He did not see why a body of electors should be attacked in this way. All those insinuations would better apply to the borough of Liverpool, for which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was once, he believed, a candidate—and where it was notorious that bribery and corruption had formerly been practised to an enormous extent. He most cordially supported the Bill of the noble Lord, and, by withdrawing the notice which he had on the paper for to-morrow, would give him four months to try to carry his Bill into a law. If, after that time, it should prove to be a failure, he trusted the House would renew to him the motion which they had on a former occasion allowed him to make, to bring in a Bill to abolish the stamp duty on the admission of freemen. Although he supported the present Bill, he had much rather have seen the two questions it comprised introduced in separate Bills.

Lord Sandon

did not deny that great malpractices had formerly existed in the borough of Liverpool, but he was firmly persuaded that the freemen of that place no longer deserved the imputation which had been cast upon them. Those freemen were generally poor men, and it was because they were poor that he was the more strongly induced to stand up in their favour. He would take this opportunity of noticing a remark of the hon. Member for Finsbury on a former occasion. The hon. Member had charged him with deluding and wheedling the operatives of Liverpool, by pretending a great desire to maintain their electoral privileges. He thought, that that hon. Gentleman had no right whatever to make any such accusation against him. It was quite natural, that the freemen should not be particularly favourable to the opposite side of the House, as hon. Members on the opposite side had taken every possible opportunity to deprive them, by every means, directly or indirectly, of their franchise. With respect to this Bill, he should prefer to see the two questions it contained placed separately upon their own merits.

Lord John Russell

saw nothing unfair or unkind in that mode of proceeding, which, while it relieved the freemen with regard to the stamp duty, afforded a corresponding benefit to the other electors, through the provisions of the present Bill. Well, but it was said that this measure would not be passed, if it were to confine the advantages proposed to be conferred on householders to that class; that one measure could not pass without another to the same purpose; and that any relaxation of the rules hitherto required to qualify a voter, if made with regard to the householder, should also be followed by similar immunities in favour of the free- man. Now, he did not think that the House should be confined by unchangeable bars within a certain course of legislation, and he was persuaded that if the householders were not permitted to obtain the proposed benefit, there ought to be no legislation at all on this subject. He did not see the advantage of having hon. Members opposite putting their veto on measures, unless they were in the precise form which suited their and their friends' nice taste. He would not then enter into any argument on the measure, but merely state the object of the intended relief. Electors, who had paid their rates up to the 5th of April, the first year they became possessed of the franchise would be excused for succeeding years up to the 11th of October if, through any inadvertence or forgetfulness, they had neglected to pay at the prescribed period. Where the solvency was not doubted, it was considered hard that the franchise should be lost merely through an act of remissness. It did appear to him that this was a perfectly fair measure, and he should be sorry to see a stop put to it, as it comprised one of those changes in the Reform Bill which he considered just in principle, and the reasonableness of which was obvious. Bill read a second time.