HC Deb 27 February 1837 vol 36 cc1102-5

Mr. William Williams moved for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the stamp duty on admission to the freedom of cities and boroughs in England and Wales. He considered it a very great hardship that individuals should be called on, either to advance a sum which, at the period of their existence, when they would in nearly all cases apply for their freedom, must be considered a great sacrifice, or to forego that privilege which the policy of the country had deemed it expedient to confer on them. He approved most highly of that scheme of polity which held out privileges, no matter whether municipal Or electoral, or both, to the apprentice who, by honest and industrious servitude for the space of seven years had proved himself a valuable member of society. He also did not think that any objections on the score of financial loss ought to be started against the Bill which he wished to introduce. The loss, if any, ought to be disregarded, and could easily be repaired.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not object to this motion on financial grounds, although he might be of opinion that a tax of 1l., and the only tax, let it be observed, was not any thing so very serious. The sum of 1l. was paid for registering the freeman, and, considering the equivalent returned, he could not very well understand where the grievance lay. But though he did not object on financial, he certainly did on Parliamentary grounds, for it would extend the suffrage among freemen; and the records of Parliament had shown, that freemen were not remarkable for purity, or deserving of exemption of any kind. On this ground he was reluctant to grant that concession, or rather boon, to freemen, which the hon. Member for Coventry asked for; but he would, according to the sense of the House, as the hour was late, either oppose it directly now, or at a future stage.

Mr. Rigby Wason

rose to give his cordial support to the measure, and would state one fact, which in his judgment ought to convince the House that the measure proposed was necessary. This fact occurred in the borough which he had the honour to represent. There were from forty to fifty persons capable of becoming freemen, but without the means of paying the tax of 1l.; now, a candidate paid the necessary sum for each of these, they voted for him that time out of gratitude, and they would vote for him every other time, because they felt bound in honour to do so.

Mr. Forbes

would support the measure, because he thought that anything by which any class of voters could be protected from corruption, ought to be adopted. He disliked a system which he saw prevailing, of hon. Gentlemen who could not take away the right of electors trying to take away their characters; and he thought the House had done itself honour by resisting the attempt lately made to wrest from the electors of Stafford their fran- chise. The remarks of the hon. Member for Ipswich were most uncalled for; Members of Parliament should not permit to themselves the use of such language, nor make accusations against the portion of their constituents hostile to them, simply because the individuals composing that portion were not present.

Mr. Phillip Howard

was very sorry that this measure did not meet with the approval of his Majesty's Government. The principle of rendering electors as independent as possible was a good one; and he thought that a seven years' apprenticeship was a sufficient guarantee for the judgment and propriety of those in whose favour that principle was, on the present occasion, sought to be enforced. He should be very sorry, if an indisposition was manifested by that House to assist the freemen, whom he considered the last remaining link between the poor man and the representatives of property merely. The gratitude consequent on the payment of the stamp by a candidate put the freemen in an unpleasant condition, and on an unfair footing with the other electors. The loss to the Exchequer would be very paltry, and would not, he trusted, stand in the way of what was expedient.

Mr. H. Hinde

remarked, that there was a great difference between demanding the payment of 1l. from a freeman, and looking strictly into the performance of the conditions on which the Reform Bill conferred the franchise on 10l. householders. The one taxed a well and hard-earned privilege; the other insisted merely that just debts should be paid before the privilege should be exercised.

Colonel Sibthorp

really thought that the hon. Member's motion might be aptly designated two words for himself and one for the freemen. Why should they not all exercise their liberality? He had no objection that other hon. Members should do so, and he hoped he might be allowed to do the same. There was a very great difference between bribery and niggardliness.

Mr. Aglionby

would, at the pleasure of the House either oppose the present motion, or oppose the Bill when brought in at the most convenient of its stages. The title of the Bill was an incorrect one; it ought to have been entitled an Act to relieve candidates from expending large sums of money in the corruption of freemen. It would extend the franchise, but not in the right way; and if the franchise were to be extended, let the proposition be brought forward plainly and frankly. If the stamp duty were reduced, that would be nothing but lowering the price of votes; if, on the other hand, they abolished it, they conferred a been on the very men whom they declared to be most corrupt.

Colonel Thompson

would in a few words lay the case before the House. Suppose he were again to stand for the borough which he now represented, and some twenty or thirty candidates for freedom said to him, "if you pay the stamp duty for us, we will vote for you; if you don't, Mr. A. the opposing candidate, will, and then we shall vote for him." Why, he should think that corruption; and therefore he should support the motion which prevented that corruption.

Mr. Williams

, in reply, explained, that had the labours of the Committee by the recommendation of which he brought in this Bill been terminated sufficiently early to admit of his having mentioned the matter when the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) brought forward his measure last year for the consolidation of the stamp duties, he would have done so.

Leave given. Bill brought in and read a first time.