HC Deb 09 March 1837 vol 37 cc203-6
Mr. Thomas Duncombe

thought that it would best conduce to the convenience of the House if he were merely to ask leave to bring in a Bill respecting which he had given notice, and to postpone the discussion of it until the second reading. The hon. Gentleman, accordingly, moved for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal that portion of the Reform Act which requires the payment of rates and taxes in cities and boroughs as the condition of registration.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury was a very grave one; it was no less than to repeal a portion of the Reform Act. He thought that it would be much better, with reference to so serious a matter, that the argument should precede rather than follow the introduction of the Bill. In measures of a comparatively trifling nature leave was frequently granted to bring in a Bill, postponing the discussion of it to a future stage; but it was very unusual indeed to allow a Bill of so important a character as that moved for by the hon. Member for Finsbury to be brought in without any reasons having been assigned for its introduction. He had hoped that, instead of taking this course, the hon. Gentleman would have postponed moving for leave to bring in the Bill until his noble Friend was present. He opposed the motion on the ground that the hon. Gentleman had presented no arguments in favour of it. [Mr. Duncombe was prepared to support his motion with arguments.] He was quite open to conviction, but when it was proposed to bring in a Bill to repeal any Act, and especially such an Act as the Reform Act, he for one could not consent to its admission until he found good reasons for doing so.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

said, he would state shortly the reasons upon which he founded the proposition that he had submitted to the House. When the Registration Act of last Session was in progress, he had moved that it be an instruction to the Committee to provide for the repeal of that portion of the Reform Act which required the payment of rates and taxes in cities and boroughs as the condition of registration, on the ground that it was unconstitutional in principle, and vexatious in practice. The Attorney-General, however, told him that the matter did not come within the scope of the Registration Bill; but that if he would make it the sub- ject of a distinct Bill, the Attorney-General would give that Bill his serious consideration. He had now adopted that recommendation; he had asked for leave to bring in the Bill; and it was rather hard, after having thus adopted the recommendation of the Attorney-General, to be told by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was pursuing an unusual course. His great reason for the measure was his belief and conviction, a belief and conviction which universally prevailed, that the Clause in the Reform Act, to the repeal of which this Bill applied itself, operated materially to diminish the number of voters throughout the country. The noble Lord by whom the Reform Act was introduced, and to whom he should ever feel grateful for the benefit, had anticipated that its effects would be to add half a million of voters to those previously existing. The fact was, however, that it had not increased the previously existing number by more than three hundred thousand. The noble Lord had anticipated an increase of ninety-five thousand voters in the metropolis; the actual increase had not exceeded forty-eight thousand. At the present moment, of the hundred and sixty thousand ten pound householders in the new boroughs which had been created in the metropolis, only forty-eight thousand had been actually disfranchised. The great reason of this was their want of punctuality in the payment of their rates and taxes and the partiality evinced by the collectors in collecting those rates and taxes. The latter were frequently in the habit of calling on Tories, but leaving their political opponents until the period at which they ought to pay their rates and taxes had elapsed. When he had last broached this subject in the House he had been told that he was introducing Universal Suffrage, and a provision that no person should pay his rates and taxes. Whoever stated this was ignorant of the real object which he had in view. All that he wanted was, to place the borough electors of England on the same footing as the county electors. Why a borough elector, who lived in a house of the rent of 200l. or 300l a-year, should be compelled, before he could be registered, to pay not only the King's taxes, but the poor and other taxes, and why in a county a tenant-at-will of 50l. a-year should not be subject to such a compulsion, he had yet to learn, He should, be happy to hear any objections to which his measure might be deemed advisable; but to him it appeared anything but an unreasonable proposition.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

would trespass on the House for only a few moments. He had due respect for the motives and opinions of the hon. Gentleman, but when that hon. Gentleman said, that the clause in the Reform Act which he desired to repeal, was unconstitutional in principle, and vexatious in practice, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) must deny the fact. The principle on which the clause was founded was one of the earliest and best-established principles of the constitution, namely, that no man should enjoy his civil rights who did not discharge his civil obligations. With respect to the practice, if there were anything partial or vexatious in the manner in which the collectors performed their duty, that ought to be made the subject of inquiry. The collectors were not appointed by the Crown; and, therefore, the Ministers of the Crown were not responsible for the conduct of the collectors. They were appointed by authorities wholly independent of the Crown. When the hon. Gentleman admitted that a great number of the borough voters were disqualified in consequence of their own want of punctuality, how could he proceed to make the carelessness of such persons a ground for proposing an alteration in the Reform Act? The Reform Act stated, that no householder should be admitted to register who had not paid his rates and taxes. According to the hon. Gentleman, a great number of the householders neglected to pay their rates and taxes. Now, surely, the neglect of those to whom a law applied was a strange reason for proposing a change in an Act of Parliament, and that Act the Reform Act. He did not think that the arguments of the hon. Gentleman were sufficient to warrant the House in consenting to the motion. The hon. Gentleman was perfectly justified in introducing his Bill to the attention of the House, but it by no means followed that the House should agree to receive it.

Mr. Wakley

observed, that this was a great and important question, which he and many others were exceeding anxious should be carried in the affirmative. The principle of the Reform Act was this, that persons occupying houses of ten pounds a-year should be entitled to vote at the election of Members of Parliament. Were they actually so entitled? No. If the House, therefore, denied the hon. Member leave to bring in his Bill, they would trench upon the principle of the Reform, Act. For the Reform Act said, that householders of ten pounds in a borough; should be entitled to vote at elections of Members of Parliament. Now, they were not so entitled; and thus the Reform Act, instead of being an enfranchising, was converted into a disfranchising measure. It was disgraceful to legislate in this manner. The right hon. Gentleman had forgotten to answer the inquiry of the hon. Gentle, man why there should be a distinction between county and borough electors in this point; why the former should be allowed to register without having paid any rates and taxes at all, and the latter should be prevented from registering until they had paid the whole of their rates and taxes? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see the propriety of withdrawing his opposition to the introduction of the Bill.

Lord Worsley

would vote for the introduction of the Bill; but begged not to be understood as pledging himself to its support.

Lord Dudley Stewart

could not say, that he had made up his mind on the subject; but he should like to see the Bill brought in. He should certainly support the motion of the hon. Gentleman for the reason which he had given.

Mr. Pease

expressed his conviction that this Bill, if introduced, would never be carried into a law. Until the vote by Ballot should be obtained, he, for one, would never consent to takeaway from the voters of this country the power to disfranchise themselves without giving offence. He repeated, he did not believe this measure would ever become the law of the land. As to the comparison which had been made in respect to county and borough voters, he could see no analogy between the two cases.

The House divided: Ayes 49; Noes 38—Majority 11.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Crawford, W. S.
Bewes, T. Elphinstone, H.
Brady, D. C. Ewart, W.
Brotherton, J. Gaskell, D.
Buckingham, J. S. Grote, G.
Bulwer, H. L. Hall, B.
Butler, hon. P. Hawes, B.
Buxton, T. F. Heathcoate, J.
Codrington, Admiral Hindley, C.
Hume, J. Stuart, Lord D.
Humphery, J. Thompson, Colonel
James, W. Thorneley, T.
Johnston, A. Tooke, W.
Leader, J. T. Turner, W.
Lister, E. C. Villiers, C. P.
Lushington, Dr. Wallace, R.
Lushington, C. Warburton, H.
O'Brien, W. S. Ward, H. G.
O'Connell, D. Wason, R.
O'Connell, J. Whalley, Sir S.
Parrott, J. Wilde, Sergeant
Phillips, M. Wood, Alderman
Potter, R. Worsley, Lord
Pryme, G. TELLERS.
Rundle, J. Duncombe, T.
Strickland, Sir G. Wakley, T.
List of the NOES.
Bell, M. Lemon, Sir C.
Bentinck, Lord G. Lowther, J. H.
Blackburne, I. Martin, J.
Bonham, R. F. Palmer, G.
Bowles, G. R. Palmerston, Viscount
Collier, J. Parker, J.
Compton, H. C. Pease, J.
Dick, Q. Polhill, F.
Dillwyn, W. L. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Dugdale, W. S. Rickford, W.
Dunbar, G. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Eaton, R. J. Scott, Sir E. D.
Geary, Sir W. Sibthorpe, Colonel
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Twiss, H.
Handley, H. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hoy, J. B. Vivian, J. E.
Johnstone, J. J. H. Young, Sir W.
Irton, S.
Knight, H. G. TELLERS.
Lawson, A. Baring, F.
Lefevre, C. S. Steuart, R.
Back to