HC Deb 10 May 1837 vol 38 cc779-83

Mr. Thomas Duncombe moved the second reading of the Reform Act Amendment Bill.

Lord John Russell

was sorry to find that he was compelled to oppose the further progress of this Bill; but in doing so he would not occupy the time of the House at any length. This Bill proposed to do away with all qualification arising out of the payment of rates or taxes. He was anxious to make the conditions relative to the payment of the latter as little onerous as possible, provided, however, that it could be shown that the persons in the register were bona fide householders paying rates and taxes. The clauses in the Reform Bill which it was now proposed to get rid of, enacted that householders of a certain qualification, able to pay the rates and taxes required from them, should form the constituency. This was not a new provision, but in accordance with the ancient principle of scot and lot, by which householders had the right of voting in certain boroughs on paying rates. Therefore the enactments in the Reform Act were in accordance with the old law and practice. He would not then go into the general arguments on which those parts of the Reform Act were supported, and he certainly had heard no reason which should induce him to abandon them. As he had already said, where inconvenience was felt in the general provisions of that Act, he was ready to reconsider them with a view to apply a remedy; but he was not prepared to abandon the principle. He should, therefore, oppose the further progress of this Bill. He moved as an amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Mr. Hume

asked the noble Lord why he would make a distinction between the borough and county voters; a vast number of people were disfranchised, by no fault of theirs, and who were fully qualified to vote. Two years ago he lost his vote because his taxes were not paid in time. He was anxious to pay them, but though the collectors called at houses right and left, they did not call at his. Ministers had not been true to the professions they made when they passed the Reform Bill. The principle of Lord Grey was, that no borough should have a constituency of less than 300. How had the registration clauses worked? There were thirty or forty boroughs in which the constituency was not more than two-thirds that number.

Mr. Grote

observed, that when the hon. Gentlemen opposite happened to agree with the noble Lord, they seemed to imagine that all who dissented from them were, as a matter of course, to be silenced. To that doctrine he would most decidedly oppose himself, and more particularly on an occasion like the present, because he knew the strong feeling which prevailed among his constituents, and among all town constituents, with respect to this measure. The other night the noble Lord objected to the introduction of abstract questions; they had now a practical question, and the noble Lord moved that the discussion of it be postponed till that day six months. If he had no better arguments to adduce in support of his views, the noble Lord might be assured he would fail to get rid of the dissatisfaction which existed on the subject in every town more or less in the kingdom. The constituencies would not be satisfied with a disqualification of this kind, which did not attach to the county voters. Believing that the effect of this clause had been contrary to what was intended by the framers of the Reform Act, and that it operated unjustly, he should give his hearty concurrence in the motion of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

observed, that the hon. Gentlemen opposite had gathered with their usual zeal when to restrict and oppress the constituencies was the object, or when he, and the hon. Gentlemen who acted with him, brought forward any proposition to extend the franchise, and, if possible, give the electors additional protection. He did not complain of the hon. Gentlemen opposite —they were pursuing only their ordinary avocation, but he did complain of the conduct of the noble Lord. The noble Lord's promises, when he introduced the Reform Bill, bad not been fulfilled. He then told them that he proposed to increase the constituency half a million; the returns showed that it had not been increased above 300,000. He imputed the deficiency to the restrictive clauses in the Reform Bill. The noble Lord also told them that it was one of his propositions that no constituency should be less than 300. He held in his hand a return of the different boroughs, and from that it appeared that in twelve boroughs the registered voters did not exceed 200; in thirty, 300; in thirty-one, 400; in thirteen, 500; in twenty-five, 600; in twenty-one, 700; in fifty-eight, 1,500; in twenty-seven, 3,000, giving a total of 217 boroughs, in every one of which the Reformers, he felt confident, would in a short time be beaten by bribery and intimidation. The hon. Gentlemen opposite knew well that they would be able in a few years to get a majority in every one of those boroughs unless something were done to extend the suffrage. It was his honest conviction that if they persisted in their present course they would soon have this House as much a borough mongering House of Commons as was that which existed prior to the passing of the Reform Bill. The noble Lord had referred to the city of Westminster as evidence of the good working of the clauses in question. What was the state of Westminster before the Reform Bill passed? No one was then required to pay the King's taxes as a qualification. It was only necessary for the voter to have paid his parochial rates. Now, they not only must have paid the King's taxes, but the parochial taxes, including the police rate and the county rate. Why ought not the county voters to be equally called on to pay the county rate and King's taxes? Well, what had been the operation of the Reform Act in Westminster? In 1807, when Sir Francis Burdett was first elected by the people, there voted 10,542; in 1818, at the next contested election, there voted 10,277; in 1819, there voted only 8,366. This diminution was owing to the poll books having been published, which led to numbers of the tradesmen who had voted for the Reform candidate losing the custom of the aristocracy. In 1820, the last contest before the Reform Act, 9,280 voted. In 1834, the year after the Reform Act had passed, there appeared on the register only 9,807. Now, the number of the rate-payers in 1807 was 18,100. Thus the number registered in the first year of the Reform Bill was only one-half of the number of the rate-payers. In the contest in 1833, there voted only 4,218. He begged to remind the noble Lord of some of the effects which he himself had intended should result from the passing of the Reform Bill. Lord Durham, for the first Reform Bill, the work of his own hands, did not claim that character of perfection which his colleagues insisted on in bar to any alteration of the second. In his speech of 1834, he stated:— I was assisted by the advice of three of my colleagues—Lord John Russell, Sir James Graham, and Lord Duncannon; and, with their co-operation, the first Reform Bill was submitted to the cabinet and to the Sovereign. Of that measure I shall say no more than that if it was not entirely perfect, it was at the same time free from many of those imperfections which attended the passing of the second Reform Bill, and which, from accidental circumstances, it was impossible to guard against. I allude in particular to the 50l. tenant's clause, which was forced upon the supporters of the bill by the then Tory House of Commons, and afterwards inserted in the second measure, although contrary to the principles on which the first was framed, or at feast upon which I framed it; namely, that independence should be the security for a vote, and that, no matter how small the property was, provided the voter could exercise an independent suffrage he should be entitled to vote for his representative. I know that much remains to be done, many imperfections to be remedied, especially with regard to rating. If we find that the non-payment of rates should tend to disqualify those who have the right of voting, that part of the measure should be altered and amended. He contended that the constituency of England had been considerably reduced by the rate-paying clause; and that clause was further objectionable, because it gave occasion for gross bribery and favouritism on the part of the collectors of the rates and taxes. He knew that these people sometimes tore leaves out of their receipt books that the electors might be placed on the register, notwithstanding that they had not paid their rates. This led to gross bribery on the part of those who were trying to get possession of their boroughs. He was sorry to see the noble Lord throw himself into the arms of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. They were not only bad, but very dangerous company for any Reformer to fall into.

The House divided on the original motion:—Ayes 166; Noes 73: Majority 93.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Lee, John Lee
Attwood, T. Lushington, Charles
Barnard, Edward G. Lynch, A. H.
Bellew, Rich. M. Maher, John
Berkeley, hon. C. C. Marshall, Wm.
Blunt, Sir C. Marsland, Henry
Bowes, John Molesworth, Sir W.
Bridgeman, H. Mullins, F. W.
Brodie, W. B. Musgrave, Sir R., bt.
Brotherton, J. Nagle, Sir R.
Callaghan, D. O'Connell, J.
Chapman, M. L. O'Connell, M. J.
Clay, W. O'Connell, Morgan
Codrington, Sir E. O'Conor Don
Collins, W. Oliphant, L.
Crawford, W. S. Parrott, J.
Denistoun, A. Pattison, J.
Divett, E. Philips, Mark
Dundas, J. D. Power, James
Dunlop, J. Robinson, G. R.
Elphinstone, H. Rundle, John
Etwall, Ralph Ruthven, E.
Evans, G. Scholefield, J.
Ewart, W. Tancred, H. W.
Ferguson, Sir R. Thompson, Colonel
Grote, G. Tooke, W.
Hall, B. Tulk, C. A.
Harvey, D. W. Vigors, N. A.
Hawes, B. Villiers, Charles P.
Hawkins, J. H. Warburton, H.
Heathcoat, J. Wason, R.
Hector, C. J. Whalley, Sir S.
Heron, Sir R., bart. Wilbraham, G.
Hindley, C. Wilks, John
Holland, E. Williams, W.
Hume, J. Williams, Sir J.
Jervis, John Wood, Alderman
King, Edward B.
Duncombe, T. D'Eyncourt, C. T.
List of the NOES
Angerstein, John Fox, Charles
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Fremantle, Sir T. W.
Ashley, Visct. Freshfield, J.
Ashley, hon. H. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Bailey, J. Geary, Sir Wm.
Baillie, H. D. Gladstone, T.
Balfour, T. Gordon, hon. W.
Barclay, David Goulburn, H.
Baring, Francis Goulburn, Sergeant
Baring, H. Bingham Graham, Sir J.
Baring, W. B. Grey, Sir G.
Baring, T. Halse, James
Barneby, John Halford, H.
Beckett, Sir J. Hamilton, Lord C.
Bell, M. Handley, Henry
Bethell, Richard Harcourt, G. S.
Biddulph, Robert Hardinge, Sir H.
Blackburne, John I. Hawkes, T.
Blackstone, W. S. Hay, Sir And. Leith
Boldero, Capt. H. G. Heathcote, Gilb.
Borthwick, Peter Henniker, Lord
Bowles, G. R. Hogg, J. W.
Bradshaw, J. Hope, hon. James
Bramston, T. W. Hoskins, K.
Bruce, Lord E. Irton, Samuel
Buller, Sir J. B. Yarde Johnstone, J. J. H.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Jones, Wilson
Byng, George Jones, Theobald
Campbell, Sir J. Knatchbull, Sir E.
Canning, rt. hn. Sir S. Knight, Henry Gally
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Knightley, Sir C.
Chandos, Marq. of Lawson, Andrew
Chaplin, Col. Lefevre, C. S.
Chapman, Aaron Lennox, Lord G.
Charlton, E. L. Lennox, Lord Arthur
Chetwynd, Captain Lincoln, Earl of
Chisholm, A. Lowther, Col. H. C.
Clerk, Sir G. Lowther, J. H.
Clive, hon. R. H. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Codrington, C. W. Mackinnon, W. A.
Colborne, N. W. R. Maclean, Donald
Cole, A. H. Mahon, Visct.
Cole, Visct. Maule, hon. F.
Compton, H. C. Maunsell, T. P.
Conolly, E. M. Miles, William
Coote, Sir C. Miles, Philip J.
Corry, H. Mordaunt, Sir J., bt.
Cripps, Joseph Morpeth, Visct.
Damer, D. Neeld, Joseph
Denison, J. Nicholl, Dr.
Donkin, Sir R. North, Frederick
Dugdale, W. S. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Duncombe, W. Ossulston, Lord
East, J. B. Packe, C. W.
Eaton, Richard J. Palmer, George
Ebrington, Visct. Parker, M.
Ellice, E. Parker, J.
Fector, John Minet Patten, John Wilson
Ferguson, G. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Follett, Sir W. Pollen, Sir J. bart.
Forbes, Wm. Pollington, Visct.
Forester, hon. G. Ponsonby, W.
Forster, Charles S. Ponsonby, J.
Pringle, A. Vere, Sir C. B.
Reid, Sir John Rae Vesey, hon. Thomas
Richards, R. Vivian, John H.
Robarts, A. W. Vivian, John Ennis
Rolfe, Sir R. M. Vyvyan, Sir R.
Ross, Charles Wall, C. B.
Rushbrooke, Col. Walpole Lord
Russell, Lord John West, J. B.
Sandon, Visct. Weyland, Major
Scott, James W. Whitmore, Thos. C.
Seymour, Lord Wilbraham, B.
Shaw, F. Williams, Robt.
Sibthorp, Col. Wilson, H.
Smith, hon. R. Wodehouse, E.
Somerset, Lord G. Wood, Charles
Stanley, E. J. Wood, Colonel
Stanley, Lord Yorke, E. T.
Stormont, Visct. Young, G. F.
Sturt, Henry Chas. Young, J.
Thomas, Colonel TELLERS.
Trevor, hon. A. Baring,
Trevor, hon. G. Smith, R. V.

Bill put off for six months.