HC Deb 22 February 1843 vol 66 cc1143-9

House in committee on the Personation of Voters' Bill.

On clause 1,

Mr. Liddell

had not thought it desirable to frame a new statutable offence, or to fix new penalties, conceiving that on those points the Reform Act was sufficiently operative. The object of this bill was to render the application of the law more effective. It had been represented to him, that the present form of indictment for the offence was most cumbrous and awkward; and he conceived it would be beneficial to shorten and simplify it. He also thought it would be well to increase the penalty from 51. to 10l. Through an inadvertence apparent on the face of the bill, it had been provided that two justices of the peace should be present in each polling-booth. That, of course, would be needless, and, on further consideration, it was his opinion that, as neither the sheriff nor the other returning officer had the power of securing the attendance of justices, although most desirable, the proposed enactment would be omitted. It had occurred to him, that the provisions of the bill might not be inapplicable to municipal elections; and certainly, as to Ireland, he felt that the bill was much required—perhaps more so than in this country; but he regretted, that so much alteration would be required to extend it to the sister island, that he had been compelled to relinquish the idea.

Mr. Williams

said, although he agreed in the principle of the measure, he altogether protested against the practice (so much now-a-days in vogue) of bringing in bills to change by piecemeal great legislative enactments. These amending bills so accumulated in a short time as to render it impossible to know what the law really was. Why could not the provisions of this bill be introduced into the Registration of Voters Bill, with which, in object, it was closely connected?

Mr. Mackenzie

differed from the hon. Gentleman, and thought the hon. Member who had brought in this bill entitled to the gratitude of the House. But, as to the clause respecting taking into custody the personators of voters, he thought as at present framed it would be practically nugatory, as affording no really efficient means of catching the fellows, or dealing with them both in a manner as exemplary as summary.

Mr. Shaw

was sorry to find that his hon. Friend did not intend to include Ireland in the bill. But he believed that the measure would be rendered more efficient if further time were given to consider its details. The bill would also be more useful if it extended to municipal elections. He wished his hon. Friend would postpone its further consideration.

Mr. Ross

thought it would be most desirable that the provisions of the bill should be extended to Ireland.

Mr. Mackinnon

considered it would be a great object obtained if the bill were made a general measure. By doing that, most of the objections of the hon. Member for Coventry would be obviated. A general bill of such a nature was very much wanted in the country. The bill, as at present drawn, could not apply to Ireland; and added to this it was most desirable to prevent personation at municipal and parochial elections. He trusted his hon. Friend would withdraw this bill, and bring in a general measure. Personation had been carried on to a great extent in voting for Church-rates.

Mr. S. O'Brien

said, there was no reason why the present bill should not extend to Ireland, but he denied that personation existed in Ireland.

Sir C. Burrell

was also of opinion that the present bill ought to extend to Ireland, and no better reason could exist for extending it to Ireland than that the Irish Members themselves were in favour of it. It was hardly worth while to discuss whether there were more personation in England than in Ireland. His belief was, that they were both guilty. He hoped that the hon. Gentleman would consider the observation which had been made.

Mr. Brotherton

thought, that if the hon. Member introduced so many subjects into his bill, he would not be likely to carry it. When his hon. Friend, the Member for Coventry, talked of an isolated measure, he forgot his own measure with regard to freemen. He thought that the hon. Member had better not extend his bill to Ireland. He would recommend the hon. Member to let the bill remain as it was.

Mr. Liddell

would be glad to profit by the suggestion of the hon. Member, and to persevere in the bill as it stood. He would not undertake to legislate for Ireland. If it had been necessary to have a separate Reform Bill for Ireland, he hoped he might be excused from legislating for Ireland on this subject. Let the House affirm the principle of the bill as regarded England, and it would be very easy afterwards to, extend it to Ireland. He would not encumber his bill by attempting to legislate for municipal elections, or any other elections except Parliamentary elections. He thought the fears of the hon. Member for Peebleshire, as to the probability of bond fide voters being detained, were greatly exaggerated. A person accused would be taken at once before two magistrates, and if no accuser were forthcoming, he would be discharged. Did any Member imagine, that an individual would have any difficulty in proving his identity? No person could possibly swear a man out of his identity. No magistrate would detain Mr. George Thompson if that individual was really Mr. George Thompson.

Mr. Vernon Smith

thought that the bill would serve no purpose but to enable people wantonly to delay the poll, and prevent electors from voting. The object of the hon. Member for Durham would be better obtained by embodying the provisions of this bill in a general Registration Act.

Sir J. Graham

said, that when his hon. Friend had consulted him upon this measure, he said, that he did not contemplate making any alteration in the provisions of the Reform Act. With regard to the crime which was sought to be put down, as far as his experience went, he thought it was not so prevalent as to require any alteration in the existing law. In the bill which he had introduced with regard to registration, he had carefully abstained, as far as possible, from interfering with the Reform Act. With respect to personation, he thought, that in England at least the offence was not so prevalent as to require legislative interference. Still, if the House should be of a different opinion, he thought it would be as well to discuss the subject upon the bill before the House, as upon the Registration Bill, and in case the bill were proceeded with, he thought it would be desirable to extend the bill to the whole of the United Kingdom. The preamble being postponed, there would be no difficulty in effecting that object. He thought the bill before the House was open to some objections; it was he thought capable of great abuse. In the midst of an election, with its usual excitements, a gentleman might come up to vote; some person on the opposite party, a man of straw, might deny his identity, and the voter would be immediately taken into custody amidst the derision of the multitude, and be detained in custody for the space of twelve hours. True, it might be said, that it would be easy to find two magistrates. But sup- pose it was near the close of the poll, and two magistrates could not be found? in that case a gentleman of respectability would unavoidably be prevented from voting through the operation of the bill. It was the intention of the Government to introduce a bill for regulating the Irish registration, and it might be necessary to deal with this misdemeanour separately as regarded Ireland; he was not able to assure the House that any measure would be introduced this Session with regard to Scotland; he had stated the facts that induced him to think it expedient why this bill should be settled as it affected all the United Kingdom. But if, on the other hand, it should be the opinion of the House, that it would be better upon the whole to deal with the question separately with regard to each part of the kingdom, he should be ready to agree to that course; in the former case, the legislation for England might form the basis for that in other parts of the kigdom.

Lord Harry Vane

wished the House should clearly understand the terms upon which he would consent to postpone for the present the further consideration of the bill. He had listened with very great attention to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and it appeared to him, that the objections of the right hon. Baronet might have better been urged on the second reading of the bill. The right hon. Baronet had said, that from what he had learned with regard to elections in this country, the offence of fraudulent personation of voters was not sufficiently extensive, sufficiently notorious, or sufficiently general, to make it worth while to enact a specific remedy for the evil. Now he was of a different opinion upon that subject. The right hon. Baronet, however, had said, that he was in the hands of the House, and that if the House disagreed with him upon that point, he should introduce provisions similar to those contained in the measure before the House into his English Registration Bill. The right hon. Baronet had gone on to say, that in case he saw reason to approve of the provisions in England, he should also introduce analogous clauses into his Irish Registration Bill. He thought therefore it was very desirable, that the opinion of the House should be taken as to whether it was desirable that this subject should become the object of legisla tive interference. He should, therefore, divide the House upon the first clause, with a view to ascertain the feelings of the House upon the subject, and if the House should decide in favour of the principle of the measure, he would then withdraw the bill, conceiving that the right hon. Baronet had given what amounted to a pledge, that he should introduce into his English Registration Bill clauses calculated to meet the objects of the present measure.

Sir J. Graham

did not think, that if the House were then to divide upon the clause, the result of the division would be satisfactory, as many hon. Members objected to details involved in that clause.

Mr. C. Wood

said, that anything so preposterous there could not be, as on the assertion of any individual who might chance to be present, to take a man into custody and keep him imprisoned for twelve hours, till two magistrates could be provided, when perhaps there might be no means of providing those magistrates. That was a proposal which no Gentleman in that House would, he was sure, entertain. It was clear, that by taking the sense of the House on the first clause, the question would not be decided. He would recommend to the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the bill for the present, and it could, after a consultation with the Government, be decided, either that the whole question should be embodied in one bill, or that separate bills for England, Ireland, and Scotland, should be introduced, with provisions applying to the different circumstances of each country.

Sir J. Graham

suggested to the hon. Gentleman to move, that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again. Let the hon. Member keep the bill in its present condition till the Registration Bill, for the committee on which he had given notice for Monday next, should go into committee, and if the measure then submitted to the House did not meet the views of hon. Gentlemen, the hon. Member could then carry forward his measure.

Mr. Liddell

said, after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, he considered that the object he had in view had been obtained. His object was not a private one, but to put an end to a great public grievance. He would follow the course suggested by the right hon. Baronet, and moved, that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Mr. Cripps

wished to know, whether it were the intention of the right hon. Baronet to persevere in moving the second reading of the Registration Bill on Monday next?

Sir J. Graham

said, that the bill had been printed this day, and would be in the hands of Members to-morrow, and if, under such circumstances, hon. Members thought that Monday would be too early a day for the second reading, he would have no objections to postpone it, but he thought they might read it a second time on Monday, going into the details in committee.

House resumed,

The Chairman reported progress. Committee to sit again.

Back to