HC Deb 17 March 1843 vol 67 cc1083-95

On the motion of Sir J. Graham, the Registration of Voters Bill was recommitted. On clause 57, which provides for the remuneration of revising barristers,

Viscount Howick

said, he must again urge his objections to this part of the measure. The present registration courts were in the last degree unsatisfactory, but would this bill improve the system? Was it possible that gentlemen who had to sacrifice three or four weeks of their long vocation fur 200 guineas, who might be employed one year, and not the next, could make competent judges? The system was expensive and inexpedient. The present mode of patronage was most objectionable. The judges who exercised it gave very little consideration to the mode in which these small appointments were made. In his opinion, the only reasonable mode of constituting these courts would be, the appointment of eight or ten permanent judges, who, by means of dividing England and Wales into three or four circuits, might easily pass through every district in the course of the year, and who, when not on circuit, might constitute a court of appeal in London. He thought the plan of appeal proposed in the bill not much better than the present. The court would not be an efficient court.

Sir J. Graham

could only say, that the number of revising-barristers was reduced in the bill nearly one-half. The number at present was 160, at an expense of 32,000z; it was proposed to have only eighty-five, at an expense of 17,000l With regard to the inefficiency of the appellate tribunal, it must be remembered, that under the Reform Act, no appeal whatever was given. This bill constituted a court of appeal for the first time. With respect to the plan of circuits, it was impossible that eight or ten revising-barristers could perform the duty, unless they were going circuit all the year, which would be keeping up a constant political agitation in one part of the country or the other. He did not think it conducive to the public good that this turmoil of registration, which was of an electioneering character, should be kept up all the year round throughout England and Wales. Before any further change was attempted he hoped for a fair trial of this measure.

Clause agreed to.

On clause fifty-eight, constituting three barristers a court of appeal,

Mr. Bernal

said, he doubted whether it were possible to find persons to fill these situations whose judgments would command respect. He objected to the appointment of practising barristers, who might have the very cases submitted to them (as used to be done to the Welch judges) on which they would afterwards be called upon to decide in their courts.

Sir J. Graham

admitted the force of the objection, but when those tribunals should have sat one or two years, it would not be necessary thenceforward that the court should sit for more than two or three days in the year, and under such circumstances a fixed salary would be highly inexpedient.

Mr. Hume

considered, that if the tribunal sat for so short a space as that, it would be better to send appeals before the judges, as in the case of assessed taxes.

Sir J. Graham

was rather inclined to that course, and, if that was the feeling of the House, he would consent to postpone the clause as well as the others which related to it.

Lord Howick

observed, that the judges would have the power incidentally as the point then stood, for they had the nomination of the tribunals. It would be much better to throw the responsibility upon them directly, and he was glad the right hon. Baronet concurred in the suggestion.

Mr. Escott

was of opinion that the proposed tribunal, which was an excrescence on the Reform Bill, would have little or nothing to do.

Clauses to 75 postponed.

On clause 76, giving the right of voting to successive occupants, and in cases of joint occupation being read,

Viscount Howick

objected to the latter provision, as tending to produce an unfair multiplication of voters, an abuse which he understood had been carried very far by all parties. It led also, by freeing sons from the control of their fathers, to family disputes. It destroyed the relation between father and child; and further, it induced the owners and occupiers of land to pursue a system which would be ultimately injurious to themselves, as it would have the effect of cutting up property into small holdings. He would therefore propose as an amendment, that "not more than one should be entitled to register and vote."

Colonel Sibthorp

would remind the House that he was the originator of what was called the Chandos clause, and he therefore must oppose the amendment.

Lord Ebrington

supported the amendment. He knew well that in Devonshire the joint tenancy clause of the Reform Act had contributed much to prevent the introduction of a good system of farming.

Sir J. Graham

remarked, that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland would effect, if carried, an important alteration in the Reform Act, and therefore it was desirable to know whether the noble Lord was prepared to alter the 29th section of that act, which gave the right of voting to joint occupiers in cities and towns as now given to the joint occupiers of land.

Viscount Howick:

Though he should not press his amendment to a division, begged to say that he had discussed his proposition without any reference to parties. He objected to giving all parties such a temptation as this clause would afford to increase their political power at the expense of the permanent moral interests of themselves and their tenantry. In answer to the question put to him, whether he were prepared to extend the same principle to cities and towns, he had to state he intended in a future clause to propose an amendment, which would apply the same principle to cities and towns in cases where actual ownership did not exist.

Mr. Darby

said, that all the complaints against the working of the Reform Act came from hon. Members on the other side of the House.

Sir G. Grey:

Notwithstanding the taunts of the ministerial side, begged to ask, if those who supported the Reform Act were to be in consequence precluded from proposing alterations that would remedy the defects of that measure? He thought his noble Friend (Viscount Howick) had done quite right to point out the evils, though he admitted the point at present raised was of too much importance to be discussed while considering a clause in the Registration Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

On clause 82, declaring the register to be conclusive evidence of the voter's retaining the same qualification, provided that he continued to reside within the borough,

Mr. Christie moved the omission of the proviso. He thought it would lead to improper objections being taken to voters.

Sir J. Graham

opposed the motion. He considered residence an essential principle. It was possible for a voter to cease to hold any property or interest in a borough, and to establish himself elsewhere, and if he were still to be entitled to his vote as if resident in the borough, in ninety-nine cases out of 100 this would lead to bringing down venal voters to an election at an enormous expense, and to the introduction of a most corrupt practice.

Sir G. Grey

entirely concurred in what the right hon. Baronet said; but he thought this proviso, taken with the third question to be put to voters at the hustings, which was in the 84th clause, Have you resided since the 31st day of July last, and do you now continue to reside, in the city or borough of,— would, in many cases, be a trap to voters. It would take the legal acumen of his hon. and learned Friend opposite, (Sir F. Pollock) to define what was residence, and men not skilled in legal definitions would be apt to say, "No, I resided a part of the time in town, or elsewhere."

Sir J. Graham

freely acknowledged that the definition of "residence" would be extremely difficult, and he should wish, when they came to consider the third question in the 84th clause, to ask for some further time to consider it.

The Attorney-general

apprehended that a person "resided," in point of law, if he had a residence which he occupied by himself, or by any member of his family, or by his servants; and though it might be inconvenient to a tender-conscienced person to declare that he had been resident when he knew he had been absent, yet he might declare, that during the whole of the time he was so absent his family or servants had occupied his house.

Viscount Howick

thought this definition of "residence" would open a door to fraud, and persons might continue voters though non-resident and having no interest in the borough by occupying a sufficient tenement by some servant or person in their employment.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

On clause 91,

Mr. Christie,

pursuant to notice, moved The omission of so much as gives a committee the power of inquiring into decisions of the revising barristers and of the court of appeal.", He observed that in many cases parties would take the chance of appealing directly to the committee, and thus the court of appeal, which had been intended as a check upon the revising barristers, would be rendered nugatory.

Sir J. Graham

thought, as several alterations had been made, this clause ought to be postponed for further consideration. The decision of the Court at Westminster ought, in his opinion, to be final.

Clause postponed.

Mr. Cowper

proposed the insertion of the following clause:— And whereas, by the said first recited act, it is enacted, that the poll at contested elections for counties may remain open during the space of two days; and whereas it is expedient to repeal that part of the said act which allows the poll so to continue open during the space of two days; be it therefore enacted, that such part of the said act as allows the poll to continue open during two days shall be, and the same is hereby, repealed. The hon. Member announced that, should his motion be carried, he intended to propose a second clause, as follows:— And be it enacted, that at every contested election of a knight or knights to serve in Parliament for any county, or for any riding, parts, or division of a county, the polling shall commence at eight of the clock in the forenoon of the next day but two after the day fixed for the election, and the polling shall continue during such one day only, and no poll shall be kept open later than four o'clock in the after noon—provided always, that when such next day but two after the day fixed for the election shall he Sunday, Good Friday, or Christmas-day, then in the case it be Sunday the poll shall be on the Monday next following, and in case it be Good Friday then on the Saturday next following, and in case it be Christmas-day then on the next following day if the same shall not be Sunday, and if it be Sunday on the next following Monday.

Clause read a first time.

On the question that it be read a second time,

Sir J. Graham

said his own opinion was against the adoption of the clause. The effect would be to limit the franchise. By allowing the poll to be open two days, farmers who had to attend at the markets on market-days would have additional opportunities of registering their votes; were the poll only open one day, and that day happened to be market-day, they could not be expected to forego the market for the sake of going to the poll. If he were still a county Representative he would oppose the clause.

Mr. Hume

said, that where the polling was continued two days, the venal voters held out till the second day, in order to get more for their votes. It led to a great deal of tampering and bribery. He should therefore support the amendment.

Lord F. Egerton

doubted whether any practical evils had resulted from the pre sent mode which required the remedy now proposed.

Mr. Elphinstone

thought the second day was perfectly unnecessary. As an instance of it, he would refer to the last election for Leicestershire, when nearly 3,000 voters polled on the first day, but on the second only about 250.

Mr. Darby

thought that one day would not be sufficient. He would ask the hon. Member for Montrose whether he would have approved of only one day's polling when he was a candidate for Stirling, and was in the minority on the first day, but stood at the head of the poll on the second. Did the voters on that occasion hold out for a larger sum? Again, he would ask the hon. and learned Member for Lewes whether he thought that the polling being confined to one day had prevented bribery in the borough he represented?

Lord Worsley

said that, at the last election, very extensive treating was carried on. He knew that, at the election for North Lincolnshire, persons went on the first day, tendered their votes for him, and actually polled; they went back, and said they would vote on the next day for his hon. Colleague. On the morning of the second day, they accordingly went, and got their breakfast, and then proceeded to the poll, but were much disappointed at finding that they could not split their votes, because they had polled on the first day. He, therefore, thought that the clause now proposed would be a great improvement.

Mr. B. Denison

thought that no practical inconvenience would result from taking the poll at county elections in one day. At the last election for the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the constituency was most extensive, three-fourths of the voters polled on the first day, and the majority obtained on the first day could not have been overcome by the number polled on the second day.

Mr. Blackstone

protested against the imputation which had been thrown upon the county constituencies by the noble Lord the Member for North Lincolnshire (Lord Worsley)—that they could be influenced in their exercise of the franchise by treating. He believed that no class of voters in the country were less influenced by bribery, or less open to corruption of any kind, than the farmers. He considered that, in the discussion of this question, one material point had been overlooked—the convenience of voters who lived at a distance from counties for which they were registered. Suppose that a person was on the register for the counties of Cornwall and Yorkshire, if the elections for those counties occurred, as was probable, nearly at the same time, he might, if the poll was limited to one day, be prevented from recording his vote for one county or the other. At the last general election there was so strong a feeling in the agricultural districts against the late Administration, that the farmers came almost as one man to the poll. There might, however, be a different feeling at another election, and it might perhaps be advisable to have two days' polling.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, they were told that the utmost freedom ought to be of forded for the exercise of the franchise, and he conceived that the House ought not to limit that freedom; and on this ground he would vote against the proposition of the hon. Member for Hertford.

Mr. James

thought it was unnecessary to continue the poll at county elections beyond one day. At the last election for the county which he represented (Cumberland) the election was virtually decided on the first day. Some fifty or sixty persons withheld their votes until the second day, and if it was asked why an individual had not given his vote, the reply was, "Oh, the Tories only offered him 10l., and he is laying by for 50l. or 100l." Those hon. Members who wished to pre vent bribery at county elections would vote for the clause proposed by the hon. Member for Hertford, and those who desired its continuance—there were none on the Liberal side who entertained such a wish —would vote against it. He called upon all hon. Gentlemen who were anxious for the suppression of bribery, to evince their sincerity by voting for the proposition of the hon. Member for Hertford.

Mr. Henley

would give his decided opposition to the motion. It frequently happened, at county elections, that an opposition did not spring up until the day of nomination; and under such circumstances, if only one day was allowed for polling, great inconvenience would result. He remembered the occurrence of two cases of this nature in the county which he had the honour of representing.

Lord R. Grosvenor

regretted to observe one feature in this discussion—that all the hon. Gentlemen who supported this proposition were on that (the Opposition) side of the House, while all who opposed it were on the other side of the House. He thought that the present system of allowing two days for the poll at county elections was productive of great practical inconvenience. At one election at which he was present, a great number of the voters polled on the first day, but many of them reserved their votes; the contest was a close one, and it gave rise to a great deal of bribery, treating, and intimidation, which would have been entirely avoided if the election had concluded on the first day. At another election a strong feeling of excitement prevailed in the county, and after the first day's poll the exasperation was so great that a serious riot took place, and one person lost his life. He had mentioned the subject to many farmers, and they declared that it would be a great boon to them if the polling was confined to one day, so that they might get quietly back to their work. The hon. Member for Wallingford (Mr. Blackstone) had complained that if the proposition before the House were adopted, persons who possessed votes for several counties might be prevented from exercising the franchise for all of them; but he thought that the rapid means of conveyance afforded by railways would prevent much inconvenience in this respect.

Sir P. Egerton

said that the hon. Member for Cumberland (Mr. James) had expressed his astonishment that this pro position was opposed by hon. Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, while it was supported almost entirely by hon. Members opposite; but he must remind the hon. Gentleman that the great majority of the representatives of counties, who might be supposed to express the feeling of their constituencies, were on the Ministerial side of the House. He must be allowed, as a county Member, to express his conviction that, by the limitation of the polling to one day, they would exclude from the exercise of the franchise a great number of persons who had the right to vote. He considered, also, that the adoption of this proposition would materially increase the expense of elections.

Viscount Howick

regretted that the discussion on this subject had assumed a party character. This was a matter of great public importance, and he thought that the testimony of the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. B. Denison) was so strong in favour of the proposition, that it ought to decide hon. Gentlemen as to the course they would adopt. There was no county in England in which there was so large a number of voters, and where the difficulty of polling them all in one day was so great, as in the West Riding of Yorkshire; but the hon. Member had shown that the poll might, without inconvenience, be concluded in one day. He thought the proposition of the hon. Member for Hertford would have a most salutary effect in diminishing the duration of the excitement which prevailed during an election; and which, for a time, completely interrupted the progress of trade and industry. The adoption of this clause would also, he conceived, tend to reduce very considerably the expense of elections, and diminish the exercise of undue influence upon the voters; he would not say bribery, for he believed that whatever undue influence was brought to bear upon the minds of county voters was not exercised in the shape of bribery; but when an election was closely contested, a great temptation did exist to resort to intimidation, or other improper influence.

Lord Ingestre

opposed the clause. He did not think that the constituencies of large counties could be polled in one day, and he begged to remind the House that elections frequently took place at a season of the year when important farming operations were in progress, and when it might be of great importance to the farmer that he should not be called from his work on a particular day.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 66; Noes 143:—Majority 77.

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Blakemore, R.
Baring, right hon. F. T. Bowring, Dr.
Barnard, E. G. Brotherton, J.
Berkeley, hon. C. Cavendish, hon. G. H.
Blake, M. J. Christie, W. D.
Clay, Sir W. Mitchell, T. A.
Colborne, hn. W. N. R. Morris, D.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Napier, Sir C.
Dickinson, F. H. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Divett, E. O'Brien, J.
Duke, Sir J. O'Brien, W. S.
Duncan, G. Ogle, S. C. H.
Ebrington, Visct. Pechell, Capt.
Ellis, W. Philips, M.
Evans, W. Plumridge, Capt.
Fielden, J. Scott, R.
Fitzroy, Lord C. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Forster, M. Strickland, Sir G.
Fox, C. R. Strutt, E.
Gibson, T. M. Tancred, H. W.
Gill, T. Thorneley, T.
Grey, rt. hn. Sir G. Tufnell, H.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Turner, E.
Hardy, J Wakley, T.
Hatton, Capt. V. Walker, R.
Hay, Sir A. L. Ward, H. G.
Heathcoat, J. Williams, W.
Howard, hon. C. W. G Winnington, Sir T. E.
Howick, Visct. Worsley, Lord
Hume, J. Wrightson, W. B.
James, W. Yorke, H. R.
Listowel, Earl of
Mainwaring, T. TELLERS.
Marshall, W. Elphinstone, H.
Martin, J. Cowper, hon. W. F.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Compton, H. C.
Acland, T. D. Coote, Sir C. H.
A'Court, Capt. Copeland, Ald.
Acton, Col. Corry, right hon. H.
Adderley, C. B. Cripps, W.
Alford, Visct. Damer, hon. Col.
Allix, J. P. Darby, G.
Antrobus, E. Dick, Q.
Arkwright, G. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Astell, W. Egerton, W. T.
Attwood, M. Egerton, Lord F.
Bankes, G. Emlyn, Visct.
Baring, hon. W. B. Escott, B.
Baskerville, T. B. M. Estcourt, T. G. B.
Beckett, W. Farnham, E. B.
Beresford, Major Fitzmaurice, hon. W.
Bernard, Visct. Fitzroy, hon. H.
Blackstone, W. S. Flower, Sir J.
Boldero, H. G. Follett, Sir W. W.
Borthwick, P. Fuller, A. E.
Botfield, B. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Bramston, T. W. Gladstone, Capt.
Broadley, H. Glynne, Sir S. R.
Broadwood, H. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Bruce, Lord E. Gore, M.
Bruce, C. L. C. Gore, W. R. O.
Buck, L. W. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Buckley, E. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Chelsea, Visct. Halford, H.
Chetwode, Sir J. Hamilton, W. J.
Christopher, R. A. Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.
Chute, W. L. W. Hage, G. H. W.
Clerk, Sir G. Henley, J. W.
Collett, W. R. Hepburn, Sir T. B.
Colvile, C. R. Herbert, hon. S.
Hervey, Lord A. Palmer, R.
Hodgson, F. Patten, J. W.
Hodgson, R. Peel, right hon. Sir R.
Hope, hon. C. Peel, J.
Hope, G. W. Plumptre, J. P.
Hornby, J. Pollock, Sir F.
Hughes, W. B. Praed, W. T.
Ingestre, Visct. Repton, G. W. J.
Inglis, Sir R. H Rolleston, Col.
Irton, S. Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.
Jermyn, Earl Round, J.
Johnstone, Sir J. Rushbrooke, Col.
Johnstone, H. Russell, J. D. W.
Kemble, H. Shaw, rt. hn. F.
Knight, F. W. Sheppard, T.
Law, hon. C. E. Sibthorp, Col.
Lawson, A. Smollett, A.
Lincoln, Earl of Somerset, Lord G.
Lockhart, W. Sotheron, T.H. S.
Lygon, hon. Gen. Spry, Sir S.T.
Mackenzie, W. F. Stanley, Lord
Maclean, D. Sutton, hon. H. M.
McGeachy, F. A. Thompson, Mr. Ald
Manners, Lord J. Trench, Sir F. W.
Marton, G. Trevor, hon. G. Rice
Master, T. W. C. Trollope, Sir J.
Masterman, J. Trotter, J.
Maxwell, hon. J. P. Turnor, C.
Mildmay, H. St. J. Vivian, J. E.
Miles, P. W. S. Waddington, H. S.
Morgan, O. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Neeld, J. Wilbraham, hon. R.B.
Neville, R. Wodehouse, E.
Nicholl, right hon. J. Wood, Col. T.
Northland, Visct. Young, J.
O'Brien, A. S. TELLERS.
Packe, C. W. Fremantle, Sir T.
Pakington, J. S. Pringle, A.

Clause rejected.

Mr. Hardy

proposed the following clause:— And be it enacted, that, in estimating the yearly value of any land or building, or both, in right of which any occupier thereof, as tenant, shall claim to vote, it shall be lawful for the revising barrister, and he is hereby required, to take into his consideration not only the rent paid or agreed for by such tenant, but the amount at which any such tenement, or tenements, shall be rated to the poor in any city, borough, or place, with reference to, and compared with, other similar tenements there situated, as to the proportion between the clear yearly value and the rateable value thereof. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated, as the object of the clause, the fact that in many cases poor tenants were colourably made 10l. renters (by a reservation of 4s. a week from wages, &c.) for cottages not worth, and not rated to the poor, or taxes for more than 5l. a year.

Sir J. Graham

said, he thought the real remedy would be putting in force the Poor-law valuation; and an excellent hint j had been given to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would probably see the necessity of imposing the Income-tax in these cases on the amount represented as the rental for the purposes of the franchise. This might be a check to what, certainly, was a great abuse. But his hon. Friend's clauses, after all, were merely declaratory; for surely any revising barrister who attended to his duty would look to the real amount at which tenements were rated as a test of value.

Mr. Hardy

declared this was by no means generally the practice; and doubted if his clause was not required to afford a remedy for this monstrous abuse. However, he would not press it against the right hon. Baronet's opinion.

The Atorney General

objected to the clause, on the ground of the bad policy of legislating to order a judge to do that which it was his duty to do without any legislation.

Clause withdrawn.

Sir J. Graham

then brought up a clause making the personation of voters a misdemeanour.

An hon. Member

said, that the clause would not meet a case which had come to his knowledge, as having occurred at a county election, and he believed it was not an unusual thing that fictitious names were placed on the register, and then any person that could be got was brought up to answer to them. The case that he meant was that of the rev. Mr. Jones, of Jesus College, Cambridge, who was entered on the register. No such person was known in the county, but when the polling day arrived, a respectable looking gentleman, in a black coat and white neckcloth, appeared at the polling-place, and said that he was the rev. Mr. Jones, of Jesus College, Cambridge.

Sir J. Graham

said, that the clause only proposed a remedy for personating persons who really were in existence or had existed. He could not devise a remedy for personating persons who never had existed.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed.