HC Deb 22 April 1846 vol 85 cc859-66

moved the Second Reading of this Bill.


had not very closely examined the provisions of the Bill; but so far as he understood the nature of it, he was disposed to oppose it. He thought it would be productive of very serious inconvenience to county voters; and he should move that it be read a second time that day six months.


read the following return of the number of votes recorded at county elections in 1841; showing that a large proportion of the registered constituencies recorded their votes on the first day:—

Counties. Total Votes Recorded. First Day's Poll. Second Day's Poll.
Buckinghamshire 8,579 6,938 1,641
South Essex 5,127 4,218 909
Hertfordshire 6,415 7,919 1,406
South Northamptonshire 5,675 4,825 850
West Yorkshire 49,782 41,499 8,283
North Northumberland 3,480 2,762 718
East Cumberland 5,976 5,377 599
North Lincolnshire 13,743 11,103 2,640
East Sussex 5,302 4,290 1,012
South Derbyshire 11,020 8,645 2,375
South Leicestershire 7,563 6,936 627
East Cornwall 7,456 6,961 495
East Norfolk 8,313 6,863 1,450
He thought that the regulation proposed by the present Bill would be a most wholesome one. He was aware of some instances in which voters, from their ignorance of the law, thought that after having recorded their votes on the first day of an election for one candidate, they were entitled to vote for the other candidate on the next. He assured the House he was aware of instances in which voters expressed their disappointment on being informed, when endeavouring to record their votes for the candidate opposed to the one for whom they had voted on the first day, that they could not be received again, they having already voted. He thought the Bill would prevent such mistakes, and he should most decidedly support it.


opposed the Bill, and urged upon the Government and the House not lightly to interfere with the county constituencies pending the investigation upon the subject now going on before a Committee of that House, or hastily to judge of those constituencies by the past, as a criterion for the future, He was sincerely anxious to see the constituencies of the country fairly represented; but if this measure were agreed to, and the election for a county to take place in one day, the Anti-Corn-Law League might crowd the booths with their friends, and so interfere with the fair exercise of the franchise; and if the polling places were made more numerous, the sheriffs' expenses and the expenses of conveying the electors would be increased. He would meet the argument that the greater proportion of votes was taken on the first day, by referring to what had taken place before that House in the present Session. No less than thirty-six petitions had been presented, in the case of contested elections for cities and boroughs; and of these twenty-nine had been decided by Committees, and seven had been withdrawn; while only three had been presented in the case of county elections, of which two had been decided by Committees, and one withdrawn. He thought the Bill would have a mischievous effect, and he should support the Amendment.


said, that the arguments urged against the present Bill had also been advanced when the existing system was proposed as an alteration of the Reform Bill. But the experience of limiting elections to one day in boroughs, proved how wholly untenable those arguments were. His experience led him to believe that the desire to place county elections on the same footing was universal. He believed it had been admitted even by the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, that the whole of that county might be polled in one day.


had made that admission; but that was not the question. The question was, whether they ought to apply the same ride to counties as to boroughs. If they did, they would undoubtedly deprive a number of out-voters of the opportunity of voting. He, for instance, had a vote in Lincolnshire and in Yorkshire, but could not avail himself of it, if the election for each took place on the same day. He had heard no complaint whatever from county constituencies on the score of the expense; and having been requested by a great number of persons to oppose this Bill, he, for these reasons, had resolved to do so.


wished to state shortly his reason for opposing the Bill. He agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex (Colonel Wood), and did not attach much importance to the question before the House, because practically he did not believe that the measure would have any material effect on the results of county elections. He was about to state the principle which ought in his opinion to guide the decision of the House. He thought it politic to reduce the expenses of contested elections within a certain limit; and that limit was the consideration due to the full and free exercise of the franchise. The paramount consideration was not whether the expenses of candidates could be reduced, but whether such reduction was consistent with the full and free exercise of the franchise. He was bound to say he did not think it was, trying the present measure by that test. He perfectly agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. B. Denison), that the analogy between counties and boroughs could not be sustained. No Bill had ever met with greater approbation than that for abridging the time for elections in boroughs. But it must be observed that residence within seven miles was an indispensable condition of voting in boroughs. In reference to counties, there was no such limitation; and in some counties it appeared that so many as one-fourth of the electors were non-resident. This discussion was in some respects rather a game at cross-purposes; the facts adduced by the noole Lord (Lord Worsley), for the purpose of showing that the number of voters on the second day at various contested elections was so small as not to affect the result, might bear a different construction. He had no idea that the number of voters who voted on the second day was so great. He knew two constituencies—the one the largest in England, Middlesex; and the other the smallest, Rutlandshire—in which the decision of the first day was reversed by that of the second. Speaking generally, no rapidity of communication could compensate for the difficulty stated by the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. B. Denison), that several gentleman had a right to vote in two, three, or four counties; and that they might be precluded from the exercise of their right by means of the proposed restriction. When there was a rule established by which parties were permitted to exercise their rights in more than one county, he did not see why the House should depart from that principle. The period of two days for polling was in favour of the franchise. He saw no advantage to be gained from the adoption of the present measure, except in reducing the expense of contested elections; but he did not think that advantage would be wisely purchased in the present instance. On the whole he was for adhering to the present practice. He was surprised that those who were seeking to enlarge the county constituencies, which could only be done by multiplying the number of outvoters—to which he had no objection, provided they were bonâ fide votes—should wish to abridge the time of polling. He wished to maintain the practice most conducive to a full and free exercise of the franchise. On these grounds he should vote against the second reading.


would venture to say, that in any of the cities or boroughs there was not a circle to be found, of a mile in diameter, which would not contain at least two polling booths; but in the counties the diameter of a circle including two such booths, would not be less than six or seven miles. There was, therefore, little or no analogy between counties or boroughs in this respect to the facility of voting and the communication. In most instances twelve per cent. of the electors lived out of the counties; in some instances twenty-five per cent; the preamble of the Bill should, therefore, set forth that it was not desirable such out-dwellers should have the privilege of exercising the franchise at all. That would be the most honest mode of declaring the intentions of its promoters. He would support the Amendment of his hon. Friend.


said, he did not think the Legislature ought to be called upon to alter the present law merely for the purpose of diminishing the expenses of contested elections; but for the purpose of promoting and increasing purity of elections, which he thought the present Bill would, to some extent, achieve. It was because he thought it would have this salutary effect, that he would support the second reading. It was a step in the right direction. He thought that it was generally upon the second day of polling at county elections that unfair practices were resorted to—that bribery and treating generally took place. His gallant Friend (Colonel Wood) might say "no;" but he would say "yes." He dared to say that the electors in Middlesex were very pure; but still he must observe, that it was generally upon the morning of the second day's polling that certain doubtful voters were secured. Upon that day, at contested elections, there was generally a number of these voters hovering about the booths, presenting a great temptation to the candidate who was anxious to secure the first place in the uncertain conflict. In some eases, not merely the waverers were secured by such temptations, but even those who had promised one candidate, were induced to vote for another. He had no doubt but the present Bill would, by shortening the duration of county elections, increase their purity. Those who used corrupt practices to secure their return, were not likely to make useful representatives, or trustworthy public men.


had listened with great attention to the speeches on both sides, but had not heard it satisfactorily explained how the present Bill was at all consistent with the full and fair exercise of the franchise. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, cautiously avoided that point. He had votes in five different counties, which were widely separated from each other. He was anxious, in the present state of affairs, to record every one of these votes; but, according to the provisions of the Bill, he should find it impossible. The noble Lord complained of the expense attending electioneering contests, and stated that he had stood three of them. He had stood six of them; but he would not be in the least deterred from standing six more such contests. Hon. Members talked censoriously of days gone by, when contested elections were very different matters from what they at present were; but he regretted the day when a check had been put upon the free circulation of the wealth of those who could afford to lose it, and thought the beggarly parsimony of the present time ten times more shabby and wretched than the generous profusion of an antecedent period.


said: The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Winchester has dilated at some length upon the conduct of those voters who say one thing and do another. He talks about those electors who are to be found hovering about the booths on the morning of the second day's polling, and who, he says, are induced to vote contrary to their promises. I hope that hon. and learned Gentleman will apply the principles he has laid down respecting the poor man to his own conduct, and bear in mind that when the Corn Laws are next brought under discussion in this House, he will vote as he promised his constituents he would vote. I hope, Sir, he will not forget how very reprehensible—how disgraceful it is to promise one way, and to vote another. For my own part, Sir, I am not anxious for change where I think change may not improve. I do not think it has been at all shown that the present law works badly, and will, therefore, support the Amendment of my gallant Friend the Member for Middlesex. The hon. Member for Durham argued against the present measure that before the Reform Bill fifteen days were spent in an electioneering contest. I cannot perceive how that argument bears upon the present law, which limits the days for polling to two. There may be an extreme upon one side as well as upon the other. I happen to enjoy a vote in three counties, situate in England and Scotland; but, if the present Bill were to become law, I could not exercise the privilege which the Constitution confers upon me. I will vote against the second reading of the Bill.


I hope the House will listen to me for a moment. The noble Lord has upon this, as well as upon one or two other occasions, spoken of me in a manner that I am not disposed to endure. All I can say, in reference to the noble Lord's conduct, is, that ignorance is commonly attended with presumption. I will not now enter into the topic to which the noble Lord alluded; but, if he had been "with me last week, the electors of Winchester could have set him right upon a matter in which he seems to be altogether misinformed.

The House divided on the Question that the word "now" stand part of the Question:—Ayes 32; Noes 55: Majority 23.

List of the AYES.
Armstrong, Sir A. Morris, D.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. O'Connell, J.
Bowring, Dr. Ogle, S. C. H.
Bright, J. Parker, J.
Corbally, M. E. Philips, M.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Power, J.
Escott, B. Scott, R.
Ewart, W. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Granger, T. C. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Hawes, B. Strutt, E.
Heneage, E. Thornely, T.
Howard, P. H. Ward, H. G.
Langston, J. H. Wyse, T.
M'Carthy, A. Yorke, H. R.
Mangles, R. D.
Marsland, H. TELLERS.
Milton, Visct. Elphinstone, H.
Moffatt, G. Worsley, Lord
List of the NOES.
Allix, J. P. Grogan, E.
Antrobus, E. Harris, hon. Capt.
Arkwright, G. Henley, J. W.
Baillie, H. J. Hotham, Lord
Bennett, P. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Bentinck, Lord G. Jones, Capt.
Blackburne, J. I. Kemble, H.
Bodkin, W. H. Lockhart, W.
Borthwick, P. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Bowles, Adm. Meynell, Capt.
Broadly, H. Morgan, O.
Bruce, Lord E. Norreys, Lord
Buckley, E. Packe, C. W.
Cardwell, E. Patten, J. W.
Carew, W. H. P. Rolleston, Col.
Carnegie, hon. Capt. Sibthorp, Col.
Christopher, R. A. Smith, A.
Chute, W. L. W. Sotherton, T. H. S.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Spooner, R.
Cripps, W. Sutton, Hon. H. M.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Thesiger, Sir F.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Villiers, Visct.
Finch, G. Wellesley, Lord C.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Wood, Col. T.
Forbes, W. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Young, J.
Greene, T. TELLERS.
Gregory, W. H. Denison, B.
Grimsditch, T. Newdegate, C. N.

Bill put off six months.

House adjourned at Six o'clock.