HC Deb 24 June 1846 vol 87 cc909-16

moved the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Electors and Freemen Bill, and stated that the principle affirmed in the first clause had, on a former occasion, received the sanction of the House. One of the clauses of the Reform Bill required the payment, before the 20th day of July, of all rates and assessed taxes due on the 6th of April in each year, in order to entitle electors to be placed on the registry; but this regulation was extremely inconvenient, and had been found to operate so disadvantageously for the electors as to amount to a serious interference with the privilege of franchise. Some years ago he presented a Bill to remedy this defect, by extending the period within which the taxes should be paid; but this Bill, as well as a similar measure submitted by the noble Lord the Member for London, in the year 1836, was stopped in its progress through the other House of Parliament, notwithstanding that both measures had received the sanction of the House of Commons. He did not mean by the present Bill to interfere with the principle of the Reform Act. His object was merely to effect an alteration in the period allowed for payment, by enacting that for the future, instead of the rates and taxes which were due on the 6th of April in each year being necessarily payable on the 20th of July, before the elector could be registered, it was to be understood that no elector should be required, in order to entitle him to have his name registered, to have paid any rates or taxes except such as should have become payable from him previously to the 11th of October in the previous year. In other words, he wanted to enlarge the period for payment by giving the electors a few months more time, in order that the intentions of the Reform Act might not be defeated, as he believed them to be under the operation of the present system—a system which was very inconvenient, and resulted in a positive interference with the privilege of the electors. In the parishes of St. George and St. Margaret, Westminster, no less than 684 persons had been deprived of their franchise under the operation of the clause in the Reform Act to which he objected, because they had not paid their rates and taxes within the prescribed period; but of these only one had subsequently failed to pay those taxes—a fact which showed that the non-payment before the day stated in the Act did not result from any inability on the part of the electors to satisfy the demand, but, very possibly, from the negligence of the collectors in applying for the taxes, or from carelessness on the part of the electors themselves, who were not aware that the taxes should be paid within a period so brief as that prescribed. A number of citizens who resided in the most opulent localities of London, and whose ability to pay could not be for a moment questioned, had been disfranchised under the operation of the cause in question; and it was clear, therefore, that the restriction as at present limited was a useless and vexatious one, which very much tended to defeat the intentions of the Legislature as evidenced by the Reform Act. He could not understand what valid objection there could be to adopting a more liberal policy, by extending the time within which the taxes should be paid. There was another provision in the Bill now before the House, which he also thought should be regarded as an emendation of the present system, which was, that every person claiming to be rated to the relief of the poor shall, for the purpose of registration, be deemed to have been rated from the period at which the rate shall have been made in respect to which he shall have claimed to be rated, notwithstanding the making of any subsequent rate from which his name might be omitted. This he considered a fair and equitable arrangement. The Bill also contained a provision for the abolition of stamp duty on the admission of freemen. He believed that the proposed Bill would have the good effect of leaving the rights and privileges of electors less at the mercy of collectors and overseers than they were at present, and concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time.


felt bound to offer his opposition, and opposition too of a strenuous nature, to the second reading of the Bill. He was not aware that the sanction of the House of Commons had been given (as was asserted by the hon. and gallant Member) to any measure similar in principle to the present. On the contrary, the sanction of the Legislature had been given to an Act which was in its principle essentially dissimilar to the present Bill—he meant the Reform Act. Although the present Bill was a short one, it was an important one, and appeared to him to make a very formidable inroad on the Reform Act, which provided that no party could be registered unless he had occupied his house (value 10l.) for twelve months previous to the last day of July in the year in which he applied to be registered; and unless he had been rated for, and had paid, all the rates and assessed taxes due up to the previous 6th of April, such payment to be made before the 20th of July. It might be supposed that the overseers had virtually the power to deprive parties of the elective franchise, by refusing to assess them; but it was competent for the party, whether landlord or occupier, so treated to apply to the overseer, to have his name inserted in the rate list; and if he tendered the rates and paid them, the overseer was bound, as of necessity, to comply with the application. In fact, there was a special provision in the Act, by the 76th section, that the overseer who neglected his duty in this particular, subjected himself to a penalty of 500l. Under these circumstances, he could not understand how it could be said that the privilege of the elector was endangered or jeopardised. The hon. and gallant Member proposed that the party seeking to be registered should be permitted to be in arrear, not from the 6th day of the April preceding the period of his application, but from the 11th day of the month of October in the year previous; but no argument of a satisfactory nature, that he had heard, had been adduced to justify the introduction of a change so sweeping. In the year 1843 an Act was passed which in some respects altered the mode of registration. The Act provided that the overseers should give a public notice to the parties claiming to be put on the registry, so that no party should lose his right. Notwithstanding the complaint of the hon. and gallant Member that a number of persons in a very populous parish had forfeited their right to vote, because of the shortness of the time allowed under the Act for paying up the taxes, it certainly did appear to him that there was ample time between the 6th of April and the 20th of July to pay all the rates due up to the former period. Most assuredly there was ample time, if the parties cared for exercising their privilege, and unless there was very great negligence indeed no injury could possibly result. The hon. and gallant Member had proposed to effect another alteration, to the effect that a party claiming to have his name inserted in one rate, without any tender or payment of money, should be entitled to have his name inserted in the registry. [Sir DE LACY EVANS: Provided the rate be actually paid.] He was commenting on the Bill as it at present stood, and not on alterations which were proposed to be effected hereafter. He objected to the Bill as opposed to the principle laid down in the Reform Bill, without any necessity being shown for its introduction. On these grounds he should give his decided opposition to the second reading, and would move as an Amendment that it be read a second time that day six months.


expressed a hope that the House would affirm the principle of the Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member, and permit it to go into Committee, in order that the alterations of detail that might be deemed essential might be inserted. He for one went further than many in that House, and objected altogether to the payment of taxes as the ground upon which a party should claim the right to exercise the franchise. But on this he need not now enter. The whole question in the Bill was whether they would enlarge the time for the payment of the taxes from three to six months, and that did not appear to him an unreasonable demand. He hoped, therefore, that the House would assent to the second reading.


objected as much as the hon. Member for Montrose to the payment of taxes being connected with the exercise of the franchise. He thought the franchise was limited enough already, and the principle of making it dependent on the payment of taxes was decidedly objectionable. He should have great pleasure in supporting the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, and he could not understand on what grounds hon. Members could object to its principle, which was simply that of extending the period of paying the taxes from three to six months.


supported the Bill. He thought the present system afforded great opportunity for the exercise of bribery, and he objected to it accordingly. He hoped the House would not object to going into Committee on the Bill.


said, that if any alteration in the details of this Bill could remove his objections to it he would not oppose the second reading, but at once assent to the House going into Committee on it; but his great objection to the measure was one of principle, and under these circumstances he could not support the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster. He objected to any enlargement of the time fixed by the rating clauses of the Reform Bill with reference to the credit to be given for the payment of rates and taxes. He did not mean to contend that the clauses in question afforded an infallible test of the intelligence and independence of voters; but they afforded the best test that under all circumstances could be expected, and he was accordingly opposed to any alteration in those clauses. The extension of the period of payment from three to six months would not decrease the opportunities of bribery: it would only cause a greater amount of arrears to accrue. In 1843 the subject had before come under the view of Parliament; and after a lengthened discussion the result was, that it was determined that credit should be limited to three months. If there were any neglect upon the part of the overseer or tax collector, that was fully provided for by the Reform Act, which enacted that any overseer or tax collector refusing to give to the claimant the full benefit of his claim, should be liable to penalties to the extent of 500l., to be obtained by trial by jury. If it were objected that that was an expensive and difficult remedy, it would be found that by an Act lately passed, a summary process was given before the revising barrister, by which penalties to the amount of 10l. could be inflicted. No doubt the mere claim would not be sufficient. It must be accompanied either by the payment or by the tender of the rate, and he thought that such a provision was extremely necessary as a test of the solvency of the voter. He did not think it expedient to extend the period of credit. He thought that the claimant should not only repeat his claim, but that a tender of the rate should be made at the same time; and with respect to intermediate rates, he was also of opinion that there should be no omission either of claiming or of payment, or tender of payment. For these reasons he should support the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend.


agreed with the hon. Member for Winchester, that there was no question of principle involved in this Bill, but that it was merely a question of degree. It professed to meet a practical evil, which no doubt existed, for it could not be denied that many persons were not placed upon the register because they had not paid their intermediate rates, but of whose solvency there could be no doubt, and who had not been called upon to pay up perhaps on this very account, that the collector knew them to be responsible persons. Others, again, might be absent from town, and, being known to be absent, might not be called upon, so that the consequence was, that they also would be omitted from the register. The question was, whether or not they were to affirm that there never should be an extension of the time of credit. His own opinion was that there should be; and if the Bill went into Committee, it would be a fair question for argument whether nine months or six months should be given. He should therefore support the second reading.


supported the Bill. The extension of the period of credit would be very beneficial in this way: the tax collectors had very arduous duties to perform, and it often happened that persons whose solvency could not be doubted were not called upon within the three months. It was a very hard case that the only alternative which such persons had, was either to run about the town after the collector and pay him, or to have their names omitted from the register.


opposed the Bill. He thought that no benefit at all would result to the poorer classes by extending the period of credit. On the contrary, it would only tend to embarrass them, and to get them into difficulties.


said, this was a very late period of the Session for entering into any discussion as to alterations in the Reform Bill. He could not consent to any such alteration just now, and he should therefore be compelled once more to go into the same lobby with Her Majesty's Ministers. He didn't think the Bill at all necessary. It tended to increase the borough voters. He considered that a 10l. Lincoln voter was as good as a 20l. voter in St. Giles's any day.


said, as he had the honour to represent the parish of St. Giles, he must say a word with respect to the last observation of the gallant Colonel opposite. Perhaps the gallant Colonel did did not know what the parish of St. Giles was. He would tell the gallant Colonel, then, that it included part of Lincoln's-inn Fields, the principal inns of court, and the chambers of many eminent lawyers. Did that make the gallant Colonel think any higher of it? Perhaps, then, the gallant Colonel had been so unfortunate as to be acquainted only with the lowest purlieus of St. Giles's. He had never had the honour of seeing a Lincoln ten-pounder; but if he might judge of them by their representative, he must say that from one end of Finsbury to the other, from St. Giles's to St. Luke's, he had never seen anything, whether as regarded mental accomplishments, elegance of diction, or personal adornment, the least like a Lincoln ten-pounder. He contended that borough electors were quite as respectable as the county 50l. freeholders: they were certainly much more independent, and had quite as good a right to vote. This Bill was good as far as it went, and he should vote for it; but it was only bolstering up a bad system. He contended that the borough electors should be put upon the same footing as the 50l. freeholders. When the Whigs were in office, he succeeded in introducing a Bill for the repeal of certain injurious clauses of the Reform Bill; but it was unfortunately defeated in a subsequent stage. The present Bill did not go nearly so far as that one, yet it was likely to be thrown out upon the second reading. It only showed that that House was becoming too aristocratic, and that they were retrograding instead of advancing in the principles of reform.


was understood to say that the tendency of the Bill would be to change the principles of borough voting.


thought that the proposed Bill would tend materially to complicate the present law. It was the duty of householders to assist their poorer brethren by the prompt payment of the poor rates, and he considered that they might fairly hold out the Parliamentary franchise as a reward for their punctual payment.

The House divided on the Question, that the word "now" stand part of the Question:—Aves 53; Noes 94: Majority 41.

List of the AYES.
Baine, W. Langston, J. H.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. McTaggart, Sir J.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Maitland, T.
Bernal, R. Manners, Lord J.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Marjoribanks, S.
Bowes, J. Marsland, H.
Bridgeman, H. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Browne, hon. W. Milnes, R. M.
Busfeild, W. Mitcalfe, H.
Christie, W. D. O'Brien, W. S.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Ord, W.
Crawford, W. S. Pigot, rt. hon. D.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Powell, C.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T. Protheroe, E.
Duncan, Visct. Roebuck, J. A.
Duncan, G. Ross, D. R.
Duncombe, T. Russell, Lord J.
Dundas, Adm. Scrope, G. P.
Escott, B. Thornely, T.
Fitzgerald, R. A. Vivian, J. H.
Forster, M. Watson, W. H.
Gibson, T. M. Wawn, J. T.
Gill, T. Williams, W.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Worsley, Lord
Hall, Sir B. Wyse, T.
Hastie, A. TELLERS.
Hawes, B. Evans, Sir D. L.
Hill, Lord M. Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
A'Court, Capt. Holmes, hon. W. A'C.
Alexander, N. Hope, G. W.
Allix, J. P. Hotham, Lord
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Howard, P. H.
Austen, Col. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Baillie, Col. Johnstone, Sir J.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Johnstone, H.
Bateson, T. Jones, Capt.
Beckett, W. Kemble, H.
Bell, M. Lawson, A.
Beresford, Maj. Lennox, Lord G. H. G.
Blackburne, J. I. Lincoln, Earl of
Borthwick, P. Lincoln, Earl of
Bowles, Adm. Lindsay, hon. Capt.
Boyd, J. Lockhart, W.
Bruges, W. H. L. Long, W.
Cardwell, E. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Chichester, Lord J. L. M'Neill, D.
Clive, Visct. Mainwaring, T.
Clive, hon. R. H. Meynell, Capt.
Colquhoun, J. C. Neville, R.
Coote, Sir C. H. Newport, Visct.
Damer, hon. Col. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Deedes, W. O'Brien, A. S.
Douglas, Sir H. Packe, C. W.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Palmer, R.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Farnham, E. B. Peel, J.
Feilden, W. Round, J.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Seymer, H. K.
Forbes, W. Sheppard, T.
Frewen, C. H. Sibthorp, Col.
Fuller, A. E. Somerset, Lord G.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Somerton, Visct.
Goring, C. Spooner, R.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Thesiger, Sir F.
Greene, T. Tollemache, J.
Halsey, T. P. Trotter, J.
Hamilton, G. A. Villiers, Visct.
Hanmer, Sir J. Vivian, J. E.
Harris, hon. Capt. Walpole, S. H.
Hayes, Sir E. Wellesley, Lord C.
Heneage, G. H. W. Wood, Col.
Henley, J. W. Wood, Col. T.
Herbert, rt. hon. S. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Hervey, Lord A. TELLERS.
Hill, Lord E. Young, J.
Hodgson, R. Cripps, W.

Main Question as amended agreed to. Second reading put off for six months.

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