§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR W. CLAY
, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, he was sorry to trouble the House with any observations at that late period of the Session; but it would give great satisfaction to a large body of householders if the House were to ratify the principle of relief embodied in the Bill. The question lay in a nutshell, and with the permission of the House he would shortly explain it. Hon. Members were aware that the new franchise created by the Reform Bill was given to householders occupying tenements of a certain yearly value, having resided within the borough for which they claimed to vote for six months, and having occupied a tenement for twelve months. The other condition was, that they should have paid up all rates and taxes. The machinery provided by the Reform Bill for carrying the principle into effect was, that the overseers of every parish were required to make out a list of persons occupying tenements of 10l. yearly value, and who had paid their rates and taxes. From the list so prepared, the clerk of the peace made out the register of votes. Now, in very many of the large parishes in England, and especially in the metropolitan parishes, there were local Acts empowering the parish officers to compound with the owners 989 of houses for the payment of rates; and this power was very extensively acted upon. A deduction was allowed of 25 per cent, and the consequence was, that the owner of 50 or 100 small houses obtained no inconsiderable profit by calling on his tenants to pay him the full rate, while he had a discount of 25 per cent. The only name in the rate-hook was that of the person who paid the rate, and the consequence was, that for several years subsequent to the passing of the Reform Bill, the occupiers of such houses known as compound householders, had been completely disfranchised. It was contended that a remedy was provided under the 30th section of the Reform Act, which enacted that a person occupying a house in a borough of the yearly value of 10l., and who had been omitted by the overseer, might claim to be registered on tendering the payment of his rate. The tide of revising barristers had all been in that direction, and they were confirmed by two decisions in the Common Pleas. But the Common Pleas decided that there should be payment of every rate. The state of things then was this. The compound householder might claim to be registered, provided that after every fresh rate he put in his claim and tendered any rate that might be then due; but the result was virtual disfranchisement, as there were few who for the sake of a political privilege would attend and put in a claim to the franchise four, and in some cases six, times a year. The evil was deeply felt in the Tower Hamlets, where, as he was informed—he did not pledge himself to the numbers—there were upwards of 16,000 householders thus disfranchised. In one parish alone, as he was informed, there were 3,500 persons entitled to vote, but of these only 300, constituting a franchise association, had claimed to be put upon the register. He was sure the House would agree with him in thinking that such a state of things demanded a remedy; and what he proposed to do in his Bill was to put the compound householders on the same footing as the 40s. freeholders—that was to say, to require from them only one claim for the franchise, that being the requirement of the 37th section of the Reform Act. All other persons being qualified were placed on the register without their own act, but the 40s. freeholders in counties were obliged to make one claim. He could not conceive that there would be any objection to the principle of this measure. 990 Some of the machinery might be thought clumsy; but he did not think that any one would consent to keep from the franchise persons who, both by occupation and payment of rates, were entitled to it.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. HENLEY
agreed that this was no question of franchise. The only question was, whether the machinery by which it was proposed to alter the mode whereby these parties could claim the franchise, was a right machinery. It was proposed that, once upon the register, they should remain there till objected to. The overseers would have no knowledge whether they even remained in the parish. Freeholders, to ever so low an amount, could not fairly be put in the same category with easily fluctuating lodgers. Besides, it was hardly fair, in so thin a House, at the close of the Session, to catch a second reading by way of affirming the principle of a Bill, which could not really be proceeded with in this Session. He would therefore move that it be read a second time this day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months.'
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
agreed that this was not properly a question of franchise, but of regulation; but could not agree with the hon. Member for Oxfordshire if he meant that no remedy was required upon this subject. The Reform Act gave the right of voting to these persons; but it appeared that the only mode in which they could assert and maintain their rights was so difficult and vexatious, that practically they had not the right which the Reform Act intended that they should have. He (Lord J. Russell) must say that he thought his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets had made out his case in that respect; and that if a man was obliged, whenever a rate was made, to go afresh to the overseers, and ask to have his name put upon the rate-book, and constantly be present to renew his claim, he was prevented from enjoying the right the Reform Act gave him. He (Lord J. Russell) agreed that the right ought not to be given in such a manner as to leave any doubt as to the person being really the householder he was described to be, and really an inhabitant 991 of the parish; but there could be some security under this Bill, in the party, being on the register, having constantly to pay the rates. He would vote for the second reading of the Bill, because he admitted that this was a case requiring a remedy; but at the same time, if they went into Committee, care must be taken that the person claiming the vote was personally liable for the payment of the rates, and that his name stood upon the hooks as the person charged with the payment of them, and that, unless it was found he had paid the rates up to the time which the law required, he would not be entitled to a vote.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, it appeared that the noble Lord was about to vote for the principle of a Bill the machinery of which he, at the same time, confessed was inoperative. If the Bill passed into a law, all the securities provided by the Reform Bill would be completely lost. Upon this subject he begged leave to quote the opinion of Lord Denman. In the case of "The Queen v. Bridgnorth," 10 Adolphus and Ellis, 66, it appeared that payments had been made to the overseers in gross sums, some of the parties stating that they had not authorised such payments, and did not know of them till after they were made. Lord Denman said—If the practice described were to prevail, there would be great danger of the most enormous bribery. The statute, in requiring that rates shall have been paid, contemplates some payment by the party's own hand.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
put it to the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown, whether it was not a useless waste of time to be discussing this question? They had very important business before them, and he must say he thought it a complete waste of time at such a period of the Session to be engaged in an idle discussion like this.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
said, he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield in thinking that this was a most lamentable and inexcusable loss of time; and if the hon. Baronet persisted in forcing the matter to a division, he should feel it his duty to vote against him. He admitted the premises of the noble Lord, but he was sorry to say he had come to the very opposite conclusion that the noble Lord had arrived at. He was of opinion that the householders in the position described by the hon. Baronet, were entitled to the franchise, and that some difficulty existed in obtaining the right to exercise that franchise; 992 he also agreed that a remedy ought to be provided, but that this was not the remedy. In these circumstances he could not consent to vote for the Bill before the House.
§ Sir W. CLAY
had great unwillingness to withdraw the Bill after the hostile expression of opinions from the other side. However, as the noble Lord at the head of the Government had expressed his conviction that the grievance was one which ought to be remedied, he would, at his suggestion, withdraw the Bill, on the understanding that if the noble Lord did not next Session bring in a Bill, he should himself deem it his duty to do so.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.