HC Deb 24 November 1852 vol 123 cc461-71

Order for Second Rending read.


said, he now begged to move the Second Reading of this Bill; Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he should be disposed to support the second reading of this Bill, because he was decidedly in favour of polls at County Elections being restricted to one day. He thought such polls could be taken in one day without any inconvenience. But the Bill went much farther than that, and he thought the House ought to be exceedingly cautious, lest in endeavouring to promote despatch, it did not commit a much greater evil than the one sought to be remedied. The Bill proposed that the poll should take place on the day after the day of nomination. He thought that would be too early a period for the poll to begin after the day of nomination. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, which he represented, more than once, under the existing system, had the candidates been taken by surprise on the eve of an election by the appearance of a new candidate, and once they were forced to be specially on their guard against a similar surprise. If, therefore, the poll took place so soon after the nomination as this Bill proposed, candidates would have more than ever to be prepared for a contest, and they might expend in that way nearly as large a sum as that which would be incident to a contested election. In 1847, when Lord Morpeth and himself were candidates for the West Riding, they hoard no rumour of a third candidate coming forward until their arrival at Wakefield on the evening before the nomination day. Neither of them was, therefore, prepared for a contest; and feeling the very great responsibility of throwing so large a con- stituency into the confusion of a contest, he (Mr. B. Denison) himself thought it prudent to retire from the contest. His present Colleague (Mr. Cobden) was not in Yorkshire on that occasion, being abroad; but if he had been present, he (Mr. B. Denison) believed he would not have allowed himself to be put in nomination. Lord Morpeth and himself had no reasonable notice of the intention to nominate his present Colleague (Mr. Cobden) at that election; and it was solely to prevent the expense of going to the poll that he (Mr. B. Denison) was induced to retire from the contest. With respect again to the election which took place in the summer of the present year, although it was generally rumoured that his Colleague and himself would be elected, they were neither of them very confident that another candidate would not be put up at the eleventh hour to oppose them; and certain arrangements were made and expenses incurred throughout the riding in anticipation of any surprise. Now, be was thoroughly convinced that if only one day was to elapse between the day of nomination and the day of poll, candidates would be driven to make all the preparations for a contest, and much unnecessary expense would be incurred throughout the Kingdom. Previous to the Reform Bill, it was the practice for county meetings to be held at which Gentlemen were named as candidates, and thus it was known before the election came on, who were the parties soliciting the suffrages of the electors. This prevented any surprise—the candidates had plenty of time to canvass the constituency, and the matter consequently proceeded more satisfactorily than it would do under the proposed alteration. He would suggest, as preferable to the proposition in the Bill, that the poll in counties should take place on the day week after the nomination of the candidates; the result of which would be, that none of the candidates would think of going to any expense until they were all fairly in the field. He owned he felt a good deal on this subject, because he represented the largest constituency in the Kingdom, and that constituency could not be moved for a contest without almost incredible expense. For those reasons, he should certainly vote against that clause of the Bill when it came before the Committee. He wished to touch upon another question. He thought the taking of the poll might be accomplished much more satisfactorily and cheaply than at present; and the sug- gestion he would throw out was, that after the candidates for an election were named, the sheriff for the county or division of a county should send out printed lists to every voter, whose name and residence he must know, and those should be returned within a week, giving the names of those for whom he wished to vote, and signed by the voter. He thought this mode of taking the votes would have a very salutary effect. Everything would be done in a quiet and tranquil manner, and the electors would not be subjected to the annoyance of leaving their homes. He did not mean to propose that now, as it was an alteration in the mode of taking the votes at elections, but he threw out the suggestion for consideration.


said, he had given this subject some consideration, and he could not help saying that the more he considered it the less expedient he thought it was to alter the present system of taking the polls in counties. His decided impression was, that the effect of limiting the poll to one day would be to subject the persons who had to give their votes to great personal inconvenience. He confessed he was much struck to find the representative of so large a constituency as the West Riding of Yorkshire in favour of a proposition for limiting the poll to one day. He (Mr. Palmer) had no doubt that the poll might be taken in one day, if there was a considerable increase of the arrangements for accomplishing that end. But then came the question of expense. His strong belief, however, was, that if they were to increase the polling places to a very considerable extent, the result would be, that so far from diminishing the expense by limiting the poll to one day, they would increase it. They would require additional deputy-sheriffs, additional clerks, and additional arrangements of every kind. The great body of voters in counties were agriculturists, and it was a matter of considerable importance to them that they should be allowed two days in which to record their votes at their polling places, some of which were at great distances from their residences, rather than one. For example, it would be very inconvenient if the single day on which they were at liberty to give their votes happened on any great fair or market at which their business compelled them to be present. It was necessary, too, that the voters should be secured from surprise. In his own county, at the last election, they were taken by surprise on the, day of nomination. He was satisfied that that part of the Bill which limited the time between the nomination and the polling to one day would be impracticable. Some of the polling places were thirty or forty miles from the town where the nomination took place, and much inconvenience would also be caused by the sheriff being bound to have all his men ready within twenty-four hours of the time when he announced the poll to take place. He was putting this question simply as one of expediency and convenience, for there was no principle involved in the measure. At his own election recently, several of his constituents intimated to him how glad they were that the Bill of the noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor) did not pass in the last Session of Parliament, seeing the inconvenience it would have occasioned them. Besides, supposing the poll was limited to one day in counties, he thought it would be a matter of the greatest difficulty, if, indeed, it would not be altogether impossible, to procure conveyances in a large county to take the voters to the poll. That was a material point, though he admitted it might be managed in the metropolitan county. But, in his opinion, the proposition of the noble Lord was inexpedient. The time for taking the poll in counties was short enough already. He would move, in the meantime, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, though, if he found the sense of the House against him, he would not press it to a division.

Amendment proposed, "To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he must confess he entertained very considerable doubts as to the expediency of this Bill, but he was not prepared at once to vote against the second reading in the mode proposed by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Palmer). There was, however, a part of the Bill to which he (Lord H. Vane) entertained a very decided objection, namely, the interposition of only one day between the nomination and the polling day; and if his noble Friend (Lord R. Grosvenor) should be inclined to persevere with that part of the Bill, he would feel it his duty to oppose it on its third reading. This was only a question: of expense; there was no principle whatever involved in it. Every one, he thought, would admit that it was desirable to diminish the expenses at County Election contests, but it was equally desirable to prevent confusion; and it was equally necessary that the opinions of the constituencies should he fairly taken, and that there should be ample time given to enable candidates to canvass the voters. With respect to the limitation of the poll to one day in counties, he thought the poll might be taken in that short space of time in the metropolitan county, and in counties adjacent to the metropolis; but in other counties, where there was a scattered constituency, consisting of every description of voters, it would be found to be a matter of great practical difficulty to procure conveyances sufficient to take them to the poll, and that the price of such conveyances would be very materially enhanced on such occasions. He confessed he did not think it advisable to adopt the suggestions thrown out by the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. B. Denison), that a week should elapse between the nomination and the polling days. He did not see any necessity for the interposition of so long a period. Indeed, he thought the present time was sufficient to elapse between the nomination and the poll, for all the necessary purposes of the election. He was prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill, but on the express understanding that he should oppose the third reading if the proposition interposing only a single day between the nomination and the poll was not withdrawn.


Sir, I quite agree with the observation which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Palmer), that there is no actual principle involved in the Bill as proposed by the noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor), and that the question to be considered is a question of convenience, expediency, and expense. Now, there are two propositions contained in this Bill: the first is, that the days of polling in counties shall be reduced from two to one; and the second is, that the day of polling shall immediately follow the day of nomination, without allowing an interval, as now, between them. [Lord R. GROSVENOR: An interval of one day.] Very well, an interval of one day. Now, upon the question whether the polling in counties shall be reduced from two days to one, as in the boroughs, provided you can do it conveniently, and with as little expense as is now incurred, I think there would be great convenience attending such a proposal. If, therefore, I can see my way to such an alteration being made with reference to polling in the counties, I should be prepared to support this Bill; and I am prepared to support the second reading of it for the purpose of seeing in the Committee how that can be expediently, conveniently, and advantageously carried out. But let me call the attention of the noble Lord to what I called his attention to in the last Session of Parliament, that I think he does not provide sufficiently by this Bill for a proper number of polling places being ensured in the different counties, so as to admit of every voter recording his vote at County Elections. How did the Legislature proceed on this subject when the Reform Bill was introduced? By the Reform Bill it was provided that there should be a convenient number of polling places; and in the Schedules to 2 & 3 Will. IV., c. 64, the different polling places were specified in the different counties. But, the noble Lord purposes, without providing different polling places in the different counties, that the days of polling shall be reduced from two to one. Everything turns upon the question, whether there will be a sufficient number of polling places for all the voters that come up to record their votes. As the Bill now stands, you are leaving that question open and undetermined, and only to be determined upon an application made by the Justices of Peace to the Government, upon whose recommendation the Queen in Council shall have the power of fixing more polling places than are now fixed in the different counties. Now, I think, before Parliament assents to that, they ought to see that the polling places in the different counties are specified in a Schedule to the Bill which you are about to introduce, so that the righs of the voters in this respect should not depend on the mere requisition by the justices or the magistrates of the counties, but should be prescribed in such a way as to convince the House that every voter would have the power of recording his vote. Now, as to the other point, whether there should be an interval of one or two days between the day of nomination and the clay of polling, I feel very strongly upon it. I think one day is not a sufficient interval, for supposing a contest arises at the last moment, there will not be a sufficient opportunity for all the voters in large counties to know who the candidates are, and for whom they ought to record their votes. I have a strong objection to that part of the Bill; and I cannot but express my surprise that the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. B. Denison) should have put his name to this Bill, containing, as it does, that very proposition to which he now objects. I mention this, because I think it expedient, when Gentlemen put their names to the backs of Bills brought into this House, that we should think they have received the consideration of those Members whose names are appended to them. It is not my intention, however, to oppose the second reading of the Bill, for, I assent to it with pleasure, because I think it will be convenient, if you can do it with as little expense as possible, that the number of polling days should be the same as in boroughs, namely, one. But that part of the Bill providing for polling places, and that part which reduces the interval from two days to one between the day of nomination and the day of election, I own I think ought not to pass into a law, because I think wrong would be done to the different constituencies unless they had proper facilities for recording their votes.


said, he could not understand what objections the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Palmer) could have to this Bill. Bid the experience of the hon. Member in that county to which he had adverted, refer to the ousting from the representation of Mr. Pusey, a man who more thoroughly understood the whole question of the agricultural interest than perhaps any Member in that House. He was surprised to think that the hon. Member for Berkshire could not think it possible to do in one day in that county with only 5,000 electors what 20,000 electors had done in one day in the city of London. Besides, as a matter of time, there were now more facilities for taking the poll effectually in counties in one day, than there were in two days in 1832—at the passing of the Reform Bill. At that time they had solely to rely on conveying the voters to the poll by horse power; but now they could everywhere take advantage of the facilities for locomotion by railways. At present a nomination for a county might take place on a Wednesday, and the elections would not be until the following Monday, because if the polling commenced on the Saturday they would have the Sunday intervening. He would ask if that was a proper or reasonable state of things? When the Reform Bill passed, two days for taking the poll were allowed for cities and boroughs as well as for counties, but it was afterwards found expedient to alter that arrangement with respect to cities and boroughs; and the Act repealing that part of the Reform Bill contained these words in its preamble: "Whereas it would tend to promote the purity of election and diminution of expense, if the poll were taken in one day." Was it the object of the hon. Member for Berkshire and other hon. Members who opposed the Bill to perpetuate the expense of elections, and so, by the power of wealth, prevent the electors having an unrestricted choice of candidates? If the object of hon. Gentlemen was to diminish expense and promote the purity of election, they ought immediately to reduce the number of polling days to one. With respect to the other proposition, for shortening the interval between the nomination and polling day, it might not perhaps be desirable to adopt that provision.


said, there was no ground whatever for the imputations on the part of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Alcock), that those who opposed the Bill did so with the view of giving power to the wealthy, and of preventing the poorer classes of persons coming up to the elections. The noble Lord who proposed the Bill, said he did so only to save expense. He (Mr. Spooner) opposed the Bill, because, instead of diminishing the expenses of elections, he thought it would greatly increase them. In the county which he represented (Warwickshire), many of the voters lived at great distances from their polling places; and he was sure it would be impossible, in the event of a contested election, to give to every freeholder in that county the means of exercising his franchise in one day. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire would press his Amendment to a division, and if he did so, he (Mr. Spooner) would most undoubtedly vote with him.


hoped the hon. Member for Berkshire would not take the advice given him by the hon. Member who last addressed the House, and who came before them on that occasion with the old Tory story of the Reform Bill. The principal objection of the hon. Member who last addressed the House appeared to be whether sufficient time would be allowed, under the Bill, for all the electors to give their votes. He believed there was no foundation for such an objection.


said, he thought that great as might be the benefit of the Bill to England, it would be of far greater importance and benefit in Ireland. He believed that a great number of the scenes which they all deplored, and which had taken place in Ireland during the late elections, would be prevented by the passing of such a measure. The system of "housing" now carried on at elections in Ireland was mainly owing to the two days which were occupied by Connty Elections. He would suggest that the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department should consider the propriety of introducing a clause, if the Bill were extended to Ireland, for abridging the oaths required to be taken by electors, as it frequently happened that in contested elections the persons employed by the sheriffs to administer the oaths read them over extremely slowly or very rapidly, as they conceived might best promote the interests of their favourite candidates, by allowing a larger or smaller number of electors to record their votes in a given time.


said, he hoped that the Bill would not be extended either to Ireland or Scotland until some experience had been attained of its working in England. He conceived that in many instances considerable hardship would result from limiting the time of County Elections to one day. Hon. Gentlemen who supported the Bill seemed to forget the convenience of those electors who lived at a distance from the polling places. One of the first contested elections he had been engaged in for the county of Roxburgh took place in the depth of winter, when the roads were almost impassable; the friends of his opponent resided chiefly in the towns, whilst his (Mr. Scott's) friends resided in the country districts. If in that case the polling had been confined to one day, there could be no doubt that great hardship and injustice would have been inflicted. As to intimidation at elections, he believed that the effect of the Bill would be merely to concentrate the efforts of parties to intimidate and coerce the electors more than at present.


said, he must protest against England being made the ground for an experiment of this nature, and he contended that the Bill ought to be applied equally to Ireland and Scotland. He advocated the limitation of polling to one day, as having a tendency to stop intimidation in Ireland. With regard to the provision shortening the interval between the nomination and polling day, that was a question that could, if it gave rise to objections, be settled in Committee.


said, that no more difficulty would arise from confining the election to one day, than from allowing it to extend as at present, to two days, inasmuch as the voters could come up the day before the day of polling if necessary.


said, that, so far as he could ascertain the opinions of the electors of that part of Scotland with which he was connected, there was a strong desire on their part to have the polling limited to one day; and he would give notice of his intention, at a future stage, to move that the Bill should be extended to Scotland.


said, he was of opinion that the Bill did not go far enough. One important point was omitted, which was that of reducing the time between the proclamation and the day of election, and he should move in Committee the insertion of a clause to that effect. He supported the Motion for the second reading.


said, he trusted that, as the feeling of the great majority appeared to be in favour of the second reading of the Bill, the hon. Member for Berkshire would withdraw his opposition to that Motion. In considering the Bill the Committee ought not to overlook the case of those counties which had not the advantage of great railway communication; and, on the other hand, should not increase expense by giving too large a power for the addition of polling places. With respect to purity of election, he could not anticipate that this Bill would tend very much to that effect. He was happy to say, as regarded English counties, very few complaints of bribery and corruption were ever substantiated, and he believed that there was no probability of the return for any county in England during the last election being disputed.


said, in accordance with the wishes of the House he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed."


said, he begged to move as an Amendment that the Bill, together with that of which the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) had given notice, should be referred to a Select Committee, in order to ascertain whether any alteration might not be effected in the mode of taking the poll, as well as limiting the time of polling.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question to add the words "to a Select Committee."

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he concurred in the suggestion of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, with a view of ascertaining particularly the position of the various counties with respect to the facilities for the conveyance of electors, and for taking the poll at elections. The Government would state, before Wednesday next, the course which it would be prepared to adopt with respect to the Bill in Committee.

A short discussion then ensued, in which Mr. Spooner, Mr. B. Denison, Mr. Walpole, and Mr. Alcock, took part, when Mr. Vansittart said, he would not press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill committed for Wednesday next.

House adjourned at a quarter before Three o'clock.

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