HC Deb 16 February 1853 vol 124 cc162-4

said, he begged permission to move for leave to bring in a Bill to limit the time between the proclamation and day of election in counties, and between the receipt of the writ and the election in boroughs; to limit the polling at elections for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and otherwise to regulate the proceedings of elections for Members of Parliament in England and Wales. The House was aware that, so far as related to counties, the law stood now as it stood in 1785, for by an Act of 25 Geo. III. provision was made that proclamation should be made by the sheriff in counties within two days after the receipt of the writ, and the day of election was to be not later than sixteen days, nor sooner than ten days, from the day of proclamation of the writ. By the Bill which he asked the leave of the House to introduce, it was proposed that the election should take place not later than ten days, nor sooner than six days, from the day of proclamation. With regard to cities and boroughs, the House was aware that the law was regulated by the provisions of the Statute of 3 & 4 Vict., c. 81, by which it was enacted that the returning officer for cities and boroughs should, within eight days after the receipt of the writ and precept, proceed to the election, giving three clear days' notice thereof. He proposed by this Bill to limit the time to six days, within which the returning officer should proceed to the election, giving two clear days' notice of his intention. There was also another clause in the Bill, which he submitted would be a reasonable one. The time for taking the poll in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge was not altered by the Reform Act, and therefore there might be fifteen days' polling; but he submitted that five days would be amply sufficient for that purpose, regard being had to the present facilities for travelling to Oxford and Cambridge. There was another provision in the Bill, which he submitted might be adopted with advantage. No additional polling places were appointed by the Reform Act, and it consequently became necessary a few 3'ears afterwards to give the Crown, on the petition of the magistrates at quarter-sessions, power to appoint additional polling places; but there was no provision in that Act to substitute other polling places for such as might be found to be inconvenient. He proposed, by one of the clauses of his Bill, to give Her Majesty a similar power to substitute polling places for those already appointed, upon a like petition from the magistrates assembled in quarter-sessions. With regard to elections for counties, he believed that it would not for a moment be disputed that the great expense was incurred after the proclamation, and between that day and the day of election. He took it for granted that the time which might have been necessary before the Reform Bill, could not be necessary now to give the voters fair and ample time to exercise their franchise. By limiting the time they would protect the candidate against unnecessary expenses of election, and they would also diminish the opportunity for that corruption and those unseemly things which they all knew took place at all elections, for counties as well as for boroughs. On this account he moved for leave to bring in his Bill; and in doing so, he would suggest to the Government the importance of consolidating and amending the laws relating to elections, particularly those which related to bribery and treating. He trusted, also, that when consolidated the law would be laid down in plain English, for it was high time that a reform should be made in the language of Acts of Parliament, the meaning of which ought to be intelligible without a glossary.


seconded the Motion. He did not mean to discuss the question on the present occasion, but he wished that a clause could be engrafted on the proposed Bill, abolishing the present circuitous mode of sending the writ to the returning officer of a borough. It was, in the first instance, sent to the sheriff of the county, and by him transmitted to the borough officer, and this roundabout, process gave rise in some instances to objectionable proceedings, and was made a ground for extorting a fee from the unfortunate candidate. He quite concurred in what had been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the measure respecting the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and he hoped that before another election took place there would be a change in the mode of voting at University elections. The presumption was, as the fact was in boroughs, that the voters resided in or within a short distance of the borough; but in the Universities the presumption was that the voters did not reside; and he hoped that means might be taken for enabling them to vote in their respective localities. With regard to the consolidation of the various laws regarding elections, he might state that the matter had been brought under the notice of the counsel to the Speaker, and another officer of the House, both of whom would be able to render most valuable aid to the Select Committee which he hoped would be appointed to take the subject into consideration. If there was to be a codification of the law, they ought to begin by codifying this branch of it, because it was administered by persons who were not lawyers, who were obliged at present to receive the statement of the law from counsel. He did not know any reform which was more pressing than this, or one which would do the House more credit if it was adopted.


said, that with respect to the consolidation of the law regarding elections, the House was already aware, from the statement made by the Lord Chancellor, that the whole subject was under the consideration of the Government, and it was hoped that some steps would be taken immediately in consequence. He should offer no objection to the first reading of the Bill; but, without expressing any opinion upon the mode in which the hon. and learned Member proposed to carry out the objects which he had in view, it would be for the hon. and learned Member to consider, whenever the second reading of the Bill came before the House, how far it might be for the convenience of public business and the economy of the public time, to entertain during the present Session a measure of this kind, after his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) had announced the attention of the Government to bring in a Bill for amending the representation of the people in Parliament. In the meanwhile the Government would be glad to see the mode in which the hon. and learned Member proposed to deal with the questions to which his Bill related.

Leave given; Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Butt and Mr. Mullings.

The House adjourned at Five o'clock.