HC Deb 19 June 1856 vol 142 cc1679-84

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair."


said, he objected to the further progress of the measure because there had been no discussion on the principle of the Bill. The Bill itself had been drawn up in a very hasty and clumsy manner; and, if it were passed into law, it would have a very pernicious and mischievous tendency. He entertained several objections to the Bill; first, as it affected the rights of parties to their property, in virtue of which they claimed to vote. It was an axiom in the Scotch law that no man could prove his ownership in property unless he could produce documentary evidence. But the Bill proposed entirely to do away with that requirement, and made the fact of a person's name appearing in the valuation of the county of a not less value than £10 to entitle such person to be on the registrar of voters. His second objection was, that the Bill imposed duties on the assessor which it would be impossible for him to discharge, while it afforded to the assessor facilities for striking out names from the list of voters, which he considered certainly ought to be retained. It would be most injudicious to place the assessor in a position in which improper actions might be attributed to him. His third objection to the Bill was, that a very great expense would be saddled on the counties. He thought, therefore, he was best consulting the interests of the public by moving that the Bill should be committed that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.


said, that whatever weight the objections of his hon. Friend might be entiled to might be very properly considered when the House went into Committee; but his present course was neither usual nor convenient. The Bill had been referred to a Select Committee, composed of ten county Members and five borough Members, indifferently chosen from both sides of the House, and the Report of that Committee was unanimously adopted. The understanding, on referring the Bill to the Select Committee, was that it might save the necessity of any lengthened discussion in the Committee of the whole House. He was sorry to find, however, that it was not likely to effect that object. If he, for the present, declined entering into the criticisms of his hon. Friend, he begged it to be understood that it was because he thought the topics to which his hon. Friend had referred could be far better discussed in Committee.


said, that no explanation of the Bill had hitherto been given. The Bill was read a second time at a late hour of the night, without any discussion. For his own part, he was not aware why any such Bill should be passed at all. He did not deny that in Scotland the system of registration, especially in the boroughs, might be amended. The register certainly wanted purging; there was, however, no one sufficiently interested to see that the bad votes were struck off the list, and this Bill would not remedy that evil. Besides, it was impossible that the Bill could be made to apply this year to the counties.


said, the right hon. and learned Lord had complained of the course taken by the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. G. Dundas) as being unusual and inconvenient; but he was sorry to say the right hon. and learned Lord was adopting a very unusual and inconvenient course, especially with regard to the Bill now under consideration; for, relying on the numerical strength of the borough Members behind him, he disdained to reply to any arguments that had been opposed to him. The fact was, this was a Reform Bill, and ought to be considered very carefully before it was passed. A measure on this subject ought not to be treated as a matter of theory or speculation, but as one that required a practical knowledge of the working of the registration system. The Bill would introduce great changes in the present law. It was likewise objectionable upon principle. By this Bill a voter might be objected to without any notice being given to him. The assessor would have the power of taking an objection to a voter, and of striking him off the list, unless the voter happened to see the objection and attend to support his vote. Again, the assessor would have the power of placing persons on the list, whether they claimed a right to vote or not. Another great change was, as regarded the title of the voter. Hitherto the voter had been obliged to sustain his own title by proof; but henceforth the mere fact of his name appearing on the valuation roll, which, for many purposes, was a very convenient system in Scotland, was to be taken as a proof of title. The next change proposed by the measure was the throwing of the expense of carrying out the Act upon the county assessment. There was also another great change which would be made by the Bill. At present, if a voter disposed of his property which constituted his qualification before an election, he might be objected to; but by this Bill he would retain a right to vote for a year after he had sold his property. Now, those were matters which ought not to be introduced into a Bill brought forward so late in the Session as the month of May, and to be carried into operation in the month of July. If the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate wished to go into Committee merely for the purpose of making the Bill as perfect as possible, in order that it might be introduced again next year, he would not oppose the Motion that Mr. Speaker leave the chair.


said, he was desirous that a good registration for Scotland should be established, but he must say that the Bill had been introduced in a very hurried manner. If it were desired to make the Bill, as his hon. Friend who had just spoken had said, as perfect as possible, but not to pass it into a law till another Session, then he would not object to the House going into Committee.


said, he could assure the House that a strong desire existed on the part of the people of Scotland that some such measure as the present should be passed. It would afford a great relief to the constituencies of Scotland, and he believed that the expense of registration would be reduced by one-half.


said, he was very anxious not to vote against the right hon. and learned Lord, but on this occasion he should feel himself obliged to do so. He thought the right hon. and learned Lord ought to give some answer to the very strong objections which had been made against the Bill. There was no such principle in England as that of giving a man a vote whether he wished it or not; but by this Bill the assessor would have the power in Scotland to do so. The valuation roll in Scotland was a matter of great convenience in many ways, but it was too much to say that the assessor should make up from that roll a list by which men should be entitled to vote at elections.


said, he considered that all those questions might be much better discussed in Committee.


said, that the principle contended for was, that the English system of registration should be introduced into Scotland; but the Bill would not effect that object as far as the counties were concerned; he would, therefore, urge upon the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate to postpone the Bill to another Session.


said, that as no opportunity had been afforded to discuss the Bill, the right hon. and learned Lord not having even condescended to explain its provisions, he was of opinion that it ought to be postponed.


said, he fully concurred in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Baillie), and hoped the Government would withdraw the Bill for the present Session.


said, he should not object to the Motion for going into Committee if the Government would consent that the Bill should not come into operation till next year.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 49: Majority 53.

House in Committee; Mr. FITZROY in the chair.

Clause 1.


said, he would briefly explain the provisions of the Bill now before the Committee. The object of it was to remedy the evils which existed in Scotland in respect to the registration of voters. He most strongly denied that it was an ill-digested measure, or that it had been pressed forward with undue haste. Several meetings of the Scotch Members had been held for the purpose of discussing the Bill; and, at the suggestion of the county Members, various alterations had been made in its provisions. Under those circumstances he did not think he was justly chargeable with any discourtesy in declining to discuss the merits of the Bill on the question that Mr. Speaker do leave the chair. As doubts existed in the minds of certain hon. Members with respect to the possibility of carrying the Bill into operation in regard to the counties during the present year, he had no objection to limit it to the boroughs.


said, he was unwilling that there should be one law applicable to the counties and another to the boroughs, and would therefore suggest the propriety of postponing the operation of the Bill till next year.


said, he believed the Bill would work equally well in counties as in boroughs, and he should be sorry that its operation should be postponed for one year even, especially with respect to the boroughs.

It was then moved that the word "counties" in the clause be omitted, which was agreed to, and the clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The clauses up to Clause 54, as amended, by the omission of all that was in them relating to the counties, were then agreed to.

Clause 55 (Expenses of Annual Registrations—how to be defrayed).


said, he wished to move the insertion of the following proviso:— Provided always, That for the purposes of this Act no person shall be liable to be assessed whose property is not of sufficient amount of valuation to entitle him to be placed on the register of voters heretofore mentioned.


said, he must oppose the Amendment as being unnecessary.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 59; Noes 103: Majority 44.

The remaining Clauses and Schedules were then agreed to.

The House resumed.

Bill reported with amended title.