HC Deb 22 February 1859 vol 152 cc735-8

, in moving the second reading of this Bill, briefly explained its provisions. One of its objects was to provide for a more equal division of wards. Since the passing of the Reform Act, some wards had greatly increased, whilst others had scarcely increased at all. Such was particularly the case with regard to outlying wards; and in one instance the number of voters had increased from 488 to 1053, and in another from 246 to 1487; and he thought it was extremely desirable that a better apportionment of these mini-hers should be effected. The Bill also contained a provision for throwing the costs on parties who made frivolous objections. He knew a case where nearly one-half of the constituency had been objected to for vexatious purposes. The next object of the Bill was to simplify the mode of electing councillors. At present, although there was to be no contest, the candidates were put to inconvenience and expense. They had to print voting papers, to hire clerks and committee rooms, because they did not know that a candidate might not start up in opposition at the last moment, and it happened sometimes that candidates were started for vexatious purposes. He provided against this by proposing that, four days before the election, the names of the persons to be nominated, and those of the persons nominating them, should be sent to the town clerk, who was to have them posted on the Town-hall one day before the day of election. The next object of the Bill was to prevent the perso- nation of voters, which was sometimes carried on to a great extent. As the law stood at present the presiding officer had no power of himself to put questions to the person who came up to vote. His mouth was absolutely closed unless he had two burgesses to put him in motion. The Bill provided fur this by giving power to inflict an imprisonment of three months on the person who personated a voter. He likewise proposed to extend the provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act to municipal elections, with a view to the prevention of bribery. The penalty at present was too severe, namely, a fine of £50 and disfranchisement, whilst the remedy was too expensive, for there was no power of giving costs. He proposed that the fine should be 40s., and that the disfranchisement should be for two rounds only of municipal elections. He knew of one case where £200 had been spent in bribing a constituency consisting of only 432 voters. There was also a new provision for appointing a public prosecutor to carry on prosecutions at the request of two burgesses. That clause might create some laughing from its novelty; but he believed there were good grounds for it, and he should be prepared to defend it in Committee. Since he gave notice of the measure he received communications from all parts of the country, pointing out various parts of the Municipal Reform Act which required amendment, but he though it better to confine his attention to a particular blot and to apply a remedy, than to open up the whole question of a general reform of that act.


said, that some Bill seemed to be required on the subject. He rose for the purpose of giving notice, that when the Bill was in Committee he should move a clause for the abolition of the property qualification in the case of town councillors.


would give his vote for the second reading of the Bill, but there were one or two points in it which would require serious consideration. He saw no reason why the system of voting by papers should nut be introduced, or why those who personated voters should not be subjected to the same penalties as attached to persons who were guilty of bribery. He doubted also whether it would be advisable to commence in this Bill the institution of a public prosecutor, or whether it would be expedient that the cost of those proceedings should be defrayed from the borough fund. He would rather suggest that the two burgesses who should set the law in motion should be bound to find security for the cost before the proceedings were instituted. This would be a necessary protection to those who might otherwise be subjected to vexatious annoyance. The Bill, on the whole, was considered by many as of even more urgent importance than the great subject of reform which would be brought under the notice of the House next week, and he hoped hon. Members would pay earnest attention to its details.


said, one object of the Bill was to increase the number of wards, but he doubted whether such divisions in a borough were sound in principle at all. Anciently, wards were adopted as a matter of police, but now they were useless divisions, and often enabled persons to obtain an ascendancy which they could not obtain if the municipal elections extended over the whole borough. With regard to the institution of a public prosecutor, he thought if that principle were adopted at all it should be in the form of a general measure, and that it should not be introduced as part of such a Bill as the present.


said, he would have great pleasure in supporting the Bill; but he had an objection to the nomination of persons to be elected as town councillors being restricted to a few days before the election. He thought there were many reasons why it should be in the power of candidates to come forward at the last moment. Besides, he thought some time was necessarily occupied in printing the voting papers and distributing them. Reference had been made also to the difficulty of finding and opening Committee Rooms. He should therefore object to the length of time made necessary for nomination before the election. He objected also to the proposal of referring questions of bribery to juries in County Courts. Juries in the County Courts were only five in number, they must necessarily be selected from the locality and therefore would be composed of persons who were necessarily partisans. He suggested that it would be better to decide such questions by information at Quarter Sessions; he would give an appeal, not to the Recorder of the town, but to justices of a neighbouring county. He objected also to the nomination of a public prosecutor by the town councillors on the same ground of the probability of a partisan being appointed to the office. He should be sorry to see the great general question of a public prosecutor prejudiced by its introduction in a matter of such comparatively trifling importance. He mentioned these objections by way of suggestion to his hon. Friend and not with any view of prejudging the measure.


considered this an important measure. Many parts of it were valuable; but there were other parts on which he wished to reserve his opinion at present, and therefore he hoped that the hon. Member would not object to postpone the Committee on the Bill for a week or ten days.

Bill read 2o, and committed for Wednesday, 2nd March.

House adjourned at a quarter before Ten o'clock