§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he rose to move the second reading of the measure, the main object of which, as based upon the Report of a Select Committee appointed earl; during the Session, was to amend the registration of county voters by improving the official agency. At present the duty of keeping tip the registration was left mainly to voluntary agents, who were paid out of -private funds. What happened? The clerk of the peace, after the commencement of the registration season, issued a very meagre precept-to the overseers to instruct them in their duties. The respective overseers then printed such parts of the existing register as related to their own parishes. Later in the season the overseers made out a list of claims sent to them by individuals. They had also power to make and to receive objections to persons on the lists various grounds, and such objections were posted upon the church doors. Unless the partly objected to resided in the parish and went to church, he knew nothing of the objection, and his name might be struck off the register. The arrangement proposed by the Bill was to send to the overseers a precept setting forth all their duties, those duties being, in some respects, of a more positive and active character. Each overseer was then to ascertain as best he could, from the rate book taken in conjunction with other sources of information, what persons had become entitled to vote or had become disqualified. It was proposed that they should make out a list, called the supplemental list, of all the persons newly entitled to the franchise. They were further to state their objections to voters disentitled, in every case assigning the reason why. The Bill further recognized what the existing law scarcely did recognize, namely, the importance of making the register a correct statement of points not essential to the vote, such as the addresses of the voters and the description of the qualification. The overseers were, therefore, to note any errors in the entries of voters in regard to these points. The materials thus collected 1816 by the local information of live overseers were to be arranged and digested by the clerk of the peace, who would draw up the lists for publication. It was proposed to give to voters whose descriptions required correction the opportunity of making the proper correction by letter. If, after a year, they failed to furnish the necessary information, their names should be expunged from the register. The present right of individuals to make claims and objections was to be retained, but every person objected to was to receive notice of the objection and the ground of it. Any person objected to was to have an opportunity of vindicating his claim by making a statutory declaration before a magistrate, in answer to the objection. The revising barrister's powers of correcting the lists submitted to him were to be enlarged, and there was to be a more thorough and closer scrutiny of those lists than at present. The advantages of the proposed system over the present were briefly these. By means of the supplemental list it was hoped to facilitate the registration of new voters; individual claims would be facilitated by the power to make a statutory declaration in support of them; vague and vexatious objections would be checked by requiring the grounds of objection to be stated. Official would be, in a great measure, substituted for voluntary agency, and the register in all points duly corrected from: time to time by responsible persons, specially employed for the purpose. The Bill: would also impose a check on unfounded and fraudulent claims by subjecting new claims to a closer scrutiny The Bill provided for the correction of the register in matters of description, which at present were "no man's business." At present the only means of correcting errors of description was by sending in new claims. The overseer's would be relieved of a portion of their duties, which they were least fitted to perform. The clerk of the peace, with his legal knowledge, could greatly facilitate the future labours of the revising barrister. One other change was proposed by the Bill—a difference in the arrangement of the names. It was proposed that each parish list in the register should contain the names, not only of persons claiming to vote for property in the parish, but also the names of voters residing there who claimed to vote for property in other parishes in the same county. It was proposed that each voter should vote in the polling district in which he was resident; 1817 the object being to get rid of duplicate numbers. Each parish list would be complete in itself, for the purpose of canvassing and voting; and that would do away with the expense of the conveyance of voters, There were some other minor changes to give effect to those which he had mentioned, but they were details fitted rather for consideration in a Committee than for discussion on the question of the second reading. The Bill was the result of the labours of a Select Committee. It had been drawn with great care and, he ventured to say, accuracy. If the House would consent to a second reading and discuss the clauses on a future day, it would be found that the Bill was calculated to make some valuable alterations in the law, which was far from satisfactory.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dodson.)
§ MR. HUNT
said, he would not oppose the second reading of the Bill, because it contained several provisions which he approved, but he wished it to be understood that he did not pledge himself to the whole scheme of registration as proposed. He doubted the competency of the overseers to perform the duties which it was intended to impose on them. It was doubtful, for instance, whether they should be intrusted with the power of putting names on the lists without claims having been sent in. No doubt the clerks of the peace were competent, but he was not sure that it was expedient to intrust individuals with so great a power of affecting the political character of the registration. Another ground of objection to the Bill was the expense it would involve. The clerks of the peace throughout England had held a meeting on the subject, and it appeared that the Bill would involve the employment of more clerks, and the conduct of much correspondence. Considering that the existing system of registration was tolerably cheap, he thought the House would do well to consider whether they ought to make a change involving so much expense. It was impossible that the Bill should go through without being referred to a Select Committee upstairs, and he thought the hon. Member for Sussex would do well by contenting himself with carrying the second reading, and then circulating it through the country for consideration during the recess, so that it might come op advantageously for discussion in the next Session of Parliament.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, it was probable there would be considerable opposition to the Bill, because it would interfere with the emoluments of country attorneys, who of course would enlighten' Members as to the great injury which would be done to their party thereby. The Bill, if passed in its present shape, would throw four-filths of the work done by election agents into the hands of public officers, and the agents would only have to supplement the work instead of doing it all, as at presents. The existing system was costly, not very efficient, and, in his opinion, rather discreditable. The duty of correcting the lists ought not to be left to voluntary effort. The Bill would be productive of one great advantage, that it would check the practice of making wholesale objections to voters in the hope that many of them would not appear to defend their rights. On one occasion, out of 24,000 names on the lists of voters for, South Lancashire, not less than 15,000 were objected to by one party or the other, and some of them were objected to by both parties; and such a fact showed that something ought to be done to alter the existing law upon the subject. Instead of sending the Bill to a Select Committee, he would suggest that the Government should be requested to give a morning sitting for the discussion of the main points of the Bill, and then it might be brought into a shape ready for being passed next Session.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, it could not be denied that the present system of county registration was very unsatisfactory. Still the scheme proposed by the Bill was a wide scheme, and required consideration. If the hon. Member obtained a second reading for the Bill, he ought either to remit it to a Select Committee, or induce the Government to adopt it. Such a measure could not be accepted on the mere responsibility of an individual Member. If the hon. Gentleman would agree to either of these conditions, he would have no objection to the second reading.
MR. T. G. BARING
said, his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was prepared to give his support to the second reading of the Bill. He thought the hon. Gentleman deserved the thanks of the House for the great pains he had taken in the matter, and he might remind the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the measure was based on the Report of ft Select Committee. The Government, of course, could give no pledge to support all the provisions of the 1819 Bill, but would carefully consider then before it went into Committee.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.