HC Deb 15 June 1868 vol 192 cc1609-18

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Galhorne Hardy.)


said, he wished to call attention to the fact that neither in this Bill nor in the Reform Act of last year was there any provision for the serving of notices of objection on lodgers, who consequently would not know until they went into Court whether they were objected to or not. Now, this new class of voters, to whom the franchise had been conceded after much consideration and controversy, would number many thousands in the metropolis, and would be very numerous in the principal towns, and they would be grievously disappointed if they found themselves practically debarred from their anticipated privileges. The service of notices of objection answered two good purposes—it apprised the claimant that his claim was disputed, so as to enable him to attend the Court, and establish his right, and it relieved from the necessity of attending those whose claims were not objected to. Now, as many of the lodgers would be working men, it could not be expected that they should attend the Court day after day in order to see whether they were objected to or not. He was sure the Home Secretary and the Solicitor General would be anxious to have this defect supplied, and he had called attention to it in order that it might be considered by the Select Committee to which the Bill was to be referred.


said, he wished to call attention to another point. He was advised by a barrister well fitted to give an opinion that in thickly-populated counties, such as Middlesex, where many persons had qualifications in one district and their place of business in another, in which latter they would vote, a poll could not he got there as the Bill stood in one day. Under Clause 6, the numbers in each polling district would begin with 1, so that throughout the county there would be many of a particular number; but those who voted in a polling-place other than the district where their qualification was situated would have no number at all. Supposing a quarter of the constituency were in that position, and assuming the constituency of Middlesex to number 20,000, there would be 5,000 without numbers; and how would it be possible for the poll clerks, without a numerical list to guide them, to find the name of any such person who presented himself? He trusted this point would be considered by the Committee. Moreover, under Clause 15, claims might be made until; the 25th of August; but the Act of last year altered the day for making objections from the 25th of August to the 20th, consequently there would he no opportunity of objecting to persons who might send in claims between the 20th and the 25th.


said, he hoped the House would not proceed with unnecessary precipitation in this matter. If ever there was a time for exercising due deliberation and caution it was now, when the country would have to manipulate three most important Acts conferring great privileges on the people. Therefore he objected to decapitating the revising tribunal. He objected to cutting off the head of the Common Fleas. He had every confidence in the legal ability of the Revising Barristers; but he was certain they would be glad to be supplemented by the learning of that high Court. And it would be satisfactory to the country to know that amid the changes and chances of electioneering life there was an august tribunal, unruffled by the popular breeze, to which the more difficult questions of their franchises could be referred— Apparet Divum numen, sedesque beatæ, Quas neque concutiunt venti, neque nubila nimbis Aspergunt. There was a practical matter to which he wished to refer. He feared the time was coming when the Election Petitions and Corrupt Practices Bill must be withdrawn. If all the Election Petitions, with which they would certainly be inundated, were to be tried as usual by this House, would not the Public Business be seriously interfered with? He agreed with an ancient critic that a hastened maturity generally results in failure—celerius occidere festinatam maturitatem. He believed the Government wished to do what is right; but they were mistaken in thinking that there was any desire in the House, or out of it, that the new Parliament should meet before February. For his own part, he would say, "Stay a little, that we may make an end the sooner."


said, he thought the point relating to lodgers a very serious one. Unless the lodger franchise was to be merely nominal, the law ought to require that notices should be served upon them when their right to vote was objected to; for otherwise, though the greater portion of them would be poor men, they would have to attend the Court from the very beginning of the revision to the end, in order to know whether they were objected to or not. Knowing this, very few of them would register at all. The obstacles in the way of the lodger were much greater than in the way of any other class, for instead of being put on the register by the overseers he had to make his own claim, and to repeat it every year. He ought not, then, to be liable to unknown objections at an unknown time.


said, that the Act of last year required the lodger to appear before the Revising Barrister, and substantiate his claim by proving the value of his lodging and the other conditions which he had to satisfy. The service of a notice of objection would thus make no difference, for under any circumstances he was bound to attend the Court, whereas the ordinary voter was placed upon the register by the overseer and had no need to attend unless objected to.


said, that on the lodger franchise being considered last year it was thought impossible that the overseers should make out the list of lodgers, and that it was necessary that lodgers should make their own claims. The fear that lodgers who had made a claim would waste much time in waiting on the Revising Barrister for fear their claim should be disputed had no foundation; a certain day would be appointed for lodgers to prove their claim, and objectors would be heard on that day and no other. He did not think the objections raised by the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Labouchere) were to any extent insurmountable, and he had no doubt the Select Committee would soon find a way to meet them.


said, he thought the Bill demanded most serious consideration. It was agreed on both sides of the House that an early dissolution was desirable; but the question arose, what was necessary and what unnecessary delay? To decide on this question, he appealed to a great principle, which he proposed to lay before the House. The next Parliament would be the most important ever yet elected by the English people; and this he said without fear of contradiction. Parliament had resolved on making the greatest change in the Constitution ever resolved on since Parliament had existed the change might be described as a statutory revolution, because it transferred political power from a mixture of classes to at least a body in which one class preponderated. He would not take as certain the opinion of the wisest man in the country, as to what the next Parliament would be; no one could speculate with accuracy upon it; they were, indeed, taking a leap in the dark. The next Parliament might be a success; it was just as likely to be a failure, and result in the total subversion of the state of things which had raised England to its present eminence. Under these circumstances, it was of the utmost importance this new Parliament should be elected according to the law; and that could not be done without carrying out in the most stringent manner all those safeguards with which the wisdom of Parliament had surrounded the admission of; electors to the franchise. So far from passing a law to hasten the process of making up the register, he would, on the contrary, have extended the time; the change was so momentous that, instead of having the electoral roll compiled with increased haste, he would have the work done with greater deliberation, and have no pains spared to secure a more genuine constituency than any that had ever before existed. How did the case stand, as regarded the Court of Appeal? To hasten the formation of the new electoral rolls, several additional Revising Brrristers were to be appointed; the chance of diversity t of opinion would, therefore, be proportionately increased. Under such circumstances the need of appeal would become more urgent; but, strange to any, the Government proposed to do away with it altogether; and the new House would find itself in the extraordinary position of having among its Members some who would not he entitled to their seats, if the appeals from Revising Barristers had been duly heard. He had yet another point to offer for the consideration of the House. Immediately a difficulty arose in the new Parliament, the Government of the day would be able to point to the extraordinary circumstances he had detailed as a valid reason for saying the country had no confidence in the Parliament as a true representation of its opinion; another dissolution might therefore be reasonably expected in the course of a year, simply because Parliament had been elected in a hurry and a scramble. He did not, however, intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, weighty as were the reasons for condemning it; he merely wished to point out what a grave responsibility rested upon the Select Committee to which it would be referred, and to urge that Committee to consider the question without respect to party, and with a full appreciation of the tremendous results their acts might bring about.


said, he thought that no greater tax should be imposed upon the artizan who claimed to vote under the lodger franchise than was now imposed upon the householder. It would be extremely hard that a man in receipt of good wages should lose his day's earnings, and, in some cases, his earnings for two or even more day a because he received no notice, whereas a shopkeeper, who could easily and without loss leave his shop for an hour or two in the course of the day, was entitled to the notice.


said, that as an old clerk of the pence—perhaps the only one in the House—he wished to congratulate the Government on their having brought forward this Bill, which he believed would effectually accomplish the object that both parties had in view. He could scarcely believe that the hon. Baronet the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) had read the Bill, or he would have seen that there was no interference with the preliminary stages of registration, and that it was not till the Revising Barrister came into play that them was any change in the periods allowed for the purposes of registration. The changes that had been made were such as he thought would effectually enable the clerks of the peace to have the register ready by the time required in order to have the elections in November. With regard to the lodger any defects in regard to his case might easily be remedied in Committee. They were all agreed that as the lodger was not rated he would not be put on the register without sending in his claim; but having done that, he would be put upon the register, and there ought to be no necessity for his appearing unless his claim were objected to, in which case there was no reason why he should not receive notice. There was no difficulty in the Bill that might not be remedied in Committee.


admitted that the authority of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman) as an old clerk of the peace was very high; but the hon. Member had himself convinced him on a former occasion that an election at the time proposed was impossible.


explained that he was then referring to a proposition that came from his own side of the House, to have the elections in the middle of October.


was sorry if he had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. He confessed that he could not understand why Her Majesty's Government had shortened the time at all. There were many hon. Members who, like himself, had supported the Government in carrying the Reform Bill through the House, who were anxious that the full advantages of the measure should be extended to those who were to be enfranchised under its provisions. Now upon this question he would cite the authority of the clerks of the peace in the most important counties of England, nineteen of whom had met last week to consider the subject. These gentlemen were of opinion that it would be extremely dangerous to shorten the time usually allowed for the purposes of registration, the decision they had arrived at being as follows:— Resolved, that in the opinion of this meeting it is not practicable to accelerate the preliminary stages of the registration prior to the day (the 1st of September) prescribed for the delivery of the lists by the overseers to the clerks of the peace, except at the cost of depriving of the franchise a certain class of persons on whom the right to vote has been newly conferred. 2. That this year, if extra exertions were used to obtain the delivery of the lists punctually by the 1st of September, it might be arranged for the Courts of the Revising Barristers to commence not later than the 21st of September, as an interval of at least twenty-one days is requisite for collating the lists, extracting the claims and objections for the guidance of the Revising Barrister, and the appointment and advertising of the Courts; and that such Courts should terminate by the 17th of October. That by extra exertion and expense the printing of the registers for delivery to the sheriff might be effected by the 30th of November; but that, having regard to the length of registers in the more populous counties, the printing and binding could not be executed at an earlier date; and that the meeting believed it to be extremely doubtful whether the printing could in some counties be completed by the day suggested, if the names were to be numbered consecutively throughout as at present. It certainly appeared, therefore, in the opinion of these high authorities, that the shortening of the time of registration would have the effect of depriving a large number—he believed about a third—of those entitled to the franchise under this measure of their privilege as electors. He apologized for having troubled the House; but he never rose except for a practical purpose, and always endeavoured to apply his remarks to the particular point under discussion.


said, he would remind the hon. Member for East Cornwall (Mr. Kendall) that no alteration had been made in the time allowed for the preliminary stages of registration, and that it was to those stages that the objections of the clerks of the peace chiefly applied. The work of the Revising Barrister, could be accelerated by the appointment of addi- tional barristers. He wished, however, to refer to a point noticed by the hon. Member for Middlesex, and to suggest that while the voters should be taken according to their respective parishes the numbering had better be left in the hands of the clerk of the peace. This might be done by beginning at 1001; and the difficulty with regard to the districts might be got rid of by asterisks. He could see no reason why the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) should fear that justice would not be done to the new electors in case of an election coming on before there had been time to decide the appeals from the decisions of the Revising Barristers. He did not believe that any difference would be made between the new voters and the electors under the present system, and it was now the practice, in case an election came on before an appeal had been decided, to permit the elector to record his vote. Some improvements were required in the arrangements as to polling booths. The Act of last year left the law in that respect as it was settled by the Act of 1832.


said, he had voted in two places without a number, and therefore there could be no practical difficulty with regard to the absence of the number. As to the lodger being obliged to "dance attendance day by day in the registration booth," all he could say was that he had himself proved that any voter himself on the register could defend any other person claiming the franchise. He had done it himself. If so, the lodger must be a most unfortunate individual if he could not get a neighbour to defend his claim in the Revising Barrister's Court. The thanks of the House were due to the Government for bringing in the Bill, and for their statement that they would secure a General Election as soon as possible. What object could there be in delaying the dissolution till January? There was great discontent out-of-doors at the prospect of delay in the assembling of the new Parliament. Trade was partially paralyzed, and therefore the sooner the present state of suspense was put an end to the better.


said, he hoped there would be power given to the Committee to examine witnesses. The Bill was a very good Bill; but it contained points requiring alteration. If one or two Revising Barristers, one or two county clerks, and one or two parliamentary agents were examined some difficulties which had been pointed out as likely to arise might easily be got rid of.


said, it would be important to have the House meet, if possible, at even an earlier date than was proposed. He thought it not desirable to shorten the time for making claims, nor the time for the Revising Barristers revising those claims. The object should be to gain time after the Revising Barristers had given their decision. At present, the clerks of the peace were allowed two months to make up the registers; under the Bill only from the 7th to the end of October. This time might be considerably shortened. The registers might be made up and completed in a week or ten days after the last day of the revision. All that was wanted was an increase in the staff of clerks in the office of the county clerks. All knew the rapidity with which the debates were taken down in that House late at night, copied, and printed, so as to be ready for transmission by the early trains. At all events the time might be shortened considerably. And this was the point to which the attention of the Select Committee should be directed. A list of persons entitled to the franchise, according to the information which reached the overseers, was published, according to law, on the 31st of July. This he would not interfere with. But in counties claims on the part of ratepayers omitted from the list were to be sent in by the 20th of August; in boroughs by the 25th of August. He could not see why the two things should not be assimilated by making the date in both the 20th of August. The overseers were allowed now to the 1st of September to copy out and fix the lists of objections on the church doors. He did not see why four or five days would not be enough for that work, and thus there would be a saving of a week; the Revising Barristers would be able to commence their duties on the 7th instead of the 14th of September, and, allowing them three weeks, their task would be completed by the 28th of September, and the registers might be published by the 5th of October. Allowing a week for the copies to be made, everything might be completed by the 12th of October, when the writs might be issued, and, allowing an interval of twenty-eight days, as proposed by the Government, the new Parliament might be brought together by the 9th or 10th of November.


said that generally the objections which had been taken to the Bill were such as would naturally come under discussion in the Select Committee, With respect to those which had been made by his hon. Friend who had spoken last, he would only say that there was not one of them which had not been most carefully considered by the Government. As for the saving of time which might be effected in the printing, while aware that in towns where there were great appliances much might be done, he must say there were parts of the country where it would be extremely difficult to expedite mailers, With respect to the points raised by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) be would venture to say that the hon. Gentleman had not read the clause with his usual attention, otherwise he would have found that if 300 could vote in a compartment under the statute of William, 500 could vote under the proposed Bill. He did not mean to go into all the objections which had been urged, because they were much more fit for discussion in the Select Committee; but in reply to what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for East Cornwall (Mr. Kendall)he would say that the Government having conceived it their duty had brought in a Bill to shorten the time within which Parliament might be assembled; and having done so on a principle which they thought right for themselves and the country they were quite prepared to submit the Bill to the consideration of the Select Committee. Me should leave the question of examining witnesses entirely to the Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

And, on June 23, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. Secretary GATHORNE HARDY, Sir GEORGE GREY, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, Sir ROBERT COLLIER, Mr. GRAVES, Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSTER, Mr. BOUVERIE, Sir RAINALD KNIGHTLEY, Mr. LEEMAN, Captain SURTEES, Mr. AYRTON, Sir GEORGE BOWYER, Mr. GARTH, Mr. HIBBERT, and Sir CHARLES RUSSELL:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.