§ The Earl of Clarendon,
on moving that the Electors' Removal Bill be read a second time, said, he was induced to do so from no other 471 motive than that of a desire to effect a remedy for what he considered a great injustice to a large portion of the constituency of this country, who, by the operation of the Act for registering voters, were often disfranchised, although they retained all the qualifications required by the Reform Bill. There appeared to be two classes of objectors to this bill; the one consisting of those who considered that it would interfere with the finality of the Reform Bill, and the other of those who, while professing not to object to an improvement of that measure, contended that the bill before their Lordships offered no improvement. With respect to the argument founded upon the final character of the Reform Bill, he would not say anything. He would not enter into a discussion respecting the possibility of regarding as final any act of legislation whatever, although it might at the time of its enactment be the best and soundest that human reason could devise. He did not believe that any man, in possession of his rational faculties, could maintain such a doctrine. Among the objections urged by those who considered that this bill did not offer any remedy for the evil complained of, the principal objection, he believed was, that it would revive the system of outvoting. He should be as adverse as any one to the revival of that system; but he did not think the present bill would have that effect. Was it probable that mechanics and tradesmen would go into a town, and pay rent and taxes, in order to obtain the franchise, and then quit the borough immediately, knowing that within a very few months they would lose their votes at the next registration? As an instance of the evil that now existed, he would mention the case of the borough of Salford. Among a constituency of 2,000 there were 190 annual removals; and of these not more than ten on the average left the borough; but the remaining 180 were by the law, as it now stood, disfranchised. The bill before their Lordships would prevent that injustice; and he really thought, that it was a measure which they might pass with safety. It was much desired by the people, and what he thought ought peculiarly to recommend it to their Lordships was, that it proceeded upon the safe principle of remedying grievances as they arose, thus preventing the necessity of great and sweeping, and it might be, hazardous, measures of reform.
§ Lord Redesdale
admitted, that this bill affected the rights of the whole constituency of the country, of whatever party; and if he thought it was calculated to afford any relief, he should be most ready to support it. But he entertained many and strong objections to the measure. The noble Earl had confined his observations to one portion of the bill only—namely, as it regarded the voters who removed in the same borough after registration. But this was not the only grievance under the registration system. Others, of which the complaints, were, however, less loud, were equally caused by the present system. Men coining into possession of property one day after the 20th of July were kept out of their franchise for nearly eighteen mouths. Now, if by the law of registration, they prevented property from obtaining the franchise, they ought to be very careful not to give the franchise to persons who had no property at all. This bill would not cure the evil he had just mentioned; and he feared it was impossible so to amend the bill in Committee as to remove all the objections which might be urged against it. According to the Reform Act, no man who did not reside within seven miles of a borough could vote for the place; but, according to this bill, a man might remove to any distance from the town, and demand the right of voting at the election of Members of Parliament. Such a measure was against the spirit and letter of the Reform Act, for it would give out voters the right of voting. Thus, a man who had been placed in the register for the town of Berwick-on-Tweed might remove to Exeter, and, in case of an election, might be sent to the former place to vote. The bill would confer the right of voting on a man who had got rid of his qualification, and he might be a beggar at Exeter, and sent to Berwick to vote for Members for Parliament. If this bill passed, they would have to get rid of the third question put under the Reform Act to a man who came up to vote, namely, whether he was still possessed of the qualification under which he was registered? He thought that the Legislature should examine into the whole subject of registration, and pass some general measure on the subject, which would get rid of the defects which were admitted, on all hands, to exist under the present system. These defects must be remedied, and, he trusted, that during the vacation, the attention of 473 the Government would be turned to the subject, so that early in the next Session some general and satisfactory measure might be introduced on the subject. It was also a ground of objection to the present measure, that it would throw impediments in the way of a sound system of general registration, and it was a matter in which there should not be mere piecemeal or partial legislation. Under these circumstances, he should oppose the further progress of this bill, and move that it be read a second time this day three months.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, there was one objection which had not been alluded to by his noble Friend, to which he wished to direct the attention of the House—it was the effect that a measure of this kind was likely to have on the constituency of Ireland, should it be extended to that country. The registration of county constituencies in Ireland occurred once in seven years. Now, a man might lose his qualification; and if the principle of this bill were adopted, he would have the right of voting for seven years. The result would be, that a system of fraudulent and fictitious voting would be adopted, which would completely upset the registration in that country, and would establish a state of things, if possible, worse than universal suffrage.
§ Lord Colborne
said, that it was to him a matter of surprise, that a measure of this kind had not been long ago the law of the land. He agreed with the noble Earl, that if this measure were applied to Ireland with the present registration, it would be objectionable; but the registration in Ireland was essentially different from that which existed in this country, and the bill was not intended to apply to the county constituencies. Therefore, the objections of the noble Earl were not directly applicable to the bill. It was possible that a person might part with his qualification altogether, but if he did so, he could not vote under this bill. The object of the bill was, that when a voter moved from one house to another in the same borough, that he should not be considered to part with his qualification, but that he should still have the right of voting. He thought that a measure of this kind would not give one party an advantage; but be equally satisfactory to both parties, as they must be equally affected by it.
§ The Duke of Richmond
did not think, that a satisfactory case had been made 474 out to justify the House in passing this bill. His noble Friend who moved the second reading of it, stated that 180 persons who were on the register the year before last had changed their residencies, and had gone into other houses in the same borough. He could hardly think that such a large proportion of the electors had changed their residence and lost their qualifications in the course of a year in such a comparatively small town. Before they consented to a change of this extent, they ought to feel assured, that there was ample security that the persons who parted with their qualifications continued residents in the borough with which they might be connected, and that they were bonâ fide holders of houses of sufficient value to entitle them to the elective franchise. Under this bill, however, a man might part with his qualification in Hastings or elsewhere, and go to reside in London or Birmingham or any other place, and be still entitled to vote. It appeared to him to be very objectionable to open the doors in this manner to all sorts of fraud, for persons might not only go into the workhouse, but into prison, and be still entitled to vote. He agreed with the noble Lord that a measure so deeply affecting the registration should be a general measure, and that it was most objectionable to legislate in detail on such a subject. He should oppose this bill as a piece of petty legislation, and which would open the door to all kinds of abuses. If this principle were to be made applicable to boroughs, he did not see why it should not be extended to counties, and if a farmer who was on the register for one county removed into another he did not see, if this bill passed, why he should not be allowed to vote at the elections for the latter, although he might not be on the register.
The Earl of Fitzwilliam
thought that all the objections that had been urged against this bill might be much better enforced against it in Committee. He trusted, that as that bill had been sent up twice from the other House, noble Lords would allow it to go into Committee, for if they did not, it might appear invidious to the other House.
§ The Earl of Devon
objected to the bill as interfering in detail with the qualification and register enacted in the Reform Act. The great thing was, that security should be afforded that the household 475 qualification existed at the time of voting, but this bill would remove the great check that existed to ensure this object.
§ The Earl of Clarendon
could not help feeling that some of the opposition that had been offered to this bill was somewhat of a personal character, and he was satisfied that six months ago it would not have been characterised in the way that it had been by the noble Lord who moved the amendment.
§ Lord Redesdale
denied that he bad said anything of a personal nature, or that he was actuated by personal feeling in his opposition to this bill. He objected to it, because he thought that it was a very narrow mode of dealing with the subject of registration.
observed, that although the observations of the noble Lord might not have been very personal, still the observation of his noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) in stating, that the objections to the measure would not have been urged six months ago were very pertinent.
§ Their Lordships divided on the amendment.
§ Contents 80: Not-contents 39; Majority 41.477
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|Argyll||Saye and Sele|
|Normanby||Stanley of Alderley|
|Scarborough||Stuart de Rothesay|
|Bp. Chichester||Bp. Gloucester|
§ Bill thrown out.