HL Deb 22 April 1852 vol 120 cc982-3

Against the Vote of the House of Lords by which it was decided to hear Counsel against the St. Albans Disfranchisement Bill.

Dissentient— 1. Because the facts upon which this Bill rests have not been called in question, and the Motion implies that which I consider a mischievous and unconstitutional notion, that this Bill and all similar Bills are of a strictly judicial character, requiring the observance of those legal forms to which the House of Lords wisely and mercifully adheres in proceedings having for their object the punishment of guilt; this Bill enacts, not the punishment of individuals, but an improvement in the representation of the people and the constitution of the House of Commons. The elective franchise, in my opinion, is neither a property nor a right, but rather a trust; and Parliament is not only competent, but is bound, upon sufficient reason shown, to regulate, limit, alter, or revoke that trust, as may seem most conducive to the purity, efficiency, and character of the House of Commons. If, indeed, such Bills as these were strictly Bills of pains and penalties, how monstrous would be the injustice of confounding in indiscriminate punishment the innocent with the guilty; and that many voters at St. Albans were innocent was stated in debate by the promoters of this Bill; and how absurd would be the policy which left convicted criminals free to exercise their political franchises in every part of the Kingdom, except the borough of St. Albans! 2. Because it is intended, no matter what may be the nature of the pleading at the bar of the House, that the petitioners shall be debarred from giving evidence in support of that plea; but coun- sel may be instructed to advance assertions which, if proved to be true, would show this Bill to be unjust and unwise. To listen to such statements and then to treat them with utter disregard, refusing an investigation of their correctness, must appear a mere mockery of judicial proceedings, derogatory to the dignity, character, and authothority of the House of Lords. 3. Because in the cases of the Scottish Union and of the Irish Union (notwithstanding that in the latter case the right of sending burgesses to Parliament was considered to have a pecuniary value), and in the instance of the Irish 40s. freeholders, this House did not deem it necessary to adopt any legal proceedings or forms; neither was any legal inquiry instituted, or any useless ceremony gone through, upon the passing of the Reform Act in 1832. The statutes enacted upon these various occasions, and others abrogated, limited, or otherwise dealt with, the franchises of thousands of our fellow-subjects of all classes, and political privileges enjoyed by individuals. It seems to me, therefore, that now to maintain the doctrine that this House in dealing with such re. forms and changes of the electoral system as time or circumstances may render expedient, must invariably follow the practice necessary only, but necessary indeed, for Bills of pains and penalties, is to interpose useless delay and impediments to improvement, neither sustained by reason, nor in accordance with the constitution. SOMERHILL.