§ Lord Nugent
said, that the principal objects for which he introduced his present bill were comprised in a very few words. One of the merits of the measure which he was now asking leave to introduce to the House, and if it had not that merit he had misapplied the pains and trouble which he had bestowed upon it, was, that the bill which he was desirous to bring in was not a long one, that the provisions of it were simple and intelligible, that it was calculated to work out its own object, and that all it aimed at might be easily effected. The chief object of it was to give to all cities, boroughs, and cinque ports, in England—Ireland and Scotland he specifically excepted out of its operation,—a register containing the names and descriptions of all persons who had a legal right to tender their votes for the election of members to serve in parliament for those places. He was fully aware that nothing was more distasteful to the House than to enter into a discussion of the abstract principles of representation; he should therefore abstain from saying even a word upon that subject: but he could not help remarking, that whatever might be the views of gentlemen on the abstract theory of representation—or he should rather say the machinery of representation—there could be no good gained in practice by the concealment of the numbers or qualifications of those who had a right to vote at elections for cities and boroughs. There was no tenable ground on which it was desirable that either the candidates, or the returning officers, or the voters themselves, should be left in ignorance of the number and qualifications of the different voters. Whether gentlemen were inclined to favour the influence of property or the influence of population, in regard to elections, in neither case were they left uncrippled by being totally ignorant of the numbers and qualifications of those who exercised the elective franchise. Indeed, he apprehended there were only one or two objects that could be answered by refusing his motion; and he did not expect that gentlemen would rise up in that House to advocate either of them. One of them would be, 869 to continue in the hands of a set of country attornies, an undue monopoly of knowledge as to the extent of the voters, which gave them a most prejudicial power, not only over the candidates, but over the voters themselves; and the other would be to confirm to the members of corporations, in corporate towns, a fraudulent privilege which they enjoyed under the present system,—he meant the power of creating voters ad libitum at the moment of election, or just before it, to give a preponderating advantage to the candidates they favoured. He apprehended no one would say that it was desirable to give effect to either of these objects. To prevent the disadvantages of such a system, and to bring down the wisdom of country attornies to a level with their neighbours, some measure was imperiously necessary. If his measure should be useful in acting as a check upon local interests, it would also be useful in acting as a check upon that which all parties agreed in thinking a great evil,—he meant, fraudulent personations at elections. If gentlemen would look at the detail of the present measure, they would find it calculated to meet the evil of fraudulent personation, as far as the legislature could grapple with it. It was obvious, that there occurred at every popular contested election, a great loss of time in taking the votes during the polling, a great temptation to fraud and perjury, and much quarrelling and confusion among the electors. The first object of his bill, was to procure a registry of the names of all the voters in every city, borough, and cinque port, in England, and a description of the qualifications on which they claimed the right of voting. This was to be lodged, in all places, with the returning officer, and the name and description of the qualification of the voter was in all cases to be entered by himself. For that purpose, he would have a court held in each city or borough four times in a year, at which those who were qualified to vote should be present to enter their qualifications. A severe fine should be inflicted on every returning officer making a false entry in the book of registration, or erasing an old entry. Each court should have power not only to enlarge, but to correct, the register-book, and a certificate should be given at them, by the returning officer, to any voter who made application for it, on the payment of a small determinate fee. That certificate, 870 too, should be of equal value with the entry in the register-book, and should be considered in all cases as a proof of it. Furthermore, no one should be permitted to vote at any election who had not entered his name in the register-book for a certain term,—say twelve months,—before the election, with the exception only of those, who by birth, inheritance, office, or by any act not their own, became qualified to vote in the interim. Copies, too, of the registration should be printed, and offered for sale at a low price. His intention was, to give increased effect to the provisions of the Durham act, in one important particular. The act 3 Geo. 3rd. c. 15, commonly called the Durham act, provided that all citizens, burgesses, or freemen of any city, town corporate, borough, cinque port, &c, which returned members to parliament, should be registered in a book kept by the mayor or bailiff for that purpose, but did not provide that that book should be published. The consequence was, that a corporation might alter the register, or circulate false registers, or play tricks, or commit various other faults, which would either be totally prevented or immediately corrected by having a copy of it printed at stated intervals.—He had now slated the main features of his bill.—He did not intend it to interfere with the right of any elector to appeal against the decision of the returning officer on his particular case, or with the right of any candidate to demand a scrutiny after the poll. Indeed, it provided for both such, cases. Still less did he intend it to interfere with the undoubted privileges of that House, with respect to the examination of the qualifications of the voters before a committee. What he wished to supersede was, the examination of the qualification of the voter at the moment of the poll, when the minds of men were heated, and when all the elements of confusion were, afloat. That was not the time for such, examination; the time for it was when party spirit was cooled, and when men had thus a better opportunity of hearing calmly and deliberately, any complaints that might be made against the entries of voters. It would shorten the time which was now necessarily spent in taking the poll, as the process of taking the poll would be limited to the tendering of the necessary oaths, and to the examination of the ticket of qualification of the voter. Every thing else would be reserved either 871 for examination before, or scrutiny after, the election.—He wished to provide against any objection, by which he might be met, of the trouble and inconvenience which this measure would occasion to the out-voters, who would have to go to be registered. He intended to éxcept from the registry of the first year, all persons who claimed the elective franchise by birth or inheritance, and to limit it to those who had gained it by servitude, or marriage, or purchase. Those who obtained the right of voting by birth, or office, or inheritance, might vote immediately on gaining their franchise; those who gained it by servitude or purchase, would have an opportunity of registering their right at the time when they acquired their franchise, either by applying for admission to their freedom, or by completing the purchase of a burgage tenure. The extent of the frauds practised upon candidates, in consequence of their ignorance of the numbers or qualifications of the voters at the places which they aspired to represent, reached a degree which gentlemen who had not paid attention to this subject could never anticipate.—On the subject of out-voters, he should make no observations at that moment; though it was a point on which he entertained a very strong opinion indeed. At the same time, he trusted the House would allow him to say, that one of the great abuses which arose from the ignorance of their numbers, this measure would cure. He had occasion last year to call the attention of the House to the proportion which the out voters bore, to the resident voters in cities and boroughs. He had shown, that in many instances the out-voters amounted to a third, in some to a half, and in a few to more than a half, of the whole constituency. At Bristol, in consequence of the charter, which Elizabeth granted to the citizens, and which made it transmissible through females, one half of the people of England might unconsciously be voters; and every gentleman who then heard him might vote at the next election, if in his genealogical tree he could trace back to the daughter of a citizen of Bristol. Bristol, however, was not the rule, but the exception. His bill, he contended, would have a good effect in showing to candidates and to returning officers, who and how numerous the parties were, who had a right to exercise the elective franchise. At present it was unnecessary for 872 him to go any further into this question, except to say, in answer to those who charged the friends of reform with always bringing forward wild and visionary plans of reform. "Here is a practical measure—deal with it as you think proper." He believed that it would be an effectual remedy for many evils, justly complained of under the present system. Entertaining that opinion, he should now move for leave to bring in a bill "for the Registration of Voters in cities, boroughs, and the cinque ports of England."
§ Leave was given to bring in the bill.