§ House in Committee (according to Order).
§ Clause 1 (Clerks of the Peace and Town Clerks to prepare alphabetical Lists of Voters for Counties, Cities, and Boroughs).
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
opposed the clause on four grounds—first, because it was unnecessary; secondly, because it proposed to substitute an arrangement inferior to that at present existing; thirdly, because it involved heavy expense; fourthly, because it was compulsory, instead of permissive. It was unnecessary, for we already had a register in every county and borough, with the names, surnames, and Christian names, alphabetically arranged in polling-places; and the clause proposed a second list. The clause proposed the substitution of an arrangement inferior to that which already existed; because where there was a number of names common to many individuals, with Christian names also common to several, there could be no better way of distinguishing individuals than by the addition of the places of residence. In Scotland, where hosts of individuals bore names in common, they were known almost exclusively by the names of the places where they lived. Further, the new scheme must evidently involve great additional expense. As to his last objection, that it was compulsory and not permissive, he should propose an Amendment, by which it should be made optional, and that the clerks of the peace and the town clerks should be required to prepare the second register only when directed to do so by the Quarter Sessions or the Town Councils.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
objected that the Amendment was merely a renewed opposition to the principle of the Bill, which had been already decided by the House on the second reading. The Bill practically consisted but of this one clause, the rest of it being of merely a formal character; and if the noble Earl's Amendment were adopted, the effect would be to render nugatory the whole Bill.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
My Lords, I shall support the Amendment, because it mitigates the mischief of the Bill. I should have preferred its rejection. In any case, if it is to proceed, since the noble Lord who has charge of the Bill can give no information with regard either to the value of the measure, or to the expense of putting it in operation, I would suggest that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee upstairs. I will not use harsh terms in speak- 1737 ing of the Bill. I will not call it a job.
I never mention job to ears polite.I will use the mildest, the most gentle terms in which the Bill can be described. It is a measure for the accommodation of candidates for large constituencies, by throwing a portion of their legitimate electioneering expenses upon the poor rates. Doubtless, the Bill will facilitate the convenience of candidates; but then it should be remembered that by the second clause this is to be at the expense of the elector. This I object to. I have a great objection to the principle of the measure on this ground — I think that whenever it is determined to afford accommodation to an individual at the public expense, it is but fair to ascertain that the public will not be put to a larger expense than is proportioned to the advantage the individual receives. Now, in this case I believe that the expenses which will be thrown upon the public will be greatly in excess of the advantages which any individual can receive. It is, no doubt, desirable that a candidate should not have to pay un extravagant bill for electioneering purposes; but it must be remembered that these lists will have to be made out annually, and perhaps the expense will have to be incurred for four or five successive years before the one occasion arrives at which the proposed register will be of practical utility; and then in places where no contests take place no possible advantage can be derived to any one from the publication of the lists. If all these circumstances are taken into account, I believe the outlay on the part of the public will be ten times as great as the benefit which will be derived from the measure by individuals. This is, in fact, a measure for the purpose of facilitating the proceedings of candidates at elections, and in which the ratepayers have very little concern. In some cases it would, no doubt, facilitate the canvass of candidates, but it would be of no service to the voter, inasmuch as it does not matter to him whether there is a canvass or not. Your Lordships are asked to pass this Bill without being informed what the expenses of carrying out the measure will probably be. The present Government, like previous ones, has complained on various occasions that a considerable portion of the expenditure of the country is forced upon them by the House of Commons. I recollect the late Sir Robert Peel saying that the Reform Act, instead of putting an end to jobbing, had 1738 created more jobbing—but in this way, that while formerly jobbing was practised for individuals, it was now practised for classes, and this was much more expensive. I will not say that this is a measure of a jobbing character; but it is clear that her Majesty's Ministers are not responsible for it, and I do not believe that the House of Commons is generally interested in it. Not one-tenth of the Members of the Lower House were present when they divided upon it. I think the Members of the House of Commons would do well if they would more carefully consider those measures which tend to throw additional expenses on the country; for I believe, that if an estimate had been prepared of the probable expenses which would be incurred under this Bill, and the Vote proposed in the lump in a Committee of Supply, it would have been rejected; but when those expenses are thrown on the ratepayers, Parliament will have no knowledge of what they amount to, or how the money is expended. We are now spending about £20,000,000 annually more for our peace establishment than we were expending a few years ago; and, moreover, a large portion of the population, owing to circumstances over which the Government have no control, are suffering under severe distress. It is therefore by no means desirable that fresh burdens should be thrown upon the people. But if we now place these extra burdens upon the ratepayers, there is not a distressed man in Lancashire, being a ratepayer, who will not have to pay a portion of those expenses, which ought to fall on his rich representatives, or the candidates. I have always great; reluctance in opposing a matter which especially concerns the House of Commons; but, at the same time, as your Lordships know nothing of what the expenditure may be under this Bill, and as I believe that the benefit to be derived from it will be very small, I hope that your Lordships will reject the Bill.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he did not look on the Bill as a measure of great importance; but, on the other hand, he was of opinion that the objections to it were entitled to no great weight. The chief objection raised to it was that it would entail considerable expense, and that of the amount of that expense no estimate had been given. It would probably be very small—he could not, at all events, help thinking that the amount 1739 which would fall on the individual ratepayer of Lancashire would not be very great. It was true the Government were not responsible for the Bill, but then it should be borne in mind that it had received the sanction of a large majority in the House of Commons. It was promoted by two county Members, one on each side, in the other House of Parliament, and there had been a division of four to one in its favour. That circumstance showed that the House of Commons had a very decided opinion as to its merits, and it would therefore be a matter of discourtesy to the other House if they were to reject it. He might add that he thought it very desirable, that if there were a public register at all, it should be as perfect as possible. Such a register would, he contended, be of advantage not only to the candidate but also to voters and the public generally.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that as to the Bill having been carried by a large majority of the other House, he would remind their Lordships that it was passed in a House composed of less than 100 Members. That argument, then, of the noble Earl's was not of very great weight. He agreed in opinion with the noble Earl that this was not a measure of great importance with regard to the magnitude of the object concerned. But with regard to the principle of the measure he thought it was important, on the ground of expenses which would be incurred under it. If he had entertained any doubt as to the wisdom of their refusing their sanction to the compulsory powers of the Bill, it would have been removed by the arguments used by the noble Lord who had charge of it (Lord Lyveden), and who desired to make that compulsory on the members of quarter sessions which was now permissive. But he (the Earl of Derby) thought the quarter sessions should have a discretion as to whether the provisions of the Bill should be enforced or not. The question was whether there should be a consolidated index or three or four indexes or lists of voters, and whether it should be reprinted at the public expense. In his opinion the Bill was unnecessary. At the same time, he should support the Amendment of his noble Friend behind him, in order to give the local authorities a discretion in the matter as to whether they would allow this increase of expenditure or not.
§ EARL GREY
said, it appeared to him, 1740 that if the local authorities were to be responsible for ordering those extra expenses, which would have to be paid out of the rates, it would be only reasonable that they should have power to exercise a discretion in the matter, and therefore he should support the Amendment.
§ THE EARL OF ROMNEY
was understood to say, that the expense of this measure would add about one-third to the existing expense of the parish registry.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to; a further Amendment made: The Report of the Amendments to be received Tomorrow.