Hide Articles List

13 articles on this Page

Family Notices






THE LORDS' "AMENDMENTS" TO THE REFORM BILL. THERE is, comparatively speaking, little more to be added to our remarks last week concerning the little touches" put by the Lords to the Reform Bill. Two amendments, however, are worthy of notice. The first of these was one moved by Earl Grey, and was a proposition to give but one member to boroughs having a population of 12,000, and not 10,000, as decided by the House of Commons. It was also proposed to adopt a system of grouping certain towns together. By these means there would be a gain of 23 seats-12 by the first and 11 by the second proposal. These would be disposed of by giving an extra member to counties and divisions of counties having more than 150,000 inhabitants, thus absorbing 12 of the number by giving an extra member to boroughs with more than 150,000 inhabitants, which would take eight more and by giving the remaining three seats to the Inns of Court. If this proposition had been adopted it would have tended to the improvement of the redistribution part of the Bill in no small degree. As we have already pointed out, however, there is not time this session to carry out amendments so greatly altering the Bill, and they would only endanger its final passing. If it were not for this we should regret that an amendment, so important and beneficial, should have been rejected. Lord Derby, who characterised the scheme as crude and incom- plete, opposed it, and threatened if the amend- ment were carried to move that progress be reported. This intimidation had its effect, the amendment being rejected by a majority of 12 votes. Yet another mistake must be added to the list of those already made by the Lords in their dealings with the bill-and this is no less than the resolution to introduce voting papers into elections. The proposal came from the Marquis of Salisbury, and received the unqualified adhe- sion of the Premier. We must confess that, at the first blush of the thing, there seems a good deal to be said in favour of the idea; the reasons for its adoption are plausible, and not without weight. In the election of Parliamentary mem- bers the object is to have those men returned who will be the best and truest representatives of the opinions of the great mass of the people. In order to arrive at this desideratum, it is important, and indeed essential, that all who are entitled to vote should exercise that right. If this is not the case, there is the possibility that the party returned to Parliament will not accu- rately represent the feelings of his constituents. Instead, however, of all, or nearly all those who are entitled to vote availing themselves of the privilege, we are told that only one-third, or at most one-half, of the electors vote at elections. If it be important-and it undoubtedly is soâas to what sort of men are returned to Parliament, thig is not a satisfactory state of things. And it is natural to ask ourselves how it is it exists. It cannot be-or we would fain hope that it cannot be-through apathy that this is so; and that men so largely adopt the fatalistic view that everything will be right without their troubling themselves about how matters go on, believing that whatever is, is right." That there may be some who belong to this class we have no doubt; but, on the other hand, it is proverbial that election times are of all times the most excitingâtheir issues the most important to the well-being of the country. Various solutions of the problem have been given. Of course there are the sick, the aged, and the infirm; but this does not account for all. It is stated that in some districts the polling places are a long distance apart, and the journey to and fro would therefore occupy a considerable time. In the case of a poor working man, a part of the day would have to be lost in thus attending and voting; and the probability is that he would lose a part of his day's pay. If he were not sufficiently under his taaster's influence to be controlled in his vote, and made to vote with his master, it is not likely any consideration would be shown him and a deduction would certainly be the consequence. This he could ill afford; and he would not trouble himself about voting at all. Further than this. Everyone who knows anything about elections knows that there are plenty of "lambs" to be found in the neighbourhood of polling booths, and in many places it requires some little moral courage on the part of a man to enable him to "run the gauntlet of an infuriated mob, and amid a shower of rotten eggs and brickbats, walk 10 forth to testify his independence and public _3-J!it." One or two noble lords referred to lrelt"\4" and gave instances of how voters were ,:there tr.c&t^; but there is no need to go over -A,e wteJ: Q IBUO s' emerald isle" to find places in which scenes lited at election times l,vhich are a disgrace Q tjhis Roasted "age of enlightenment." This state of things must of In necessity prevent many naturally tiijjid persons from coming forward and exercising their privi- lege us free and independents." The system of voting which it is proposed to introduce would tend to remedy the evils complained of, and increase the number of voters. It is very ques- tionable, however, to say the least of it, whether the result would more truly represent the real feeling of the country than at present; whilst, on the other hand, it would assuredly open the doors for the commission of the worst offences. Innumerable faggot votes would be created; the present practice of personation would be greatly increased; bribery would become more and more the rule of elections; and cases of intimidation multiplied indefinitely. Even now it is not an uncommon circumstance for persons to avail themselves of the lowness of the 40s. freehold franchise, and thus obtain votes in numbers of counties; though at all times it may not be pos- sible for the elector to exercise his right. If voting papers were the order of the day, he would be able to fill out a dozen such, and despatch them to the proper quarter without more than a modicum of trouble. This is not what is desired; such a result cannot be called reform. Then again, electors having to sign the voting papers in presence of a magistrate, would, as it was well put by one of the speakers, trans- form a magistrate's drawing-room into a polling booth. In numberless cases these magistrates would be landlords, and what could be easier- with only the magistrate, the election agent, and the voter present-for threats to be used or money to be handed over ? One objection to the permissive compounding of rates with the land- lord was the power which it would give to that personage; and the same objection holds good here. Voting papers would give landlords an immense controlling powerâand no one believes the majority of them would be slow to exercise that power; though there might be many excep- tions, as there are to every rule. Indirectly, also, the dissatisfaction so frequently expressed and so widely felt-oftentimes with reason, e.g., the Cornwall whortleberry caseâat the "justice's justice" which is dispensed, would be greatly increased. The practice of using voting papers at University elections has been used as an argument in favour of the general adoption of the system. It may, however, be dismissed with the remark that the two cases are quite dissimilar. The voter in the one case is in a very different position to the other. In the University election votes may be calculated upon as pure but, even without the recent revelations, we could not have the same feeling of assurance about the general election. Most strongly therefore do we doubt the wisdom and propriety of adopting such a system at general elections, and though the principle was affirmed by a large majority in the House of Lords, we cannot think it will find favour with the Commons. On Monday night, on the bringing up of the report, the peers reconsidered thefcr decision in reference to the lodger franchise, and, without a division, restored it to the amount at which it was fixed by the other House. "New light" appears to have been thrown on the subject-the said new light" being that the fixing it at C,10 was the result of a compromise. Not wishing, therefore, to interfere with an arrangement, Lord Cairns, on whose motion it had originally been altered, did not oppose the resolution moved by Earl Russell to re-insert X10 instead of X15. Lord Derby recommended the House to reconsider its decision, and their Lordships did so, and unanimously agreed to the motion. We think this course was a wise one. If they had not adopted it, the probabilities are the House of Commons would have done so for them; and the Lords would be obliged to acquiesce. The mode they have adopted, however, is infinitely more gracious. The like success did not await the motion of Earl Granville, who desired the clause to be struck out enabling students and under-graduates occupying chambers at Oxford or Cambridge Universities to vote in the elections for those towns. We have before referred to the decision of the peers in regard to this subject, which may perhaps excite more feeling in Oxford than the number of votes which the clause will give would justify. The principle of the thing, however, is decidedly wrong. In' a letter to an Oxford paper, Mr. Goldwin Smith contends that the more the University is kept out of political contests the better it will be for her dignity and her influence as a national institution. The extension of the city franchise to tenants of college rooms will revive the worst days of town and gown" ruffianism so familiar many years ago. Not only between the university and laity, but between tutor and pupil, when they are on opposite sides, very unseemly relations may be produced by the inevitable license of an election. He also comments on the inconsistency of those who have so much insisted on the importance of residential clauses in a Reform Bill, agreeing to give the suffrage to such birds of passage" as under-graduates usually are-their con- nections and their local interests lie elsewhere, and the very purpose for which they are at Oxford or at Cambridge is as wide as are the poles asunder from the exercise of political power. By the Peers' decision on the lodger franchise, at least one subject of debate is done away with. The copyhold franchise clause, which it was proposed to raise from £ 5 to £ 10 by the Earl of Harrowby, and which was eliminated from the bill, will perhaps not excite much discussion but to the representation of the minority by the cumulative vote, and to the per- nicious voting paper system there will doubtless be a strong opposition; and we trust that the House of Commons will reject the decision of the Upper Chamber, and in these particulars at least send it back as at first presented to them. Since the above was in type, we find that the House of Commons, on Thursday night, resolved, by 235 to 188, to re-insert the copyhold and leasehold franchise clause in the Bill. The decision of the Upper House in reference to the representation of the minority was, after a long discussion, affirmed by 263 to 204 votes- a majority of 49. The amendment of the Lords restricting electors of the city of London to three votes, was also adopted by a majority of 64 votes.