« PreviousContinue »
their franchises. The additions from Edward VI. to Charles I. were almost entirely of borough members. In the fourth Parliament of Charles I., the number of places in England and Wales for which returns were made, exclusive of counties, amounted to 210; and in the time of the Stuarts, the total number of members of the House of Commons was about 500. The number of members was not materially altered from that time until the union with Scotland, in the reign of Queen Anne, when 45 representatives of Scotland were added. The next considerable change was at the union with Ireland, at the commencement of the present century, when the House of Commons was increased by 100 Irish representatives. The number of Members of the House since that period has remained nearly the same, fluctuating around the figure 650, with a slight tendency to gradual increase, through the extension of the suffrage, and the formation of new classes of constituencies, such as Universities.
By the statute of 2nd William IV. c. 45, commonly called the Reform Bill of 1832, the English county constituencies were increased from 52 to 82, by dividing several counties into separate electoral divisions, and the number of county members was augmented from 94 to 159. On the other hand, 56 English boroughs, containing a population, in 1831, of less than 2,000 each, and returning together 111 members, were totally disfranchised; while 30 other boroughs, containing a population of less than 4,000 each, were reduced to sending one representative instead of two; 22 new boroughs, however, containing each 25,000 inhabitants, received the franchise of returning 2 members ; and 20 other new boroughs, containing each 12,000 inhabitants and upwards, that of returning one member.
The next great change in the constituency of the House of Commons was made by the Reform Bill of 1867–68. The most important provisions of the new Act as regards England, are clauses 3 and 4; the first establishing household suffrage in boroughs, and the second, occupation franchise in counties. Clause 3 enacts that 'Every man shall be entitled to be registered as a voter, and, when registered, to vote for a member or members to serve in Parliament for a borough, who is qualified as follows:-1. Is of full age, and not subject to any legal incapacity. 2. Is on the last day of July in any year, and has during the whole of the preceding 12 calendar months, been an inhabitant occupier, as owner or tenant, of any dwelling-house within the borough. 3. Has during the time of such occupation been rated as an ordinary occupier in respect of the premises so occupied by him within the borough to all rates made for the relief of the poor in respect of such premises. 4. Has, before the 20th day of July in the same year, bona fide paid an equal amount in the pound to that payable by other ordinary occupiers, in respect of all poor-rates that have become payable by him in respect of the said premises, up to the preceding 5th day of January, and which have been demanded of him in manner hereinafter mentioned; or, as a lodger, has occupied, in the same borough, separately, and as sole tenant for the twelve months preceding the last day of July in any year, the same lodgings, such lodgings being part of one and the same dwelling-house, and of a clear yearly value, if let unfurnished, of £10 or 'upwards, and has resided in such lodgings during the twelve months immediately preceding the last day of July, and has claimed to be registered as a voter, at the next ensuing registration of voters : provided that no man shall, under this section, be entitled to be registered as a voter by reason of his being a joint occupier of any dwelling-house.' Clause 4 enacts that every man shall be entitled to be registered as a voter, and, when registered, to vote for a member, or members, to serve in Parliament for a county, who is qualified as follows : -(1) Is of full age, and not subject to any legal incapacity; and who shall be seised at law or in equity of any lands or tenements, of copyhold or any other tenure whatever, except freehold, for his own life, or for the life of another, or for any lives whatsoever, or for any larger estate of the clear yearly value of not less than five pounds over and above all rents and charges payable out of or in respect of the same, or who shall be entitled, either as lessee or assignee, to any lands or tenements of freehold or of
other tenure whatever, for the unexpired residue, whatever it may be, of any term originally created for a period of not less than sixty years, of the clear yearly value of not less than £5 over and above all rents and charges payable out of or in respect of the same; (2) Is, on the last day of July in any year, and has, during the twelve months immediately preceding, been the occupier, as owner, or tenant, of lands or tenements, within the county, of the rateable value of £12 or upwards ; (3) Has, during the time of such occupation, been rated, in respect to the premises so occupied by him, to all rates made for the relief of the poor in respect of the said premises; and, (4) Has, before the 20th day of July in the same year, paid all poor rates that have become payable by him in respect of the said premises up to the preceding 5th day of January.
The result of the Reform Act of 1868, in enlarging the constituencies, is shown in the following tabular statement, which gives the total number of electors, in boroughs and counties of England and Wales, in 1868 and in 1866:
Electors of England and Wales.
1866. Increase. Boroughs ... 1,220,715 514,026 706,689 Counties
791,916 542,633 249,283
Total......... 2,012,631 1,056,659 955,972
The Reform Acts for Scotland and Ireland, passed in the Session of 1868, differ in some important respects from that of England.
The Reform Bill of 1867-68 left in force all the old legal requirements for electors. Under them, aliens, persons under twenty-one years of age, of unsound mind, in receipt of parochial relief, or convicted of felony and undergoing a term of imprisonment, are incapable of voting. No one can be a Member of Parliament who has not attained the age of twenty-one years, and no excise, custom, stamp, or other revenue officer is eligible. All the judges of the United Kingdom, except the Master of the Rolls in England, priests and deacons of the Church of England, ministers of the Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic clergymen, Government contractors, and sheriffs and returning officers for the localities for which they act, are also disqualified. No English or Scottish Peer can be elected to the House of Commons, but Irish Peers are eligible. No foreigners, and no persons convicted of treason or felony, are eligible for seats in Parliament.
To preserve the independence of Members of the House of Commons, it was enacted, as we have already seen, by Statute 6 Anne, that, if any member shall accept any office of profit from the Crown, his election shall be void, and a new writ issued; but he is eligible for re-election, if the place accepted be not a new office, created since 1705. This provision has been made the means of relieving a Member from his trust, which he cannot resign, by his acceptance of the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, a nominal office in the gift of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The present House of Commons consists of 658 Members, returned as follows by the three divisions of the United Kingdom :ENGLAND AND WALES.
Members. 52 Counties and Isle of Wight
187 200 Cities and Boroughs
301 3 Universities .
5 Total of England and Wales ... 493
SCOTLAND. 33 Counties
32 22 Cities and Burgh Districts.... 26 4 Universities
IRELAND. 32 Counties
64 33 Cities and Boroughs
39 1 University
2 Total of Ireland
105 Total of United Kingdom ...... 658