HC Deb 09 June 1806 vol 7 cc571-4
Mr. Tierney

moved the third reading of the Election Treating bill.

Mr. Langhm

objected to it, on the ground, that it was not an act to explain and amend the act of king William, but purported to be a declaratory bill, and really was not so; for it declared it to be lawful to give money to a third person to pay the voter for loss of time, though not for carriages; whereas, the act of king William did not allow any money at all to be given. He thought the bill was altogether unnecessary, and would, therefore, move as an amendment, that it be Lead a third time this day 3 months.

Lord A. Hamilton

said, that the amendments made in the committee on the bill, though satisfactory to some gentlemen, did not remove his objections altogether. It would in substance make no material alteration in the law as it stood at present, and he should oppose it, as not being operative to any effective purpose.

Mr. Morris

observed, that the statute of William, in forbidding candidates being at the expence of supplying meat and drink to the voters, was founded upon salutary principles. This bill professed to be declaratory of that law, but as it allowed the payment of expences for loss of time, it left an opening for many abuses. There could be no standard for the amount of such charges, as the time of one man must be much more valuable than that of another. If at present there was no doubt as to the law, there could be no occasion for a declaratory bill, and he did not find that there was any contrariety in the decisions either of the courts of law, or of committees on the subject. He opposed the bill therefore as nugatory.

Sir W. Dolben

said, that he had been for many years a member of parliament, and had seen much of election contests. He had seen much of elections, and he did not know any way so effectual for correcting the bribery at elections, as that the expences of the out-voters should be paid jointly by the contending candidates, by previously depositing a sum of money in the hands of the returning officer, for defraying the expences of every elector who should apply for them.

Sir R. Buxton

thought the opinion expressed by the hon. baronet a very unconstitutional one, and hoped the house would never sanction the payment of any money for a seat in parliament.

Sir W. Dolben

said, he had only spoken as to the custom and practice, and not as to the theory of the constitution upon that doctrine.

Mr. Baker

thought the hon. baronet was in an error, and misled by the right exercised by the returning officers, of calling upon candidates to pay jointly the expences of erecting the hustings, &c. He said, he liked the bill in its original state, which would prevent candidates, or their friends, from being at any expence whatever for elections. He saw no necessity for any charge, as the object was to have a free election. By the bill now under consideration, the candidate, though he paid no money directly, might agree with any innkeeper for the expence of carriages for conveyance; and that being done, the other charge of meat and drink must necessarily follow. If persons abandoned those places where they had votes, by residing elsewhere, they had no right to expect conveyance at the expence of the candidate; and when a man purchased even a small freehold in a place different from that of his residence, he did not do so in contemplation of a candidate being at the expence of his exercising his right of franchise. Nothing could, in his opinion, be so effectual in securing free elections, as a public and strict law, to prohibit the candidates from being at any expence.

Mr. Tierney

said, that as the proposer of this measure, he stood in the extraordinary situation, that, having in the committee got rid of a number of strong objections, his bill seemed to have gained a greater number of enemies. He had omitted those parts to which the greatest opposition was made, and yet it did not appear that he had gained any friends by doing so. He was, however, convinced, that whatever might be the fate of this bill, in less than three years, something must be done to prevent the abuses it was meant to remedy. The court of Common Pleas had, indeed, decided in favour of the literal construction of the act of king William, but experience skewed, that doubts were entertained of it in the committees of that house, which, in their reports, only stated the rights of the seat, but always omitted the grounds on which they had formed their decisions. In the Boston committee it was proved, that 4 or 5 guineas were given to each voter for loss of time; but that did not appear upon the report. On the Coventry election, there was evidence that the voters required the candidate to make a previous deposit of from 1,000 to 2,000 guineas, before the election came on, and yet the sitting member was declared duly elected. If the point then was left still in doubt, they may, in the next election, demand a deposit of 3000 guineas; and the present bill was meant to set all these doubts at rest. He contended, therefore, that there was a strong necessity for a bill of this nature to set the point at rest. This was his object. He himself had as little interest in the question as any body. He had often received letters on many subject which he brought before the house, abusing him in severe terms, but all the letters he received on this subject were filled with thanks. If the house did not pass this bill, great mischief would be done, for it would be understood that henceforth, money might be freely given.

Mr. Secretary Fox

admitted it to be strange enough that his right hon. friend Was in that situation in which friends and foes equally complained of his bill, and for his own part, if no stronger arguments were adduced to spew that such a number of electors should be disfranchised, he felt it his duty to retain all his former objections. He voted indeed for the bill going into a committee, but he not find the invincible objections to it removed. He would not go into the theory of the constitution upon this point, but he had no hesitation in saying, that in our present situation, he was a decided enemy to any dimunition of the electors. His right honourable friend was not well founded in his last observation; for the negative of that house upon a bill, could neither be argued nor received either in the courts of law or a committee. The bill must be productive of infinite difficulty; and he would suppose a case, of his taking Mr. Tierney, in the same chaise with himself, to vote for a candidate in the country, in whose favour he felt himself interested; by the present bill, if he did so, he would be guilty of a breach of the law. The act of king William should either be repealed, or suffered to stand as it was, for it would be very unseemly in that house to pass a bill in favour of candidates, against the electors.—The house then divided on the amendment, when there appeared For it, 42.; Against it, 17.—Majority 25. The bill was accordingly thrown out.