§ Mr. Curwen moved the order of the day for the third reading of the bill. Upon the Speaker putting the question that the bill be now read a third time,
§ Sir T. Turton
took this opportunity of delivering his sentiments upon the general merits of the measure. He declared himself a decided friend to moderate and practical reform. It was his unequivocal opinion, that when eleven thousand persons exercised the elective franchise, for and in the name of eleven millions, gradual reform became absolutely necessary; but at the same time, he was equally sure, 991 that universal representation was universal nonsense. When, in the course of the discussion upon the present bill, it was openly asserted, and not contradicted, that the Treasury kept open shop upon every general election, for the purchase and sale of seats in parliament, could any one doubt of the necessity of some reform in the representation? Of course, then, he could not but agree to the principle of the bill. If, indeed, the measure proposed by his hon. friend (Mr. Curwen) has been carried into effect by the house, it would, in his judgment, have immortalized the present parliament; the bill, however, still contained, he thought, sufficient of good in it, to call for his assent to it. During the discussion of the clauses, a form of oath to be taken by the members had been proposed; this was objected to, and, after a debate of fourteen or fifteen hours, and when an attempt had been made by himself to modify it in such a manner, as, he thought, would have removed all objection, then came out, for the first time, the objection to any oath whatsoever being administered. This he considered as a principal fault. Another objection taken by those who supported the bill in its present form, was to the rejection of the word "express," in the clause prohibiting contracts for seats; this, in his opinion, rendered the bill so far faulty; but still the recognition of the principle that parliament had within itself the power of its own regeneration, was to be found in it, and, as such, he was determined on voting for it; owning, at the same time, that it had, in its progress, from its introduction to its present shape, greatly disappointed his expectation.
§ Mr. Johnstone
strongly opposed the bill. In considering the present system of representation, as compared with the past scenes of our history, he was persuaded that there was so much virtue to be found, as should make them tender, at least, in applying remedies, without being enabled to foresee the consequences, which, according to the event, might turn out good or bad. Any change in the constitution of a branch of the legislature ought to be attempted with the greatest circumspection, for it was difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate the bad effects which might result from causes apparently of little importance. In illustration of this opinion, he instanced the Mutiny act, which no one on its introduction could have been aware would give a paramount power in the go- 992 vernment to one of the houses of parliament. He acknowledged that the bill before the house had been very much amended in the committee, but he declared that he should vote against it, because it was the first of a series of intended innovations, and an acknowledgement in itself that a change was necessary in the constitution of the house of commons. Hitherto the proceeding of the house had been guided by the principle, that all remedies have gradually followed the development of practical evils. (Cries of hear! hear!) The comment conveyed in the cheers of the hon. gentlemen opposite might have its weight, if it were true that the assertion, so often repeated in the course of the present discussion, "that the Treasury was a mart for seats in that house," was founded in fact; but he denied that any such case was or could be made out. In all former cases that house was in the habit of waiting till proof was made of the charge, and as it was not disposed to take assertion as a substitute for evidence, it would wait till proof was actually brought forward to substantiate the charge. Although abuses were proved to exist at the present day, yet, it was remarkable, that, during the whole of the present discussion, no one member had undertaken to demonstrate that less abuses had existed at any former period of the constitution; therefore he considered this result of the discussion, an essential benefit to the public, by demonstrating that there was no pretext to bring the constitution back to its original purity. For these reasons he voted against the bill.
said, he felt himself bound to state his reasons for voting against the bill as it stood at present. When a motion was lately made in that house, to refer to a committee the consideration of the case of a noble lord, charged with, having trafficked for a seat in parliament, the house had rejected the motion, and he had concurred in such rejection, not only because such practices were openly avowed upon that occasion, but because the present bill, in its original shape, had been at that time introduced by his hon. friend; and he had then hoped and believed, that the house would have set itself seriously to the work of purging itself.—However, as it appeared by the event, that the house had not thought proper to redeem the pledge, to which he considered it bound, he could not bring himself to vote for the bill in its present shape. He would agree 993 with the sentiment of the hon. baronet to take the good it offered, if he could find any such prospect from it; but he was convinced it could produce no beneficial result for the public, as its only effect would consist in adding to the influence already possessed by the crown. He could not believe the house was seriously disposed to put down corruption, or could be in earnest upon the present occasion, when every form of oath, intended as a test, was rejected; as nothing was more clear than that some soft of oath was necessary to prove the purity of the member possessing a seat. There was one remaining ground of objection, in his view of the case, against the present bill. The purchase of seats in parliament was said to be contrary both to the law of parliament and the law of the land; but the present bill did not designate as such, all agreements for that purpose, but only all "express" agreements. This was, indeed, a new term in a legislative enactment, and could only apply, in its plain and ordinary signification, to agreements under hand and seal. There was no man so mad as to involve himself in such a predicament as this, and they might as well and with equal consistency apply the principle to the case of murder, and expect that in all cases of proof, there should be witnesses present at the perpetration, to prove the deed.
§ Mr. H. Thornton
declared himself in favour of the bill; although not as a warm friend to it, as having been altered so materially for the worse, in the course of its passage through the house. When doubts were found to exist respecting the purchase of seats, was it fair they should be left in the same state, especially when any thing which would have placed those matters on the footing of certainty might have been enacted and would have rendered so material a service? The bill certainly, as declaratory of the principle and of the law, he considered a good one, and so far desirable; and though the clauses which had been introduced tended in some degree to defeat the object of it, yet he trusted the publicity given to that object would serve to put down the practice it professed to abolish. If the will was evinced by that house, it must certainly have that effect. One complaint was, that the great personages of the state were engaged in the traffic for seats; and with what face could they notice the minor offences of electors taking bribes for their votes, when such a traffic was notorious?
994 He thought it absurd and inconsistent to punish voters for selling their votes, and to leave wholesale corruption of the same kind unpunished. He hoped that parliament would at a future opportunity put down the practice of giving money to voters 14 days after the election, which was a mode of evading the Bribery laws. Upon these principles, he should give his support to the bill. He wished, indeed, the word "express" had been left out, though only applied to the incurring the penalties enforced by the act, as all cases of implied contracts for seats were, by the existing statutes, contrary to law.
The Secretary at War
declared he would support the bill. He was not one of those who wished for any alteration in the present constitution. He was decidedly of opinion, that if the greatest talents of every age, assisted by every means, and supported by every facility, were to be brought together, they could not form a perfect constitution for any country at once. Evils could only be remedied as they successively arose. On these principles it was that he professed himself a warm admirer of the British constitution, and an enemy to what was popularly called Reform. He entertained the highest admiration of the British constitution, and thought that innovations might give the people more power in the house, as well as elsewhere, than was consistent with its principles. He saw no practical inconvenience from persons coming into parliament by means of their own money. It was in this way that talents and abilities were often introduced into the house; and as the vulgar error which asserted that money was given in order to make money was now exploded, he must say he was sorry this bill was ever entertained. He did not think it necessary to increase the popular influence; on the contrary, he feared that the current was running too strongly in that direction: the people might have too much influence within that house, as they might have elsewhere. He certainly wished the bill had never been introduced; but as it had been brought forward, he would vote for it; because, after it had been admitted, in the course of the discussion, that seats were bought and sold, that house could never without adopting some such measure, go back to the situation it was in, before the introduction of the bill.
§ Mr. Adam
felt it necessary to state to the house the ground of the vote which he 995 meant to give upon this measure. He had at first been of opinion, that the measure ought not to have been entertained; but when he referred to the illustrious time of passing the Grenville Act, and found that no such cases of corruption had then been stated, as had lately been admitted in that house, he considered it impossible that the house could omit to endeavour to correct the evil by applying the necessary remedy. He had wished the bill, in its original form, to have passed; but the introduction of the word "express" into it, rendered it impossible for him to support it. The constitution of parliament, whether the members were representative or nominated, appeared to him the best practical system of representation, that ever existed in any country. It had been observed by an hon. member (sir S. Romilly) not then in his place, that the word "express" had never before been introduced into any act of parliament. This statement had not been denied by any legal authority in the house. As the bill then stood, he felt himself in this unfortunate situation, that he must either make a distinction between office and money, which he could not do, or entertain the question of reform in its broadest sense. The only way in which he could get out of this dilemma was to vote for the rejection of the bill, with an understanding that the subject should be brought forward in a more perfect form, early in the next session. He hoped, therefore, that gentlemen would turn their minds to the subject in the course of the recess. He suggested to gentlemen for consideration three defects in the existing election law. 1st, The want of a petitioner, who, in some cases could not at present be had; 2d, The circumstance that in cases of sale or bribery, no petition could at present be received after fourteen days from the meeting of parliament; And 3dly, The want of evidence. He had prepared some clauses to remedy these defects; but upon reflection, he thought the best plan would be to reject the bill at present, and take the subject into consideration the next session. But independent of his general objection to the measure, there were other defects in it which rendered it impossible for him to support it. There were no machinery whatever to set it in motion: it wanted a clause to regulate the seals obtained by such means as the bill was intended to prevent. Penalties were unquestionably recoverable in the courts of 996 law; but nothing was provided with respect to the possession of the seats so obtained. A man might have the penalties recovered by action against him, and yet continue to occupy his seat in that house. The hon. gent. then proceeded to make some observations on the nature of burgage tenures, and insisted upon the propriety of extending the time for presenting petitions against this species of corruption. He proposed that any of the king's subjects should have the right of petitioning, even although he should neither be a candidate nor elector. The bill would be nugatory without giving such right of petition. Having maturely considered all these circumstances, he had altered his mind with respect to the amendments he had intended to propose, and should not therefore press them on the house in the present instance. He thought it right, however, to state on this occasion, that, in his opinion, the time for presenting a petition ought to be extended from fifteen days to one calendar month after the discovery of the offence; and that this right of petitioning should continue during the whole parliament. He proposed also, that to the right of petitioning should be annexed the right of costs, if the petitioner failed in substantiating his allegations. The hon. gent. concluded, by restating that he would not bring forward his amendments now, but would vote against the bill, under an understanding, however, that it would be brought forward in a more perfect shape next session.
The Solicitor General
observed, that as the hon. and learned gent. had not produced his clauses to the house, it was not necessary for him to enter into the discussion of them. From what he could collect, however, from the hon. gent's. speech, it appeared to him to involve very novel regulations as to the election law, as founded on the Grenville Act. His clauses would introduce, for the first time, into that law, litigation by the common informer; and no member of that house could any day come down to his duty, without feeling it necessary to inquire whether any petition existed against him. The hon. and learned gent, had said, and upon the authority of an hon. and learned gent, not then in his place, that the word "express" was not to be found in any act of parliament. What, he would ask, would the house think upon this subject, if it should appear, notwithstanding all these learned authorities, that the word 997 "express" was to be found in an act of parliament, that, every day of his professional practice, came within the cognizance of the learned member alluded to. He referred to the statute of Frauds and Perjuries. In the 5th clause of the 29th of Charles II, which directed what was to give validity to a will, it was provided that the will must be signed by the testator, or in his presence, by his 'express' direction (A cry of Hear! hear!). It certainly was not connected with the word "agreement," but had been introduced for the same purpose as in the bill under consideration. He had mentioned this only with a view to shew how extraordinary a declaration had been made by the learned members on the other side. He was not disposed to pursue this subject further: the measure was a legislative declaration of the law; and when it should be so declared, he was persuaded that the practise which it was intended to prevent, would be discontinued, even without the intervention of a penal statute. It was his firm conviction that the offences complained of and admitted to exist, were committed only from an ignorance of the law; and he had no doubt that many hon. gentlemen, if aware of its being contrary to law, would never have committed the offence. Upon these grounds, he should give his support to the bill.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
would have delivered his sentiments upon this measure, at some earlier stage of its progress, if he could have caught the Speaker's eye. He thought it extraordinary that any man, who valued the prosperity of this country, could suppose that this was not a subject fit for the consideration of the house. Several gentlemen had delivered opinions adverse to the principle of the bill; but he should not consider himself as faithful to his duty, if he did not protest against such doctrines. It had been said that this measure was an experiment; but was there not a more dangerous, a more alarming, and a more extensive experiment existing in the continuance of those abuses which this bill was intended to prevent? What would be the situation of that house, if no measure were to be adopted for correcting those corrupt practices which were universally admitted to exist? It was the duty of the members of that house, to see, either that the charge was unfounded, or to take care, that the practice should be altered. He had been a warm advocate for the bill, as it had at first been introduced; 998 but it had been so altered in its passage through the house, that he should not be surprised if the hon. member who brought it forward, should now feel himself called upon not to support it. Not five lines of the original bill had been suffered to remain. He begged the house to consider what would be the effect of the bill as it had been altered, if suffered to pass into a law. It would throw the whole of the seats that remained saleable, into the hands of the Treasury, and upon these grounds he should feel himself bound to vote against the bill. He thought there would be a much better chance of producing an adequate and efficient measure, if it were suffered to lie over till the next session of parliament. It had been said by a right hon. gent., that the Resolution of 1779 was a sufficient, security against the corrupt practices complained of: but when, in the course of last month, he had brought a distinct charge against a noble lord opposite (lord Castlereagh) a contrary Resolution was voted, namely, that as the agreement had not been carried into effect, no farther proceeding was necessary. An to what had been said with respect to the influence of property, he concurred in it so far as it was honourably and fairly exerted. What he condemned was, that it should be brought to an ignominious market, and be thereby made the instrument of subverting the integrity and independence of parliament. Such conduct, in his opinion, reflected disgrace upon the parliament. It had never, until this session, been admitted in that house, that seats were publicly bought and sold; or that the notoriety of the offence was to secure impunity for the guilt. If the house should not put a stop to this practice, it would be impossible to preserve its character, or to retain any portion of the respect of the public.
§ Mr. Davies Giddy
did not rise for the purpose of retracting, or explaining away, any of the opinions he had stated on a former night. Those opinions he had formed by deliberate reflection in retirement, and they had been confirmed by his subsequent experience in life. He first had stated, that property and political power ought to be connected; he was still of the same opinion; but in standing up as the advocate of influence be did not mean to vindicate the practice of corruption. So far as influence could legitimately be exercised, it must extend to all property. He considered the Landed in- 999 terest and the country as identified; and so far from admitting that the landed interest and the monied interest were correlative terms, he looked upon one as properly and constitutionally subservient to the other. He was of opinion, that an opportunity should be afforded to men of talents, and men possessing property in different parts of the empire, to obtain seats in that house, and sure he was, that that man would be a bad friend to his country, and a worse enemy to the constitution, who would exclude officers of the navy and army from parliament. It was his opinion that the crown should have the means to exercise an influence in that house. When parliament had formerly been assembled only to pass the acts proposed by the crown, then it might safely be as independent of the crown, as some gentlemen seemed to wish; but now a great part of the government was carried on in that house; and unless the crown had influence, the government could not go on. It was his wish and his firm conviction that the different branches of the legislature should and ought to be connected by means of this influence. If the branches were wholly independent of each other, such would be the effect of human frailties and passions, that they would be made to pull different ways. An hon. baronet, in alluding to an observation of his on a former night, that one week's confusion would do irreparable mischief to the country, had asked him, Whether he thought this measure would produce confusion? In answer, he had to state, that he certainly did not think so; but when so many gentlemen resorted to such various means of misleading the public, and exciting unfavourable impressions as to the public establishments—the state of the army, which uniformly drove the enemy before it wherever it came in contact with then—the possibility of saving many millions of the public expenditure—he thought that any measure, which would be the result of popular clamour so raised, or public delusion so kept up, would be dangerous in the extreme. It was his opinion, that abuses ought to be corrected: but before that house should resort to strong measures, it was necessary to enquire, first, whether the abuses existed; secondly, to consider the magnitude of the alleged abuses; and thirdly, to take care that an evil of small extent should not be followed by too violent a remedy. The bill before the house, 1000 he thought, would go a good way to correct the scandalous corruption which was admitted to exist; but then it would also have other effects, which he should deprecate. Yet, upon mature consideration, he was of opinion, that the bill would produce more good than evil; and under that impression he should vote for it.
Sir Francis Burdett
rose to say a very few words upon the subject of this bill. The measure appeared to him to be wholly inefficient as to the provision of any adequate remedy of the abuses, if not universally, at least generally, admitted to exist. It would not, however, be inefficient for the purpose of screening corruption; and upon this ground he thought it ought to be called "A Bill for granting indemnity for past corruption, and for providing security for future corruption." He had been called up, however, particularly by the insinuations of the hon. gent. who had just sat down against the advocates of reform. He did not mean to say that he was insensible to these insinuations, or that he was not included among those to whom the hon. gent.'s inuendos and observations were intended to apply. But before he should proceed to take any further notice of these insinuations, he had one observation to make upon the hon. gent.'s arguments. In these he appeared to answer himself. In the assertion of the hon. gent., that political power should be connected with property, he entirely concurred, and the establishment of that connection was the great object for which he contended. But the hon. gent, had no sooner laid down this principle broadly, than he drew this corollary from it, that places which no longer retain any property, should still continue to possess a share of the representation, and consequently of political power. The two propositions were irre-concileable. The hon. gent. disdained that he should be thought a friend to corruption, and yet defended a system, which was the living source, the salient spring of all the corruption that existed in the state. He could not perceive what idea the hon. gent. had of corruption. But when the hon. gent. said that it was contrary to the principles of human nature that a man should take an office and not afterwards vote for the person who had procured it for him, he seemed to have a very strange notion of corruption in excepting such a case. What! was it not corruption, if the vote was to be given for a bribe received? and could it make any differ- 1001 ence in the nature of the corruption, whether that bribe was given in the shape of valuable consideration in money or of a lucrative office? What he had to say relative to the insinuations of the hon. member, he should reserve for the last; insinuations applied to him and others, who tried in every legitimate way, and by all constitutional means, to procure advocates for what he looked upon as necessary, if not to the salvation, at least to the happiness and freedom of this empire,—a Reform in Parliament.—With respect to the bill itself, the hon. member who had brought it forward, ought to be the first to vote against it. If he should not do so, he would prove himself to possess a greater degree of mobility of opinion, a greater inconsistency of principle in adopting the opinions of those who opposed him originally, than he could suppose him capable of. How could he support a measure in which he could not find more than three lines and three quarters of the preamble of the bill which he had introduced?—He should hope, therefore, that the hon. gent. would not shew that he was attached with the fondness of a parent, to this supposititious offspring, this changling forced upon him as his legitimate production; or send out to the public with the weight and influence of his name, a measure which was really the child of the right hon. gentleman opposite The hon. member had at first besought of the right hon. gent. not to melt down his measure, not to change its nature or destroy its identity, by his alterations and amendments. But when the bill had gone into the right hon. gent.'s crucible, it had been melted down completely, and nothing now remained but the dross. (Hear! hear!). The provisions which had been introduced into the bill would have a directly contrary effect from what was originally proposed by the hon. gent. The bill, as it then stood, would not only be an indemnity for past corruptions, but be an effectual plea in bar against any charges of that description, which might hereafter be detected. However scandalous any such transactions might be, this bill would afford a sufficient plea in bar against him or any other hon. member who should bring before that house such charges as had been made by his hon. friend (Mr. Madocks), against the noble lord opposite (lord Castlereagh). But what was the situation of the right hon. gent., with respect to this measure, at a time too when he had him- 1002 self been accused of being a party to a transaction such as the bill was intended to prevent? Was it to be endured that the notoriety of such corruptions should be made a justification of their existence? If that principle were to be admitted, then it would appear that the modes of reasoning in that house differed widely from the modes of reasoning and interference adopted elsewhere. The judges of the land, when they had it in contemplation to put down any particular offence which had become notorious and frequent, took a different course from that which had lately been pursued in that house. It was not thought bad reasoning in them, when they wished to put down offences under such circumstances, to make severe examples of those who were guilty of them. But in that house, when ministers were charged with being guilty of these corruptions, and when it was admitted on all hands that they generally were practised, no punishment was to be inflicted at all! This was the more extraordinary, because they had in their hands means the simplest, the most constitutional, and the most consistent with parliamentary usage, for correcting the evil. It had been said, that the bill was only a declaration of what was the law already; and that the principle it contained had always been the principle of the common law against the scandalous traffic for seats in parliament. This, however, had been denied by the common lawyers; but, at all events, they had in that house the constitutional mode of putting down such offences, by applying the punishment it merited to the offence when delected.—As to the bill under consideration, it appeared to him originally, not only to be futile but mischievous, because he was convinced that its operation would have the effect of giving a monopoly of boroughs to the Treasury. It was not by such measures, that they could ever hope to correct the evil they wished to get rid of. By such measures, they would only establish a film and skin over the ulcerations of the foul corruption which was known to exist, and to pervade the whole of the political system under which the affairs or the country were at present administered. They must strike, at the root of the corruption if they expected any success from their attempts to eradicate it.—He considered that what wanted reform in parliament was a vice which was inherent in the house, as it was now constituted, and which prevented it be- 1003 ing the representative assembly of the people. It seemed to be generally allowed, that some sort of reform was necessary, and he was sure that this sort of reform was not that which the people expected, or the times called for. This bill, which was introduced as a measure likely to unite all parties, had turned out directly the contrary, as it had disunited in opinion most of those who had been accustomed to agree on other subjects. The house had lately heard the opinions of many of its members respecting their ideas of the constitution, and of the best means of correcting its notorious abuses, and restoring its primitive purity. It would be seen that hardly any two agreed upon the subject. One man said, this was the constitution, and another said, something else was the constitution. The only point that all agreed in was, that to their particular ideas of what was right and proper, they gave the name of the Constitution. He should be more precise in his definition of it; he borrowed his ideas of the constitution from the statute book, and for every one of those opinions he entertained, upon this most important of all subjects, he was prepared to quote chapter and verse in support of them. He knew there were many who laughed at the idea of bounding the constitution within the limits of the laws of the land.—The constitution appeared in those men's eyes as some sublime kind of mystery which it was hardly possible to conceive, and still more difficult to explain. His views of it were very different—he had been at all times perfectly ready to explain those views—and, if there was any ambiguity in the opinions he had delivered at any period, or in any place, upon that subject, he was sure it was unintentional on his part. He knew, however, that when the words, demagogues, public agitators, haranguers of the people, and enthusiastic reformers, were so often mentioned in that house, he was the person principally alluded to. He would not therefore continue any longer the butt of such insinuations, nor rest contented in that calumniated and denounced situation. He thought, that short as the duration of the session would probably be, the house ought not to break up contaminated, as it must appear in the eyes of their constituents, and un-purged of the corruption which had been proved to exist in it. He thought that they should give some pledge to the people before they broke up, as to the course 1004 they should hereafter be disposed to pursue upon this great constitutional question; and it was his intention to come down tomorrow, and move a short Resolution, pledging the house to take into their consideration, early in the next session of parliament, the grievances of the people, and particularly that grievance of grievances, the State of the Representation. He should take that opportunity to state explicitly what he did mean and what he did not mean, in order to put the house so completely and entirely in possession of his sentiments upon the subject, that there should be no farther room for those un-candid insinuations and calumnious imputations, which were daily thrown out against him. He certainly should not have thought of bringing forward a motion of that importance, if he had not maturely and thoroughly considered the subject, and perfectly made up his mind upon it. But he should reserve to that occasion the full explanation of his sentiments.—He concluded by giving notice, that he would to-morrow move a Resolution to the effect that he had stated.
§ Mr. Curwen
rose and said: Mr. Speaker; I feel myself imperiously called upon to defend my own consistency in still continuing my support to this bill, notwithstanding the changes it has undergone, and its inadequacy to afford a complete remedy against the scandalous traffic which it was intended to prevent. It will be in the recollection of the house, when I moved for leave to bring in the bill, I then professed the measure I should propose would be one framed with a view of meeting what I conceived would be agreeable to the sentiments of a majority of members, rather than what would accord with my own opinion, as necessary fully to restore the confidence and respect of the country. I then felt some measures were indispensable, and I thought it more consonant to political wisdom, and more consistent with real intention of doing good, to attempt the obtaining some advantage towards so salutary an object, than to contend for what I knew to be impracticable; and thereby to leave matters as they were. I was fully aware of the mischief which might result from the discussion of such a question, if I should fail of producing some measure which might satisfy the country, and prove it was not the intention of parliament, to abet and support practices, which threaten the destruction of this branch of the constitu- 1005 tion.—Sir, I put it to any man within these walls, I appeal to every man out of them, if after what has fallen from the highest authority in this house, after it has been so solemnly declared, that if we take no steps, it will be in vain for us to deny, that henceforth the seats in this house may be sold with impunity—will it be contended, the suffering such an opinion to be promulgated through the country, were it only to the meeting of the next session of parliament, would not be fraught with great and imminent mischief.—Sir, this alone would determine my vote for the bill, was it even more defective than it is.—Gentlemen contend, nothing is gained by this; is the declaration of the law nothing? Is the putting a stop to the open sale of seats nothing? Greatly do I lament the right hon. gent. has so constructed the clause respecting office, as to make it liable to the imputations raised against it. I will do him justice, I do not believe it proceeds from any such intention; nor that it will afford the facilities gentlemen attribute to it; but I regret it, because it will deprive the right hon. gent. of the merit due to him and this house, of the credit that passing even such a bill ought to acquire it.—Sir, the measure is fraught with more difficulty than gentlemen are aware. I contended, and still contend, the sanction of an oath can alone render this measure effectual. In justice, however, to the right hon. gent., I must declare, that until the house shall come to some decision upon the 7th of William and Mary on the Treating act, it is impossible to frame any oath that might not entrap the most conscientious man in this house. It fell to my let to sit upon a Committee with the right hon. gent. below me (Mr. Windham) when the provisions of this act were discussed, and after great diversity of opinion, we decided treating, or giving any thing for the maintenance and support of voters, bribery; on the same day another Committee came to a different resolution—It is high time for the honour and dignity of this house, for maintaining the respect due to Mr. Grenville's tribunal, that parliament should come to some decision; and when this is done, then, and not till then, an oath may be introduced to render this measure efficient.—Will it be contended a declaration of law is of no value, when we have here a law as express as any law can be, but which the practice and decision of Committees has rendered doubtful. The practice of selling seats has become 1006 so common, that whatever may be the law, it has become a dead letter. If, in voting for this bill, I considered myself precluded from proceeding farther to make it complete, I should indeed be doing an injury to the country. I view it, Sir, as giving a greater facility in attaining the objects I want. I consider, as it has always been considered, that the first step towards reformation has always been found the most difficult; and heartily shall I rejoice, if the house shall resolve upon taking this first step. Will any man who views this, divested of prejudice, contend, that with that preamble upon your statute book—with the recorded opinion of the legislature upon the subject of corrupt sale of seats—with an enactment decisive against the practice of it as far as money is concerned; that it will be possible to continue the nefarious system, by bartering seats for office? Sir, I will take upon myself to say it will be impossible, such practices must be so open to detection, that no one will be found fool-hardy enough to attempt it.—The hon. baronet's (sir F. Burdett) opposition to the measure has been consistent. The alterations made in the bill can be of no consequence in his view of it; for had it passed as it was brought in, it would equally have had his hostility. I rejoice he has given notice of his plan of reform; the house will now be able to judge how far his ideas are practicable. I know, Sir, there are many loud in their calls for Reform, that dread nothing so much as this house making a temperate commencement towards it; who view such a step as putting an end to all the visionary plans which are afloat. Reform is a word in which there is much magic, every one applies it as a remedy to all the evils he sees in the government and constitulion.—Sir, it is surprising, amongst the late Addresses and Resolutions for Reform, to observe those of a place of some note inveighing against the corruptions of this house, when it is a fact notoriously known, that for thirty years past, the worthy Electors of that place have had a fixed and settled price set upon their votes. What do these gentlemen mean? what is it they demand? Is it the liberty of putting themselves up to public sale? Sir, I am not a friend to any plan that shall go to make such a change as might endanger the constitution.—The first Reform I wish to see, is the introducing purity amongst ourselves, in order that we may impress upon the people, that they, no more than 1007 us, shall be at liberty with impunity to abuse the elective franchise. When this shall be completed, then I should rejoice to see the elective franchise extended. Pass this law, Sir, and you will lay the foundation for salutary regulations, which must effect a reformation, both in and out of these walls.—If the bill passes, I shall feel pledged, if my health permits me, to proceed, and to endeavour to accomplish the object I had in view; if it fails, I leave it to others more able.—Reluctantly I undertook this business, and I am ready to own, I did not fully comprehend the difficulties I had to encounter. Indeed, Sir, it was not my intention to have done more than proposed my plan to a Committee, and left it to them to have carried it into effect.—The hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) says, that this bill will operate as an indemnity for the past; where does he find any thing to justify such a declaration? I defy him to shew any grounds for it; if he can, let him point it out, and I will abandon the bill.—Sir, my situation is not enviable; I find myself opposed by those gentlemen with whom I generally think and act. For though, Sir, I never have been what is called a good party man, yet I have my prejudices, and from respect to the talents and abilities of the hon. gentlemen below me, on many cases I should be disposed to adopt their opinions; yet on a measure upon which I have been compelled to bestow much time and consideration, I have formed an opinion, and I think it more consistent to take responsibility upon my own opinion and conviction, than upon any authority, however high.—Sir, I have felt I had an imperious duty to perform, and acting up to what I conceive to be most for the dignity of this house, which I wish to uphold, and most for the advantage of the Empire at large, I am ready to encounter any calumny and odium that may attach upon me, having, what is the best consolation under all circumstances in life, the entire approbation of my own conscience in the vote I shall give.
§ Mr. Windham
said, that he felt it necessary for him to make some observations, as the bill had been so completely altered in the Committee; that there was danger lest, in voting against it now, after having; voted against it before, he should appear to be guilty of inconsistency. It appeared to him as full of objections in its altered state as in its original state; although the objections were of a different nature. His former objections rested, first, on the denial 1008 of that assumption which was made the foundation of the bill; secondly, that he conceived the reasonings by which it was supported, to be false, and dangerous in the extreme; and thirdly, that he conceived that it would open the door to infinite mischiefs. As to this implied corruption, if it is what the law had declared corruption, the law of course had also pointed out how it was to be punished; and if the utmost attention paid to the subject of these corruptions could produce nothing better than this bill, he thought the old legislators had done very well to stop where they did. He deprecated the bill originally, because he saw the difficulty of stopping at the point they might wish. It was easy to remove any abuse, if the removal of the abuse was the only thing to be considered, and if no regard need be had of the means to be employed, and of the mischiefs that might ensue. To take oft a wen or other excrescence, the butcher would do as well as the surgeon, were no consideration necessary of what might be the consequence of cutting it off unskilfully. The real question would be, whether the patient would not be left in a more dangerous state than that of the original disease, and especially when it was considered that there were numbers who, instead of healing, would perpetually apply caustics to the wound. He thought the hon. gent. (Mr. Curwen) was himself somewhat inconsistent in voting for a bill so opposite in its nature and tendency to that which he had originally introduced. He seemed to think that it was better to get half his measure than none of it. "Half a loaf," it was said, "is better than no bread," but not so, half a reform. It was a gross error to suppose, as was perpetually done, that the half of an act by which a benefit might be obtained was any thing like half the benefit. For instance, if the grievance complained of was a beard of a mouth's growth, or a pair of those absurd whiskers with which the faces of some of our soldiers were now disgraced, and the barber should say he had not soap enough to hold out for the whole face, but he would shave half of it, would the person so shaved be considered as getting rid of half the grievance? and more especially if the barber should say, as in the present instance, that although he shaved the hair from one side of the face, it would grow so much thicker on the other, so that there would be precisely the same quantity, although only on one side 1009 of the face (A general laugh). That was really the case in the present instance; for, as the hon. baronet (Sir F. Burdett) had observed, the removal of the competition of private wealth would increase the power of the treasury. By the amended bill, the hon. gent. (Mr. Curwen) might get half of his measure, but no part of his object. For his part, he was no enemy of the influence which the crown at present possesses. In considering the proper degree of influence for the crown to possess, it was necessary to consider the antagonist influence which it had to contend with. All manner of persons were usually conspiring against the government, and it was necessary that government should be strong enough to counteract them. As to the influence of the crown, it was well known that it succeeded to prerogative; or if gentlemen wished to see a country where no influence was wanted, they might turn their eyes to France. In that country that influence of the crown was unnecessary. If any officer in the customs, or any other department, betrayed the trust which was reposed in him, he could be led out and executed. In such a country there was no occasion for the crown having influence; it was sufficient that it had power. He considered it most degrading and impolitic for a government to comply with every temporary popular opinion; but he thought it more degrading still to endeavour to delude the people by giving them what was worse than nothing. The delusion, however, would not pass. The people, he was persuaded, would find out the trick, and would not be made to take Birmingham counters for sterling gold. The preamble, and the first clause of this bill, appeared to be merely calculated to deceive the people, and make them suppose that something was done, which was in fact not done. The people, to be sure, collectively considered, seemed to be made only to be duped. They were resolved always to be duped by somebody. They were duped by those haranguers, who told them that eleven millions and a half of the public expenditure might be saved. They were now about to be duped by ministers, who were ready to pass a bill, holding out a promise which could never be realized. As to the parental affection which the hon. member (Mr. Curwen) had manifested for his bill, it was surely of the oddest sort possible; for it was for a child not his own. The child was a perfect changeling, with no 1010 resemblance to the former either in features or colour.Qui color albus erat, nunc est contrarius albo.It must have been got by a negro slave. The indifference too of the hon. gentleman between this and the original bill, was not less extraordinary. It was much the same as in a case that he remembered of a gentleman who made proposals in a family where there were several daughters, and when the father inquired which of his daughters it was that was honoured with his choice, replied, "just which you please." Upon which the father was said to have replied, very properly, "since you are so indifferent, I think it may as well be neither." The case however was stronger here, daughters may differ widely; but they cannot properly be said to be contrary or opposite. "Substantia substantiæ non contrariatur." Whereas these bills were in that state of opposition as to be mutually destructive of each other. But the hon. mover was determined to have a bill, and provided he succeeded in that object, it seemed to be no part of his consideration what the bill was.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
felt extreme surprise that the gentlemen who in former stages of this bill professed themselves its supporters, should now evince a disapprobation of it as not tending to effect what they had first in view. In this particular, the character imputed to it in its present state was an extremely unjust one; and the hon. gent. who first introduced it, I however he might feel disappointed in not carrying all his object into effect, yet acted with perfect consistency in assenting to it even in its present shape. What some gentlemen had said as to its not being adequate to the suppression of what was intended by the hon. gent., he did not really comprehend. The hon. gent, who originated the measure, had been himself convinced of the propriety of leaving out the oath, and therefore he thought that the amendments which he had proposed to the bill, were by no means of the nature that had been ascribed to them. The only material amendment in which the hon. member did not concur, was in the insertion of the word "express" as to the agreements respecting offices. He could say most sincerely that he had no other object in this amendment, than preventing persons from innocently incurring severe penalties. He so little thought that his amendments deserved the character which had been given of them, that those who 1011 originally supported the bill, and now opposed it, exposed themselves in his opinion, to the imputation of never having been sincere friends to the bill, and seizing hold of the first pretence to vote against it. The right hon. gent. who spoke last had said a great deal, to shew that the bill was not calculated to answer its avowed end. He would ask, if a preamble such as that of the bill in question, pledging parliament against corruption, and all species of the corrupt traffic, was nothing? Was it of no importance, that the bill should in its declaratory part make, those matters clear respecting the bribery laws, on which, among considerable authorities hitherto, there had been considerable variance? As to the introduction of the oath, he thought that the difficulties, the practical difficulties, resulting from it, seemed to be admitted even by the right hon. gent. who spoke last. He thought, however, he had no good reason to be satisfied with the rather uncandid manner in which he had been treated. Gentlemen seemed to have agreed in the principle of this bill, for no other purpose than to have a pretence for giving him a vexatious opposition in the committee, to whatever amendment he might, as a member, have felt it his duty to propose. With regard to the hon. mover of the bill, he regretted sincerely if he had failed in satisfying that gentleman of the sincerity of his support of the principle of the bill. He would again assure him of the sincerity of the motives which had actuated him throughout. He respected public opinion, as much as any gentleman, and endeavoured to act in consonance to it; though he believed, had he gone to the full extent in support of the bill hi its original form, he would not have succeeded in satisfying popular clamour. Those parts of the bill, as it originally stood, which appeared to him to be productive of great practical difficulties, he had opposed, and now that the house had agreed with him in removing those objectionable parts, he sincerely thought that the bill in its present shape was calculated to do much good, and that it might now be safely passed into a law.
§ Mr. Tierney
agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that before the house Would rise that night, some one or other of its members would be exposed to imputations for insincerity of conduct in the progress of the bill then pending. He would not attempt to anticipate the public opinion, or say who would be the objects of 1012 their censure; and he thought that the right hon. gent. would have done well if he had acted in the same way, and abstained from those insinuations against the sincerity of others, when, perhaps his own might be equally questionable. When his hon. friend introduced the present bill, he confessed he hailed it as a source of real good to the best interests of the country; but since that period, the bill had undergone such changes, it had been so mutilated and defaced that its very principle was essentially altered, and consequently its operation and end must be widely different. He denied therefore that he was justly liable to any charge of inconsistency for now voting against the bill, for what he had originally supported was not that which he now opposed, and that was the reason why he opposed it. If his hon. friend meant, however, altered as it had been, to support the bill, he trusted he would do him justice as to the motives, that influenced him to oppose it. He had never been absent in any one stage of its progress, and now that he saw in what shape the bill was about to go out to the public, he must decline having any part whatever in passing upon them so gross and mischievous a delusion. In the first clause of the bill, as introduced by his hon. friend, the giver and taker of a bribe were placed on a complete equality, as to the penalty of 500l. In the present bill not a syllable of that clause survived; and all that was given in exchange for it was—what? A new preamble, which was not worth sixpence, its spirit being done away by the enactments which accompanied it. He would ask, was the omission of such a clause no material alteration in the nature of the bill? But the truth of it was, the right hon. gent. through the whole progress of the bill betrayed a great anxiety to throw a shield round the members of that house; there was no scruple in dealing out punishments to the electors, as the baser part, but there was manifested upon all occasions a wonderful jealousy for protection of the elected. Now, unfortunately, whatever was the cause, the public did not think precisely in that way. They did not think the members of that house, altogether above punishment. And though he never was, nor would be, the slave of popular clamour, he hoped he should never be backward in paying due respect to the fair and legitimate expression of public opinion; for, after all, it was the tribunal before 1013 which that house was ultimately to be tried; and it must not be forgotten, that what gave rise to that bill was a disclosure, which led to a confession upon both sides of that house, of the existence of corrupt practices in procuring seats in that house. This was not a circumstance calculated to lull the suspicions of the public, but rather to make them look to their proceedings on that bill with great jealousy. The right hon. gent. who had thrown out such sly hints against the sincerity of others, had brought his own to rather a queer trial in the committee. He was a friend to the bill, and the moment he got it into the committee, he never stopped till he succeeded in making it as unlike the measure he professed to befriend as any measure could possibly be. The bill went into the committee with the clause of penalty; the clause respecting the oath, and that regarding the agreement for the grant of office; and before it is allowed to come out of it, the right hon. gent. had deprived it of altogether; penalty, oath, and office. As for the preamble, notwithstanding the fine eulogium the right hon. gent. had passed upon it, he thought it amounted to neither more nor less than nothing; the Bribery Act would not be carried into effect by it—and why? Because that might go to affect members as well as voters, and there was no saying too much about the tenderness the right hon. gent. manifested for the former, though, to be sure, it was a fine thing to talk big of mulcting a minister in the penalty of 1,000l. as if such a fine could be preventive. But this was of a character with the rest, and was only throwing a shield about the members; and yet if the sincerity of the right hon. gent. was appealed to, it might be difficult for him to account why there should be any difference between the elected and the electors; why the same offence in either, mutatis mutandis, should not be visited with the same kind of punishment? Why they both should not be put upon the same footing? Or why what was a misdemeanor in the elector should not also be a misdemeanor in the elected? Another material alteration in the bill was, that as it originally stood, the grant of office was made an offence like every other gift, and he could not see why the gift of office should not be considered as criminal as the gift of money, where the intention was the same. But the right hon. gent. insisted upon the introduction of the word "ex- 1014 press," which did away the whole force and use of the clause. When that right hon. gent. acted as a new reformer recently, he took a different course with respect to his own measure. [Here Mr. Tierney read the passages from Mr. Perceval's Bill to prevent the Sale of Offices, and observed, that the term "express" was not included in that bill, nor ought not in the present].—But he could not believe it possible, that the right hon. gent. really meant to prevent the Sale of Seats in that house, as his conduct in the treatment of that Bill was totally irreconcilable with such an intention; and as to his (Mr. Tierney's) sincerity, he could only says that wishing well as he did to the bill of his hon. friend, he must wish ill to the present one of the right hon. gentleman. He again adverted to the preamble, and said, there was nothing in it; it was joking with the public; it was laughing in their faces, and giving them more than pretence for saying to that house what Dr. Johnson said to Macpherson, "Hereafter I shall be more inclined to believe what you shall prove than what you shall say."—They indeed, said a great deal in all conscience,, and it was now time for them to do something. The public had observed the course they had taken during the session, and would not be inattentive to the manner in which they would close their career. As to the right hon. gent.'s opposition, he believed it to be a government measure, and meant nothing personal towards that right hon. gent. Though his hon. friend was deserving of great praise for having introduced the bill, yet, after the alterations it had undergone, it would do him now but little credit; and he would advise him to take care that it should go out to the world not as his, but as the measure of the right hon. gentleman. For the reasons he had stated, he must oppose the bill.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
said a few words against the bill. He thought that if the bill was suffered to pass, it would stand in the way of something better, and that on the other hand, if it was thrown out, something more effectual would be substituted in its place. Besides, if it did pass, there were some who might think that enough would then have been done.
|Majority for the third reading||—15|
§ The second that the Bill do pass—
§ The following Amendment was proposed by lord Folkestone, as the proper preamble to Mr. Curwen's Bill:—"A Bill for more effectually preventing the Sale of Seats in Parliament, for Money; and for promoting a Monopoly thereof to the Treasury by the means of Patronage."
|For the original Title||133|
|For lord Folkestone's Amendment||28|
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, Jas.||Latouche, J.|
|Barham, J. F.||Lloyd, sir E. P.|
|Brand, hon. T.||Lyttleton, hon. W. H.|
|Browne, Anthony||Madocks, W. A.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Martin, H.|
|Colborne, N. W. R.||Maxwell, W.|
|Combe, H. C.||Milner, sir W.|
|Creevey, Tho.||Milton, lord|
|Cuthbert, J. R.||Parnell, H.|
|Ferguson, R. C.||Smith, W.|
|Folkestone, lord||Tavistock, marq. of|
|Hall, sir J.||Taylor, W.|
|Horner, Francis||Tracy, H.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Wardle, G. L.|
|Hutchinson, C. H.||Western, C. C.|