HC Deb 26 April 1814 vol 27 cc546-51
Mr. Douglas

having moved the order of the day for the second reading of the above Bill,

Mr. Lockhart

rose to oppose the measure as unnecessary, and likely to be quite inoperative to its professed object; at the same time that it would be productive of many inconveniencies. It was unnecessary, because the statutes of William and the 2nd of Geo. 2, already made sufficient legislative provision against bribery, by prescribing that the candidate should forfeit his seat; and also that the giver or receiver of any bribe, at or previous to an election, should be subject to a penalty of 500l. Now, any money given to non-resident voters, in the way which this Bill proposed to prevent, must be regarded as a bribe, and already punishable by law; and if this law were inefficient to guard against the evil, what hope could be entertained from the Bill before the House, which in fact proposed to diminish the horror of the existing law, by taking away the penalty prescribed by the 2nd of George 2. The inconveniencies which the Bill would occasion, the learned gentleman endeavoured to shew by referring to the difficulty it would create in the conveyance of non-resident voters to boroughs and universities; but why this difficulty, if just, should not be extended to counties also, be could not conjecture. He was, however, adverse to the creation of the difficulty at all, because he thought that non-resident voters were generally less corrupt than those resident; and that where the representation of boroughs was confined to the latter, they often had 40l. or 50l. each; the borough was reduced, and generally fell into the hands of some neighbouring peer; whilst, on the contrary, non-resident voters served to preserve an equilibrium; and, generally, the independence of the borough was owing to them. This Bill would, besides, virtually operate to disfranchise a vast number of non-resident voters who could not afford to pay the expence of carriage to the election where they had a right of voting. The House then only had a choice of evils; and in his opinion it would be far better to fix by law the sum that should be allowed to defray the travelling expence of every non-resident voter, than to adopt this Bill. After a variety of other observations upon the law and practice of election, in the course of which the hon. gentleman recommended the repeal of the clause in the Durham Act, by which those who had inchoate right, namely, by birth or servitude, were exempted from the obligation of being one year invested with he right of voting before they were admissible to vote; he concluded with moving, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Mr. Alderman C. Smith

, on seconding the amendment, said a few words in opposition to the principle of the Bill.

Mr. G. Rose

said, he was of opinion that the House ought to make the expences of out-voter legal or illegal by enactment; for notwithstanding the provisions of the statutes of William and George 2, the committees of the House very often differed on the subject. The uncertainty of the law constituted the great evil. He thought, however, that it would be a matter of great difficulty to legalize the compensation to be allowed to out-voters for their loss of time; one man might gain only three shillings per day, while another might obtain twenty times that sum. The hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Lockhart) seemed to consider non-resident voters as more independent than those who were resident; such, however, was not his opinion—non-resident electors were usually collected and treated expensively previously to a general election; they, were then carried to their borough by some candidate; and when they arrived there, they generally sold their votes to the best bidder. (A laugh.) He felt obliged to the hon. gentleman for the Bill, and should vote against the amendment. With regard to what had been said of giving money by the candidate or his friend, he would wish to draw the line as tight against the latter as the former.

Sir John Newport

was convinced of the utility of the Bill; and thought that, so far from infringing on franchises of particular electors, it would give a very proper security to the rights and franchises of the real bonâ fide electors. Every gentleman must be aware, that for many months previous to a general election, there were advertisements in the newspapers inviting non-resident voters to assemble at different public-houses, where they were entertained, and often kept in a state of constant intoxication. This was a practice that no one could say was necessary to secure the freedom of electron. He considered, that the resident electors were always the persons most competent to judge of the interests of the place in which they resided, and the most, likely to form a proper choice of the representatives. An hon. gentleman had suggested many improvements, which might properly form the basis of another Bill; but he bad often observed, that if was the practice of those who opposed themselves to reformations, to suggest other things which appeared to them more beneficial, but which, if specifically brought forward, they would find some other reasons for opposing. If any general measure was proposed, they opposed it on account of its generality; but if a specific measure was proposed, then the objection was, that it was incomplete from not being sufficiently general.

Mr. Marryatt

could not reconcile his mind to such an innovation as this, which went practically to disfranchise such a considerable body of electors. It was notorious, that a considerable number of the non-resident voters were not able to pay their own expences going to or returning from the place of election. If those expences were not, therefore, allowed them, they would be virtually deprived of the benefit of their franchises. In the borough that he represented (Sandwich) the number of voters was about 1,000, and more than half that number were non-residents. The number of non-resident voters was perpetually increasing; as it was not possible to find employment in the town for the numbers who were entitled by birth, or otherwise, to their freedom. They naturally went to other places to seek for employment; but he never could admit the principle laid down, that non-residents were less able to judge of the proper candidates to vote for, than the resident electors. He conceived that the mind was enlarged instead of narrowed, by mixing more generally with the world, and not being confined to a single town. The leading questions of politics, as to men and measures, might be fully as well understood by the non-resident voters. In this opinion he spoke disinterestedly; for he never had occasion to put himself to the expence of bringing in any voters that did not live in the immediate district of the Cinque Ports. Committees of the House of Commons had, however, always drawn the line between indemnity and bribery. The courts of justice admitted the same distinction in the case of witnesses who were entitled to their reasonable travelling expences, before they could be called upon to give their testimony. He was surprised that this Bill did not extend to county elections also; as it was notorious that more money had been spent in bringing down out-voters to the election for the county of York, than for all the boroughs and towns in the kingdom. He objected to the Bill as supplying a remedy where the evil was light, and omitting to furnish one where it was heavy. It was said, laws were like cobwebs—they held small flies, but the large ones broke, through them and escaped. This might with justice be said of the present Bill, if it passed. He thought it would be desirable to take the votes of electors at their places of residence; and if such a Bill were brought forward it should have his hearty support. The Bill before them he should vote against, for he considered it as an attack on the rights and liberties of the subject.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

was surprised that that should be considered as an invasion of the rights of the subject, which only went to give force and vigour to the existing law. This he thought would be its effect, and therefore it had had support. He was of opinion that the voters ought not to have their expences paid. They had been compared to witness trial; but the comparison would not hold, and he was surprised that it had been made. A witness came forward for the interest of one of the parties. Constitutionally, an elector could not come forward for the interest of a candidate. If those who held the elective franchise did not think it worth their while to exercise it at their own expence, he thought they ought not to come forward at all. He objected to fixing a sum for a voter's remuneration. It was impossible to say what would be a proper compensation for the time alleged to be lost. The door once opened, it would lead to drunkenness, and every species of disorder; and many of the electors would only think of selling their votes to those who would pay best. The duration of polls was a matter which called loudly for the interference of the House, because in many cases it was a serious grievance. There were instances within the recollection of the House in which polls had been protracted for fifteen days. As a proof that the prevention of such an abuse was easy, he stated an instance in an election for the county of Essex, when 5,000 voters were polled in one day. To return to the Bill before the House; he had heard no valid argument urged against it. He should even be glad if a Bill were introduced, by which it should be enacted, that no freeman, who for the future might obtain the election franchise, should have any right to exercise it until he had resided for a certain time on the property from which he obtained the right. He trosted that the Bill would be committed; as in the committee the House would have an opportunity of examining minutely its provisions.

Mr. Douglas

wished to say a few words in consequence of an imputation (he could call it by no other name) which had been thrown out against him by an hon. gentleman, with some injustice. What he had staled was, that though the measure would not diminish the representative body, yet it certainly would to a degree alter their character. However anxious he was not to interfere with the real right of electors, it would not be denied that whatever right they might have to exercise their elective duties, they had no right to be paid for the expences they might incur for the purpose of this exercise. It was not his wish to palm upon the House any theory of his own which might militate against laws that had been sanctioned by the wisdom of successive generations. On the whole, so much had been said in defence of the Bill, that he did not find it necessary to trouble the House any further.

Mr. Lushington

, without meaning to impute any ambiguity to the laws relating to elections, thought it would be admitted, that the decisions of election committees had frequently been extremely complex. In his opinion, it would be practically more beneficial to restrain the payment of election expenses, than all at once to endeavour to put an end to them: and on this principle the Bill would have been better entitled "An Act to regulate election expences," than an Act 'to prevent,' as the title now stood. He merely suggested this to the hon. proposer of the Bill; and he hoped it would be considered by him.

The Bill was then read a second time, and ordered to be committed on Monday next.