HC Deb 09 May 1814 vol 27 cc742-8

The order of the day for going into a Committee on the Election Expences Bill having been read, Mr. Douglas moved that the Speaker should leave the chair.

Mr. Calcraft

would not object to the motion; but declared, that unless the Bill should come from the committee in a form very different from that which it then bore—unless it was made a measure of regulation, not of disfranchisement, he should feel it to be his duty to oppose it either on the report, or on the third reading.

Mr. Martin

expressed his surprise, that the comprehensive mind of the hon. author of the Bill should not be aware, that, if agreed to, it must occasion a material change in the constitution of parliament, by excluding in a great measure non-resident voters from an election, and leaving it entirely in the hands of those who were local and resident. The whole measure rested on an unfounded assumption; namely, that non-resident voters, who received from a candidate the expence of their journey, and compensation for their loss of time, must necessarily be corrupt. Nothing could be more unfounded; and as for any unnecessary or collusory allowances on the part of the candidate, the statute of William 3 was sufficiently operative in that respect. He contended besides, that the Bill was much too severe by declaring certain acts, without any investigation of their nature, to be criminal; and thus depriving the present admirable jurisdictions, the election committees, of the discretion with which they were at present invested, and by which they were enabled to hear evidence as to the nature of the acts in question, that they might pronounce them, as circumstances directed, either innocent or criminal, according as they might find them attributable or non-attributable to corrupt motives.

Mr. Rose

wished to ask the hon. gent lent an who spoke last, if he thought a committee ought to enter into the case of every individual voter, in order to ascertain what might be considered a fair allowance for his time and travelling expences? In this city some artificers made 20s. a day, while others did not, perhaps, make more than 2s. 6d. If they were once to let in discretion, it would be impossible to shut the door against every sort of irregularity. He did not think there was one man in the House who believed the exercise of this practice of defraying the expences of non-resident electors was attended with any one good effect. They all well knew, that non-resident voters were treated for months together before a general election; and yet it frequently happened that they were met by crimps on the road to the place of election, and the best bidder had them after all. The right hon. gentleman concluded with professing himself a staunch friend to the Bill.

Mr. Wynn

said, the principle of the Bill evidently was, to prevent the charging of any expence to voters. If one candidate be allowed to be at any expence, it becomes necessary for others to be at the same. The candidates make use of this mean to conciliate the good opinions of their constituents. The hon. gentleman read the preamble of the Act of William 3, to prove that its object was to cause elections to be made without charge or expence. He could not agree with those gentlemen who thought that this Bill would be a disfranchising law. Corruption was before an indictable offence at common law; but if it were established that voters ought to be paid their expences, every voter would have a right to expect a compensation for his loss of time. But the law of the land says, that no candidate shall give to any voter either meat, drink, or entertainment. After alluding to the cases of Messrs. Coke and Windbam in a late parliament, who were unseated under the Act against bribery, &c. the hon. gentleman concluded with saying, that as he believed this Bill to be only a re-assertion of the law of the land, be should be happy in seeing it carried.

Mr. Serj. Best

said, the principle upon which he would vote for the committee was, that the law was now unsettled as to the legality of paying any expence to nonresident voters. In his mind the object of the Bill was, to disfranchise a great number of voters. If such was the intention, it ought to be done fairly and manfully, not in such an indirect way. He would, however, vote for the committee, for the purpose of removing the doubts that existed as to the law, because committees of that House allowed the legality of paying expences, while the courts of law denied it.

Sir John Newport

would vote for the committee, on a principle directly contrary to that of the learned gentleman (serjeant Best). His opinion was, that it would disfranchise a number of voters. He (sir J. Newport) thought that such voters as had their expences paid, did not come fairly and freely to do their duty. What opinion would be formed of a man, who, having his expences paid by one candidate, should change his mind, and vote for another? He would be considered as having acted unfairly; and this shewed, that when his expences were paid, his choice was not free. It was desirable, that if non-residents wished to exercise their franchise, they should have more difficulty in doing it than at present. Every person saw, on the eve of an election, the papers filled with advertisements inviting non-resident voters to taverns, where they spent their time in drunkenness and idleness, to the great injury of their employers. In those which were called open boroughs, the corruption was greater than in others, as the records of the committees of that House would shew. He would therefore vote for the committee.

Mr. Rochfort

thought the effect of this Bill would not correspond with its intention. It was impossible to put a stop to the practice which this Bill professed to prevent; for the out-voters would continue to be carried to the place of election; by some means or other, not at their own expence. Some friend would defray their expence, who could not be proved to be an agent of the candidate. He had an objection also to the Bill, because it was partial in its operation. Why restrict the remedy to boroughs? Why not extend it also to counties? In the populous county of York, and in the county of Lancaster, the enormous expences attending an election were so great as to prevent any man of moderate fortune from becoming a candidate. He felt it to be his duty to oppose the Bill in every stage.

The question was then put for the Speaker's leaving the chair, and carried without a division. The House having gone into a committee,

Mr. Lushington

, as he had on a former occasion said, still thought that the Bill might be very much improved; both as it affected the interest of the electors and of the candidates. The omission of the word "county" in the Bill he thought quite unintelligible. If the Bill passed as it then stood, it would be most injurious to the elective rights of persons who might be in the army; in fact, to the soldier it would be virtually a disfranchisement. It would be infinitely better to allow a certain proportion of the travelling expences of electors to be paid. He therefore proposed to allow to non-resident electors a sum not exceeding a shilling per mile for travelling expences, the distance being computed between the place of residence and the place of election.

Mr. Douglas

, though happy to agree to any suggestion offered with so much candour, could not avail himself of that of the hon. gentleman, because he thought it militated against the principle of the Bill. The proposal of the hon. gentleman would be an innovation on the law as it now stood; and to prove this, he referred to it. Indeed the effect of the proposal would be, to legalise the claims of the non-resident electors to remuneration for their travelling expences, and to establish corruption of the grossest kind. The Bill was one declaratory in substance, but in form an enactment.

Mr. Lushington

said, if the Bill was declaratory in substance, he wished to know how it happened that the word "county" was omitted? He then moved that the word "county" should be inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Bathurst

thought, that if the Bill passed in its present form, its effect would be, totally to destroy the foundation on which it stood; namely, the Act of King William. He felt inclined to support the amendment for the insertion of the word "county."

Mr. Calcraft

thought his hon. friend (Mr. Douglas) had got his Bill into such a situation, that he could not see how he was to get it on. His hon. friend seemed to have compromised the principles of his Bill for support to it; thus, for conciliating the county members, he had left out the word "county."

Mr. Lushington

thought if a certain degree of expence was not allowed to the out-voters, the Bill would give rise to more fraud than existed under the present law. If they were to give every out voter 1s., per mile for travelling expences, much fraud would, in his opinion, be obviated.

Mr. Douglas

objected to this allowance, as legalizing what was at present contrary to law. Instead of diminishing the expences of election, it would add to them, as it would entitle every person to make a specific demand to have his expences defrayed.

Mr. Calcraft

was against the Bill; being of opinion, that it went to fix a stigma upon electors, without any call for it.

Mr. Tierney

recollected, that some years ago he himself had introduced a Bill something like the present, in which he had proposed to include counties; and then he was asked, if his meaning was to disfranchise every body? In order to do away this objection, he had then agreed to the omission of the word counties, in hopes that he might have reconciled gentlemen to the measure; and he should agree still to omit the word, if the omission could have this effect. He was sorry the hon. member (Mr. Lushington) had not gone the length of proposing the repeal of the Act of King William. He wished the hon. gentleman would also go the length of proposing the repeal of the Act requiring a landed qualification of 300l. a year. For, if candidates went on, for any length of time, paying the proposed expence of 1s. per mile to electors, he (Mr. Tierney) was afraid it would soon come to this, that they themselves would not long possess the qualification necessary to entitle them to sit as members. Who, too, he asked, was to decide, whether the sum demanded by the elector and paid by the candidate, was or was not bribery? It was impossible for a candidate to have an agent residing in every place which might be named by an elector; how else could be know that an elector had not come, as he himself might have alleged, from the Lands end? And if he yielded to such demand would not this be called corruption? Gentlemen talked of non-resident freeholders as if they were disfranchised, in consequence of their non-residence. This was by no means so: if persons having votes chose to remove from the place where they were entitled to the exercise of their elective franchise, what was it but saying to them, if they chose to remove they took upon themselves the burden of returning to the exercise of their right as part of their mercantile speculation. If the rule was to be otherwise, seats could only be contested by persons having large sums of money in their pockets. He (Mr. Tierney) recollected a non-resident elector, who pretended to have come from a distance to vote for him, refusing to exercise his elective suffrage till the 14th day; he obtained from him his expences, under the pretence of having come to vote for him, and then returned under the colours of the adverse party. He was, on the whole, satisfied that nonresident voters had no common view, in the interest or character of the place represented, with the resident voters.

Sir Charles Monck

said, if the Amendments which had been proposed were carried, he should oppose the further progress of the Bill.

Mr. Wynn

considered the Amendment for allowing a shilling a mile travelling expences to voters as extremely reprehensible, and as, in fact, tolerating that very system of corruption which it was meant to correct.—With respect to the application of the provision of the Bill to counties, although he did not approve of such an extension, yet rather than the Bill should not pass, he would agree to that suggestion.

Mr. Protheroe

agreed to the extension of the Bill to counties, but disapproved of the proposed allowance of expences.

Sir F. Flood

would vote against the Bill, as quite unnecessary.

Alderman C. Smith

opposed the Bill, and thought it was introduced at the worst possible time.

Sir J. Newport

spoke in favour of the Bill.

Mr. H. Thornton

contended, that the provisions of the Bill did not go to alter the constitution. Those who complained of innovation were generally afraid that too much democracy would be introduced. In cutting off a number of unworthy voters, as it was now proposed to do, they rather strengthened the aristocracy than favoured the democracy of the country.

Mr. Wrottesley

felt it his duty to repeat his objection to the principle of this Bill; but being in a committee, he should give his vote for the introduction of the word "county" in it.

Sir J. Mackintosh

objected to the Amendments, as tending to increase the difficulties which the Bill had to encounter, to multiply its opponents, and to endanger its success. The principal objections that came from a friendly quarter, he thought might be obviated, by making an alteration in the preamble of the Bill, and by adding a proviso that should do away all doubts as to the construction of the Treating Act. When the enacting clause had passed, he proposed to offer these additions as amendments.

Mr. Bathurst

defended the Amendment he had supported.

A division took place on the Amendment, which went to introduce the word "county." For the Amendment 50; against it 5—Majority 45. The other clauses of the Bill were then passed. The House resumed, and the Report was ordered to be received on Monday.