HC Deb 16 May 1814 vol 27 cc888-91

The order of the day being read, for taking into consideration the report on the Elections Expence Bill,

Mr. Lockhart

argued at some length against the report being received, on the ground of its tending to unsettle the common law. Should the present Bill pass, the consequence would be, that none but men of considerable property could exercise the elective franchise. The Bill was only in favour of candidates of a particular description, who stood upon the support of wealthy individuals; and did not provide that others might not do what was prohibited to the candidate. If passed into a law, the Bill would have a tendency to prevent gentlemen who were the most proper to represent the people from obtaining seats in that House: he also thought the present time, when we were about to obtain a restoration of the blessings of peace, not the most auspicious to draw the sword against the principle of the constitution. It would be better first to inquire into the state of the boroughs, before adopting such a measure as the present; many of which that were formerly open had now become close boroughs, from there being no non-resident electors; and many others would probably fall into the same state, should the Bill before the House pass into a law. Neither would the Bill prove beneficial to the candidate himself; as he would unavoidably be put to more expence by doing that clandestinely, which was now done openly and without disguise. He also wished that the word 'carriage' should be expunged from the Bill. Should the Bill be extended to counties, it would occasion the elections to have a puritanical air, as the hustings would be deserted and the whole business of the election would be carried on in secret. He concluded by moving as an amendment, that the report be taken into further consideration that day six months.

Mr. Alderman Smith

seconded the motion.—He never thought that this was a fit measure to bring before a British parliament. He hoped, as the Bill was of such a nature, that those who had been always loud advocates for the people's rights, would oppose it.

Mr. Douglas

stated, that the present Bill differed from the previous regulations on the subject of elections. It had been urged against the measure it would be a great hardship on the elector, if forced to pay his own expences; but on the other hand, the hardship was equally great on the side of the candidate, if forced to pay them. The Treating Act referred to resident voters, and the present measure embraced the case of non-resident electors.

Lord Milton

said, if the Bill were extended to counties, it would have the effect of disfranchising nine-tenths of the electors. How was it possible that the great bulk of the electors could proceed 60 to 70 miles to the place of election, and be absent many days from their occupations at a nearly ruinous expense of labour and time, as their industry was a almost their only property? The amendment made, to extend the provisions of the Bill to counties, might have been done slily, to defeat the Bill altogether; but should the word 'counties' be omitted, he did not think that much that was exceptionable would remain. If an elector were nonresident, it must be because he thought it more for his interest to quit than to remain in the place of his nativity; and his inability to exercise his elective franchise was the result of his own voluntary act. But the case was different as to counties, as the electors were necessarily spread all over the counties, and it would be an act of injury and injustice to apply to them the provisions of the Bill. If he were in order, he should move that the word 'counties' be left out.

The Speaker

informed the noble lord, that before his amendment could be put, the House must decide upon receiving the report.

Mr. Lushington

said, that had the noble lord been in the House when he proposed his amendment, he would have seen that there was no intention on his part to defeat the object of the Bill. In proposing an allowance of so much a mile to voters, he wished to prevent many voters from being disfranchised. A bill had been filed in a court of justice, to receiver money that had been paid by a candidate for the carriage of voters, who had afterwards voted for another candidate; and the money had been recovered. This showed, that the principle on which he proceeded was recognised in law. Being of opinion that the subject required more mature consideration, he should vote for the amendment.

Mr. Gordon

thought that it would be advisable to introduce a clause into the Bill, by which electors within the county might be carried free of expence to the place of election. He was afraid the Bill would not do a great deal of good, but should vote for it as a basis for future plans of reform.

Mr. Western

said, he should vote for the amendment, as he thought the subject required further consideration. The Bill went to re-enact an old law, as the statute of William was perfectly clear.

Mr. Marryatt

thought that the distinction betwixt indemnity and bribery had not been sufficiently attended to; and that the elective franchise was virtually taken away, when the elector had no means of exercising it. Should the Bill pass, open boroughs would become close. He characterised the measure as violent, outrageous, and unconstitutional.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

remarked on the contrariety of the reasons adduced by the opponents of the Bill; some alledging that it was an innovation, and therefore to be rejected as an evil; others, that it was merely a re-enactment of the existing statute of king William, and therefore to be rejected as unnecessary. He approved of the Bill as consonant with the spirit which pervaded the whole of the constitution of our representation; the object of which was, to exclude those who, from their poverty, were open to temptation. For what reason but that on which this Bill was founded, were those excluded in county elections from voting who had not forty shillings freeholds, and those who received parochial assistance in all cases? For what reason, but this, were persons excluded from that House, who had not freeholds to a certain amount? According to the noble lord (Milton), who had opposed this Bill, it was proper that electors should receive a compensation for their loss of time, as well as for their pecuniary expence. This he (Mr. W.) thought a manifest violation of the statute of William, and he hoped that committees would not always continue to sanction such practices. The present Bill was a measure which might be of considerable benefit, especially if coupled with one which might enact, that when a poll should be demanded in the case of a county election, there might be several places for voting, so disposed as to be sufficiently near to the habitations of the freeholders of every part in the county. Such a measure would do away with the increasing expence of elections, which threatened the purity and independence of that House. The reason why he had not proposed such a measure was, that he had not found a sufficient disposition in the House to adopt any such amendment on the existing law; some opposing reform altogether, and others thinking this not the right end to begin at.

Mr. Rose

thought that the candidates should be allowed to furnish the voters with the means of conveyance, but not with money to defray their expences; for when money was once allowed to be paid, who should determine the exact sum?

Mr. Lascelles

declared; that he should be equally inclined to vote against the Bill and against the Amendment; as the former would not only disqualify a number of voters; but would give an undue power to a set of persons whom he could not better describe than by calling them itinerant sheriffs.

Sir John Newport

said, that if this Bill were suffered to proceed, he should feel it his duty to propose, that an additional oath should be taken by every member at the table of that House; to this effect, that he had not, in the obtainment of his election given either meat, drink, or entertainment, to any voter whatever, either by himself, or through the means of any agent.

The House then divided; and Mr. Lockhart's amendment, that the Report be taken into consideration this day six months, was carried. The numbers were—

For Mr. Lockhart's motion 82
Against it 58
Majority —24