HC Deb 28 May 1827 vol 17 cc1055-60

Lord Althorp moved the third reading of this bill.

Mr. Calcraft

rose at that late stage of the bill, to give his strenuous opposition to a measure, which, as far as he was aware, had never yet undergone discussion. He thought it necessary to warn the House what this bill was intended to do. It disfranchised every voter who was employed as an agent by a candidate at an election, and thus threw a stigma upon all the profession of the law. It could not be supposed that the fees which attorneys and barristers received for lending their services to the candidate who employed them, could ever act upon them so far as to induce them to give him their votes corruptly, when they were hostile to his political principles. He was sure that, in point of pecuniary emolument, all professional men were losers by being employed in elections [a laugh]. He was convinced that the case was as he had stated it. That part of the bill which prohibited the use of music, ribands, and party symbols during the election, would destroy all the fun, and spirit, and gaiety of an election, and make them the most dull, monotonous, methodistical, and puritanical spectacles that could be imagined. In point of fact, without flags and ribands, the electors would not know whose heads they were breaking, and might knock down their friends under the mistaken idea that they were knocking down their foes. It was said, that the candidates might select their agents out of those persons who were not qualified as voters; but what unqualified person would ever feel the same interest, or exert the same energies, for a candidate as the qualified person, who had identified himself with the candidate of his choice? He hoped that the third reading of the bill would be deferred.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, it was his intention to move, that this bill be read that day six months. All the malpractices which it was intended to prohibit by this bill, were, under heavy penalties, prohibited in Ireland; and every one of them were either evaded, or something worse substituted. He had just been on a long Irish election committee, and the witnesses whom it had been his lot to hear examined, proved the point he had asserted beyond possibility of dispute. In the election to which he alluded, there were whole legions of lawyers employed, not as lawyers, for that was one thing petitioned against, as it would have vitiated the return; but as active and zealous friends—for which he had no doubt but that these active and zealous friends were, in the end, well paid. If the House prevented the candidate from paying his agents regularly and openly, it could only go to his paying them through a third hand, more lavishly than he would otherwise have done, when the election was over. As to the clause which prevented any voter from wearing ribands or other mark of distinction, nothing could be more absurd, and, indeed, injurious. It was a specimen of Irish legislation, which went to put down forceably any insignia of the thousand varieties of party association, which made faction harmless, and to divide a nation into two parties having each to other the most deadly hatred: and from Irish legislation, and Irish peace, and Irish tranquillity, and Irish elections, he trusted in heaven, that England would be delivered! They could not break English custom, do what they would; and, in almost all the places in England, half the electors voted for a riband; and it was an idle folly to suppose that, by a bill like the present, the House could make an English election as demure as a Method- ist love feast.—The hon. member then I proceeded to ridicule that clause of the bill which prohibits any man from voting whilst he bore any insignia of his party, under a penalty of 10l; and also to censure the clause which disfranchised all those acting as special constables; it being obvious that the friends of electors might be made special constables and paid in their places, to the great increase of that species of bribery; and if ever there were disposition to riot, respectable electors would be the persons most likely and most interested to preserve the peace.—He said, he held in his hand a letter from a gentleman very conversant in elections, stating, that he knew the means by which every clause in the present bill might be evaded, with great ultimate increase of expense to the candidate [a laugh].—He considered the present bill in every way objectionable; but was of opinion, that a great reform might be easily introduced by arrangements, under which any city or borough, however populous, might be polled in two days. This bill contained no such arrangements. It went, unnecessarily, to disfranchise a great number of voters. It was a bill easy of evasion, and producing necessarily evasion; and every one of its provisions appearing to him either mischievous, or frivolous, or absurd, he should conclude by moving, "that it be read a third time this day six months."

Mr. Spring Rice

defended the provisions of the bill; and declared that there was nothing contained in it which could possibly disfranchise a single individual. It provided merely that no canvasser, fiddler, flagman, or messenger, was to be employed for money; but he might engage himself in any of those capacities for the benefit of the candidate, if he chose to do so without demanding any recompence.

Sir R. Wilson

observed, that the member for Newton was rather unfortunate in his statement, that the hoisting of ribands prevented the necessity of swearing in an additional number of special constables. The exact contrary was the fact; as might be seen by a reference to the late proceedings at Coventry. Ribands, it was known, were very liberally distributed in that city; and yet the most violent proceedings took place there at the last election.

Mr. R. Gordon

thought the bill an instance of very petty legislation, which would tend to increase rather than de- crease the expense of elections. There was one clause, providing that no person was to wear these favours, or do any of these things, for six months before the election; which would be thought so comprehensive, that it would lead to a thousand inconsistencies. The Treating act had created more expense than any which was incurred before its enactment; and he was convinced the provisions of the present bill would have the same effect. Under this impression, he would vote for the amendment.

Lord Althorp

defended the bill, and said he knew several instances of the employment of seven hundred constables at an election. He had heard no reason which could induce him not to press the bill to a third reading.

The House then divided: For the third reading 26; Against it 10; Majority 16.