HC Deb 20 March 1828 vol 18 cc1227-30
Mr. Fyler

presented two petitions for the repeal of the act of last session, to prevent the use of Ribbons at Elections. One of them was signed by 5,000 silk-weavers, inhabitants of Coventry; and the other by between 1,700 and 1,800 silk-weavers of Spitalfields. He concurred with the petitioners that their apprehension was well founded, that this act would do great mischief to the silk trade. The hon. gentleman then rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill "to repeal so much of the act of last session as prohibited the use of ribbons at Elections." It would be in the recollection of the House, that this bill was introduced by the noble member for Northamptonshire. In its original shape, the bill merely went to deprive the counsel, agents, and attorneys, employed by the candidates, from voting at the election; but, from the use of the word "flagger," he concluded that it never could have been the intention of the noble lord to interfere with the silk trade. He was the more disposed to think that the House could have no objection to review its decision, when he recollected that the bill was brought in at a late period of the session, when many gentlemen had left town; and that it was finally passed through the House at two o'clock in the morning, when there were only thirty-six members present. The hon. member "then proceeded to take a review of the laws passed against extravagant expense on the subject, from the time of Edward 3rd to the present day; and contended, that such laws, from their bad effects upon trade, were absurd and impolitic, while they at the same time gave men the suspicion, that the members of that House, in the present case, were actuated by considerations purely selfish, and merely desired to diminish the expenses of their election. The silk trade, however, was a plant of exotic growth, and of delicate fibre; and, unless they made up their minds to apply to it those principles of free trade which they allowed to govern their opinions with respect to other branches of our commerce and manufactures, he was satisfied they would have to regret its total extinction, notwithstanding the extent of our capital, or the superiority of our workmen. In the ribbon trade of the city of Coventry, he believed he might safely say, that nine-teen-twentieths of the population of the city were constantly employed. At times this trade was dull, like every other; but the ribbon manufacturers were always in the habit of looking forward to the consumption of a general Election as their refuge in the hour of distress; as the asylum of their hopes, and their sheet anchor in the storm. The hon. gentleman then went on to observe, that the consequences of this restriction upon the wearing of ribbons, would not be such as the hon. member for Limerick supposed. The bill would not save the expense of elections, while, at the same time, by throwing numbers of industrious workmen out of employment, it would tend to increase smuggling, poaching, and the commission of every kind of crime; in short, it would have the effect of demoralizing, he might almost say, of revolutionizing the people. What, he would ask, could they expect from men who once received the poor-rate? From that moment all the habits of the man became altered. His feelings were debased. He nourished ideas of bloodshed and revenge, and ceased to consider himself as a member of the same society with which he had mingled before. The hon. member for Limerick had been engaged in putting an end to the expense of Yeomanry corps, but he would say, give the people employment, and then where would be the necessity for these corps in the manufacturing districts, if the people were happy and contented? That House, enshrined in all its omnipotence, and entrenched in all its powers, could not hope to conquer custom. Party always had distinctive marks in this country. From the time of the wars between the houses of York and Lancaster, there had always been ensigns of party, and he did not see why the privilege allowed to the high should be withheld from the low. After contending, that the state of Ireland was different from that of this country, and observing that the law against wearing ribbons at elections in that kingdom was passed in 1796, two years before the great rebellion, and when parties were extremely violent, the hon. member proceeded to ridicule the clause which prohibited a candidate from giving a ribbon to any one, even his own wife, during the time of an election, under a penalty of ten pounds: this penalty, too, to be given to the informer, without any limitation of time as to laying the information. Upon the whole, considering that the bill would not save expense, that it was injurious to his constituents, and that it was a blot upon the Statute-book, he would move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal so much of the act as prohibits the use of ribbons at elections.

Colonel Wood

seconded the motion, on public and private grounds. His private reasons, if the House would allow him to state them, were, that he had had some hundreds of Coventry men in his regiment; and when he parted from them, he promised, that if ever it was in his power to do them a good turn, he would recollect them. This was the first opportunity he had had to fulfil his promise, and he therefore seconded the hon. member's motion. The bill itself he considered, indeed, in a public view, to be calculated to do much injury to the trade in fancy ribbons, without producing any great advantage. He considered a measure prohibitory of the use of ribbons at elections as one partaking too much of minutiae for legislation. If there were any part of the law relating to Elections which he was desirous to see repealed, the Treating-bill was one that called for repeal far more than any enactment respecting the use of ribbons. The most wasteful extravagance was incurred by out-voters going from London and other places to Yorkshire and other remote places, at the expense of the candidates. Many persons took advantage of this opportunity of paying a visit to their friends once in seven years. This was very severe upon candidates, who were obliged to pay these expenses. This law, and the law permitting non-resident voters to vote at elections, were productive of far greater inconvenience than the law prohibiting the use of ribbons, which, in his opinion, would always be evaded.

Mr. S. Rice

said, he would decline to follow the hon. mover over the various irrelevant topics which he had somewhat strangely introduced into a discussion upon moving for leave to bring in a bill to repeal an act of last session, prohibiting the use of ribbons at elections. He would meet the motion of the hon. member at once, by announcing his intention to vote against it. It was the duty of the House to cheapen the expenses at elections. This was the only effectual mode of restraining bribery at elections, and of making them free. The most extravagant expense was incurred frequently at elections by the use of ribbons. At the last election for the county of Northumberland, the expense laid out on ribbons was 6,000l. He did not think that any act of legislation should be adopted for the sake of rendering a partial benefit to a particular place, which would have the effect of rendering expenses at elections unnecessarily greater than they were at present.

Lord Lowther

opposed the motion. He had some experience of contested elections, and he could give his testimony, that the act of last session was expedient to check the extravagance which prevailed in the wasteful distribution of ribbons at elections.

Mr. Fyler

replied. The opposition which had been offered to his motion was, he said, to be traced to one principle— self—nothing but self. He hoped he should have a majority in favour of the bill, and that the House would not, under the influence of such considerations, toss the poor weavers of Coventry overboard.

The House then divided: For the motion 9; Against it 91; Majority against it 82.