HC Deb 28 March 1828 vol 18 cc1358-61

On the motion of lord John Russell, the order of the day was read for the further consideration of the Report of this bill.

Mr. J. Stewart

rose to propose a clause. In the course of the various discussions that had taken place on this bill, the fact of the corruption of the borough of Penryn had been assumed to be so notorious as to admit of no doubt, and for that reason the elective franchise was to be transferred to the town of Manchester. The clause he proposed to introduce would make it imperative on the members returned for Manchester, to subscribe a Declaration before they took their seats, that their return had not been procured by bribery, or by any other corrupt or improper means. This, he thought, was the most conscientious mode of reform that could be adopted, and it would necessarily have the effect of saving Manchester, the adopted child of the noble lord, from falling into the errors and offences which, had proved so fatal to the independence and franchise of Penryn. The clause was to the following effect:—"Be it further enacted, that the Burgesses to be elected and returned for the said borough of Manchester shall each, at the table of the House of Commons, and before they take their seats, make and subscribe a Declaration in the following words: I, A. B., do solemnly declare, that I have neither given nor promised to give, nor do intend to give, either by myself, or by any other person for me, directly, or indirectly, any fee, reward, or other gratuity, to any one of the electors of the borough of Manchester, in consideration of his vote, in order to my being returned or elected as a Burgess to serve in parliament for the said borough; and I believe that my return has not been procured or promoted by any peer of parliament or any person acting on his behalf." He proposed a Declaration instead of an Oath, because he believed it would be found generally more acceptable.

Sir J. Newport

said, he could have no possible objection to the introduction of this clause, if it were made part of a general measure of reform. He remembered that, many years ago, the hon. member for Cumberland (Mr. Curwen) had a bill before the House, in which there was a clause to nearly the same import. That was a general measure, and it had his support; but he had a decided objection to place the representatives of Manchester on a different footing from other members. Those who thought it likely that the elections for Manchester would be more corrupt than those for other places, knew nothing of the state of that town. If the hon. gentleman would make his Declaration part of a general measure, it should have his hearty assent; but he would give his decided negative to it, if it applied to any particular borough.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

was surprised at the opposition offered to this proposition by the right hon. baronet, who was so uniformly the advocate of reform. If the hon. member had made this proposition in a bill which would have applied to all the members, though the right hon. baronet might have urged no objection to it, he was sure an abundance of members would have protested against it, as a measure too sweeping and general. It was the fashion to sanction none but partial reforms. The House was to deal with every particular case as it arose; but no principle was to be laid down for general application to delinquent boroughs. How, then, were partial benefits to be gained, but by proceeding on the same principle? It was said that there would be something peculiarly invidious in placing the members for Manchester in a situation in which they would appear more pure than the other members of the House; or turning the argument the other way, in apprehending them to be less pure. But that was not to him a sufficient reason for not taking advantage of the opportunity of recognizing a valuable principle, which, if they found it work well in this instance, would present an example worthy of imitation, and might gradually spread, until it became co-extensive with the representation of the House. He could not understand why the advocate of a general measure should oppose its partial application; and he trusted, therefore, that the hon. member would press the clause to a division, and try the sincerity of the House.

Mr. Warburton

objected to the proposition, because it included no protection to the poor and dependent voters. If it had been founded on the principle of secret voting, which would afford a real protection to the labouring classes, that would, indeed, be an improvement in the system of voting at elections. But this Declaration would be a cloak—a mere pretence of purity—leaving the great objections to the present system as strong as ever.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he should have been astonished if any hon. member had attempted to introduce into this bill a proposition that votes should be given in secret. He trusted he should never see the day when that principle would be applied to the electors of this country—when those electors would be so lowered in character, that they durst not state their objections openly to the candidate, and make known their reasons for voting against him. That, however, was not the proposition which the House had to discuss; but if it were made, he would decidedly oppose the introduction of any principle into a single bill, which, if good, should be made a general measure of legislation. He objected to the proposed Declaration, because it did not seem to him consistent with good sense or sound policy, to confine regulation to any particular borough, which, if right, should be generally established.

Mr. Hume

believed the right hon. gentleman's words did not convey his real meaning. Did voting by ballot lower the character of the members of that House? Was it not deemed a wise and just mode to choose the members of committees by ballot? This had long been the practice of that House, and the right hon. gentleman, therefore, had carried his condemnation of the proposition a little too far. He concurred with his hon. friend, that this Declaration ought to be a general measure; but if the hon. member went to a division, he would vote with him, though he would advise him not to press his proposition on the present bill, but to intro- duce it in the general bill, which stood for Monday next, and which applied to all the cities and boroughs in the country.

Lord John Russell

said, he could not agree to the proposition of the hon. member. Nothing could be more absurd than to see the two representatives of Manchester subjected to a process not required from any other members of the House.

The House divided: For the clause 1; Against it 120: Majority 119.