Mr. N. Calvert
§ Mr. Tennyson
rose to move, as an Amendment, "That it be an instruction to the Committee on the East Retford Bill, that they have power to exclude the Borough of East Retford from the right of electing Members to Parliament, and to enable the Town of Birmingham to return two Members." The hon. Member adverted to the former proceedings upon this subject, and particularly to the five divisions that had already occurred upon the question, that the franchise be transferred to Birmingham. He was now, for the last time, about to make the same proposition; and he thought, that if the House rejected it, such a result would tend greatly to lower the opinion entertained out of doors of the proceedings of the Representatives of the nation. Not long since, a motion had been brought forward by a noble Lord (J. Russell) and rejected, for a limited Reform, by creating six new Members, in order to give two to each of three large manufacturing and commercial towns. The plan was opposed chiefly on the ground, that thus to add to the numbers of the Members would be to destroy the proportions established at the Union with Ireland; and it was then said, that when particular cases of delinquency were established, the franchise might be removed from the offending borough to some large town that at present had no Representative. He begged to recommend East Retford to the House as a case directly in point—as if it were made for the purpose of putting to the test the sincerity of those who had so recently resisted the motion of the noble Lord. The corruption that had prevailed at East Retford was most overwhelming, and it was the only instance of the kind that had occurred since the disfranchisement of Grampound. Those who resisted his Amendment seemed to him to verify the saying of straining at gnats and swallowing camels. The hon. Gentleman concluded with the motion he had stated in the outset.
§ Mr. W. Smith
seconded it. As to the guilt of East Retford, he said he had never entertained a doubt: but even if it had not been so distinctly established, the punishment it was proposed to inflict was not such as to require strict legal proof of 1321 delinquency. He would ask any Gentleman to lay his hand upon his heart, and declare whether he was not convinced of the corruption of the electors of East Retford? Nay, he might put it to the honour of many who now heard him, whether, of their own knowledge, they could not state that such corruption prevailed, and that there was no getting into the borough without it? He saw no reason why the Representatives sent from Nottingham, and places in that county, should be increased? He asked, why continue the franchise to Nottingham, when it sent more Representatives to Parliament than many other counties? He never heard any such principle laid down as that, because the county had a certain number of Representatives less than the greatest number in any one other county, therefore no grounds of expediency or justice could warrant a diminution of the number. In fact, he preferred letting matters remain as they had been before the present inquiry and discussion, rather than allow the franchise to be extended to the neighbouring hundred. For those reasons, then, he should support the Amendment in favour of giving the franchise to Birmingham.
§ Mr. Ferguson
agreed fully in the proposition of giving to Birmingham those rights of which East Retford ought to be deprived. The time had at last arrived when the manufacturing interests ought to be represented. They ought to have Members in that House, both as a matter of justice to them, of advantage to the country at large, and of convenience and benefit to the Parliament. There was no department or branch of British society which more contributed to the wealth and greatness of the empire, than did the manufacturing classes. It was the wealth which the State derived from them which had enabled it to carry on the tremendous war in which we had been engaged for so many years; and it was a due regard to their interests and their rights, which would alone carry us through the difficulties which that war had entailed upon the country. The manufacturing was a great and powerful interest, and one which it would be alike unjust and dangerous to leave without adequate Representation. As to the disfranchisement of East Retford, in that he should most cordially concur, even if it were not to be attended with the advantage of imparting to Birmingham rights 1322 which it had been too long left without. He attached no importance to the disadvantage, or rather, he should say, the supposed disadvantage, of taking away two from the aggregate amount of the Members sent from places in Nottinghamshire. He confessed he saw no disadvantage in that. He attached no importance to the argument founded upon the alleged disturbance of the proportion between Scotch and Irish Members. It would be hard indeed if the Union with Scotland or Ireland should prove a bar to improvement, and a means of eternally perpetuating an abuse. The influence of the peerage in that House was already too great, and nothing that could be done to diminish that influence ought to be left undone. To give the franchise to the hundred would be to put it in the possession of one Peer. The hon. and learned Member for Clare had said that one Peer sent nine members to that House, but if that bill should pass, he might then tell the House, that one Peer elected ten of its Members. To diminish the influence of the Upper House in that, would be conferring a most important benefit upon the country; and one which, if done early, would be more beneficial than if protracted to an unseasonable period; and which, sooner or later, must be done, and most probably in the particular manner just then proposed. It was in vain that they endeavoured to keep out of that House the Representatives of the great and intelligent population inhabiting the manufacturing towns.
admitted, that some time or other the towns spoken of must obtain Representatives; but he thought that time had not yet arrived, though it might be fast approaching.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, he had listened very attentively to the whole of the present discussion, but he had not the good fortune to hear any argument against the proposition for giving to Birmingham the rights or privileges which the House ought to lose no time in taking from East Retford. Hon. Members had talked of maintaining a balance in the Representation of the country. He confessed he saw nothing of that supposed balance. He knew not where it was to be found—he saw nothing but undue preponderance. There were not twenty Members in that House representing the commercial and manufacturing interests. But the thing 1323 wanted was not so much balance of interests—for that could never be completely attained—as information from all parts of the country, and from every class in British society. It had become a matter; of notoriety that seats were bought and sold in that House, the prices of which were then, as at all times, precisely ascertained. A seat might be purchased for one or for two Sessions, or for a whole Parliament. When he first recollected matters of that sort, he remembered that the price for a whole Parliament was about 3,000l.—it then rose to 4,000l.; and when the war was going on, and plenty of good things to be had, the sum was as high as 5,000l. He was sure not only the feeling of the country was in favour of the transfer from East Retford to Birmingham, but he was sure the House—he meant the independent Members—were decidedly in its favour. If the Household Troops would only withdraw, and leave the matter in the hands of the independent Members, he had no doubt that a great majority would be found in favour of the measure which he supported. Night after night, for four Sessions, they had been debating that question; but it was to no purpose that they continued those debates, if they had not a fair opportunity of coming to a division without the presence of the Household Troops. The right hon. Secretary opposite had prayed that the innocent might not be punished with the guilty; but the people of East Retford who were not corrupt would not be punished by the proposed disfranchisement. The privilege of voting was not to them a property—they derived no advantage from it—to deprive them of it was no punishment, and to confer it on the 100,000 discontented and complaining inhabitants of Birmingham, might prove the first step in that great work of remedying those evils, of which, if left without a remedy, no man could sec the end. It was a gross error to suppose that the people of East Retford—he meant that portion of the inhabitants who did not sell their votes—sustained any injury from the contemplated transfer. They lost, no doubt, a property which they might sell for 50l., more or less; but if their practice was not to sell it, they lost nothing. The only punishment would then be upon the guilty—no constitutional right was taken away—the privilege of voting was more a sacred duty than a pleasurable or advantageous privilege.
§ Sir C. Cole
wished to state the reasons for the vote he meant to give. He was satisfied from experience that many of the towns of England required to be represented in that House. As the Representative of a county, he was enabled, from his own experience, to say, that those who might sit for the counties in which great towns were situated, were totally unequal to the duty of representing them in that House. All great towns should, if possible, have Representatives of their own; it would be nothing less than the business of a life to acquire the knowledge requisite for efficiently representing a great commercial or manufacturing community. Such large towns were not represented by the county Members. An ordinary county was quite enough for two Members. In making these observations, he begged it to be distinctly understood as not advocating those sweeping and general plans of Reform so often mentioned in Parliament. He was no friend to measures of that nature, but he thought it would be a most important improvement in the system, if some of the great towns could be represented in that House, and not left to depend upon what could be done for them, from time to time, by the Members for the counties in which they were situated. It was upon those grounds that he was prepared to support the proposed transfer. It was his usual habit to support his Majesty's Government; but he should be ashamed were he not capable of giving an independent vote upon every important occasion; representing, as he did, a great county, he felt that nothing less was his duty [cheers].
§ Mr. Liddell
observed, that it was said, more than once last Session, that the times were at hand when Reform was unavoidable. If that were an approximation to truth, surely the best mode of providing for the agitation and excitement of such a period, come when it might, would be to put the legislature in such a situation as that it might be able to show all malcontents that justice had been done in all cases wherein reasonable complaint had been made. He had, therefore, no hesitation in declaring, before the House and the country, that if the proposition of the hon. Member for Bletchingly be not agreed to, he should feel bound, when again brought forward, to support the measure lately proposed by the noble Lord below him.
§ Sir George Murray
did not deny that there were towns fit for and requiring; representation; but he had, on the former occasion voted for the motion of the hon. Member for Hertford, and he should continue to observe the same course, for he. had heard no argument to disturb his former opinion. Did the question then come before the House for the first time, he might, perhaps, vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Bletchingley.
Lord John Russell
said, it appeared evident to him that the House was convinced that the great manufacturing and commercial towns ought to have Representatives. The want of commercial and manufacturing Representatives was severely felt—from year to year they felt the want of men competent to give the House information on matters of detail; and he had no doubt the time was at hand when he should see Representatives in that House sitting for the great towns. When he brought forward his Motion on a former occasion, relative to the subject of this species of Representation, the right hon. Gentleman opposite opposed it, not because it was a question with him whether or not the change was needed, but because he doubted whether the particular mode in which it was proposed to effect that change was or was not the most eligible. Here was a mode different from his; and the right hon. Gentleman might adopt it, and attain the object which he admitted to be desirable. For himself he had only to add, that he should vote with the hon. Member for Bletchingley.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, he would certainly vote for the transfer to Birmingham, for it would effect a practical improvement of a valuable and important character. He felt particularly bound to give the vote he intended, seeing that he took the course he had taken with respect to Penryn on the express understanding that something like the present proposition should be adopted.
The Solicitor General
was of opinion that it would be wrong to punish the innocent with the guilty; and it was not proved that all the electors of East Retford had connived at the guilt. In reference to that point the House ought, perhaps, to take into its consideration what was likely to be the resolution in another place. They were bound to look at the question in a practical point of view, and to see what would be the consequence of their own 1326 actions. If they were to adopt any measure that might not be adopted in another place, East Retford might be kept for some time longer without a Representative. Two modes were proposed to give the franchise to a large town; it was not, however, his intention to enter into the general question. He should prefer extending the franchise to the hundred, as a speedy remedy for an acknowledged evil; and those Gentlemen who might vote for that would not be precluded from voting on the general principle, for transferring the franchise to large towns. The latter principle was established by the votes of the House, and there could be no inconsistency in voting in that particular case for transferring the franchise to the hundred. In no case could it be desirable for the House to retrace its steps; and as the House had decided, by a large majority, that corrupt boroughs ought to be punished, his right hon. friend was bound to act by the decision of the majority. The House had also, on former occasions, decided that the franchise should be transferred to the hundred, and his right hon. friend was bound to take both the decisions. He thought, looking to the practical consequences of the measure, that the House would do wisely to let the measure pass. He had seen the advantage of transferring the franchise to the hundred in the case of Bramber, and he did not think a more independent or intelligent race of electors existed. He should therefore support the Motion.
Mr. Bransby Cooper
considered that some punishment ought to be inflicted on the borough, but that its guilt was not so great as to deserve total disfranchisement. He agreed, therefore, with the Motion for extending it to the hundred. Looking, however, at the signs of the times, he would submit to Ministers whether they ought not to take the great question of Reform into their own hands, and extend the franchise to our large and mercantile towns, getting rid of our depopulated boroughs. He was not for a sweeping Reform; he was not a radicial reformer; but some improvement in the Representation was now becoming necessary, and it could not be well effected unless the Government were to take it into their hands. On the present occasion he would vote for transferring the franchise to the hundred.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
was surprised to hear some of the doctrines of the learned Solici- 1327 tor General, which he was afraid would acquire weight from his character. What were his arguments? He called on the Members of that House not to discuss what was just, what was fit, what was proper, with reference to their duty to their constituents; but they were to endeavour to do what was likely to meet the wishes of noble Lords in another place. He would say, that the Members of that House were bound to attend to their duty to their constituents; and if on every such question they were first to inquire how the other House were likely to act, they would only lay the privileges of the Commons of England prostrate at the feet of the House of Lords. They were bound to suppose that what was just and proper would receive the assent of the other House. The right hon. and gallant officer (Sir G. Murray) had stated, that as he had before voted for the Motion he should vote for it now; though, if it then came before them for the first time, he might be ready to support it. Unquestionably the measure, from having come so frequently before the House, was involved in perplexity; but still, if the right hon. and gallant officer took into his consideration the signs of the times adverted to by the hon. Member who spoke last, and took into his consideration the changes which had taken place since the question of East Retford first came before them, the right hon. and gallant officer would find it was a new question. In his opinion, those who had already voted for transferring the franchise to the hundred might, under the change of circumstances, now vote for transferring it to a large town without any inconsistency. It was objected to the motion for Reform, a few nights ago, that they should wait for a case of delinquency. Here was a case of delinquency; this case met that objection, and in consequence of that debate, the whole question of East Retford came before them under a new aspect. Unless the House were prepared to do that which was not right in its own eyes, in order to give satisfaction to the House of Lords, it would vote for the Amendment.
The Solicitor General
explained, that he only meant to speak of the House of Lords in its judicial capacity, having to decide on the evidence brought before it; and he was misrepresented or misunderstood if it were supposed that he meant or said that the House of Commons should give up any of its privileges.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
explained, that he did not attribute to the hon. and learned Gentleman so monstrous a doctrine as that that House was to be governed by what some Members might suppose would be agreeable to the other House.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that on such an exhausted subject he meant to detain the House but a very few minutes. Both his right hon. friend, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and his hon. and learned friend the Solicitor General, had been misunderstood. His right hon. friend never meant to say that he should now vote for the measure, simply because he had voted for it before; but because the measure had been five times decided; because he had, on every discussion, held the same opinions, and he saw no reason to change them on the present occasion. His learned friend had not referred to the House of Peers, except in its legislative capacity. He admitted that the House of Commons was bound to form its own opinions, but his learned friend had alluded to the other House sitting in its judicial capacity, and deciding by evidence taken on oath. He did not mean to discuss the question of large towns, but the noble Lord might perhaps think it right to vote for the measure, when he saw that the Mover and Seconder of the present Motion had both voted in favour of the proposition of the noble Lord. He thought some Gentlemen under-rated the advantage of giving the franchise to the hundred. In looking at our history, he found the advantages of so extending the franchise proved by experience; and it had the merit of having been sanctioned by several great men. Lord Chatham, on the question of the delinquency of Shoreham. when he had held his well-known opinions in favour of Parliamentary Reform, did not scout transferring the franchise to Bramber. On the contrary, he congratulated himself that Shoreham had been separated from India, and united to England. There was an impression that Shoreham was attached to the East-India interest; and Lord Chatham, who was then a reformer, regarded the extending of the franchise to the borough as a great improvement. Mr. Pitt also, who was a reformer, on the question of the borough of Cricklade, was friendly to transferring the franchise to the hundred. Both he and Mr. Fox were of the same opinion. On the question of the borough of Aylesbury, Mr. Fox opposed 1329 the transfer to the hundred, because he thought the delinquency of the borough not proved. For himself, he must say, on like considerations, that he did not think that extending the franchise to 2,000 voters connected with the landed interest would be a trifling improvement in the case of the borough of East Retford. If they looked at the cases of Cricklade, Aylesbury, and Shoreham, they would find no where a purer set of voters than in those three hundreds. Although he did not think that there was any difference between the landed and commercial interest, though apparent difference might occasionally arise, he was not of opinion that the balance between those interests in that House ought to be wholly lost sight of. When the noble Lord formerly proposed that a hundred franchises should be added, he did not lose sight of this balance, and he proposed that sixty of those Members should represent counties, and forty the towns. Mr. Pitt, too, when he proposed to add 100 Members to the Representation, proposed at first that the whole number should be county Members. Afterwards he modified this, and intended to give sixty Members to the counties, and forty to the towns; and this was a balance which ought to be attended to. If Nottinghamshire, like Cornwall, had forty-four Members, there would be less reason for retaining the two Members for the hundred, and more reason for transferring the franchise to a large town. Some respect had always been paid to population in adapting our system of Representation. There were forty-five members for Scotland, and one hundred for Ireland; and it was a good practical rule to attend to the amount of population. As this question had, however, been debated seven or eight times, he really could not feel himself justified in detaining the House with any further observations. All he should say was, that he did not think there were any circumstances in the situation of the House which called for any other decision than that already so often pronounced; nor was he prepared to admit that the result of the motion of the noble Lord (J. Russell) was one which ought to influence his vote on that occasion. Without, therefore, meaning to imply that the giving of a vote on this question was in the slightest degree to influence the vote which he might be called on to give on any larger question, he confessed he saw such a combination of cir- 1330 cumstances with reference to the situation of the county of Nottingham, favouring the transfer of this franchise to Bassetlaw, that he felt bound to adhere to the vote he had already given so often on the same question.
§ Lord Althorp
observed, he could not deny that the transfer of the franchise to Bassetlaw would be an improvement, but he thought the House ought to consider the very great importance of the manufacturing districts, and the necessity of gratifying their inhabitants on the subject of Representation. He did not feel himself at all called on to consider the case of the County of York as applying to the question, because the two additional Members were not more Representatives of the great manufacturing, than of the agricultural districts of that extensive county. The arguments of proportion used by the right hon. Secretary were, in his opinion, of no weight, and they ought not to influence the vote of the House.
§ Dr. Phillimore
entered into a brief history of the Bill, and reminded the House, that the original proposition of Mr. Canning was, to give the Members for East Retford to the agricultural interests, and the Members for Penryn to the manufacturing interests. The learned Gentleman was proceeding to show why this plan had failed, in consequence of the evidence not being sufficient to prove the bribery at Penryn, when he was interrupted by calls of "No, No;" and he concluded, merely by observing, that the time was now come when the opinions of the people were so plainly directed to the necessity of putting an end to the corruptions which prevailed in some of the borough towns, and to the propriety of conferring a right of Representation on the great places of trade and manufacture, that he really thought it would be little less than a species of infatuation to resist their wishes, or to refuse to adopt a course which would contribute to the safety of the Government, and at the same time diffuse satisfaction among all those who considered themselves entitled to the distinction for which they prayed.
Lord John Russell
, in explanation of what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary, with reference to his motion, begged to say, that he adhered to every part of his plan; but it was a very different question whether they should add one hundred Members to the House, or 1331 transfer two Members from a corrupt borough to a great manufacturing town.
§ Mr. Huskisson
did not, after the discussion which the subject had undergone, intend to trouble the House with more than a very few observations. The great principle which ought to govern their decision was, not that the landed or the agricultural interests should be properly represented, but that every interest should be represented. The question was, whether they should give a Representative to Birmingham—to one of the chief places of that interest which they had acknowledged, the other evening, to be the cause of much of the prosperity of the landed and of all the other interests of the country. Without the manufacturing and commercial industry of Lancashire, Warwickshire, and Yorkshire, the land of those countries would be worth comparatively little. Whatever might be the fate of the Amendment then before the House, he consoled himself by the reflection, that the time was not far distant when Government would find itself compelled to propose the very reformations which it now rejected.
§ The House then divided; For the original Question 152; For the Amendment 119.—Majority 33.
|List of the Minority.|
|Acland, Sir T.||Fergusson, Sir R.|
|Althorp, Lord||Fyler, T. B.|
|Baring, F.||Fazakerley, J. N.|
|Bradshaw, R. H.||Grant, rt. hon. C|
|Bradshaw, Capt. J.||Grant, R.|
|Bernal, R.||Gordon, R.|
|Burdett, Sir F.||Greene, T. G.|
|Birch, J.||Guise, W. B.|
|Blake, Sir F.||Graham, Sir J.|
|Buller, C.||Hume, J.|
|Clive, E. B.||Hoy, J. B.|
|Cave, R. O.||Honywood, W. P.|
|Carew, R.||Hulse Sir C.|
|Colborne, N. W. R.||Howard, H.|
|Carter, J.||Hobhouse, J. C.|
|Cole, Sir C.||Heneage, G. F.|
|Canning, Right hon. S.||Horton, rt. hon. R. W.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F. G.||Heron, Sir R.|
|Calthorpe, hon. A. G.||Hutchinson, J. H. (Cork)|
|Cradock, S.||Huskisson, rt. hon. W.|
|Dundas, hon. G.||Jephson, C. D. O.|
|Dundas, hon. Sir R.||Kemp, T. R.|
|Denison, J. E.||Knight, R.|
|Du Cane, P.||Kekewich, S. F.|
|Dawson, A.||Labouchere, H.|
|Ebrington, Lord||Lambert, J. S.|
|Ewart, W.||Littleton, E. J.|
|Ellison, C.||Liddell, hon. H.|
|Frankland, R.||Loch, J.|
|Fergusson, R, C.||Lawley, F,|
|Lester, B.||Thomson, C, P.|
|Maberly, J.||Tomes, J.|
|Macauley, General C.||Townshend, Lord|
|Marshall, J.||Waithman, Alderman|
|Marshall, W.||Warburton, H.|
|Martin, J.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Maxwell, J. W.||Wells, J.|
|Monck, J. B.||Westenra, hon. H.|
|Macintosh, Sir J.||Whitbread, S.|
|Marjoribanks, S.||Whilmore, W. W.|
|Nugent, Lord||Wilson, Sir R.|
|O'Connell, D.||Winnington, Sir J.|
|Osborne, Lord F.||Wortley, hon. J. S.|
|Palmer, C. F.||Wrottesley, Sir J.|
|Palmerston, viscount||Wynn, Sir W.|
|Pendarvis, E. W.||Wynn, hon. C.|
|Phillimore, Dr.||Warrender, Sir G.|
|Phillips, G. R.||TELLERS.|
|Phillips, Sir G.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Ponsonby, hon. F.||Tennyson, C.|
|Portman E. B.||PAIRED OFF.J|
|Poyntz, W. S.||Foley, E. F.|
|Price, R.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Protheroe, E.||Angelo, M. A.|
|Pusey, P.||Davenport, E.|
|Rancliffe, Lord||Fortescue, hon. G.|
|Rice, T. S.||Newport, Sir J.|
|Rickford, W.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Ridley, Sir M. W.||Cavendish, H.|
|Rumbold, C. E.||Howick, Lord|
|Robinson, G. R.||Wood, C.|
|Sandon, Viscount||Barclay, C.|
|Sebright, Sir J.||Robinson, Sir G.|
|Smith, hon. R.||Buxton, T. jun.|
|Smith, V.||Calvert, C.|
|Smith, W.||Cavendish, W.|
|Stanley, E. G.||Duncombe, T.|
|Stewart, Sir M. S.||Lamb, hon. G.|
|Surrey, Earl of||Lushington, Dr.|
|Sykes, D.||Morpeth, Lord|
|Stewart, Lord J.||Dennison, W. J.|
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, before the House resolved itself into a Committee, he should move that it be an instruction to the committee, that the poll at each contested election should be taken by ballot. The object of any elector, he said, in voting for any Member of Parliament ought to be, that he thought the individual for whom he voted the best suited for public business; and the most fair way of election, in his opinion, was by ballot. Votes were influenced by two motives—those of terror and corruption. It would scarcely be asserted gravely in that House—at all events the assertion would be met with something very different from gravity elsewhere; that men were not compelled to vote at elections by improper influence, by bribery and by corruption. Now voting by ballot would altogether put an end to that. If that system were adopted, the landlord could not then compel his 1333 tenant to vote as he pleased, as he could not know how his tenant would dispose of his vote, or to which candidate he would give it. On the discussion which took place a few nights before, respecting the election at Newark, the evidence produced at least went to establish the suspicion that the landlord, in that instance, coerced the votes of his tenants. Now the only mode to prevent the exercise of such undue influence, and to put an end to a system of terror and tyranny, was to adopt the election by ballot. That would protect the tenant against the oppression of his landlord, and enable the elector to give his vote with perfect freedom, and for the candidate whom his conscience called upon him to support. The adoption of the election by ballot would at once put an end to the extensive system of patronage, bribery, and corruption, which was engendered and maintained by the present mode in which elections were carried on. The House had been called upon that night to extend the franchise from East Retford to the hundred of Bassetlaw, because the electors of East Retford had been convicted of notorious bribery and corruption; but would the extension of the franchise remedy the evil, unless the House provided at the same time some means to prevent the influence of terror and corruption? The only remedy, he contended, lay in the adoption of the principle of taking the election by ballot. The elector could then give his vote with perfect freedom, uninfluenced by terror, and proof against corruption. The attempt to bribe him would be useless, as the giver of the bribe could never be certain how the taker of it would afterwards vote. These were the advantages of voting in secret. They were so palpable that the system had been adopted in all voluntary societies in this country. The election committees of that House were chosen by ballot. In all chartered companies that system was adopted. In the Bank of England, in the East-India Company, election by ballot was the system adopted. In nine out of ten of the States in America election by ballot prevailed. But they had not to cross the Atlantic for an exemplification of the beneficial effects of the system. In France, where the government patronage far exceeded the patronage possessed by the Government in this country, the popular sentiments were nevertheless universally de- 1334 clared at the late elections, in consequence of the electors giving their votes in secret, and by ballot. The introduction of such a system in this country would put an end effectually to bribery and corruption. He might be told that there was something revolting in this mode of election, and that it tended to suppress the sentiments of free-born Englishmen. He should like to see those free-born Englishmen who had received notices to quit from the Duke of Newcastle, and he would ask whether the introduction of election by ballot was calculated to suppress the sentiments of men placed in their situation. He did not want to prevent any Member from meeting his constituents at the hustings—from communicating with them,—hearing their opinions, and publicly avowing his own; but what he proposed was, that the poll should be taken by ballot, so that no man could possibly be bribed or purchased. It might be said, that this mode of election would make hypocrites. To that he would answer, that if the man who received a bribe to vote against his conscience, should afterwards vote as his conscience dictated, it would be better for him to do so, even though he was open to the charge of hypocrisy, than to commit a still greater crime, by supporting that candidate to whom he was conscientiously opposed. He knew that this proposition would be opposed by the opponents of every species of Parliamentary Reform, but he thought he had a right to reckon upon the support of all reformers in that House. It might be asked why he confined his proposition in the first instance to East Retford. To that he would reply, that though convinced of the advantages of election by ballot, he conceived that it might be better not to introduce it by a sweeping measure, but gradually, so that its effects might be seen and appreciated, and he thought that the present instance afforded a favourable opportunity of trying the experiment. If the bill were passed with the clause in it which he should propose, they would very soon see how the system worked, for an election would immediately take place. This mode of polling would put an end to all the drunkenness, riot, and debauchery which invariably attended elections under the existing system. The people of England were not represented as they ought to be represented in that House. It was the people of England who forced 1335 from the Crown the unlimited power it formerly possessed, and converted unconstitutional despotism into constitutional prerogative. The struggle was made by the people of England, but the fruits of the victory were reaped by the overgrown aristocracy of this country. The people had formerly to contend against the regal power; now the struggle lay against an aristocracy that had swindled them out of their rights,—against an oligarchy that lorded it over them with despotic sway. It was the aristocracy that had burthened the country with 800 millions of debt, and who, by the possession of the enormous patronage connected with the Church, the Army, and the Navy,—by their immense wealth and vast properties, had been enabled to render the majority of the Members in that House their mere nominees. The hon. Gentlemen who sat on the other side were, generally speaking, the mere nominees of the aristocracy of the country. The adoption of the election by ballot was the only mode for restoring to the people of England a true Representation in Parliament, and he was sure that no kind of reform unaccompanied by it would be productive of benefit to the country at large. The learned Member concluded by moving, "that it be an instruction to the Committee on the East Retford Bill to insert a clause in the Bill to make the Election be taken there by Ballot."
§ The Speaker
informed the hon. Member, that the question now before the House was, that he (the Speaker) do leave the chair. When that was carried, and the House went into committee, it would be open to the hon. Member to move the insertion of the clause he proposed in the bill.
§ The question was then put and carried, and the House went into committee, Sir A. Grant in the chair.
§ After several clauses in the bill had been agreed to,
§ Mr. O'Connell
moved the insertion of a clause, to the effect that the election should be taken by ballot.
objected to the clause, in the first instance, on the ground that it did not specify how the ballot was to be taken. In justice to his proposition, the hon. Member should specify the mode in which the ballot was to be taken. This, besides, was not the proper place to propose such a general principle.
§ Mr. Hume
said, the insertion of the 1336 words, "hereinafter to be mentioned in the clause, would meet the objection of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman had himself, in his Jury Bill, recognized the principle of election by ballot, without any specification of details, and he should not oppose that principle now. He meant to support the proposition, and he could not understand how any one of the 140 Members who voted the other night for the motion of the noble Lord below (Lord J. Russell) could consistently vote against such a proposition.
perfectly concurred in every thing that had fallen from the hon. Member for Clare, and he was ready to give his hearty support to the principle advocated by that hon. Member, but he would suggest to him whether it would not be more advisable to bring such an important subject under the consideration of the House in a manner more consonant to the forms of the House, and on an occasion when he would be able to give a specific detail of the plan he meant to propose. He (Mr. Hobhouse) was a warm friend to the principle of election by ballot: he had had some experience of popular elections, and he was convinced that that was the best principle upon which elections could be conducted.
said, that was obviously not the time for discussing so great a principle as the learned Gentleman had laid down. If the hon. Member for Aberdeen would look to the preamble to the Jury Bill, he would see that the mode in which the jury was to be elected by ballot was specifically detailed there. He was decidedly opposed to the principle advocated by the hon. and learned Member for Clare, being sure that such a principle, if adopted, would be productive of far greater abuses, and of more hypocrisy than at present prevailed [hear]; and he doubted that it would have the least effect in preventing bribery and corruption at elections. Whenever the hon. and learned Gentleman should bring forward a proposition of that kind in a more regular form, he should be prepared to meet him and to oppose it.
§ Mr. O'Connell
explained, that being a young Member, he was not very well acquainted with the forms of the House, but he had consulted those who were, and he understood from them that the principle of his proposition might then be with propriety adopted, leaving its details to be afterwards discussed.
§ Mr. Western
was decidedly opposed to the principle of election by ballot. It would banish every species of confidence, and communication, and interchange of opinion between the elected and the electors, and would be productive of eternal suspicion and hypocrisy. It was an un-English, an un-Irish principle. The adoption of such a principle, he considered, would be destructive of the spirit of our Constitution.
supported the amendment, because he conceived that the system of voting by ballot would put a stop to that intimidation over voters which was exercised, not only in small boroughs, but also in large and populous places like the city of Westminster. Nothing could be more true than the observation of the historian, "Suffragia, optimatibus nota, populo libera non sunt."
§ Mr. John Martin
owned himself an ardent friend to Parliamentary Reform, but declared his intention of opposing at all times, and in all places, any attempt to introduce the vote by ballot into our elective system.
said, that if the object of the hon. and learned Member for Clare, in proposing this clause, were to deprive the higher orders of their legitimate influence in the State, it was an object which he could never lend his aid to accomplish. The influence of rank and property was an influence recognized by the English Constitution, and interwoven with its representative system. Although he was a friend to Parliamentary Reform to a certain extent, he should be sorry to see our Representation in the same condition as that of America. He believed that even in America there were great doubts entertained, whether the voting by ballot was a successful experiment. He hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Clare would not persist in bringing up this crude shadow of a clause, which, in point of fact, was not a clause; but that he would digest a clause explaining the details of his system, and would propose it hereafter as a rider to the bill.
§ Lord Nugent
said, that the greatest recommendation of the vote by ballot appeared to him to be this; that if two knaves met together, one to tender and the other to receive a bribe, the more one of them could be encouraged to cheat the other, the better it would be for the public. At the same time that he announced such 1338 to be his opinion, and that he had recently only become a convert to the opinion of voting by ballot, he was not prepared to entertain the present clause.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
trusted that this clause would be withdrawn, in order that a fitter opportunity might be afforded to the House of discussing the system of vote by ballot, to which he confessed himself to be not unfriendly.
Sir F. Burdett
complained that the hon. and learned Member for Clare had not been fairly treated in this discussion. In proposing to adopt the vote by ballot at East Retford only, the hon. and learned Member had not so much followed the bent of his opinions as he had accommodated himself to the narrow views of the House. Hon. Members were accustomed to talk of the danger which was to be apprehended from making any sweeping and general alteration of the mode of election; and the hon. and learned Member for Clare, to allay the fears of those who were accustomed to fear, even where there was no danger, had called upon the House to try the experiment of voting by ballot, upon a small scale, where it could produce no danger. What stage was better suited than the present for discussing the principle of this clause? Why should the hon. and learned Gentleman involve himself in the details of such a measure, when he did not know whether the principle on which it was founded would be sanctioned by the House? He was surprised that the right hon. Secretary had not supported his objections to this change of system by better and more numerous arguments than those which he had advanced. All the arguments of the other side were prefaced by such qualifying words as, "I believe," or "I am persuaded, that danger will arise from adopting such a system." No Gentleman had more than an opinion upon the point; no Gentleman had more than faith, for which he could give no good reason, for asserting that there would be more of corruption, more of hypocrisy, and more of danger, under the system of voting by ballot than under the present system, if the great evils of the present system were corruption and intimidation, could any man doubt whether, if he deprived the corruptor and the intimidator of the means of knowing whether an act had been performed to benefit the one and to injure the other, he should not be conferring a benefit on the public? He admitted, that 1339 if all boroughs had a numerous body of electors, there would be no need of introducing the vote by ballot. Make the electors but numerous, and the Parliament short, and he wanted no other support than the unbiassed expression of public opinion; but if you will not remedy the abuses of Parliament in that way, let such a remedy as was proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Clare be applied to them. He admitted, that if elections were free, the change would be unnecessary; but as they were not free, it was an excellent palliative for the present defective system. It would prevent that worst of all tyrannies, the tyranny which one man exercised over the conscience of another; it would prevent numerous sins against morals and religion, for the present system led to the almost daily commission of perjury; and it would tend to produce a more unequivocal expression of the feelings of the people than could be obtained at present. Danger from the change he could see none; the ballot had long been adopted in choosing election committees of that House, and had lately been adopted by the right hon. Secretary himself in his excellent bill to prevent the packing of juries: but even if danger should arise from it, it would be easy to check it, from the very narrow scale upon which the experiment was to be made.
said, that the hon. Member for Westminster had no reason to be surprised at the paucity of the arguments with which he had supported his objections to this clause, as he had declared most explicitly to the committee, that in its present crude state he did not intend to argue it. He also reminded the hon. Baronet, that the present was a proposition which they could only argue upon presumptions, for experience as to its advantages or disadvantages they had none. As to the allusion which the hon. Baronet had made to the system of electing jurors by ballot, it bore no analogy, and could have no reference to the system of voting by ballot at elections. Did the hon. Baronet know the manner in which a jury was appointed under his bill? As he thought that the hon. Baronet was ignorant of it, he would inform him that the names of the jurors were placed indiscriminately in a box, and were taken out by chance by the officer of the court. Now surely the hon. Baronet did not intend to propose that the names of the candidates should be put into a box, and that the 1340 candidates whose names were most frequently taken out by chance by the electors, should be declared duly elected. Equally inapplicable to the election of Members of Parliament was the mode in which election committees were struck in that House. Leaving, however, those points out of discussion, as not affecting the real merits of the proposition, he would say at once that he had been always taught to believe that an Englishman felt his privileges to be more valuable, because they were exercised openly and publicly. He had often been told by the hon. Baronet that public opinion was the best check upon every species of abuse; but in this case you were prohibiting the expression of public opinion, by calling upon Englishmen to exercise their functions as electors in secret. He greatly doubted whether the influence of the aristocracy would be diminished by adopting the vote by ballot, as the loud clamourer for reform might be more easily bribed under such a system than under the present. He had not intended to have argued this question at all, for he considered it to be too important to be discussed at 11 o'clock at night in an incidental manner. Still, as he was upon his legs, he would take the opportunity of denying that the people had transferred the liberties which they had wrested from the Crown into the hands of a selfish oligarchy. The aristocracy did not deserve the opprobrium which had been cast upon it. In his opinion, the country was under great obligations to the efforts of the aristocracy in the preservation of its liberties. Nothing would be more fatal to the liberties and independence of the country than that there should not. be interposed between the people and the Crown a powerful aristocracy, who, by their situation and fortune, were able to despise the menaces and reject the favours of the Crown.
§ Lord Althorp
was of opinion that the system of voting by ballot would diminish, not the legitimate, but only the undue influence of the aristocracy. He was favourable to the principle of voting by ballot, but thought that the hon. Member for Clare had selected an inconvenient opportunity for bringing it under the consideration of the House.
Mr. G. Lamb
had a strong objection to the ballot system: God forbid the time should ever arrive when a British voter would be obliged to sneak into a corner to 1341 put his ball into a box, instead of coming boldly forward to vote for the man he liked best.
Lord J. Russell
did not like to give a decided opinion with respect to a proposition which was broached for the first time. He had always entertained apprehensions respecting the ballot system, and those apprehensions had not been diminished by any thing he had heard that evening. He thought that even with the ballot system it would be impossible that the manner in which individuals voted should not be known, unless the voters should resort to a system of lying and treachery which was abhorrent to the feelings of Englishmen.
said, that since every act which Parliament had passed had been found ineffectual to prevent bribery and corruption, it became the House to adopt the remedy now proposed. It was said that the election by ballot would be productive of hypocrisy; but was there no hypocrisy under the present system? When a man was dragged to the hustings to vote for a candidate whose principles he detested, was there no hypocrisy in that?
§ Mr. O'Connell
assured the Committee that it had not been his intention to take them by surprise, and to remove any suspicion of that nature, he would withdraw his proposition, and give notice that he would move it on the third reading of the Bill.
§ The provisions of the Bill were then agreed to in Committee.