HC Deb 15 March 1830 vol 23 cc355-63

Mr. N. Calvert moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the East Retford Disfranchisement Bill.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that he should take the sense of the House upon the question whether it was fit that such a deception should be practised as this Bill endeavoured to accomplish. He moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a third time on this day six months.

Mr. Hume

said, that he should vote against the Bill.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

gave notice, as he saw the Attorney General in his place, that, on a future day, he would move for copies of the Judge's Notes, and of the indictment, on a trial for perjury and bribery at the election for Stock-bridge.

Sir R. Wilson

thought half a loaf better than no bread, and therefore should support the Bill by his vote, as he could obtain nothing more.

Mr. Tennyson

reminded the honourable and gallant Member for Southwark, that if this Bill were defeated another trial might yet be made to transfer the franchise to Birmingham.

The House then divided. For the Amendment 83; Against it 164; Majority, 81.

List of the Minority.
Althorp, Lord Davies, Colonel
Blake, Sir F. Duncombe, T.
Brownlow, C. Dundas, hon. T.
Buxton, T. F. Dundas Sir R.
Bernal, R. Denison, W. J.
Baring, A. Dawson, A.
Baring, B. Ebrington, Lord
Batley, C. H. Fazakerley, J. N.
Burdett, Sir F. Fyler, T. B.
Clive, E. Fergusson, C.
Calvert, C. Ferguson, Sir R.
Cholmeley, M. Fortescue, hon. G.
Clifton, Lord Greene, T. W.
Cole, Sir C. Howick, Viscount
Cavendish, W. Honywood, W. P.
Cavendish, C. Jephson, C. D. O.
Cradock, Colonel Kekewich, S. T.
Knight, R. Robinson, Sir G.
Kemp, T. R. Robarts, A. W.
Lamb, hon. G. Rumbold, Sir E.
Lambert, Colonel Sefton, Lord
Labouchere, H. Stanley, E.
Langston,' J. R. Sykes, D.
Lester, B. Smith, V.
Lloyd, Sir C. Tennyson, C.
Martin, J. Thomson, C. P.
Marshall, W. Uxbridge, Earl of
Maberley, J. Ward, J.
Macdonald, Sir J. Warburton, H.
Maitland, Lord Webb, Colonel
Marjoribanks, S. Wells, J.
Monck, J. B. Wilbraham, G.
Morpeth, Viscount Whitbread, S.
Nugent, Lord Wood, C.
O'Connell, D. Wood, Alderman
Palmer, C. F. Wrottesley, Sir J.
Poyntz, W. J. Winnigton, Sir T.
Pusey, P. Whitmore, W.
Pendarvis, E. W.
Protheroe, E. E. TELLERS.
Rice, T. S. Hobhouse, J. C.
Robinson, G. R. Hume, J.
Mr. O'Connell

, on the question that the Bill do pass, rose, pursuant to the notice he had given, to move an additional clause to the Bill. His object, he said, was to secure to the Hundred of Bassetlaw the power to vote for Representatives by ballot, and he felt so strongly the vast importance and inherent value of the plan, that he feared its loss would be attributable chiefly to the want of talent in its advocate. Whatever might be the fate of his Amendment this night, he had so much reliance on the plain common sense and strong understanding of the people of this country, that he was satisfied every fresh discussion would be followed by fresh proselytes, until at length the conviction out of doors would make its due impression within. The avowed ostensible object of this Bill was to prevent bribery and corruption in the borough of East Retford, and the way in which that was proposed to be effected was, by in-creasing the number of voters. He did not see how such a remedy would cure the acknowledged evil which existed in this instance, and if such a remedy were efficient, he should certainly like to see the standard ascertained as to the given number of voters which would prevent bribery and corruption in boroughs of this description. Now he (Mr. O'Connell) would propose a really efficient measure for preventing bribery and corruption for the future in this borough. He should propose that the poll be taken by ballot, and he had a clause, besides, specifying the manner in which he should propose to have the ballot taken. Two things were necessary—first, to satisfy the House that the principle was good, and next to convince it that the details for carrying that principle into effect were without objection. It would be idle to enter into the details with those who would not concede the principle; but to those who granted the last, he should be most ready to give way as to the first, and to adopt any of their useful suggestions. The first question was, whether the vote by ballot was likely to accomplish the object of the Bill before the House, that object being the prevention of bribery and corruption? A man who gave his suffrage by ballot would bestow it according to the dictates of his honest judgment, and while it left just and proper influence in operation, it rendered all other influence impossible. If an elector gave his vote in gratitude to a good landlord, or out of regard to a friend or relative, that might be called a just and proper influence, and that was untouched and unbroken by the plan now proposed. Upon this position he (Mr. O'Connell) placed his foot, and defied any man by argument to remove him from it—that election by ballot left a man as free to vote honestly as if he gave his suffrage openly at the hustings. He also contended, with equal confidence, that election by ballot freed the voter also from corrupt and improper influence. Where detection was impossible, tenor of a landlord, for instance, could have no effect; and corruption could not operate, because no man would be so silly as to give a bribe where he could have no security that it would be earned. If, however, a bribe were given, the giver being a fool for his pains, no man would be so ready to break faith as one who would accept it. These were great advantages; and if the House really wished to prevent bribery and corruption at East Retford, here the effectual means were offered to its consideration and acceptance. Here they had an opportunity of making an experiment, and might bring into immediate play a principle of considerable importance, and try whether it were well founded or not. By so doing, they might not only see whether that principle could be made applicable to this particular borough, but whether the machinery worked well, and could be adopted in other cases. Surely he should not be told that ballot would not be a complete preventative of bribery and corruption. Under the present system men knew, when they had given bribes, whether they got value for their money; but under the system of ballot, the facilities for acquiring that knowledge would be so diminished, that they would hesitate before they offered bribes to others over whose votes they could possess no control. He did not mean that the ballot should take place in the first instance, for he would still retain the nomination and the open voting by show of hands; but if a poll were demanded, then he thought balloting ought to commence. By preserving these parts of the old system, he should not take away from the candidates the advantage of meeting the voters, nor from the voters that of seeing the men who were candidates to represent them; nor should he put an end to that opportunity which an election now presented, of demanding from the candidates pledges of their future conduct, and means by which their subsequent demeanour in that House might be compared with their previous professions. It was said by some persons, that the mode of voting by ballot was a sneaking thing that ought to be avoided. Why, who was guilty of sneaking? Not the man who, by the means of vote by ballot, voted as he thought fit, for he performed his duty, but he who was prevented from performing that duty by a system of open voting which made him the creature of another man's will, in opposition to his own, and by which he was compelled to be at once a hypocrite and a slave. On him, and not on the other, must the charge of hypocrisy rest. The House were about to continue the elective franchise in a place where their own votes described it to have been grossly abused. What, then, was the process by which that abuse was to be prevented in future? Why, by giving the voter the means of voting in future as he pleased. He had heard it said in that House, that it was the right of the landlord to command the vote of his tenant. If that were so, the tenant was but. a slave, and he might as well have his face blacked at once and be sent to our colonies, to bear the name of slave, which was his condition if he could be compelled to vote for a person he did not like. It had been said, that if there was influence on the one band, there were terror, and the force of violence, and the fear of mobs on the other. Supposing that to be true, it shewed the excellence of the ballot; it was a remedy for the latter as well as for the former; and while it would prevent the exercise of the influence of the superior, it would at the same time destroy the terror of the mob, who would have no means of knowing how the secret vote had been given. These were the advantages possessed by the plan he proposed [Question was here called]. He knew the lateness of the hour; and he knew, too, that, this subject was now brought forward by an insignificant individual, who was now, and was ever likely to remain, unconnected with party; and who was besides a believer in the excellence of Radical Reform. Under these circumstances, it was perhaps little wonderful that the House should be weary of the discussion; but he was in England, in a country which was said to be a land of common sense, and he now proposed a plan which had plain common sense to recommend if. His plan would do away with undue influence, with direct corruption and with all those evils of which complaint was now so often made. It was true, that he who gave money for his seat in that House, might be a philanthropist—he might be a man of most excellent character; there had been such, but they were not always so; and it often happened that they purchased their seats for the advantage of themselves or their families. He had the honour to be the representative of an uncorrupted and unintimidated population—of a population that had fearlessly given him their disinterested votes. He did not, therefore, ask the House to adopt the plan of ballot from any personal experience of its absolute necessity. But still he knew how often votes had been influenced in other places, and he called on all the Members of that House to support him, if they wished, as they said they did, that elections should be conducted fairly and incorruptly. He would subjoin the clause he meant to move to that which related to the duties of the returning officer. The hon. and learned Member moved the following clause:—"And be it further enacted, that such proper officer, to whom any writ shall be directed for electing a Burgess for the said Borough, in case the said election shall not be determined on a view of the votes of the freemen and others claiming a right to vote at the said election, but that a poll shall be required, shall take such poll by ballot in the way hereinafter mentioned."

Mr. Hume

said, that he seconded the Motion with great pleasure, because no questions had occupied more time, nor any more uselessly, than those in which the House endeavoured to punish individuals for corrupt practices at elections. He therefore conceived that any mode which enabled a man to give a vote free from the influence of a superior, or from direct bribery, was very desirable. He thought the plan now proposed would be more likely than any other to effect what he had heard Members in that House again and again desire to see, namely, every voter able to vote as he pleased. It would effect that which repeated Acts of Parliament had been unequal to achieve. Since he had had a seat in that House, he had seen frequent instances of vote by ballot, and what was that done for, except to put an end to influence? but unfortunately from the state of that House it did not answer the end proposed; for lists were prepared and put into the hands of individuals who were obliged to give the names on those lists as of their own choice. In large bodies of voters there would be a different result. The plan of voting by ballot was now almost universal. In the United States 250,000 people voted by ballot, without the slightest confusion, and every officer in the State was elected by ballot. It was said that ballot was a sneaking mode of expressing a man's opinions; but he would ask, whether there was anything in the character of the people of the United States that shewed ballot to be the proof of a sneaking or cowardly spirit? He would say exactly the reverse. Neither did he think that the charge of hypocrisy could be truly brought against this mode of voting, for in that respect the other was much worse. The practice of voting by ballot was adopted by all clubs. If what had been stated by the opponents of the measure was true, it would be more manly in the clubs to vote openly, but they did not; and it should be recollected that the members of the clubs were gentlemen, while electors, in general, were in a different situation, and were by no means so independent in their circumstances. No member of these clubs had a right to say that the mode of voting by ballot was hypocritical or improper; for he did that which men in much humbler situations ought to be allowed to do, but which he refused them the liberty of doing", upon a pretence of impropriety that was much more applicable to himself. Another excellent advantage in the plan was, that it would put an end to those scenes of riot and disorder which now disgraced elections. Those who really wished to put an end to these scenes would vote for the plan now proposed. On these grounds, he considered the plan beneficial for the interests of the community, and he could not think that any hon. Member who looked at what had taken place in France would hesitate in believing in the efficacy of the measure.

Sir R. Wilson

observed, that every one who looked to the signs of the times must see that the cause of reform had assumed a different aspect from heretofore. The opinion that reform was necessary was no longer a clamour occasioned by temporary distress—it was the settled conviction of intelligent men. The subject deserved, therefore, to be fairly examined by the House. He gave the hon. and learned Member for Clare full credit for sincerity in bringing forward his proposition; and he hoped that hon. Member would give him the same credit for sincere motives in opposing it. The proposition was of a most extensive character. The hon. and learned Member admitted that it was an innovation, and intended as an initiative of a total change in the elective franchise: but there was something in the concealment and muffling up, which the system of ballot proposed, repulsive to his feelings, contrary to the English character, and to that publicity which every elector ought to be desirous of seeking. It was a system suited to a peculiar class of people, and to juniors in the representative system; and an experiment to try how far a nation was adapted to receive such a system. We talked of the march of intellect, but this was a retrograde march,—we were going backward; and any foreigner who heard such a proposition would consider that its adoption would be a proof of our degradation. The circumstances of France and of America were totally different from ours; but he had conversed with North Americans, persons whoso opinions were entitled to the highest respect, who declared that the ballot system was productive of so many evils in their country, that they wished it could be got rid of, and viva voce voting adopted in its stead. He was a representative of 5,000 or 6,000 voters, who came openly and boldly, and good humouredly, to the hustings to give their vote, and he never would give a vote which would deprive them of the pleasure they felt at publicly displaying their sentiments. The hon. and learned Gentleman should have his vote for any measure of reform which would not be inconsistent with the constitution.

Mr. Warburton

observed, that all political measures should lead to good Government, and the question was, whether this measure would or would not lead to such an object. If he had any objection to the adoption of the ballot in Bassetlaw, it was because the number of voters was not so great as might be wished; for the fittest places for this measure were those where there were great numbers of voters. There was no place where intimidation and influence were carried to a greater pitch than in London; and there the ballot would be beneficial. There were some places, therefore, where the ballot would be proper,—others where it would be improper. He meant, however, to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Clare. ["Question," "Question."]

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he could assure the tempestuous part of the House, that he would agitate them but for a very few moments. His opinion was generally in favour of reform; and before he voted, he wished to explain the reasons why he did not support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Clare. He had listened to the hon. Member, and understood the object of his proposition to be, to check and stifle corruption in individuals. Then was this the best mode? He thought not. He thought that the best and only effectual mode of preventing corruption was, to place the representative in the same situation in that House as the electors at the hustings, and oblige Members to swear at the bar that they had not offered a bribe. This was the only effectual remedy; though he was the only Member the other night who divided with the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Stewart) on a Motion for this object. The hon. and learned Member had said that the ballot would check hypocrisy and stifle corruption. Suppose it did, would it not destroy the influence of example? And he should like to know if the House would have had the pleasure of listening to the hon. and learned Member for Clare, or if the hon. and learned Member would have had the opportunity of detailing his proposition in the House, but for the authoritative influence of example? He must withhold his support from the Motion, because it was an adjunct to another—universal suffrage. Universal suffrage and annual Parliaments were the two prominent features of the radical creed. He knew the people of this country were generally in favour of reform; but not such reform as was contained in those propositions. If the Constitution were to be changed,—all titles and hereditary rank abolished, the monarchy itself to be done away,—he would then vote for universal suffrage.; but till then he should be content with that reform which tended to restore the representation to its constitutional purity.

Mr. Jephson

said, that he should vote for the Motion of his hon. and learned! friend the Member for Clare, but for reasons diametrically opposite to those he had assigned.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he should vote for the election by ballot, as it appeared to him to be the only course by which they could secure free election in the borough of East Retford, now that it was joined with the hundred of Bassetlaw.

The House then divided on the question that Mr. O'Connell's clause be brought up, when there appeared—

Ayes 21, Noes 179; majority against the introduction of ballot 158.—Bill passed.

List of the Minority.
Althorp, Lord Monck, J. B.
Blandford, Lord Nugent, Lord
Burdett, Sir F. Palmer, C. F.
Cholmeley, M. Protheroe, E.
Davies, Colonel Smith, W.
Dawson, A. Waithman, Alderman
Ebrington, Lord Warburton, H.
Gordon, R. Wells, J.
Hobhouse, J. C. Whitbread, S.
Jephson, C. D. O. Tellers.
Maberly, J. O'Connell, D.
Marshall, W. Hume, J.
Forward to