HC Deb 14 July 1831 vol 4 cc1249-53
Mr. Hunt

presented a Petition from Mary-le-bone, a parish which, he said, formerly was for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," but now prayed against the clauses in the Reform Bill, respecting quarterly payments of rent, and the voters being called on to produce a certificate of payment of house-rent before being allowed to vote. He considered the clause most inquisitorial, for the Legislature had no more right to inquire if a man had paid his landlord, than if he had paid his butcher or his baker. That clause he was sure could not be suffered to remain part of the Bill.

Mr. Ewart

wished to take that opportunity of correcting a statement made by the hon. member for Ipswich, who had declared, that the Committees of Lord Sandon and Mr. Thornly had been treating the voters in public houses preparatory to the election for Liverpool. He had received communications from the Chairman of both Committees, affirming that there were no grounds whatever for the statement. He therefore trusted, if the hon. Member should find he was in error, that he would candidly acknowledge it.

Mr. Rigby Wason

said, that the communications received by the hon. Member was entitled to every respect, but he must still persist in staling, that public-houses had been opened for the purpose mentioned. He had never charged the Committee with doing this, but surely it might be done without their knowledge. Had not the hon. Member himself, a month after his return, declared on a petition being presented against it, that he was perfectly ignorant of what was notorious to every other person; and if the machinery of that extensive system of bribery and corruption could be so contrived as to keep the hon. candidate himself from the knowledge of it, surely treating might be so carried on, as that a Committee might have no knowledge of the fact. The way it was done was—a person took a freeman to a public-house, the landlord of which said to the visitor, "What do you think of Lord Sandon, will he represent the town properly?" If the voter replied "yes," he received drink, but at the same time was told the treat did not come from the candidate. He would offer the hon. Member a test by which he might try the accuracy of the statement. He was ready to call witnesses, and prove this assertion at the Bar of the House.

Mr. Denison

had also been desired to contradict the statement of the hon. Member. There was a distinction between public-houses being open for the reception of voters, and the act of treating. He could add his testimony to the respectability of the Chairmen of the Committees It was customary for the supporters of the respective candidates to meet at public-houses while the canvass was going on; and this took place without any blame being attached to the candidates; and without its affording any ground for an accusation of bribery and treating.

Mr. Rigby Wason

said, the word bribery had not been used by him, but by the hon. member for Staffordshire, and he had then protested against it.

Mr. J. Wood

had received a communication from one of the Chairmen, also denying the charge. His motives with respect to the vote he had given on the Liverpool election had been misunderstood. He was desirous not to sanction any proceeding which would have the effect of interrupting the general question of Reform. Respecting the charge brought against the electors of Liverpool, he could only say, that he should have been better pleased to see Peers of Parliament, who interfered in elections, brought before the House, than these 800 electors of Liverpool, who, as had been said, went to the poll with halters about their necks. Four out of the five years he had been in the House, was occupied with a disgusting squabble about East Retford. After the Reform Bill was disposed of, he should make no objection to disfranchise the freemen of Liverpool.

Mr. Hunt

said, the electors of Liverpool had been guilty of the grossest bribery and corruption, and were ready to return to their former practices. He hoped the hon. member for Wiltshire would persevere, for if these persons were not punished it would be the grossest injustice to disfranchise those boroughs classed in schedules A and B.

Mr. Ewart

said, the documents he had received were signed by most respectable individuals.

Sir J. Newport

rose to order. This discussion was totally irregular. A petition had been presented from Mary-le-bone, and hon. Members had got into a discussion about the corruption of the electors of Liverpool.

The Speaker

said, the discussion was certainly irrelevant to the subject, but such practices had gradually grown into use; and he was not disposed to put a stop to them all at once, however desirable it might be for the despatch of business, that hon. Members should adhere to the question before the House

Petition to be printed.

Mr. J. Wood

presented a Petition from the members of the Manchester Political Union, against the clause in the Reform Bill which has reference to paying rent quarterly; but the petition being signed by the Chairman only, it could be received merely as his petition. It had been in his hands several days, but he had been unable to find an opportunity of presenting it, and he was glad to say, that in the interval the object of the petitioners had been obtained, by his Majesty's Ministers having determined that the period at which rent was paid should not form part of the consideration for determining the vote.

Mr. Hunt

hoped the hon. Gentleman spoke from authority, and was correct, for he had been refused an answer when he had asked a question on the subject.

Mr. John Campbell

hoped the member for Preston, who first addressed the House, did not speak from the authority of Government. He should see with great alarm such a mischievous extension of the franchise as would admit other than bona fide yearly tenants to its enjoyment. The payment of the rent quarterly should be taken as prima facie evidence that it was a real yearly tenancy, but if the more frequent payment of the month or week were taken, the tenancy was not a bona fide yearly one, for, if such payers were admitted, the House might as well admit a lodger in a night cellar at two-pence per night to vote.

Mr. O'Connell

said, a yearly holding might be paid for weekly, although such a payment could not be prima facie evidence of the holding. His understanding of the declaration of Ministers was, that where the tenure was bonâ fide for the year, it was immaterial how the rent was paid.

Mr. John Campbell

did not deny, that in point of law there might be a yearly lease, receiving the rent monthly, weekly, or even hourly, but in practice there was no such lease, and when the rent was not received quarterly, in practice it was not a bonâ fide lease.

Mr. John Wood

was anxious to set himself right. He had not spoken from any authority, nor did he wish it to be understood, that he had had any particular communication with Ministers. He had merely stated his own impression of what had fallen from them.

Mr. Paget

said, the hon. member for Oxford had given notice of a motion on the subject, but had withdrawn it upon i the understanding; now mentioned, that when the tenancy was a bona fide holding for a year, the tenant should be allowed to vote, no matter at what period he paid his rent.

Mr. Hunt

was glad he had produced this discussion by his remark, but as it would be impossible to find any other than quarterly reservations of rent through the country, what became of the accident by which the obnoxious clause was two or three times repeated in the Bill? It was improper, perhaps, to impute motives, but he could not exactly understand the conduct of Ministers.

Petition laid on the Table.

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