HC Deb 29 June 1831 vol 4 cc480-3
Mr. Benett

rose to perform a painful duty, as Chairman of an Election Committee, being bound to fulfil, as far as lay in his power, the decision of that Committee. The Committee had been under the necessity of depriving the sitting Member of his seat, and in addition had come to a specific resolution, which imposed on him the duty, as the Chairman that Committee, to submit a further proceeding to the House:. It would be in the recollection of the House, that, in pursuance of this intention, he had moved certain Resolutions, as the foundations of a Bill which came to an end by the motion for adjourning the debate, being carried at half past one o'clock of the last morning on which the late Parliament sat. It was his purpose to move those Resolutions again, and on their receiving the confirmation of the House, he meant to persevere in his original design, and move for leave to bring in a Bill for putting an end to bribery and corruption in the borough of Liverpool. He was aware of the Reform Bill — which he hoped to see carried, as he believed it would put down corruption; but it would not entirely meet the case of Liverpool. The freemen of Liverpool did possess their franchise for their lives, and to their children it would descend. He did not find any great fault with the lower freemen for accepting bribes, for the great crime rested with a number of the wealthy citizens, who used the lower freemen merely as their tools, for the election of such persons as these rich freemen chose; neither would he wish to punish these poor freemen, though it was not punishing them to deprive them of this franchise. He denied, that the franchise was either the property or the right of any man. It was a duty he had to perform for the good of his country, and by no means a right. If the franchise were a right, how came the House so sweepingly to take it away from the Irish 40s. freeholders? On what principle did it proceed but the principle that this was a duty which these freeholders could not properly discharge? If this were the case, he did not apprehend, that he was called on to prove, that every individual in Liverpool had been guilty; but if it appeared that a majority of the freemen had committed this offence, then, upon the principle on which boroughs were to be disfranchised, the House was entitled to deprive of the franchise, all who had abused it. His object simply was, to deprive those of the elective franchise who had abused it, and bestow it upon others who would not act corruptly. He did not wish to deprive the town of Liverpool of the privilege of sending Members to Parliament; but he wished that this privilege should be given to those who were not corrupt. The House ought, therefore, to give the elective franchise to the householders of Liverpool, and follow the provisions of the general Reform Bill, as nearly as possible. If the House should confirm the Resolutions, and give him leave to bring in the Bill, he should afterwards wait the progress of the Reform Bill, before he carried the measure any further. He would then only refer to the evidence of Mr. Bold, which would prove satisfactorily, the universality of the corruption at Liverpool. Mr. Bold, a respectable man, who interfered in the election merely from motives of friendship, said, on being asked about a certain room, that it was called the pay-room, and that he took there about 200 voters, after they had given their votes. Mr. Bold's evidence was as follows: — As soon as they had given their votes you took them to the room where Mr. Foreshaw was, and then to the pay-room? — Yes. And when you got to that room were they paid there? — Yes, they were. Will you tell me what they were paid? — Various sums. Will you tell me what the sums were — how they varied? — From 51. upwards. Will you allow me to ask you, from 51. upwards to what extent? —40l. Was 51. paid pretty early in the election?— Yes. Was the 40l. considerably later in the election?—Yes. The price at Liverpool rose in the market, perhaps gradually, from 51. up to 451.?— Yes it did. The witness said, that he was one of twenty-two captains who brought the voters up, and that he handed in 200 certificates. Various other witnesses stated similar facts; some that there was a great rush to this pay-room — others that they saw heaps of money, notes and cash; and the fact was indisputably proved, that throughout the election, paying for votes was common. It was not necessary, after stating these things, that he should go further into this part of the subject. He would not willingly punish any one, even the great culprits; but the House must recollect that these transactions had gone on for a long series of years. It was said, that even so long ago as General Tarleton's election, a Greenwich or Chelsea pensioner received 20l. for his vote. Mr. Yates said, that the same system was pursued at Mr. Canning's election, not that Mr. Canning himself knew anything of it, but it was carried on by a set of wealthy persons. The same practice prevailed at Mr. Huskisson's elections, and it was clear that it had been pursued for many years. The higher class of freemen must have known of it, as it was carried on by them; though they were no more guilty than the noblemen and gentlemen who gave their money in order to procure the nomination of Members in other places. No connexion was traced between the gentleman who was elected and the bribery that was practised, although, such was the nature of the evidence, that the Committee was obliged to deprive him of his seat. When bribery had prevailed to a vast extent, and for a long time, it became the duty of the House to devise some means to prevent its recurrence. Prevention was better than punishment; and his aim was prevention. The Reform Bill did not meet the case of Liverpool, as it did not deprive these freemen of their franchise; and when it was considered, that they amounted to 4,500, the great majority of whom had been bribed, and when it was recollected, that the 10l. householders under the Reform. Bill, would not be more than 12,000, it would be seen that the Reform Bill would leave in the hands of these freemen, or rather, in the hands of those whose tools they are, a very considerable power. He, therefore, hoped, that the House would agree to these Resolutions; and he should in the first place move, that the Resolution of the Select Committee (28th March), "That it appears to the Committee that gross bribery and treating prevailed during the late election at Liverpool," be read.

Mr. John

Wood moved, that the House be counted; which being done, and forty Members not being present, the House was necessarily adjourned.