§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
presented a Petition, of which he had given notice, complaining of the unconstitutional interference of the Marquis of Salisbury with the Elective Franchise, as exercised at the last election by certain electors of the town of Hertford. The hon. Member said, that he felt great reluctance in presenting a petition against a Peer of Parliament, who was not a Member of that House, and could not appear to defend himself, and for whose private character he, in common with the public, entertained a high respect. Those feelings, however, all gave way to the anxiety he felt that the poor should be protected in the independent exercise of their rights, which he conceived had been violated 369 in this instance, in defiance and contempt of an express Resolution of the House of Commons. The petition was signed by thirty-five electors of the town of Hertford, who stated, that they occupied houses in that town under the Marquis of Salisbury, and complained that they had received notice from his Lordship's agents to quit those houses, in consequence, as they believed, of their having freely and conscientiously exercised the elective franchise at the last election, when the petitioners supported the Reform candidates in opposition to the candidate put forward by the noble Marquis. The petitioners stated, that they had paid their rents, or were prepared to pay them; and he begged to call the attention of the House particularly to this allegation of the petition, because the non-payment of rent was the ground on which the ejectment of tenants who had voted against borough nominees was generally attempted to be excused. At first it was intended that a petition should have been presented from the inhabitants of the town of Hertford generally, expressive of their sense of the course adopted by the agents of the Marquis of Salisbury in this transaction; but upon subsequent consideration it was thought better that only the parties aggrieved should come before the House in the character of petitioners. The petition set forth, that the candidates for the town of Hertford at the last election, were Lord Ingestrie, Mr. Thomas Duncombe, and Mr. Currie, and that the two last-named were the Reform candidates, for whom the petitioners voted from conscientious feelings; that Messrs. Nicholson and Long-more were the agents of Lord Ingestrie at the late election, and were also the Solicitors of the Marquis of Salisbury; and that the petitioners received notice, soon after the election, from those Solicitors, acting under the authority of the Marquis of Salisbury, to quit their houses, for no other cause, as they conceived, but because they had voted for Lord Ingestrie. Under these circumstances they prayed the interference of the House, to secure them in the constitutional exercise of the elective franchise. The hon. Member then referred to several affidavits in support of the petition. One of those affidavits stated, that when a person who had lived fifty years in one of Lord Salisbury's houses, sent to the Steward to remonstrate against the notice she had received to 370 quit; the Steward told her that she could expect nothing else, her son had used Lord Salisbury so ill. There were several other affidavits very much to the same effect, and which he (Mr. Duncombe) contended, made out a case of unconstitutional interference. Under present circumstances, he did not mean to follow up the presentation of the petition by moving for any inquiry, or adopting any ulterior measure. The great measure of Parliamentary Reform now in progress, he trusted, would correct all those abuses; but if any unforeseen circumstance should occur to prevent that Bill from becoming the law of the land, or if it should fail in accomplishing all that he desired, he should think himself at liberty to recur again to the subject of the petition. Those poor persons ought to be protected. Poor they were, but they had proved themselves more independent in principle during the late election than some persons of higher rank. If this species of borough tyranny continued, the only remedy would be the Vote by Ballot; and if the Reform Bill did not pass, or did not correct this abuse, he should feel it his duty to bring in a Bill to secure to the electors of the town of Hertford, at least, the free exercise of the elective franchise. Whether that Bill should be local or not, would depend upon the wishes of the electors of other towns similarly circumstanced. But he hoped this public exposure would prevent the recurrence of such practices. It was intolerable that thirty-five families should be turned out of their houses, because the fathers had voted at an election against the will of a landlord.
said, he was called upon to make a few observations upon this petition, inasmuch as it complained of the conduct of his noble relative. The facts of the case out of which this petition originated were briefly these:—Some twenty persons waited on the Mayor of Hertford, after the late election, to be sworn to a bundle of affidavits which they brought with them. The Mayor inquired what was their purport? to which they declined giving any other answer than that they wished the subject matter not to transpire. The Mayor refused to swear them; and no man could deny, that such behaviour was not fair dealing on the part of the present petitioners. At the last election for Hertford, 196 of the tenants of his noble relative had voted; forty-five for Lord In- 371 gestrie, fifty-six for Mr. Duncombe, and seventy-one for Mr. Currie and Lord Ingestrie. Out of this gross number of 196, thirty-eight had received notice to quit, not because of their votes, but because they were considerably in arrear of their rents. One man who was three years in arrears voted three times against the friend of his noble relative; another was fourteen months in arrear, and owed 7l.; a third was two years in arrear, and owed 11l. 19s.; and so the others went on in various periods of arrear and amounts of rent. Now was his noble relative or not entitled to eject such tenants? Was it not a constant practice with other noble Lords to eject unprofitable tenants, without any charge having been made against them that they had done so merely for election purposes? The petitioners had imbibed an idea that when the Reform Bill passed, their tenements and lands would be their own, and some of them, encouraged by the present members for Hertford, had questioned the right of his noble relative to so much of his property, although it was perfectly well known that he had purchased it from the Corporation of that borough. He did not question the right of the petitioners to try the question, but he thought it rather hard to complain of the conduct of his noble relative, in ejecting tenants for arrears of rent, when the very same practice was at least in two instances adopted by the agent of the hon. Member (Mr. Currie). His noble relative let his houses in Hertford at as low a rent as any other landlord, besides paying their poor-rates; and in every other respect had conferred the greatest benefits upon that borough. Under such circumstances, he was sure his noble relative would stand acquitted in the eyes of this House and the country, of having acted in any other manner than became an individual of his rank, and of his proverbial generosity and humanity.
Sir John Sebright
was sorry that any nobleman in England should attempt to control his tenants; he had never done anything of the sort with his, and he was convinced that the consequence was, that he had much greater influence over them than if he was to exercise the most unjustifiable power towards them. But it was because he found the landlords would use their influence unduly, that he had voted against the clause introduced in the Reform Bill to give the franchise to tenants-at-will, holding farms of 50l. a-year, believing, 372 as he did, that that class of persons must be entirely under the influence of their landlords, while they themselves would no more possess the franchise, than if they were so many negro slaves.
§ Mr. Currie
I was much surprised to hear the noble Lord attempt to justify conduct, which to every Member of this House must appear to be most tyrannical, inhuman, and oppressive—a line of conduct which, if it fall not directly under the jurisdiction of the law, is, at all events, in direct violation of every feeling of humanity. The noble Lord has taken great pains to show to the House, that the Marquis of Salisbury is a most indulgent and merciful landlord; in the two cases which the noble Lord has mentioned he may appear to be so; but I also have two cases, among many others, to prove directly the contrary, independent of the petition before the House. There is another point which the noble Lord has touched upon. The noble Lord has said that I promised to pay the rent of those people who voted for me at the late election. Now this I most distinctly deny. I never directly or indirectly offered any bribes at the election—I had no High Sheriff of the county to canvass for me—I had no 10s. tickets arrayed in the livery of Hatfield-house—I had no noble Marquis at my elbow to declare that if he could not beat me he would ruin me. I hope the noble Lord may not have carried this system with him to Armagh, and having found it successful there, have taken it on to Dublin. I shall not further occupy the time of the House, than by saying, that I must support the petition presented by my honourable colleague.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
believed, that both Whigs and Tories were in the habit of taking means to obtain that just influence for their property which, in his opinion, it was always intended that property should have. Surely the House could not have forgotten what was stated by a Cabinet Minister only a few nights ago, to the effect that the Government had a right to expect the support of its adherents, and in the event of their not giving that support, they must expect to be dismissed. He did not mention this because he disapproved of the sentiment; on the contrary, he thought that it was a right one; though it did so happen that all the time he was in office he had never once interfered with the vote of any individual. But of the two cases—that of the Government and that of 373 a private individual—he thought that the latter was infinitely favourable in the comparison; for it was only using that influence in support of his own personal feelings, which were supposed to belong to every Englishman. When the hon. Member for Hertford, therefore, complained that his noble friend, had exercised some influence over his tenants in that borough, he would say, that, supposing he had done so, he had violated no existing law. Such practices had always prevailed, and would, no doubt, continue under the new Bill. Several of those tenants were three years in arrears for rent, few of them less than one year, all these persons would be disfranchised under the new Bill. He did not complain of the two Gentlemen opposite supporting the cause of those who returned them to that House; they said the conduct of the noble Marquis had been oppressive, but he was of opinion, that he was perfectly right.
wanted to know how the right hon. Gentleman, after never having used his own influence when a member of Government, could justify the Marquis of Salisbury in using his? He was ready to admit, that property ought to have its influence, but in such a case as the present, it claimed an influence which was undue. He had approved of giving votes to tenants-at-will, and if the anticipated inconveniences, as stated by the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Sebright), were to be experienced from that measure, there would be no difficulty in removing the evil.
Sir John Sebright
said, that it was not in human nature that men would give up the means of living merely because they had a right of voting for a particular Member. He believed that the feeling of interest would predominate over that of conscience, and he did not wish to see English yeomen placed in a situation to be exposed to a conflict between them.
thought that the cases of a Government and a private individual were not similar: a Government could not go on if the people whom it employed were of a different opinion to itself: it was by its dependants that the Government ought to be supported, instead of being betrayed, as he believed was the case in Ireland. But the case of a nobleman's interference was very different; and it was evident that the House of Commons thought so, for the very first thing it did every Ses- 374 sion was to pass an order, declaring such an interference a high infringement of its privileges. He rejoiced at the clause which had been introduced into the Bill by the noble Marquis, the member for Buckinghamshire, because he did not doubt that its effects would be as the hon. Baronet had described them. It would prepare the way for the Vote by Ballot.
§ Sir Richard Vyvyan
said, that the resolutions of this House equally applied to the exercise of influence in the election of Members for this House, whether the influence was exercised by the Crown or by the Peers. And as to the Reform question, of which he would only speak in connection with this subject, he was satisfied that it would have to be altered within one year, and then, perhaps, altered again in another year. The hon. Member (Mr. O'Connell) was the advocate of Vote by Ballot; but why should that be expected by the people while their Members were not allowed the exercise of a similar right? Were there any persons who wished to have a screen themselves which they denied to the House of Commons? In both cases the right of voting was a trust, and without Universal Suffrage, the Ballot would be unjust, particularly to those persons who did not inhabit 10l. houses, nor hold leases of farms of 50l. a-year.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, there was not a clause in this Reform Bill which would prevent the exercise of that influence against which the present complaint was directed. On a late occasion the Government justified its use as to persons in the public employment. It happened that when charges like the present were made by Whigs against Tories, the Tories retorted upon the Whigs, and between them he might say "tantarara," he would not add the other portion of the old stave. For himself he wished that every Englishman should have a vote; and so far he supported the clause introduced by the noble Marquis (the Marquis of Chandos) for giving the right of voting to tenants-at-will. Why, the Reform Bill itself had a tendency to extend the influence of property; and though he objected to the conduct of the Marquis of Salisbury, he was satisfied that this Bill could not prevent it.
§ Sir John Brydges
expressed his surprise and regret, that the hon. member for Hertford should have presented the petition in the absence of a noble Lord, who alone 375 was capable of answering it. No one was more jealous than he of the interference of Peers in elections, but this was not an interference with an election, but the legitimate exercise of the rights of property after the election was over. He held it to be extremely improper that the conduct of the nobleman alluded to should be described in that House as tyrannical and cruel.
§ Mr. Serjeant Wilde
was not sorry that the petition had been presented. An interference of a Peer at an election was a violation of the law, and, if it were brought home to the offending party, he was liable to severe punishment. He was aware that, by management and skill, it was no difficult matter for an influential man to interfere with the privileges which the electors enjoyed, without the fact being proved; but, as he had said, the law visited a clear case of interference on the part of a Peer with heavy punishment. Such an interference was not that which property ought to possess; but, on the contrary, it was an abuse of property. A landlord had no right to dismiss a tenant because the tenant did not choose to vote as directed. This was a gross abuse of power, and ought to be visited with displeasure by the House, whenever such a case was established.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
saw no remedy for the abuses at elections, but an improved state of the morals of the people. No legislative measure that he could guess at could prevent those abuses, unless aided by the moral sense of the public.
§ Petition brought up. On the question that it do lie on the Table,
said, that from the observations which some hon. Gentlemen had indulged in, an impression seemed to prevail in the House, that undue influence had been exercised by his noble relative, and that the ejectment of these petitioners arose out of the last election alone. He, however, was sure, that the result of inquiry would be the disproval of the allegations of the petitioners.
had never advocated the principle of a partial Ballot; he must declare, however, that undue influence had been invariably used by the Tory Administrations in Ireland, at elections, and that the present had not exercised a similar power. They had instances of late, of persons in office not only opposing but betraying the present Government.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
was not prepared 376 to hear the fact of Officers who had served for years under preceding Governments, being threatened with dismissal for voting contrary to the wishes of the present Administration in Ireland, described in any other light than as intolerance and tyranny.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
could not but wonder at the coolness with which hon. Gentlemen ventured to justify or deny the notorious abuse of power at elections of all Tory Administrations in Ireland. He stated it as a fact, that Lord-lieutenants, with their own hands, wrote to persons within their influence, commanding them to vote against him (Mr. Henry Grattan), under pain of dismissal from office. This, he repeated, he was ready to prove, with respect to himself, and others. One fact might answer as a specimen; and that was, that the Duke of Northumberland, in his own personal capacity as Lord Lieutenant, wrote to a Mr. Lowe, telling him to vote against Colonel Grady, the popular candidate for Limerick, under pain of dismissal. This fact spoke for itself, and was only a single instance out of many. Even at the last Dublin election, undue influence was used by the Corporation against the Reform candidates, and the successful candidate (Lord Ingestrie) well knew it. Could that noble Lord deny, that the officers belonging to the coal-heavers' department, were compelled to vote for him, and that if they had not, they would have been dismissed without ceremony?
§ Sir Richard Vyvyan
said, that the observations of the hon. member for Kerry amounted to this, that men who had served under a Tory Government, must, necessarily, be turned out under a Whig Ministry; he really could not agree with him on that point.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, that the hon. member for Meath had made an observation, he did not exactly know whether personally to him, or to his noble friend, with respect to a certain kind of influence, with which no man could be better acquainted than the hon. Member himself. But whether the imputation was intended for himself, or for his noble friend, he had no doubt it would be equally denied and rejected with the scorn it deserved.
§ The petition was then read.
§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
, on moving it should be printed, took that opportunity to deny the assertion, that this petition had been unfairly got up. That assertion 377 was advanced, because those persons who had made the affidavits had refused to place them in the hands of the Mayor of Hertford. The reason of that refusal was, that the Mayor and Corporation of that town, were tools in the hands of the Marquis of Salisbury. The Mayor had refused to swear the affidavits, without a knowledge of their contents, and they had, therefore, been sworn before another Magistrate. Now, though he was no lawyer, he knew enough of law to be aware, that no Magistrate had a right to inquire into the contents of an affidavit sworn before him. He had seen it stated in a public Journal, that the Marquis of Salisbury had complained, that attempts were making by people out of doors, to lower the House of Lords in public estimation. He put it to the House, whether such circumstances as had occurred at Hertford, were not more likely to lower the Aristocracy in public opinion than any speeches which could be made against them.
Sir Robert Bateson
rose to order, and said, that as there was a petition to be decided to-morrow upon the Dublin Election, it was irregular and prejudicial to that question for any hon. Member to make observations upon it.
§ The Speaker
said, that the House had no right to touch upon the subject-matter of an election petition which was referred to a Committee.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
said, he had meant nothing he had said personally against the hon. and learned Recorder, and was at a loss to know to what he alluded. He had never, directly or indirectly, attempted to induce a man to vote for pecuniary considerations.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
did not remember that he had charged the hon. and learned Gentleman with having used that influence himself.
said, it did not argue much for the case of the petitioners that they refused to state the cause of their complaints before the Magistrates of Hertford. He could not understand either from the petition itself, or the observations of the hon. Member who had introduced it, that any case could be made out against his noble relative. He thought it somewhat unusual for an hon. Member to charge him with being guilty of corrupt practices at his election, while a petition stood for the decision of the House as to the validity of that election. He trusted that his character would be sufficient to throw aside such an accusation. But even if it should be proved, that he had been guilty of acts unworthy a gentleman and a candidate for the honour of a seat in that House, he might still retain the hope of being made a Baronet for his services.
§ Petition to be printed.