HC Deb 12 March 1834 vol 22 cc83-99

Mr. Bernal moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of this Bill. As this measure had been already very fully discussed, he should not trouble the House at any length. That Report of, and evidence taken by the first Committee was referred to a Special Committee, and the recommendation of that Committee had led to the present Bill. The object of the Bill was to carry the recommendation of the Committee into effect. The electors were divided into three classes—the old inhabitant householders, who resided within the limits of the old borough, and who were subject to no qualification but the payment of rates and taxes; 2ndly, the freemen; 3rdly, the new 10l. constituency. The object of the Bill was to disfranchise the first class, as being the most determined supporters of the bribery; leaving the two other classes, who were scarcely tainted with corruption, untouched. The whole number who polled were about 671, and the total number of voters about 702. Of these, 314 were inhabitant householders of the first class; 264 were 10l. householders; and 124 freemen. It appeared also, from much of the evidence on the first Election Committee, that the extent of bribery and corruption depended materially on the limits. A great deal also came out before the Committee as to the distribution of tea, flour, coals, and other things, among the freemen of both kinds; this distribution not being in the accustomed manner, as charity, but evidently from a corrupt motive. It was proved, that a baker in the town had distributed flour amongst the voters in this manner, and also that the other articles mentioned were freely distributed amongst the voters, not merely the old freeholders, but also the 10l. householders. These were the facts as they appeared on the face of this Report. The Committee, in the discharge of their duty, then employed a gentleman of known ability and integrity to go to Hertford. Captain Brydone went to Hertford, in order to trace out a correct map of the place, and the parishes surrounding it. The result of Captain Brydone's investigation was the map which had been printed. The parishes which were within the boundary were all within a certain distance of the town of Hertford. Not one of these parishes was more than five miles distant from the town. Many of these places were not more than three miles from the town. The Committee were guided entirely by the survey which had been made. They threw entirely out of their consideration whether any particular portion included within this boundary was occupied by wealthy individuals, or by persons professing one political opinion or another. Their only object evidently was, to purify the corrupt representation of Hertford; and the effect of the proposed alteration would be to add a very considerable number of voters to Hertford. In the seven parishes the number of 10l. freeholders was 688, of whom 115 possessed the right of voting at the county elections. The Committee, in their Report, remarked, that a great number of these freeholders might either prefer the right of voting in the town or many of them possessed freeholds in other parts of the county, out of which they would have the right of voting at the county elections. It did not follow, because these 115 possessed the right in the county, that they would therefore prefer to exercise that right. The Committee, it must be admitted, had a difficult task to perform; and that task they had performed to the best of their ability. When the Bill went into Committee, any suggestion calculated to improve it would no doubt be most willingly received. He thought it was too late for any Gentleman to get up and say, that no notice ought to be taken of these corrupt practices, and that they ought not to apply some remedy for those evils, the consequences of which would be even more dangerous than the present effects, which were of the most grievous description. Allusion having been made to a trial in the Court of King's Bench of a person named Russell Davies, a voter at the last election for Hertford, and a witness before the Election Committee, who had been charged and convicted of perjury, he (Mr. Bernal) thought it proper to state, that Davis's evidence was not received by the Election Committee, but was completely discarded. Upon the very first opening of that man's evidence, he believed there was no Gentleman composing the Committee who had thought it entitled to belief. He stated this to remove any unpleasant impressions which might be hostile to the merits of the case, and in order to do justice to a noble Lord who might be thought to be affected by the evidence of Davis. Some Members of the Committee were for disfranchising the borough of Hertford altogether; others were for transposing the representation to the county; but he was in favour of neither of these plans. He had, for a long time, thought—and what he every day saw only the more firmly convinced him of the fact—that it was desirable for them to take care to keep up the balance of the town against the county representation. He would not weary the House by going through the details with which he troubled them on a former occasion; for, as the House then agreed that corruption did exist at Hertford, they had only now to apply as good a remedy as they could. He offered them one; but if any one thought it could be improved, the Committee was the place for improving it. He begged to move, that the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Granville Somerset

, although he agreed with the hon. member for Rochester, that it was not necessary to trouble the House by going through the whole of the evidence given in this case, he could not agree with him, because the House had affirmed that Hertford was in a corrupt state, that, therefore, this Bill ought to be read a second time. The Government had not disfranchised the town of Newry, when cases were proved against it as strong, if not stronger, than any of those insinuated against the borough of Hertford; on the contrary, it had only instituted a prosecution against one individual. Why, therefore, should that be done in the one case which was not done in the other? Was it not injustice and partiality? Indeed, he did not see why the individuals about to be disfranchised should not feel a degree of indignation when they saw one measure of justice doled out to them, and another to others. There was a great distinction between treating and bribery, and he did conceive it too hard, that between two and three hundred individuals should be disfranchised on such evidence as had been laid before the Committee. He, therefore, implored the House to pause and consider well the subject, before it proceeded to act upon the Report of that Committee, and disfranchise the borough of Hertford. Some case had been adduced where a shilling was given in charity, but no case of bribery could be substantiated. He thought it would be most unjust to inflict an ex post facto punishment on those men who could have had no participation in the crime. He certainly did not mean to say, that persons who were guilty of bribery should not be punished, but the innocent should not suffer for the guilty. The noble Lord adverted, at some length, to the evidence of one of the witnesses, for the purpose of showing, that coals and flour, which had been given to some poor people of the town, at the instance of two noble candidates, went no further than this, namely, to establish the fact, that the noble Lords were anxious to be considered in the light of popular candidates. He would beg to ask the hon. member for Hertfordshire, whether he had not given those tickets himself? And whether he had not done so without the least intention of bribing or of doing anything wrong? He was sure that no man in the House would be further from doing anything which he could believe to be illegal and corrupt. The only persons concerned in the treating were the lowest class of voters—the scot-and-lot householders. The hon. member for Rochester ought to consider in what state he would leave the constituents after the disfranchisement of those 524 electors. The whole number of electors appeared, by the Report of the Special Committee, to be 702, and, of those, 670 voted at the last election. The electors consisted, as the hon. member for Rochester had said, of three classes—the inhabitant householders, the freemen, and the ten-pound householders. There were 400 of one class, who were declared perfectly free from suspicion or taint, as also 124 of another class; making in all 524 electors living completely in the midst of this alleged system of bribery and corruption, and yet wholly free, according to the terms of the Report, from taint or suspicion. It was proposed to give to Hertford 600 additional voters—the number free from taint there was 524 only; and the former would overwhelm the latter by majority of numbers. Knowing the notorious antipathy of Hertford to Ware, why should they annex them, and so increase the squabbles between them? It might be said, it would be impossible to have a proper constituency, after cutting off the freemen; but it was not the fact, for twenty-five boroughs of England had each a smaller constituency than Hertford would have without the freemen. He really could not account for their anxiety to swamp the constituency of Hertford by throwing in Ware, especially when he recollected, that even if the electoral franchise were taken away from the freemen, there would still be a respectable class of ten pound voters (not less than 430), and that there were, at the present time, twenty-five or twenty-six boroughs with a less amount of constituency. Before he sat down, he must beg to ask them whether, by countenancing, the five Bills which had been brought into the House, they were not making a great change in the constitutional system of the country as arranged by the Reform Bill? In conclusion, he must say, he could not see the justice of punishing the town of Hertford for the corruption which had been adduced, seeing what had been done at many contested county elections. No one lamented the existence of this corruption more than he did, but he could not admit the propriety of the proposed punishment. Whatever might be the fate of the Bill at this stage, he was satisfied it would undergo an extensive alteration in the Committee. Still believing that the measure was fraught with gross injustice, he begged leave to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be road a second time that day six months.

Mr. Nicholson Calvert

rose, at the request of the noble Lord (Lord Granville Somerset), to furnish him with the information he was desirous of receiving as to the origin of the practice of issuing tickets to the voters of Hertford. Till the period of his (Mr. N. Calvert's) quitting the representation of the borough, the electors had never made choice of any other than some gentleman resident in the county; and up to that period, it was the practice after the election for the Members to give a dinner in the Town-hall to the higher classes of the electors, and the same to the poorer classes, by opening a certain number of public-houses within the borough. Upon Mr. Spencer Cowper's election, in conjunction with him, in 1802, it was represented by the more respectable class of inhabitants to the new Members, that the practice of opening public-houses was very objectionable,—creating in the town great annoyance to the more quietly-disposed inhabitants, by breaking windows, fights in the streets, &c. In consequence of this representation, it was agreed to by all parties, that in lieu of opening the public-houses, each elector should receive from each candidate whom he voted for, two 5s. tickets. This practice continued uninterrupted during the period he had represented the borough,—about twenty-three years. What change, if any, had taken place in this ticket system, he had no knowledge of, having in no way interfered in any of the subsequent elections. But it would not be making a fair and impartial statement of later events, if he omitted to say, that lately a great and predominating, influence had been created in the borough, which threatened its independence with extinction, if no remedy were afforded by parliamentary interference.

Sir Robert Peel

could not acquiesce in the Amendment which had just been moved by his noble friend near him. Two reports had been presented upon this borough to the House by a Committee, which he was bound to say had taken a very fair and impartial view of the subject into which it had been appointed to examine. He should therefore testify his respect to that Committee, by giving his support to the second reading of this Bill. He would take, however, that opportunity of saying, that if treating amounted to bribery, or if proof of treating were to be considered as equivalent to proof of corruption, half the boroughs in the country might—nay, must be, disfranchised. He thought that some attempt ought to be made by law to define what treating was. The practice of giving 5s. refreshment tickets to electors of the lower orders had prevailed in the borough which he had the honour to represent for more than a century; indeed, he might say, ever since it was made a borough, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Yet he believed, in all that time, even when party spirit was at the highest, that there had never been a shilling given to any elector corruptly as the price of a vote. There never had been an impression in the country that there was anything corrupt in giving an elector a 5s. ticket for a supper. It was not thought corrupt for a candidate to invite the respectable electors to meet him, and to give them a dinner which cost 2l. or 3l. a-head; and that being the case, he thought that there could be no harm in the electors of a lower class arguing thus;—"If you, the candidate, will not admit us into your company in your social moments, give us at least the means of enjoying the festivities of the election." Of course he was speaking of what occurred after the election; still, if the House sanctioned such proceedings, it was impossible not to see that it opened wide the door to every species of corruption. He hoped that, in the Bill which was to be introduced upon this subject, due care would be taken to guard against the danger to which the freedom of election was exposed on this score. Looking at the tenor of the evidence collected by the Committee, he must say, that he was not prepared to vindicate the conduct of all the electors of the lower class at Hertford. At the same time he must say that no speculative ideas of expediency, no theoretical notions of reform, would induce him to disfranchise the lower class of electors without delinquency being proved against them. He found that the Committee entertained the opinion that the lower class of electors at Hertford had participated in the corruption which they said prevailed there. He had examined the evidence which bore upon that point with great attention, but at present he was inclined to suspend his opinion. Though he supported the second reading of the Bill, he must say, that he could not assent to the Bill as it stood at present. He could not assent to that part of it which proposed an extension of the constituency. He found, that there were in the borough 430 respectable 10l. householders. [Mr. Henry L. Bulwer: No, not respectable.] Did the hon. Member mean to say that the constituency provided by the Reform Bill was not respectable, and that the Bill proceeded upon a false assumption? Besides these 430 10l. householders, there were 120 freemen, whom the report acquitted of corruption. When he found in a borough where lax practices prevailed, 300 voters who were admitted to be incorrupt, he must say, that it was hard to visit such a number of electors, who were exempt from blame, with the penalties which ought only to attach to guilt. The borough of Hertford had now a constituency of 550 electors exempt from all blame. Why should they one and all be mulcted of their fair influence in the representation, by calling in the people of Ware and Hoddesdon to share that influence with them. Again, the limits of the borough of Hertford were extended by the Reform Bill. The first Reform Bill disfranchised all the inhabitants save the 10l. householders. The present Reform Bill contemplated the same extent of disfranchisement at a period not very remote, for the scot-and-lot voters and the freemen were only to retain their votes during life. In point of fact, therefore, the Reform Bill contemplated the borough of Hertford being left with about 400 electors. Why, then, should the House go beyond the Reform Bill now? He objected also to this bill in its present form, because, in reality, it gave five Members to the county of Hertford. The new borough of Hertford, as formed by this bill, would constitute a small county, for ten agricultural parishes were, he saw, to be added to the borough of Hertford. It was often said in that House, that the agricultural interest was already too strong for the interest of the towns, and yet, supposing that to be the case, the House was now going to add to the strength of the agricultural interest by adding two Members to it, and by subtracting two from the interest of the towns. The men of Ware had entered Hertford with bludgeons to control an election in which they had no concern, and so far from punishing them, the House was now going to reward them for it, by investing them with the elective franchise. He conjured hon. Members to leave Ware where it was, for he thought that the including parts of counties in towns for the purpose of reforming the representation of towns, was a practice highly objectionable.

Mr. Henry L. Bulwer

admitted, that there were 430 10l. householders in Hertford, but he had applied the term respectable, to voters, as synonymous with independance, and they held their houses upon leases from some great proprietors, terminable after ten days' notice. Such a condition left it in the power of the landlord, before any election, to disfranchise all the persons whom he conceived to be opposed to his interest.

Mr. Halcombe

would detain the House but for a very few moments. With any regard to either principle or consistency, it would be impossible for the House to sanction the Bill now before it. He had the most perfect confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the Committee who made this Report; but if the House were to look to the very first principle which governed the administration of law in this, and every country, they must admit, that the parties whose rights were affected, ought to have an opportunity afforded them of being heard in their own defence. The case with regard to the electors of Hertford stood thus:—The first Committee was an Election Committee, and the sole point it had to determine was the good or bad return of the sitting Members. Before that tribunal the electors had neither opportunity nor power to be heard. The Committee, however, reported that bribery and treating had prevailed in the borough, not only during, but previously to, the last election. But, so far as bribery or treating might have prevailed in the borough previously to that election, it was clear that this Committee could not fully inquire, or have the parties interested before them. And, although he did not mean to say there was any impropriety in their reporting incidentally upon this point to the House, yet if they were to have anything like English principle acted upon, the parties affected by the change recommended in that Report ought to have had an opportunity given them to show, if they could, that there was not sufficient ground for the charge against them, or that the remedy suggested was either unjust or unwise. But a second Committee was appointed, and for what purpose? not to make inquiry into by-gone bribery and treating, but to consider in a special Committee, for the convenience of the House, what used to be considered in a Committee of the whole House, how bribery and treating might best be prevented. Now, although this Committee certainly had the power of calling any persons as witnesses before them, yet, in point of fact, they examined only three witnesses; and who were they? The town clerk, who proved the number and classes of the voters, and two freemen, who proved the quantity of tickets given to the electors since 1823; but the electors were not called in their own defence. One of these witnesses had been since convicted of wilful and corrupt perjury. Though this man's evidence was mentioned, he believed, in the Report, the fact of a conviction for perjury was not adverted to. His evidence should have been rejected as that of a fellow totally unworthy of credit. If this Bill passed in its present shape, they would violate the very first principle of English justice, which was, that men should be considered innocent until they were proved to be guilty. No case ever occurred before in which a borough was disfranchised unless a majority of the electors was proved to be corrupt. This was the principle laid down in the Penryn case, and all they now proposed to do was entirely without precedent. Had he been a Member of the House at the time the measure was brought in, he would have supported the Reform Bill. It gave to the people of England what they were justly entitled to, and which they had too much intelli- gence and independence to abuse. To derive from that measure all the good it was capable of conferring, the people required nothing more than a judicious and firm hand at the helm to steer a straightforward course, not a hand constantly veering to one side and the other. That measure had his approbation as one of extensive and generous reform, but not such paltry, pettifogging reform as this. Some general principle should be adopted and applied alike to all places in which bribery was proved to exist. Some of the boroughs were now too small. He could not say whether Hertford were one of them. He was no friend to corruption or rotten boroughs, and would most willingly lend a helping hand to any person who seriously undertook to cleanse the Augean stable. He begged the House to recollect that before the first Committee the persons complained of were not parties to the inquiry, and had no opportunity of defending themselves; and before the second Committee the witnesses were examined without the sanction of an oath.

Mr. Clay

wished to remind the House that the Election Committee thought, that there was sufficient evidence to implicate the electors of Hertford without the examination of the two witnesses whose evidence had been alluded to by the noble Lord. It should also be recollected that, in addition to the ticket money for treating, alluded to by the right hon. Baronet; it had been proved, that two or three times before the election, small sums had been distributed to the electors. The right hon. Baronet expressed some alarm lest, by the House adding a large surrounding constituency to the present electors for Hertford, the balance between the town and country constituency should be affected, and too much weight given to the agricultural interests. He denied that it could be so in the case before the House, as the great portion of the voters that it was proposed to add belonged to surrounding towns which were daily becoming of increased importance. He thought that there was no danger of increasing the influence of the agricultural interest, by the Bill under consideration. He was surprised, therefore, to hear the objections of the right hon. Baronet to the Bill before the House. He (Mr. Clay) recollected, that the right hon. Baronet was one of those who proposed and supported the disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders, who had not been charged with corruption, but with merely on one occasion asserting their privilege and acting independently. That measure was brought forward and carried on the ground that it was expedient to the general good that the Irish forty-shilling freeholders should be disfranchised. For his own part he was not of opinion that it was necessary to prove general corruption to justify disfranchisement; it was sufficient, if it could be shown that such a proceeding would be for the general good. He did not consider the elective franchise as a right or a privilege, but a trust for the general body. When, therefore, it appeared expedient to change or remove it, he considered the Legislature was justified in doing so.

Sir Henry Hardinge

protested against the doctrine laid down by the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets, that the House was justified in disfranchising a place on the ground or principle of expediency. A more dangerous doctrine could hardly be maintained. In his opinion, it was their duty to legislate on the matter before the House, not on the particular doctrines laid down by any hon. Member, but on the principles of the law. By the law, treating had never been regarded as bribery. He maintained, that no case of corruption had been established against the voters of the borough of Hertford; but it appeared, that some corruption had prevailed in the surrounding districts. The only case which had been strongly urged against his two noble friends who were returned for Hertford, and, in consequence of which they had lost their seats, was that stated by a man who had subsequently been convicted of perjury in consequence of the evidence he gave before the Election Committee. He could not help alluding to the constitution of the Election Committees. He was a party man, and those who entertained similar principles to himself in that House did not exceed 150 or 160, while the number of those who entertained opposite opinions was nearly 500. In the Ballot for Election Committees the different parties had not the same chances of being placed on an equal footing. He did not mean that the Members of these Committees were ever influenced by party motives; but it was hardly possible, considering the infirmities of human nature, to divest the mind of all bias. He should be extremely glad, therefore, if some means could be devised of improving the constitution of the tribunal before which contested elections were tried. With respect to the present case, he could not help comparing the decision of an Election Committee on a Petition from an Irish borough complaining of corruption with that of the Hertford Election Committee. In the former case the Committee decided, that the returned Member was duly returned, but they declared that bribery had prevailed, and recommended that the House should direct the prosecution of Mr. Lisle by the Attorney-General, as it appeared to the Committee, that that individual had been guilty of gross bribery and corruption. The other Committee recommended that a different rule should be applied in the case of Hertford, where it was admitted that bribery had prevailed only to a very limited extent. The law should be the same in all cases; and, he was sure, that it would excite a general sensation throughout the country, that such a gross case as Newry should be allowed to escape, while Hertford was punished. If the Election Committees did not act more consistently than in these two cases, all confidence would be lost in their decisions, and men would rather be tried by any other tribunal.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) had alluded to the small sum given to each voter; but, although only 5s. it was a bribe. The law set its face against the practice, and declared it to be illegal, as it was an inducement to electors to vote with other than conscientious feelings. The right hon. Baronet also said, that it would be extremely hard to let the richest class of voters have their feasts, and to deprive the poorer class of a share in the enjoyment. He protested against that as a dangerous doctrine, calculated to destroy the independence of the poorer class of voters. He would not consent to treating in any case, and would punish the parties whether treating were given to the rich or the poor. To tolerate the system would be giving a most improper advantage to the rich man, and would often lead to the exclusion from Parliament of the more deserving candidate. If the House were really anxious to put down bribery and corruption, they would, at once, resort to the Vote by Ballot. The right hon. and gallant Officer (Sir Henry Hardinge) protested against the opinion expressed by the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets as to the question before the House being determined on the ground of political expediency, and said, that he considered such a doctrine to be extremely dangerous. But conferring or upholding political rights was altogether a matter of political expediency. He would ask what was the Reform Bill but a general and sweeping disfranchisement of a number of small boroughs for the purpose of political expediency? Political expediency was in that, as in other cases, the promotion of the general good. He was aware, that some hon. Members considered the term "political expediency" as most objectionable; but it appeared to him, that they did so because they did not understand it. The right hon. and gallant Officer said, that the Conservative party in that House was small in number as compared with that opposed to them, and that, therefore, there was almost a certainty to be a predominance of the latter in the selection of an Election Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the party he was connected with was 150 or 160 in number; but he (Mr. Roebuck) was connected with a party, composed of much fewer Members. That however had no influence on his judgment, and he should be happy to sec the functions of the Election Committee confined to a single Judge. He would rather have a single Judge to try the merits of an Election Petition than a tribunal composed of a hundred Members. He was satisfied, that the decisions of a single Judge would be much more satisfactory than those of the Election Committees. He was glad that the right hon. and gallant Officer, now that he was in the minority, entertained the opinions which he did in the constitution of an Election Committee, though he must express his regret, that those opinions were not entertained by the gallant Officer and his friends when they constituted the majority of the House. The House of Commons, from its nature, was not competent to perform a judicial office. He, therefore, thought it would be better if there was a single Judge for the trial of all cases of contested elections. He would not care from what party such a Judge was selected, as the eyes of the country would be on his proceedings, and he would not dare to be dishonest. He would not, however, allow the Judge to have a Jury, on which he might throw the responsibi- lity of the decision off his own shoulders.

Sir James Scarlett

was astonished when he heard the hon. member for Bath say, that political expediency was founded on political rights. He (Sir James Scarlett) was not astonished that the hon. Member was connected with a very small party when he entertained such opinions. Such a principle went to the foundation of every right, and affected every legal privilege. The hon. Member, he had no doubt, confounded things. Political expediency might be acted on in reference to general rights, or as affecting a whole people; but if the principle of political expediency was to be acted upon as regarded the rights of a single individual, or of a few persons, it would be the most consummate tyranny. He really could not see any criminality on the part of those who participated in the festivities that took place in celebration of the triumph of the successful candidates at the election for this borough. If a man were to say, "I can't get a dinner from this candidate, and, therefore, I won't vote for him; but I can get a dinner from the other, and, consequently, I will vote for him," he would, most undoubtedly, be corrupt. But nothing of this kind had occurred, and, therefore, he could not, for his own part, conceive how any man could connect half-a-crown that was given for a dinner on such an occasion with bribery. He was persuaded, that there was not a Member of that House who would grudge such a sum to each of his supporters for the purpose of celebrating his return; and, therefore, some distinction ought to be drawn between a festivity in every way so moderate, and under the circumstances so natural, and actual downright bribery. As, however, they had consented to let the Bill go into Committee, it would only be a waste of time to trouble the House with further observations upon it at the present moment. He must, indeed, be permitted to say, that if this Bill were intended to establish any such principle as that of rendering a person who happened to partake of a dinner that was given after the election had terminated a criminal act, he should feel it his duty to oppose it. A dinner so given before the election commenced might deserve to be called "treating;" but he could not see upon what principle of justice they could punish those who participated in a festivity that took place subsequently to the close of an election.

Mr. Hardy

said, that it had been solemnly decided by the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, in a case brought before a Court of Law, that not only was treating between the teste and return of the writ illegal, but that treating at all, whether before or after those two events, was equally a violation of the provisions of the Act of Parliament. He must say, that he heard with surprise, the doctrine which had been laid down by the hon. and learned member for Norwich. That hon. and learned Gentleman said, that a distinction ought to be made between treating and bribery; but he defied the hon. and learned Gentleman to show him a single instance in which such a distinction was adopted by either the Legislature or any high legal authority in the country. It was true that such a distinction had been now and then made by Committees of that House; but no man who read the Statute of William 3rd (improperly, as he thought, called the Treating Act) could, for a moment, contend for such a distinction. The proposition was untenable; and, so far from admitting any distinction of the sort, the words of the Act were conclusive against it. The language of the Act. was, that no voter should receive any reward, benefit, meat or drink, office, employment, or other emolument, to induce him to vote, from the day of the teste to the day of the return of the writ, without being deemed guilty of bribery; and if during the interval, such practices were criminal, they were, according to his view of the matter, just as illegal, whether they occurred prior or subsequent to these events. In the case of the borough of Hertford, the Committee adopted the same view that he took of the law upon this question. They decided that treating, no matter when it occurred, was illegal, and upon that ground they set the election aside. But if it were not illegal, where was the necessity for observing secrecy, or why were men of straw invariably chosen to distribute tickets, and practise all the other acts of corruption, but because it would be useless to sue persons of that description for penalties? The Act of Parliament declared that 300l. a-year was a sufficient qualification for the representative of a borough; but how could a man of 300l. a-year, no matter what his other pretensions might be, hope to compete with a noble Lord who could expend a sum of 9,000l. in carrying his election, as was the case in the present instance. In the Bill which he meant to bring forward provisions would be contained for putting an end to the system of buying votes, and doing away with undue influence of every description. "Treating" before or after elections he proposed making illegal; for he thought the time had arrived when the system of influencing voters, no matter how, or by what means it was done, should cease for ever. While the present practices existed the qualification of 300l. a-year was a perfect mockery. The evil was one that required the remedy which he proposed applying to it.

Sir James Scarlett

, in explanation, said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was in error, in supposing the election cost 9,000l. The whole of the expense, including 2,000l. disbursed by the noble Lord himself, and the costs of the proceedings on the petition, did not exceed between 6,000l. and 7,000l.

Mr. Shaw

said, there was a manifest distinction between treating and bribery, and that this was the only instance that could be shown, in which punishment was inflicted upon a borough, merely on account, of treating. This measure could not be justified upon any principle that he knew of; and he entirely concurred in the opinion, that the expedience and right which hon. Members had talked of, were, to use the expression of the hon. and learned member for Bath, nothing more than a jingle of words without meaning.

Bill read a second time; and the issue of the Writ ordered to be further suspended till March 20th.