HC Deb 19 March 1834 vol 22 cc468-80
Lord Sandon

, on the Speaker's calling Mr. Benett's name, begged to present four petitions against the Bill of which the hon. Member was about to move the third reading.—The first was from 100 of the freemen of Liverpool, who did not vote in the election of 1830.

The second petition was from the sons of freemen who possessed the inchoate right of franchise, and who prayed to be exempted from the operation of the Bill, as they had taken no part whatever in the transactions which gave rise to it.

The third petition was from the apprentices of Liverpool, who would in future possess the rights enjoyed by burgesses of that corporation, and who, not having arrived at their freedom by service, could not have been guilty of bribery.

The fourth petition was signed by 7,000 of the inhabitants of Liverpool, of which number 1,800 or 2,000, were rich merchants, bankers, and brokers, who prayed that the Bill might not pass into a law.

The petitions were ordered to lie on the Table.

Mr. Benett

rose to move, that the Bill be read a third time. He declined making any formal speech upon a subject which frequent discussion had rendered wearisome to the House. He, however, could not refrain from expressing his wonder to see the noble Lord (Lord Sandon) trying at the eleventh hour to avert a doom so justly merited, as that about to be passed upon the borough of Liverpool, by presenting petitions of which he had no previous notice, and the existence of which was wholly unknown to him. He, however, should not be moved from his purpose; and, indeed, he really thought he was earning the title of a friend and a benefactor to the freemen of Liverpool in presuming to press the present measure to its final stage in that House; as by so doing he for ever took away from them the hitherto irresistible temptations to which they had been exposed, and to which they had for several successive elections fallen victims. He begged to move, that the Bill be read a third time.

Lord Sandon

maintained, that if the freemen whose disfranchisement was now in agitation, had had the worldly wisdom to pursue the course they had adopted when General Gascoyne was delated—if they had voted for the candidate who opposed him (Lord Sandon), the House would never have heard of the measure. The hon. member for Benett,—he begged pardon, he should have said for Wiltshire—had certainly treated these poor men in a most parental manner. A father could not have acted more kindly in removing his children out of the way of temptation. The hon. Member might say, that instead of the obloquy winch he had met with in the prosecution of his duty, he ought to have had a golden statue erected to his memory by those over whose consciences he had proved so tender a guardian. He would relieve them from tile embarrassment under which they frequently laboured, by lightening them of any burthen of public privilege or trust. Who steals my purse, steals trash. This was an excellent apology for the highwayman, who cased the traveller of any trouble he might find in taking care of such trifles as loose cash, and doubtless he thought, that the traveller ought to be much obliged to him for leaving less responsibility on his shoulders. We had had more than one Motion for relief lately. In that very House, an hon. Member had been considerate enough to propose a Bill to relieve the Archbishops and Bishops from any further exercise of their legislative functions. But he had yet to learn, that the rights, the privileges, and the responsibilities of Englishmen were to be taken from them without good cause. For himself, he could say, that neither by himself, nor his friends, had he any connexion with corruption. The only expense which had been entailed upon him was 80l. for the erecting of hustings, and his friends who had supported him had no charges of corruption fastened on them. He did feel it rather hard, that he, who was standing there as an innocent man, perhaps more pure than nine-tenths of those who were sitting as his judges, should be looked upon as the champion of corruption. Let laws, however strict, be framed to prevent bribery, or treating, which was as bad as bribery, they should have his hearty assent; but let the punishment of delinquency proceed from the vengeance or the law, and not from the vengeance of a party. Let the offending parties come before a regular tribunal; let them know what they came there for; and let them know who were to be their Judges. He contended, that at the moment when they were in the act of passing a Bill declaring the insufficiency of the tribunal by which the case of the Liverpool freemen was tried, it was great severity. He moved, that the Bill be read a third time that day six months.

Sir H. Willoughby

seconded the Amendment. If it was wished to give a general warning, they ought to take care, that they punished the guilty, and that the innocent did not suffer. The course now about to be adopted, would do neither the one thing nor the other; or, rather, it would do the very reverse of both; for it would punish the innocent, and allow the guilty to escape. The hon. Member went into an examination of the Reports of the various Committees that had inquired into the Liverpool Elections, and contended, that they did not establish the fact of general bribery and corruption in that town. The preamble of the Bill, however, stated the bribery and corruption to be notorious; therefore, on the very face of the Bill there was an untruth. He should give his most cordial support to the Amendment of his right hon. friend.

Lord George Bentinck

I rise to oppose the third reading of this Bill—I do so, because it is a Bill which shelters bribery and corruption in the rich, whilst it vindictively persecutes that offence in the poorer freemen. I oppose it, because it is a Bill which makes poverty a crime, and wealth and riches a legal passport for the commission of crime. All the evidence given before the Committee appointed to inquire into this subject, tends to show that bribery and corruption are greatest at Liverpool amongst the freemen of condition and substance; and yet every one of these are to be spared by the Bill; though my hon. friend pretends it is a Bill to disfranchise equally all who have been guilty of bribery. To pass this Bill, therefore, will be an act of the most monstrous injustice, and of the greatest tyranny.

Perhaps the House will indulge me whilst I make a short statement of the effects the Bill will produce; it has been proved before the Committee, that the freemen and apprentices who will be disfranchised by this Bill, will nominally amount to 5,428, but in reality the number will only be 4,627; because 801 of those nominally disfranchised by the Bill, will still retain their franchise as 10l. householders. There are proved to have been 2,661 individuals guilty of bribery in the disgraceful election of 1830. But how many of these does this Bill intend, bona fide, to disfranchise? Only 1,332! Of those bribed in 1830, as many as 799 are no longer upon the register, being either dead, or else out-voters already disfranchised by the Reform Bill. Of the remainder, 550 will continue to vote as part of those 801 10l. householders whom it is the intention of my hon. friend to save by this Bill, so that no less than 550 guilty voters of wealth and substance will be allowed to escape under its protection. I say then, advisedly, that this Bill is nothing less than a measure of rank tyranny; and that in its provisions there is an inequality of justice that is scarcely to be borne. If we pass the Bill in its present shape, I do not say it will not be obeyed; no doubt it will be obeyed, because we are omnipotent; but it will not be obeyed with that cordiality and readiness with which the Acts of Parliament of former times were wont to be obeyed, and especially the Acts of the House of Commons. It will be obeyed with sullenness and discontent; it will bring the Acts of this House into disrepute, and cause us to be looked upon not with respect and affection, as heretofore, but with hatred and contempt; and, I fear, Sir, that the people of England, those of them at least who are affected by this Bill, or who become acquainted with us contents, will look forward with anxiety and longing hope for—the hour of our final dismissal. Sir, above all things, it must be borne in mind, that the persons whom we have chosen and selected to screen, are those who are represented in the evidence 'to have got the best prices for their votes, because they had the wit to see that when the contending parties got into difficulties, those who held back would make the best terms;' and these persons were those high in station and respectability in the borough of Liverpool. And these are the persons whose rights my hon. friend is now so studious to preserve! The Bill does not go far enough when it deals with the guilty rich, and on this ground, I shall oppose it. I shall oppose it also, because, when, on the other hand, it deals with freemen of low degree and of humble life, it is entirely regardless how many innocent persons it sacrifices; I have shown that out of 801 freemen who will be sheltered as 10l. householders, 550 are among those proved to be guilty. But when my hon. friend proposes to deal with persons in a humble station of life, a very different course is pursued. The whole number of persons the Bill goes to disfranchise is no less than 4,627; yet of these it is not pretended that more than 1,332 were guilty of any bribery or corruption whatever; so that 3,295 uncorrupted freemen of low degree are innocently to suffer! When, therefore, my hon. friend is dealing with the interests of the poor, he thinks nothing of disfranchising five innocent freemen, to catch two that are guilty; but when he comes to deal with the Merchants, the Gentlemen, and the Magistrates of Liverpool; oh, Sir, it is a very different thing. Two guilty rich men must then be allowed to escape, lest one innocent man of wealth should be punished. Is there common sense, I ask, Sir, wisdom, justice, or sound policy in such a measure as this; it would really seem as if my hon. friend had gone back to the bad times in the histories of the Grand Turks and Emperors of Morocco; to seek for a pattern by which to legislate for the people of England. It has been said that, in former times (now, even they are too civilized for such legislation), when the Ambassador of a Christian Power remonstrated with the Grand Turk or with the Emperor of Morocco, on account of some act of piracy in which the subjects of his sovereign master had been murdered, the Grand Turk was used to say, this is certainly a gross outrage; it must be immediately punished; redress must be given, and amends made to the injured sovereign of your Excellency. Pray how many of my subjects have been guilty of this great enormity? Perhaps the foreign Ambassador would answer, the murderers were twenty. The Grand Turk, on hearing this, would forthwith order twenty of his subjects to be instantly sacrificed on the Altar of Justice; but like my hon. friend, the Grand Turk never thought it of any importance at all to inquire whether or no the sufferers were the guilty parties; his Satraps and Bashaws were sent for, guilty or innocent, to catch the twenty first Mahometans they could lay hands on, and these were immediately put to death by the bow-string. So it is with my hon. friend; he plays the Grand Turk in this Assembly; and finding that 2,661 individuals were guilty of gross bribery and corruption in 1830, he immediately decrees that at least 2,661 victims must be sacrificed. Many of the actual culprits are long since dead, and many of them have gone—God knows where,—and are no longer on the register of freemen; but that is of no consequence to my hon. friend. To him it is a matter of perfect indifference, whether his victims are innocent or guilty; perhaps he prefers their being innocent, but, at all events, 2,661 victims must be sacrificed! And, accordingly, my hon. friend, fully to secure this desirable end, brings in a Bill to disfranchise 4,627 persons; the whole of whom, with the exception of 1,332, are perfectly innocent! Surely, Sir, this is a Bill of which it may be truly said, Dat veniam corvis, vexat censurâ columbas. It is, Sir, a Bill of the most monstrous tyranny, and of the grossest injustice; and for this reason I shall vote against its third reading.

Mr. Mark Philips

said, that if the noble Lord would pursue his inquiries in order to bring conviction home to those who were equally guilty with the humble freeman, he should have his cordial support.

Mr. Labouchere

was of opinion, that the vengeance of the House ought to fall on the seducers, and not on the seduced. He would take that opportunity of stating, that the discussions which had taken place with respect to this Bill had left upon his mind the impression, that it was absolutely necessary that some general principle should be established for the guidance of the House in cases of a similar nature. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more unjust than the hap-hazard and random manner in which the House came to conclusions with reference to such subjects. The hon. Member concluded with stating, that he would cordially give a vote against the third reading of the Bill.

Mr. Ewart Gladstone

would trouble the House but for a very few minutes. Allusion had been made in the course of the evening to the subscription of 10,000l. by a particular individual towards defraying the expenses of the election. That sum of money was subscribed after the election had terminated, when the candidate had been involved in very considerable difficulties by the expenses of the election. The gentleman who had subscribed that sum of money (he had now no hesitation in mentioning his name), was Mr. Bolton—and he (Mr. Ewart Gladstone), could assure this House it was subscribed merely through a feeling of compassion. [Laughter.] He repeated, that it was subscribed through a feeling of compassion, and not with any view of forwarding the cause of any candidate by bribery. He begged to impress upon the House, that there was no previous case of bribery proved to have occurred in Liverpool—there was no case of bribery during the period that Mr. Canning and Mr. Huskisson represented that town. He would also beg of the House to recollect, that in the election upon which the present Bill was grounded, the two candidates were men of the same, and not of opposite, principles. Now, he would ask the House, in what did the great heinousness of bribery consist? Was it not in the bartering of a man's conscience? Was it not in voting against one's conviction for pecuniary emolument? Men in the humbler walks of life could not be supposed to have very correct abstract opinions upon the nature of bribery. The utmost, perhaps, that could be reasonably expected from them would be, that they should consistently adhere to one political creed. He did not mean to defend the corruption that had taken place; but might not the argument he had just adduced be taken as some palliation in the case of the poorer freemen? There was another argument he would wish to impress upon the House. The evil which it was intended to cure—even if the proposed remedy were admitted to be a good one—was already cured. Where, then, was the use in introducing this measure? Indeed it was confessed that the Bill was aimed at the freemen all over England as much as at those of Liverpool.

Mr. Charles Wood

had never seen—indeed he had never conceived—anything so gross and flagrant as the corruption in Liverpool. It was a regularly organized system by both parties; and that had not been even attempted to be denied. With respect to the hon. Member's explanation respecting the subscription of 10,000l., it mattered not whether that were subscribed before the election or after the expenses had been incurred. The freemen, it had been proved, were extensively bribed, and it was his wish to prevent a repetition of such scenes as it had been admitted took place.

Mr. Baines

said, it was a notorious fact, that the freemen of Liverpool looked upon the return of an election not as an occasion for the exercise of privileges conferred upon them for important political purposes, but as a saturnalia, in which they were to indulge in the most extravagant licentiousness.

Dr. Nicholl

said, that the House should first decide upon the Amendment, the object of which was to make some distinction between the innocent and the guilty; and if that were negatived, they should divide upon the original question.

The Amendment was lost without a division. The Original Question was carried.

Upon the Question, that the Bill do pass,

Mr. Bethell

rose, to move, that from the clause commencing, "That no freeman, now, or hereafter," &c., and the words "or hereafter," be omitted. Nothing but a sense of duty could have actuated him in adopting that course. His object was to prevent all persons now or hereafter freemen of Liverpool, from voting for Members of Parliament.

Mr. James

seconded this Motion. A good deal of the time of the House had been consumed, and, in his judgment, very needlessly, in proving what nobody denied, that very great corruption had been practised at Liverpool. The only question the House had to consider was, what remedy they should apply to it. For his own part, he recommended an extension of the franchise, and the introduction of Vote by Ballot, as the only effectual means of remedying the evil, the existence of which no one denied.

Dr. Nicholl

contended, that the Legislature could not destroy the rights of a particular class of persons; it was unconstitutional to visit with punishment a portion of the community for the offences of the few. Looking to the judicial capacity which was vested in that. House, they were bound to receive their information only from the evidence before them; but they were going out of the evidence.

Mr. Baines

said, that the argument which had been raised as to the injustice of punishing such cases as this, inasmuch as the children of the delinquents (being freemen) must suffer, was one which was not tenable. Admit this principle, and they must go back to the case of the children of the freemen of Grampound. This Bill did not go to affect the rich or poor unequally—it was intended to treat all alike.

Sir Robert Peel

said, he did not feel the force of the argument of the hon. Gentleman. If an opportunity was afforded to the House, he doubted not it would make an example of those persons against whom gross bribery and corruption were proved. He thought, however, that as regarded the present measure, it was one which ought to be regulated by principles of justice, and he did not despair of the House doing justice. But if the Bill were pregnant with injustice, then he would resist it, rather than consent to its standing a disgrace to the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman who had last spoken, had declared, that this Bill had nothing whatever to do with the difference of station as between the rich and poor. It was then contended, that it punished alike all the delinquents. Now, let the truth be stated. There were freemen of Liverpool, some of whom were rich, whilst others were poor. The poor voter had temptations held out to him which it was hardly possible or natural to suppose he could withstand or resist. The different glades a bribery varied from 5l. to 40l. in regard to the price of a vote. The poor man came early into the field to tender his vote, and he received 5l.; while the rich freeman kept back his vote to the particular moment, and received the higher price for it—he received 40l.! So far as moral guilt went, could they deny the fact, that the rich man was infinitely the more culpable party? And did this Bill go to visit the rich man with severer punishment than that which it inflicted upon the poor man? And then they allowed the rich man to continue to vote. Upon what principle was it that 550 freemen thus disfranchised were to be allowed to vote, and were qualified as 10l. householders? Why nothing was more dangerous than to teach the lower classes (he meant only those persons who were lower in a pecuniary point of view) to undervalue the right of exercising their franchise. This was a trust which they held—not a high privilege only, but a trust which they held for the benefit at large. If the Reform Bill gave a privilege to the 10l. householder who should honestly have exercised it, he did not see, certainly, that the House acting in their judicial capacity, should deprive them of it. Could there be any doubt of the soundness of this principle? But why should such a measure be addressed to one place particularly? The hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House had alluded to the case of the borough of Grampound; but that case had nothing to do with the present argument; for, in that instance, the franchise was removed altogether from the borough, whereas in Liverpool they left the right of 10l. householders uninjured and untouched. Now, Grampound, if he recollected rightly, was a scot-and-lot borough—there were no inchoate rights, and the question in the present case was, whether those persons who had honestly exercised their privilege should continue to vote as heretofore.

Lord John Russell

addressed the House under a feeling of considerable difficulty. He did not think it a sufficient objection to the Bill, that the Reform Bill had given a privilege to the freemen, and that, therefore, they ought not to disfranchise the freemen of Liverpool as a class. Let the House recollect that the first Bill proposed to disfranchise the freemen on the ground of gross corruption. It was objected to that measure, that all the poor men who had acted honestly would be disfranchised; but why not proceed upon whatever cases of corruption should be proved to disfranchise those guilty freemen, in order to clear the country of these corrupt bodies of men? With reference to the election of 1830, and those subsequent to that period, it had been admitted, that corruption had not occurred to any extent, because the parties were restrained under a threat of disfranchisement. The Bill was imperfect, perhaps; and if a measure were introduced for disfranchising the delinquents by name, it should have his support.

Lord Sandon

expressed his astonishment at the tone of the argument of the noble Lord the Paymaster of the Forces. He had seemed to contend, that the innocent were innocent, and acted honestly, only because they were afraid of punishment. Why, such a doctrine as this might, perhaps, be such as even Judge Jeffries would scarcely hold. At any rate, that Judge could only have said to a man brought to the bar, that he knew him to be innocent, but that he was only innocent because he was afraid of being punished.

Mr. Spring Rice

trusted, there was no man in that House who, in cases where bribery and corruption were proved, would not be ready to disfranchise every man, rich or poor, whether freeman or householder. The object of the Amendment was quite a different matter, and had no relation to the circumstances of the case. He should like to know, whether by adopting the Amendment, the House gained one step in the matter. The suggestion had been made, that a Bill should be brought in to disfranchise the 2,600 names who could be proved guilty of corruption; and he for one would support such a Bill. He believed, indeed, that he might say, there were no more zealous promoters of any measure for punishing the guilty in such cases than those hon. Gentlemen who supported the measure before the House. Let them take the two measures separately; but let them not forfeit that which was under discussion. Had this Bill been brought forward in 1830, he had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would have admitted, that the borough of Liverpool ought to be disfranchised. They heard much of the lapse of time which had taken place since the year 1830, and much stress had been laid on the conduct of the freemen in withstanding bribes since that period. But how stood the facts? The freemen of Liverpool were in a state of intimidation—they knew that a penalty hung over them for their conduct in 1830—they were sure that they were watched, and their conduct suspected. As well might hon. Members talk of the purity and chastity of a certain class of females, who were shut up within four walls, and debarred of all intercourse with the other sex, as talk of the honesty of the Liverpool electors, under the circumstances in which they were placed. They had been told of the delay which had taken place in these proceedings; but by whom was that delay occasioned? Was his hon. friend (the member for Wiltshire) in any way accountable for that delay? Certainly not. He had used every means in his power to bring the measure forward earlier, and if he failed, the fault rested not with him. There was one difficulty which he felt, and which had much weight with him; and that was, how they were to deal with any existing right, either full or inchoate, which had not been proved to be corrupt. If they had had to discuss this question in 1830, there could be no doubt of the total disfranchisement upon the ground of the 2,600 corrupt votes; and he would say now, upon the same principle by which he should have been actuated then, that nothing should induce him under any circumstances to consent to perpetuate the freedom of those Liverpool voters who had proved themselves to be tainted with corruption. He found, that he had merely a choice of evils, and he would choose the lesser, even at the expense of a little justice, in order to establish a general and permanent good. In taking this course, he felt that he was treating the franchise as a question of trust, and not as one of personal privilege. Under all the circumstances of the case, he did not see how the Amendment could be supported, and he should therefore oppose it, and give his support to the original Bill.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he should support the Amendment, because he considered it to be an act of the greatest injustice to punish individuals who had not been proved guilty of any crime.

Dr. Nicholl

suggested an Amendment, which he thought would meet the view of all parties, having for its object to save from disfranchisement such freemen as had been admitted since the 1st of December, 1830, and such persons as were now entitled to their freedom, or possessed undoubted rights thereto.

Mr. Benett

said, that three years ago, when he first brought forward the present Bill, he had the support of many hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who were now opposed to him. At that period he withdrew the Bill at the request of the right hon. Baronet opposite, who pledged himself to support it, if he (Mr. Benett) introduced it, in the ensuing Session. Its progress had, however, since that time, been delayed by the discussion of the Reform Bill. The right hon. Baronet complained, that this Bill would punish innocent parties by depriving persons entitled by descent to their freedom of the elective franchise. Did not the right hon. Baronet recollect that similar injustice was inflicted by the disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders—a measure which the right hon. Baronet himself proposed and advocated.

The House divided on the Amendment: Ayes 63; Noes 120—Majority 57.

On the question that the Bill do pass, the House again divided: Ayes 109; Noes 52—Majority 57.

The Bill passed.

List of the AYES on Mr. Bethell's Amendment.
Arbuthnot, Hon. H. Hodgson, J.
Bankes, W. J. Hope, H. T.
Baring, H. B. Howard, P. H.
Baring, F. T. Hughes, H.
Bentinck, Lord G. Inglis, Sir R.
Blackstone, W. S. Irton, S.
Briggs, R. James, W.
Bruce, Lord E. Labouchere, H.
Calcraft, J. Lincoln, Earl of
Campbell, Sir H. P. Lyall, G.
Castlereagh, Viscount Lygon, Hon. H. B.
Chetwynd, Captain Marryatt, J.
Conolly, Colonel Meynell, Captain
Corry, Hon. H. L. Nicholl, J.
Egerton, W. T. Norreys, Lord
Estcourt, T. G. B. Patten, J.
Finch, G. Peel, Rt. Hon. Sir R.
Forester, Hon. C. W. Pigot, R.
Fremantle, Sir T. Reid, Sir J. R.
Gaskell, J. M. Ross, C.
Gladstone, W. E. Shaw, F.
Gladstone, T. Somerset, Lord G.
Gordon, Hn. Captain Stanley, E.
Goulburn, H. Stormont, Viscount
Grimstone, Viscount Trevor, Hon. G. R.
Halcombe, J. Willoughby, Sir H.
Halford, H. Wood, Colonel T.
Hanmer, Sir J. Wynn, Rt. Hn. C. W.
Hardinge, Sir H. Young, J.
Hawkes, T. TELLERS.
Henniker, Lord Sandon, Lord
Herbert, Hon. S. Bethell, R.
Herries, J. C.