HC Deb 22 June 1836 vol 34 cc757-60

The House went into Committee on the Bribery at Elections Bill, several clauses of which were agreed to. Upon the 8th Clause being proposed that declares it bribery to give any money for the purpose of inducing electors to vote,

Mr. Hume

proposed to introduce, after the words "any money," the words "or head-money." His object was merely to prevent any money being given as a bribe, and that object he thought would be effected by the introduction of the word "head-money."

Mr. Henry Grattan

would have no objection that the suggestion should be adopted, if it would forward the object proposed by the hon. Member for Middlesex, of preventing any money from being given in any shape as a bribe. He (Mr. Grattan) had heard a doctrine that night which, if professed by the majority of English Members, would make him very anxious to leave that House altogether. It had been said that if A gave 101. for a vote, it would not be regarded as bribery; if his opponent B happened to give 51. Was this doctrine professed or supported by the majority of English Members in that House? An hon. Member, who had found fault with the present House of Commons, had observed that it put him in mind of "the low Irish House of Commons." Now, in reply to that observation he would just observe that this "low Irish House of Commons" had passed a law most strongly condemnatory of bribery; and it would be well if their conduct in this respect were followed by the present Parliament.

Mr. Hardy

thought it was unnecessary to specify any particular gift, such as "head-money," for the words "any money" were sufficiently comprehensive.

Mr. Hume

had not so much experience in matters of the kind as the hon. Member for Bradford; but if he could feel assured that all species of bribery would be included in the words "any money," he should not press the amendment.

Mr. Morgan O Connell

thought the words proposed by his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, should be adopted, in order to guard against cases where a candidate might be hardy enough to give "head money."

Mr. Praed

observed that "head-money" had been considered by the Judges to be exempt from the operation of the Bribery Act, upon the principle that it was not given to corrupt the voters. There was, however, an old law maxim which said, Expressio minus exclusio ulterius; and by the introduction of the word head-money it might seem that other classes of payments were to be exempt from punishment. This surely was not the intention of the hon. Member for Middlesex.

Mr. Morgan J. O'Connell

said, that head-money was corruption, and that as such it ought to be especially and separately mentioned.

Mr. Bernal

The hon. Member for Yarmouth could not surely mean by what he had just said, to assert that the payment of head-money had been held exempt by Jaw from the imputation of corruption. There certainly were some old decisions seeming to favour that view of the case, but they were founded upon the plea that such monies had been paid to compensate voters for loss of time. No such excuse could be held out now, for the Reform Bill had shut out all possibility of having out lying voters. In his opinion the word "head" was unnecessary, for he thought it certain that if any Committee of that House, sitting on an election petition, were convinced that a sum of 21. or 3l. a head had been paid all round to voters, they would at once decide that such was a gross act of bribery. The prohibition of the payment of any money at all would of course include the payment of head-money, and the amendment, therefore, was unnecessary.

Mr. Wason

If the hon. Member for Bradford meant to say that the payment of 51. a head to every voter three months after an election had taken place, even in the absence of all promise on the part of the person who paid it, was not an act of gross bribery, he must confess himself much mistaken in his impression of the law.

Mr. Hardy

was replying to this remark, when the Attorney-General suddenly walk ed up the floor from the Court of Common Pleas, where the verdict had just been de delivered in the action brought by Mr. Norton against Lord Melbourne. The hon. Member's observations were completely drowned in the loud and continued cheers which greeted the hon. and learned Member's appearance.

Mr. Praed

then said, that he was not intimately acquainted with the subject; not having had occasion to make researches for his own defence, or in the crimination of others. He trusted, however, that the Committee would allow him to say a few words with reference to a matter which was personal to himself. A petition, it might be remembered by most hon. Members, had been presented last Session, not against him, but making statements with respect to the borough of Yarmouth, and praying for the vote by ballot. Though he knew those statements to be wrong at the time, he refiained from contradicting them as legal proceedings were in progress then on the subject. In the evidence, however, that had been elicited there was no ground for any charge against him that did not equally criminate the Whig and Radical Members for the same borough for the last seventeen years. On a motion of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock for the payment of the expenses of witnesses, he had hoped that he should have had the opportunity of making his statement; but unfortunately for him, that notice was withdrawn. The hon. Member for Hastings had also given notice of a motion for the disfranchisement of the burgesses of the borough of Yarmouth, which was also withdrawn, so that again he lost the opportunity of making his statement. The House had ordered a prosecution and at the expense of the public, before it had heard evidence, and the parties had been put to an onerous and grievous expense; the witnesses in the meanwhile had been kept in the pay and employment of the Whig and Radical interest, who had caused the proceeding. Now, with all their disadvantages, and the case con ducted by his Majesty's Attorney-General, it was blown out of Court amid the execrations of the jury, the execrations of the audience, and the condemnation of the judge. He would not, therefore, call God Almighty to witness, as some hon. Member might, and afterwards find that he had been guilty of a grievous lapse of recollection; but would content himself by stating that, upon his honour as a gentleman, there was not one of those statements but was gross, abominably, and wickedly false.

Mr. Wason

stated, that every member of the Yarmouth Committee was of opinion that every allegation of the petition was proved. The chief allegation was bribery, and that was completely proved.

Mr. Wakley

observed, that it had been said that it was not bribery if there was no promise or expectancy held out. Now it was hardly possible to prove expectancy in many cases. He thought it sufficient to establish the fact, and infer the corruption from the fact.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 61; Noes 40—Majority 21.

Another division was had on the question to omit the words of the clause, ''hereafter disqualified," the numbers were: Ayes 41; Noes 32—Majority 9.

The House resumed. Committee to sit again.