HC Deb 09 July 1844 vol 76 cc540-2
The Solicitor General

moved the second reading of the Sudbury Disfranchisement Bill.

Bill read a second time.

Counsel having been heard against the Bill.

The Solicitor General

said, that in his opinion, the learned counsel who had just addressed the House had failed to make out a case to justify the House in refusing the second reading of this Bill. He freely admitted that the extreme step of disfranchisement should not be taken except on very strong and just grounds. But it had been clearly and indisputably proved that a majority of the electors of the Borough of Sudbury, were tainted by corruption. He admitted, that if this strong fact had not been made clear and indisputable, he should not be entitled to claim the support of the House to the second reading of the Bill. He had at that time nothing whatever to do with other cases, however analogous. He had simply to do with Sudbury and its corruption, as those corruptions had been proved. And if the Bill passed, as he trusted it would—it would undoubtedly act as a warning and an example to other places; and this was one of the greatest advantages that might be expected to accrue from the Bill. It should be particularly impressed upon the recollection of the House that the Bill which he now proposed was the third Bill for the disfranchisement of this Borough that had been brought before that House. Two other Bills of disfranchisement had upon previous occasions passed that House, and been sent thence to the House of Lords, where, unfortunately, from one circumstance or another, they had been stopped in their course. And yet, after all these warnings, there had at the very last election been practices of the most gross and profligate character—thus showing the predetermination of the voters in this Borough that their elections should be carried by bribery and bribery alone. No less than 3,000l. in gold had been received by a clerk and agent of Mr. Dyce Sombre, one of the candidates, and the whole of this large sum had been expended in the most extensive mode of bribery, by parties utter strangers to the borough. And yet the just and legitimate expences attendant upon the election—such as the law agents, printers, and other necessary bills—were to this day absolutely unsettled. There was a system in Sudbury of the most profligate character which it was well known had existed for years, and which was this:—When an election was likely to take place, every publican opened his house to the town at large. At each house a large debt was owing for the expences incurred at the last previous election and which debts sometimes remained unpaid from the close of that election to the time when another was about to take place. These debts were called "fixtures," and they were paid thus. When candidates came down at an election time to offer themselves as candidates for Sudbury; the first thing they were presented with was, a statement of these "fixtures." If the candidates paid these "fixtures," or debts due from the last election, then they were accepted as candidates, and stood a fair chance of being returned; but if they declined to pay off these "fixtures," then they might pack up and be off, for no chance would they have of ever representing the borough of Sudbury. Such was the system—the disgusting system—which prevailed in this notorious and profligate borough. All he asked the House now to do, was to proceed on the evidence in the book now upon the Table and at once to disfranchise a place in which there was no nucleus for honesty and public virtue to gather round. Where the franchise thus taken from Sudbury was to be extended to was not then the question before the House. That was a matter for after consideration; and, therefore, confining himself to the only point strictly before them, he thought hon. Members could upon the evidence now before them, have no difficulty in agreeing to the Bill for at once disfranchising the borough of Sudbury.

Mr. Blackstone

felt, that if he attempted to oppose this Bill, he should not be successful, as the Bill had been taken up by one of the Law Officers of the Crown, and came before the House with the whole support of the Government. He did not, therefore, feel called upon to make any opposition to the second reading or to the committal of the Bill, although he did not believe that the whole of the electors of Sudbury were corrupt. When the House went into Committee on the Bill, it was his intention to move, that instead of disfranchising Sudbury, the right of voting should be extended to the adjacent hundred. This had been the course pursued with respect to East Retford, to which the hundred of Bassetlaw had been added. If he should be unsuccessful in this, it was his intention to take the sense of the House upon the principle of the Bill upon the third reading.

Mr. Tuffnel

expressed his satisfaction at this Bill having been introduced. He trusted that the Government would on every occasion, no matter what party was in power, do all they could to put down bribery and corruption. He sincerely hoped that the Bill would pass.

Mr. D. Browne

thought there were other boroughs in the country, besides Sudbury, which ought to be disfranchised on account of bribery and corruption. When the franchise was taken from a corrupt borough, it ought to be given to some populous place, in order to maintain the just balance of representation.

Mr. Williams Wynn

(who spoke from his seat) thought the House ought to be consistent with itself, and proceed at once to pass this Bill. He thought the evidence which had been adduced with respect to this Bill was amply sufficient for the House to act upon in legislating on the subject. He looked upon this Bill, not merely as a penal, but a remedial measure. He thought that no borough had exhibited more systematic bribery and corruption than that which had been shown to exist in the borough of Sudbury.

Bill read a second time.

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