HC Deb 10 July 1844 vol 76 cc587-90
The Solicitor General

moved that the House resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Mr. Blackstone

rose to move— That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to extend the right of voting for the future Election of Members to serve in Parliament for the Borough of Sudbury to all persons residing within the hundred of Baberg, within the county of Suffolk, and the hamlet of Balingdon cum Brandon, in the county of Essex having the qualification required as electors for Cities and Boroughs under the Act of 2 Will. IV., c. 45; and to make provision that the following persons, viz., Peter Alston, James Berry, Thomas Brown, William Barnard, William Cross, Joseph Cook, George Dawson, Thomas Erith, James Johnson, Charles King, Thomas Making, George Parsonson, William Rolfe, Richard Steed, William Tolliday, and Joseph Wheeler, being guilty of receiving bribes at the last Election; and Joseph Barker, Samuel Berry, Willam Cook, Thomas Ginn, Thomas Goody, Golding Herbert, Samuel Hale, James Herbert, John Jones, and William Warner, being concerned in the distribution of money among the voters before or during the Election, be hereafter disqualified from voting at any Election for Members to serve in Parliament for the borough of Sudbury. He objected to the Bill being proceeded with at that late period of the Session, and above all as he did not believe that such measures would have the effect of suppressing bribery. Much as he detested the system pursued in Sudbury, he must express his fear that such steps as these would be far from effectual to suppress the practices complained of. The case of Sudbury was not near so bad as that of Harwich, where at the last election, 8,500l. was spent between 182 electors. In the case of Nottingham it had been reported by a Committee of the House that 12,000l. was spent by Sir John Cam Hobhouse and Sir G. Larpent, and between 4,000l. and 5,000l. by the opposing candidates. Lewes was nearly as bad an instance; 7,000l. was spent there by one of the parties, and the constituency was only about 800. Again, in the case of Reading, a borough with 1,500 electors, 1,200l. was spent by Mr. Russell himself, 3,000l. by his attorney, and Lord Chelsea said that he estimated his expenses at somewhere about 2,000l. Penryn, again, received 4,000l. from Captains Vivian and Plumridge and a like amount from their opponents. When such cases as these were before them, with what justice could they apply a rule in one instance which they did not attempt to apply in the others? In his view of the case they ought never to attempt to disfranchise a constituency the majority of which was not proved to be corrupt. There was no such proof in the Sudbury case, and he believed that that case was susceptible of no such proof. He should propose, therefore, as an amendment to this Bill, not to disfranchise an entire constituency for the faults of a few individuals, but to follow a precedent which had been set in the case of Shoreham and East Retford before the Reform Act, and which had been extensively followed in schedule B of the Reform Act itself. The hon. Member concluded by moving his amendment.

Captain Beresford

would act the part of Seconder on this occasion, not because he agreed with the Amendment, but in order to have an opportunity of defending a much aspersed body—he meant the electors of Harwich. The hon. Member for Wallingford had treated them with a new abridgement of the report of Mr. Roebuck's Committee. What it had to do with the present subject he did not know, but as far as it concerned Harwich, he must aver that Mr. Roebuck and his coadjutors had arrived at all their conclusions upon mere hearsay evidence, for the most part not worth a straw, and he was there boldly to assert that there did not exist in England a purer or more immaculate constituency than that which he had the honour to represent. He declared it to be so. He had never bribed himself; he knew of no one having been bribed, and he believed his constituents were and always would be ready to do their duty, without participating in any sort of bribery or corruption.

Mr. B. Cochrane

supported the Amendment. It had been stated, that at a recent contest at Nottingham the sum of 12,000l. was expended. He thought it had been proved, that in that town, where there were 8,000 electors, not more than 250l. had been expended at the election alluded to; and on proof of that fact Mr. Walter was unseated. He considered that was a monstrous case. What would be the consequence of that decision? It would be this—that all future elections for the borough of Nottingham must be fought before Committees of the House of Commons. He believed there was not a single Member of that House who might not be declared "unduly elected" on the same grounds on which Mr. Walter was deprived of his seat for Nottingham.

The Solicitor General

said, the House had already affirmed the principle of this Bill by assenting to its second reading, after the explanation he had given yesterday. The question as to the disposal of the representation rendered vacant by the disfranchisement of Sudbury must be determined by the House hereafter. He had considered it advisable to disembarrass this measure which related solely to the disfranchisement of Sudbury, of any question as to the disposal of the representation. He thought that any hon. Gentleman who had read the evidence reported to the House must have been astonished at the courage of his hon. Friend the Member for Wallingford (Mr. Blackstone), who had stated that there was no proof that a majority of the constituency of Sudbury had been bribed at the last election. He would undertake to say that any hon. Member who went through the evidence — the collection of which had been most difficult, the Committee having been baffled by the refusal of witnesses to answer questions—must be satisfied there was most conclusive proof that at the last election a large majority of the constituency of Sudbury was bribed. The object of the Committee was to ascertain the real nature of the proceedings in that borough; and he would undertake to say that there was, in their report, an ample body of evidence to justify the present measure. He begged to call the attention of the House to the unreasonableness of his hon. and learned Friend's proposition. His hon. and learned Friend said, "He admitted there might be 200 or 220, or a larger portion of the constituency of Sudbury, who had been bribed." And his hon. and learned Friend proposed to disfranchise about 32 persons by name, and to leave at least 200 other persons—who he admitted, from the evidence given before the Committee, must have been bribed—in the possession of the franchise. What! were the parties who had thus abused the franchise entitled to its exercise? He would undertake to say, that any one who read the evidence taken by the Committee, must be satisfied that a majority of the constituency of Sudbury was tainted with corruption; and he, therefore, hoped the House would allow this measure to proceed.

Mr. Blackstone

said, notwithstanding the observations of his hon. and learned Friend, he could scarcely believe that there was not a pure voter in Sudbury.

The House divided on the question that the instructions be given:—Ayes 1; Noes 37: Majority 36.

List of theAYES.
Beresford, Major Blackstone, W. S.
List of theNOES.
Bentinck, Lord G. Lincoln, Earl of
Boldero, H. G. Lockhart, W.
Bowes, J. M'Neill, D.
Bramston, T. W. Marsham, Visct.
Christie, W. D. Martin, C. W.
Christopher, R. A. Mftcalfe, H.
Clerk, Sir G. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Cripps, W. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Duncannon, Visct. Palmerston, Visct.
Fuller, A. E. Peel, J.
Gibson, T. M. Pringle, A.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Stanley, Lord
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Thesiger, Sir F.
Greenall, P. Verner, Col.
Greene, T. Wawn, J. T.
Hume, J. Yorke, H. R.
Hutt, W. TELLER.
Jermyn, Earl Young, J.
Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E. Lennox, Lord

Bill went through Committee.

House resumed, and adjourned at a quarter before twelve o'clock.