§ MR. NEWDEGATE
rose to move—That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on the Petition from Cheltenham, that they do inquire into an alleged organized and extensive system of fraudulent and vexatious objections to the Votes of a great number of duly qualified Electors for the Northern Division of Warwickshire, the Northern Division of Staffordshire, and certain Divisions of other Counties.In consequence of information he had that day received, he had altered the terms of the Motion of which he had given notice, so as to include North Staffordshire and other places, in order if possible, to meet the wishes of hon. Members opposite. He felt that he was identified with a party aggrieved, since he represented a constituency whose votes had been attacked, and many of whom had been put to great trouble and expense in defending their legitimate claims. But when he remembered that the hon. Member for Cheltenham, who was politically opposed to him in all respects, had complained of an organized association which had been formed for the purpose of preferring petitions to that House to which forged signatures were attached, he felt relieved from the difficulty which he might have experienced from a charge of being actuated by party feeling, however unjust, had he asked the House to refer these matters to a Select Committee of his own selection: he would now content himself with asking that it should be an instruction to the Committee to take into 503 consideration the case he was prepared to bring before the House. The petition was brought forward on a question of privilege; and he did not think, with the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that the case of extensive and organized interference with the franchise was not a proper question for that tribunal to deal with. The right hon. Baronet, when there was a Motion before the House complaining of the interference of Peers in elections, induced the hon. Member for Athlone to withdraw it, because, as he said, the influence of Peers at elections was not more than they were entitled to as landlords and persons commanding the respect of their neighbours; but nothing had been said of removing from the Journals of the House the Standing Order on that point, which was annually moved in defence of the privileges of that House. Another consideration which weighed with him was, that it was ever the practice of the House to consider any fraudulent interference in elections as a breach of privilege; for how else could such cases be referred to the tribunals of the House constituted by privilege? When, therefore, he considered that the decisions of the registration courts were of as much importance as the elections themselves to those who claimed the franchise, he could not but think that, if the House extended its jurisdiction to the mode of conducting elections, they should extend it also to the conduct of the registration courts; for he had the authority of the right hon. Baronet himself for saying that the battle of any great political contest was to be fought in the registration courts. These were the grounds, independent of personal ones, which induced him to press the adoption of this instruction to the Committee. Having thus endeavoured to justify his taking this course, he should ask leave of the House to adduce facts by which he would show that it was on no light grounds or doubtful evidence that he made this Motion. He had stated yesterday that objections had been served on a number of voters in North Warwickshire, all apparently signed by one person: the first batch of these was brought before the Coventry registration court, and except some eight or nine per cent signally failed. But the most remarkable case had occurred in the registration court at Birmingham. In two parishes objections were made to more than seven hundred voters, all signed by the same person 504 who had signed the notices of objection at Coventry. He would lay before the House a short statement of the facts, and proceedings, and evidence, which came before the registration court at Birmingham. An application had been made to the Postmaster General, on account of some notices of objections not having been delivered within the time prescribed by law in several instances; and the applicant was informed that such an enormous number of these objections were posted at Manchester—about 30,000 to different parts of the country—that the office was unable to clear them for several days. The court proceeded to consider these objections; and certain parties appeared on behalf of the Anti-Corn-Law League, of the names of Acland, Beswick, and Morris. The connection of these persons with the Anti-Corn-Law League was admitted by them; so there could be no doubt of the agency of that body, nor of its having employed a person of bad character to sign the objections to voters for North Warwickshire, the real instrumentality being clearly traceable to the Anti-Corn-Law League. He (Mr. Newdegate) was prepared to prove that objections were served upon persons about whose legitimate claims there could be no doubt; persons possessed of property to a large amount; and that selection was evidently made of those who resided at the greatest distance from the northern division of the county, and to whom it would cause the greatest inconvenience and expense to appear in the Warwickshire registration courts to defend their votes. The person who was used as an instrument to sign these notices was a man of the name of Worthington, a person of no property—labouring for his daily subsistence, and who, on his being told that, owing to his conduct in the registration courts, he was liable to prosecution in a court of law, or at least to pay the expenses of every voter to whom he had vexatiously objected, replied, "They may try, but I am not worth 5l. in the world." After a certain number of the objections had failed, the agents of the Anti-Corn-Law League withdrew their "objector-general" stating that they would not not pay the costs of any further objections; after which the numerous voters, who had been compelled to attend at great expense in defence of their votes, were left without even the remedy of the small costs allowed by law in cases of frivolous objection. He asked what was likely to be the effect upon the 505 representation of small constituencies, when 2,000 voters in a large constituency were objected to, and, when the system was discovered, the objections were withdrawn? He asked, if this system were pursued year after year, how could the franchise be maintained? Was each elector every year to be compelled to go through the ordeal of the registration courts? Was any voter, about whose claim there could be no doubt, after being brought up from Wales or the Isle of Wight, and finding the objection which had been lodged against him withdrawn—when he claimed a moderate compensation for the expense he had been put to by this vexatious opposition, to be left in the lurch by the disappearance of the objector? He would now proceed to explain why he asserted that these objections were fraudulent. He had evidence to prove that this objector-general, this keeper of a pop-shop (for such he was), this agent of the Anti-Corn-Law League, was grossly perjured before the registration court. An objection was placed before him, which was signed with his name; and he was asked by Mr. George Whateley, who appeared for the claimants, whether the signature was in his own handwriting? His answer was not ready, but being pressed, he replied that it was, and that he would swear it was. The revising barrister asked him if he wrote it with his own hand, and he answered, yes. Mr. Whateley, in order that there might be no mistake, again asked him if he swore positively that it was in his hand; but the revising barrister interposed, and said he had already sworn it. Mr. Whateley said, he wished to be particular, for if he swore it again he was prepared to contradict him; and he again affirmed it. After he had so sworn, a man of the name of Stafford was produced by Mr. Wilmot, a legal adviser of the voters, and he proved that the handwriting in which the name William Worthington was signed to this objection, and 400 or 500 more, was not that person's, but his (Stafford's). Confounded by the testimony of this witness, Worthington could not contradict it; and, on being asked if he told Stafford to imitate his hand, he replied that he did not tell him to write as like him as he could, or imitate his hand; but that he did lay one notice of objection before him, which he had signed, and told him to write like that, and be careful to sign nothing else. After such evidence given in court, there could be no doubt of the character of the objectors, or the notices of objections. The 506 revising barrister said that he had sworn both ways, therefore he must have been perjured. The Anti-Corn-Law League agent, Morris, said that he had only corrected himself; but Stafford was not in court when Worthington swore the handwriting was his. The most extraordinary thing however was, that after this exposure, the revising barrister said he would, and in fact did, admit Worthington's evidence in other cases. Such a proceeding in any court was open to suspicion; and if the House was intrusted with the supervision of election matters, and the judge of a court which had cognizance of matters so intimately connected with elections as the right of voting, admitted the evidence of a man who was proved to have perjured himself, it was time for the House to take the subject into consideration. He would not trouble the House with any further evidence: he had said enough to show that this case was not a light case. He believed that other Members of the House could prove that, in adjoining counties, the same vexatious organized system was pursued. He might, perhaps, be allowed to comment on the bearing of this case, and on the course adopted by the Anti-Corn-Law League. He had heard the leading Members of that body boast, that if they did interfere with the franchise, it was only to extend its ancient rights to those who had been deprived of them. If their system was carried on for such a purpose, that body, which was as much a commercial speculation as a political body, might perhaps find some justification for their proceedings; but whilst they extended the franchise only to those who were favourable to their own views, they made inroads upon the rights of those who were opposed to them? If this system was pursued in those constituencies especially which had been threatened by the hon. Member for Stockport, it must end in their disfranchisement or in their corruption. He wished to refer this matter to a Committee, moved for, not by himself, but by an hon. Member politically opposed to him, in order that the matter might be inquired into and reported upon by a Committee upon whose constitution no shadow of partiality could be cast; and he called on the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to assist in effecting this object. If the right hon. Baronet thought that this Committee was not competent to inquire into the facts he had stated, he would move for another; but he pre- 507 ferred this because it could not be supposed that he had any influence in it as the person who made the selection. When he heard the right hon. Baronet withdraw the expression of a dark suspicion which for some years had remained reflecting discredit on the hon. Member for Stockport and the Anti-Corn-Law League; and when, too, he withdrew it at such a juncture, he thought it behoved the right hon. Baronet, for the sake of his character, to show that there was no collusion between that hon. Member and himself. He told the right hon. Baronet that though he might treat it lightly, there was a deep impression abroad that the existence of, and the agitation kept up by the Anti-Corn-Law League had had great influence upon the recent conduct of Her Majesty's Government. It behoved the right hon. Baronet to be careful that he did not foster this impression by staying inquiry into the practices of that association upon the franchise of electors. The right hon. Baronet might be blameless; but he (Mr. Newdegate) would humbly suggest, that it would be better that the right hon. Baronet should not even in appearance lend himself to the avoidance of this inquiry. He urged this matter in no factious spirit; and if he heard sufficient reason given why (he Mr. Newdegate) should move for a Select Committee to inquire into the charges he had made, he would move for it; but he preferred their being referred to one which was appointed on the Motion of an hon. Member to whom he was politically opposed, because he was (himself) a member of the Protection Society, and he had no wish to make it a question between that society and the Anti-Corn-Law League; but he believed it to be a question between the House and the Anti-Corn-Law League whether such an association should be permitted to interfere with the franchise of the country in the manner which he had endeavoured to illustrate. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his instruction to the Committee in the terms already stated.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he had listened very attentively to the statement which had been made to the House by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Newdegate), and he agreed with the hon. Member that no light case was suggested to the consideration of the House; for, both perjury and a vexatious system of giving notices of objection to voters, had been attributed to some agent of the Anti-Corn-Law League. But he would ask the House, admitting 508 the whole case as stated by the hon. Member, what had the House to do with the matter? A Committee had been appointed to inquire into a breach of privilege, in the affixing fraudulent signatures to a petition by which it was intended to mislead the House. This was a proper subject for inquiry; but he could not see how the parties implicated in the way stated by the hon. Member were chargeable with a breach of privilege. Perjury was alleged to have been committed in the revising barristers' courts; and the party guilty of that offence was amenable to, and punishable by, the laws of the country, without the interference of the House. Then came the question as to the issuing the notices of objection by the agents of the Anti-Corn-Law League. That was not a breach of privilege, though it was undoubtedly a vexatious and harassing proceeding towards the body of electors; but it was the error of the whole of the registration system, with which he (Mr. T. Duncombe) had repeatedly found fault in his place in that House. The cry had been, "Register, register, register!" and that the battle of the nation was to be fought in the revising barristers' courts. The same system of annoyance and vexation had long been pursued in many of the boroughs of the country; and now that it was felt in the counties among the electors and tenants at will, hon. Members were ready enough, on finding the shoe pinched them, to complain. Still, he repeated, that it was no breach of privilege, and that the parties who were annoyed or interfered with, had a remedy at law if they choose to have recourse to it. If the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Newdegate) would move for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole system of Parliamentary Registration, with a view to reform the Reform Act, and to get rid of the finality of that measure, he (Mr. T. Duncombe) should be happy to afford every assistance; and to such a Motion he hoped the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would give his support. He (Mr. T. Duncombe) saw that his name had been put down as a Member of the Committee to whom the Cheltenham petition stood referred; but he must decline to serve upon it if the Committee was to be burdened with the additional duty which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Newdegate) sought now to cast upon it.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
, in explanation, begged, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury, to 509 state, that none of the parties who had been annoyed wished to prosecute the unhappy tools of the Anti-Corn-Law League, which could only lead to the imprisonment of this unhappy person: their object and his own was to put an end to this organized system of vexatious and frivolous objections to good and well-qualified voters. [Cries of "Spoke, spoke."] He had a right, he believed, to explain. He did not contemplate a reference to a Committee on the Reform Act, or on the whole question of Registration: but he desired that the Committee which had been duly constituted to inquire into the forgery of signatures by the agents of this association, should also inquire into the conduct of the same body, which by fraudulent and vexatious objections had been guilty of an organized system of annoyance to a large body of electors.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
thought, that a separate Committee appointed specifically to inquire into the subject of the annoying notices of objections, would be better than the adoption of the instruction which his hon. Friend had moved to the Committee appointed to inquire into the circumstances attending the manufacture of the Cheltenham petition in the town of Manchester. If his hon. Friend, however, pressed his Motion, he (Mr. Adderley) should support it, because he thought there was some analogy between the two subjects. He, however, was of opinion that legislation would be necessary to cure the evils which were most justly complained of as existing in the registration courts. He knew that a Bill had been prepared by a Friend of his, and would shortly be introduced; but still he (Mr. Adderley) hoped that an inquiry into the subject would be gone into before that Bill came under consideration. If the House would permit him, he would read, very shortly, some extracts from a petition he had received, very numerously signed, from North Staffordshire. The petition he meant to present as early as he could, and to move that it be printed with the Votes. The petitioners stated that although their names had been on the register of voters for North Staffordshire for many years, and that the sufficiency of their qualification was notorious amongst their neighbours, and easily to be ascertained by any person who justly wished to clear the registry of improper votes, they had, to the number of two thousand, been served with most frivolous and vexatious notices of objection, which were signed 510 by an inhabitant of the county, though they had been posted at Manchester by a political confederation, which sought to rob the lawful electors of the representation of their county. The petitioners further stated, that they had been put to great expense and inconvenience to attend the revising barrister's court to substantiate their right to the elective franchise; and they further alleged, that the protection afforded to them by the Legislature had proved inefficient and inoperative, inasmuch as their costs were frequently refused them, on the ground of technical inaccuracies, or, if granted, its amount was so small as to be wholly inadequate to compensate for the expense and trouble to which they were exposed by the acts of a body of men who were in possession of ample and adequate funds. When he had presented this petition he should move that it be printed with the Votes, and upon it he should feel it his duty to bring its allegations under the attention and consideration of the House.
§ MR. WAKLEY
considered the present system of registration a bad one. Under it the most fraudulent practices frequently took place. But the matter was certainly of too much importance to be incidentally referred to a Committee appointed to consider another subject with which that of the system of registration had no legitimate connexion. He trusted the Motion would be withdrawn. The Government, he was sure, would feel prepared to lend their aid in the correction of the system, which could not be effected in the clumsy way now proposed. The hon. Gentleman dealt very hardly with the Anti-Corn-Law League. He had charged a man with forgery, and yet adopted his testimony as sufficient to warrant him in accusing and condemning the League; and so lightly and delicately had the party of the hon. Member dealt with that man, that though he was charged with atrocious crimes, they had done nothing to bring him to justice.
§ SIR R. PEEL
When this question was brought under the notice of the House, I stated that in my opinion it was not advisable to devolve on the Committee appointed yesterday any other inquiry than that which had been specially referred to it, but that it would be infinitely better that the Committee should direct its attention exclusively to the alleged breach of the privileges of this House. That opinion I still maintain. It is very easy for the hon. Gentleman to insinuate a collusion between a Minister of the Crown and an hon. Gentleman a Mem- 511 ber of the House. There is not the slightest foundation for the hon. Gentleman's remark, which is of such a kind that I am obliged to give it an answer, lest were I to remain silent, some persons might draw injurious inferences. And therefore, rather than that such inferences should he drawn, I tell the hon. Gentleman that neither on the subject of the Corn Laws, nor on any other public subject, or private subject, had I ever any communication, direct or indirect, with the Anti-Corn-Law League, or with any member of the Anti-Corn-Law League, so far as I remember. The hon. Gentleman founds his surmise upon what passed the other night, in consequence of a reference made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Disraeli) to an imputation from which I thought at the time I had relieved the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden). At any rate, there could be no concert between myself and the Members of the Anti-Corn-Law League, for it was on the hon. Member for Shrewsbury's allusion to the circumstance, that spontaneously, and as any Gentleman would, I rose to declare the fact that I had long before stated that the imputation did not rest on the hon. Member for Stockport. That is the circumstance on which the hon. Gentleman founds his insinuation. I now come to the real merits of the question. I understood the hon. Member for Staffordshire to state that some person not connected with the county objected to voters upon the list. I thought it a gross abuse. If it is alleged that the party in question objected indiscriminately to some thousand or two of voters, the tendency of such a practice is to interfere with the privileges of the electors; and the Anti-Corn-Law League, or any other body that employs such party, or sanctions his proceedings, pursues a course which ought not to be pursued. I retain my objection to the transference of this inquiry to this Committee; but if, as I understand, the right hon. Gentleman has a petition on which his allegations are founded, it may be a question for him whether or not he may not propose the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into that matter.
§ MR. SPOONER
observed, that the hon. Member for Finsbury had charged the Member for North Warwickshire with unfairly charging the Anti-Corn-Law League with being mixed up with the proceedings. The facts were these. The same witness, appeared in court as a witness for the Anti-Corn-Law League. He was called by the 512 Gentlemen of the Anti-Corn-Law League, who came there for the express purpose of challenging these votes. In all the cases where costs were given against the witness, those costs were paid by the gentlemen of the Anti-Corn-Law League. When they found he was no longer to be accredited, at their request and desire the witness was withdrawn. That clearly proved that his friend was quite right in dealing with the man as the acknowledged accredited agent of the Anti-Corn-Law League. He thought the question itself one of serious importance. The man who signed the objection lived in a remote part. Every one of the objections came through the post-office of Manchester. There was another point to which the attention of the House ought to be directed. They were posted at Manchester so late, that it was utterly impossible for the post-office, unless they neglected a public duty, to forward the notices in time to reach the dwelling-houses of the persons objected to. But the law said that the putting in the post-office should be of itself proof of a delivery. He had been objected to, and the notice came two days after the time. It was by mere accident that he received it in time to forward it to his solicitor to attend and substantiate his vote. With regard to the Motion immediately before the House, he advised his hon. Friend to withdraw it; but he ought to move for a Committee to inquire into the facts now stated, with a view to the immediate remedy of the evil.
§ SIR G. GREY
hoped the inquiry, if gone into, would not be narrowed to the facts alleged. It should extend to the whole working of the Registration Act. He had before expressed the opinion that the provisions of that Act exposed voters to very vexatious proceedings. Objections of much force had been stated to the Act; but there was no remedy. He thought it but a just arrangement that those parties who had once established their right to vote, should not be liable to have their right challenged from year to year. The evil had been more felt by hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House. The shoe now pinched on the other side. He trusted this inquiry, when instituted, would be carried out with a view to remove the sources of vexation, which parties of different political opinions availed themselves of not for honest purposes, but for the mere sake of annoyance.
§ MR. DISRAELI
wished, as his name had been very unexpectedly brought into the discussion, to say a few words in ex- 513 planation. It had been stated, that some observations which fell the other evening from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) were called forth by an allusion he (Mr. Disraeli) had made in the course of discussion—as if in something he had said he had been ripping up old grievances. He had made an allusion in the most legitimate spirit of debate. The hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) was accused of charging the Anti-Corn-Law League with abetting assassination. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Bright) intimated, that if they could have fixed that charge on the hon. Member for Knaresborough, they would have prosecuted him. On hearing this statement, he reminded the House that a similar charge had been made in that House by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel). He had read that the hon. Member for Stockport, considering the charge unretracted, had declared it utterly impossible that he could hold communication with the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman said to-night that he had taken the first opportunity of putting himself right, it having been supposed that he had thrown out such an imputation. But he (Mr. Disraeli) begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman, that he referred to the very same circumstance last year, under circumstances, too, of excitement. The right hon. Gentleman did not then show that extreme alacrity in putting himself light for which he had taken credit.
§ SIR R. PEEL
said: I wish to refer to what I did say upon that occasion. The hon. Member for Stockport had stated—In what I said, I intended—and I believe everybody understood what I meant—to speak of the right hon. Baronet as the head of the Government; I used the words 'individually responsible,' as the right hon. Baronet uses the personal pronoun when he says, 'I passed the Tariff, and you supported me.' I treated the right hon. Baronet as the Government.I followed the hon. Gentleman in this debate, and I then said—I am bound to accept the construction the hon. Gentleman puts on the language he employed; but he uses the words in a marked manner, and others put a different interpretation upon them, and thought that by 'individual' he meant 'personal.'I admitted at once my error, and if any one at the time had intimated to me that my reparation was not sufficient, I would at once, or on some other day, have taken the opportunity of stating what I did mean; the facts of the case justified me in the im- 514 pression that I meant at the time to withdraw the imputation.
§ MR. WYNN ELLIS
said, the system of making objections had been acted on for many years past; he had himself been objected to during the last year; on inquiry it would be found that no less than 2,000 persons had been so objected to in the county in which he had a franchise, and all the objections proceeded from the Conservative party. If the Anti-Corn-Law had adopted the same system, they had only acted on the example of the other party.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
said, the system was an improper one, and he did not care with which party it originated. At present every man was bound to be at his town or country residence a certain time of the year to protect his vote; if absent it was endangered. That was an unconstitutional impediment to the free enjoyment of the elective franchise. In Lancashire, 2,000 objections had been sent, and they all came through the Manchester post-office; they were scattered over a period of three weeks, and the result had been that many gentlemen of undoubted property had been struck off the list. He hoped this system would be put an end to.
§ MR. LAWSON
said, the right hon. Baronet had told them that he was of the same opinion to-day as yesterday, and appeared to think that such an assertion would hardly find credit with the House, for he had repeated it twice. He was glad to hear the right hon. Baronet deny that he had any connexion with the Anti-Corn-Law League; but from what they had seen this Session, he thought the hon. Member for Warwickshire had some cause to imagine such a connexion might exist; but as it had been denied, of course he and other Gentlemen were bound to believe there was none.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
said, formerly the hon. Gentlemen were the objectors; in his own borough 700 objections had been served, his own vote having been objected to for four years successively. He should be glad to see the system rectified; indeed it had rectified itself to a considerable extent. When it was found by Gentlemen on this side of the House that they could get no redress from the House they adopted the same policy. "When bad men combine, good men must unite." He thought the Anti-Corn-Law League had done much service by the exertion they had made; they had also endeavoured to 515 create a constituency in the different counties; and they might depend that if the League was not put down, by enacting the immediate repeal of the Corn Laws, it would go on to an extent that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not like. The right hon. Baronet had shown more foresight as to the mode in which the League was to be put down. The upper men in the employ of the manufacturers of Lancashire were purchasing cottages and freeholds, and felt pride in having a voice in the representation of the county; they would send up men who would enact such laws only as were just, and for the good of the whole community. No part of the quarter of a million fund was expended in anything connected with the purchase of freeholds; they were bought by persons who had saved money to do so, and who had as great a right to the franchise as the owners of the largest estate.
§ MR. FERRAND
said, they did not quarrel with making good votes, but to sending objections to votes known to be good before, which was quite the reverse. The same system of objecting had been carried on in the West Riding of Yorkshire; and the noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) was returned in consequence of the wholesale objections that had been made against the voters of that district. His own vote had been objected to for four years in succession; and he could get no redress till he threatened to bring an action against the objecting party for the costs he was put to. The same system had been carried on in every county; and if the League was permitted to pursue this course, in a few years they would swamp all the bonâ fide voters, and be able to return Members who would not represent the honest electors, but would be returned by a minority, the majority of voters having been destroyed by a wholesale system of perjury and forgery.
§ MR. C. BULLER
said, he differed in opinion from hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. He did not see the necessity for this inquiry at all. They had arrived at a stage far beyond inquiry. Every person on both sides of the House was quite convinced of the enormity and extent of the evil, and was perfectly prepared to give a favourable reception to the remedy. He did not know whether it would be a proper Amendment to move upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Warwickshire, but he confessed he felt inclined to move that leave be given to the hon. Mem- 516 ber for Staffordshire to bring in the Bill he had got in his pocket. There were, no doubt, cases in which inquiries of this kind were necessary to lay the foundation of legislation; but they had often seen them entered into for the purpose of preventing legislation, and the House might fall into this evil on the present occasion. The abuse was acknowledged to exist, and to exist on both sides; they had followed the laudable example set them by the Gentlemen opposite. The extent of the abuse had often been deplored by them; yet year after year, when they brought in measures to prevent these abuses, the Gentlemen opposite, as much those below the gangway as above it, denied the evil and opposed the remedy. He was delighted to see that the example set by the hon. Gentlemen behind the Treasury benches was imitated by the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway; they did not blush to get up and repeat, as their own, the very doctrines those around him had formerly asserted. Now, let them have no more recrimination; there had been a great deal of sinning on both sides, from the time of the Charles Street Society down to that of the Anti-Corn-Law League; the tactics of that society had been only perfected by the agency, ability, and capital of the League; but as it was a bad practice, initiated from each other, let them put an end to it; it was a practice detrimental not to party alone, but to all representative Government and the best interests of the country. He believed they would find in the Bill of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) an attempt to remedy this abuse; and as it was the fashion to adopt their measures on the other side, he could not recommend a better course than to adopt that measure to put an end to the evil.
§ VISCOUNT INGESTRE
perfectly concurred in the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard; the question was one far above party; the effects of the abuse were fatal to the constituency at large. He thought a name once placed on the list and properly proved ought to remain there.
§ MR. C. WOOD
said, the hon. Member for Knaresborough had complained of the objections served in the West Riding of Yorkshire; but the hon. Member had been himself as great a sinner in this way as any one. On one occasion a great number of notices of objections were sent, signed by the hon. Member himself, and one of them was delivered to the hon. Member's 517 own uncle, whom he knew to have as good a vote as any one in the West Riding. [Mr. FERRAND: When?] He could not say in what year. The fact was so, and he did not suppose the hon. Gentleman would deny it, for an hon. Gentleman was present to whom a notice was sent, signed by the hon. Member. He thought the hon. Member should be more cautious in the accusations he brought against others. With regard to the West Riding, it was not true that the objections were made by the Anti-Corn-Law League; there were registration societies in that district, conducted by respectable men, belonging to both parties, and they made the objections and defended them. The system of registration had become such, that it could only be worked by such bodies; a single voter could not defend his franchise unless he belonged to one or other of the great parties. This was a great practical grievance which called for a remedy.
§ MR. FERRAND
begged the indulgence of the House while he replied to the personal attack just made on him by the hon. Member. When the hon. Member talked of what took place several years ago, he should have said that he (Mr. Wood) had just been prompted by some one within the last half minute. [Mr. C. WOOD: I do deny it most distinctly.] The hon. Gentleman had insinuated that he had been objector-general to votes in the West Riding; that he had made objections to a great number of votes. In that division he was, as chairman of the registration committee, called upon, and he did sign notices of objection; but at all times when doing so he had stated distinctly, that nothing should induce him to be a party to objecting to votes unless good grounds were shown for the proceeding. He had objected to the vote of the hon. Member for Bradford, his relative, and he had done so for this reason—that a person who for three years in succession had objected to his vote, had received a silver teapot for his services, towards the payment of which his relative had been a subscriber. He had then, incensed at this, declared that if he received in the fourth year another objection, he would, in retaliation, object to his relative's qualification. It was on that ground alone that he had so acted, and he considered that he was fully justified.
§ MR. WORTLEY
was enabled, fully, to confirm the statements of the hon. Member for Halifax touching the system carried on 518 in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He had had his own vote objected to three years running; on the last occasion, the notice being signed by a person bearing the name of Ashworth, and coming from Manchester, and emanating, it might therefore be concluded, from the Anti-Corn-Law League. ["No, no."] So totally unjustified and so vexatious were these notices, that he had at last threatened to bring an action against the interfering parties to recover the costs of defence; and if he had not himself been a member of the bar, such was the course which he would have adopted. It would give him great pleasure to see an end put to the system, and facilities given to recover the expenses of the defensive litigation. In dealing with the matter, the House should not lose sight of the subject of the creation of votes. The West Riding had recently been the scene of an experiment in that way, and it had been so far successful, that by the means of the Anti-Corn-Law League some 2,000 new votes had been added to the previously existing registration. Were these, as he did not say they were not, bonâ fide votes, there could be no dissatisfaction; but the prevailing opinion in the district was, that directly the reverse was the fact. Such a case as this had been, it was rumoured, of frequent occurrence. A gentleman, having influence over a body of workmen, and who lets cottages to them to rent, persuaded them to enter conjointly into the purchase of them; a covenant to that effect was drawn up; the Agent of the Anti-Corn-Law League being called upon to negotiate the transaction; the proprietor of the cottages lent the necessary funds to the workmen, took a promissory note for the payment, and stopped the interest from the weekly wages.
§ MR. BRIGHT
desired to assure the hon. Member for Buteshire (Mr. Wortley), that Mr. Ashworth, of the Anti-Corn-Law League, had taken no part in the signature of the objection which it was mentioned had been received by the hon. Member. With respect to the creation of freeholds, he was enabled, with equal confidence, to declare that the Anti-Corn-Law League had not only never recommended the creation of such votes in the way alluded to, but had consistently, both in the speeches of its lecturers and in its authorized writings, given the public to understand that all such votes were untenable, unjust, and in defiance of every fair principle of registration founded upon the 519 possession of property. He knew of no instance of such a vote having been obtained through, or with the approbation of, the Anti-Corn-Law League. The advice of the League always had been, and still was, with the view of inducing every man to save as much money as would qualify him, by a bonâ fide purchase of a sufficient amount of property; and he defied any man in the House or elsewhere who cared for the spirit of the institutions of the country, so far as these were valuable, to say that a freehold, possessed on that principle, was injurious, or could, in any degree, be interfered with. It was refreshing to see that when hon. Gentleman opposite were in extremis as to the Corn Law, they found some consolation for that which was gone and passed away in a testy examination of the organization of the League. The case which the hon. Member for Warwickshire spoke of had been dealt with in the newspapers, and had even been dilated upon in the speeches of the hon. Member; but since that, the hon. Gentleman, either at Willis's Rooms or at 7, Old Bond Street, had joined in the adoption of a resolution, by which the protectionists declared that they would fight the League with its own weapons. The hon. Member for Knaresborough, with not an unusual lack of caution, had made an a statement relative to the West Riding. He could only say, that if the hon. Gentleman went to the proper offices, and consulted the proper papers of the registration for the West Riding, of protectionists and free traders, he would find, that in the last year the monopolists made a far larger number of objections to free traders than the free traders did to monopolists. He had once been called from Northumberland and once from Scotland to defend his vote. The agricultural party had well obeyed the injunction of the right hon. Baronet to register. As had been said by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, "How we did register!"—and how could they find fault with the League for acting in self-defence? He had been told that the other day a noble Duke, through his Agent, put four sons of a farmer, with the farmer himself, into one lease, with the object of gaining so many more votes; and he had also heard, that in Scotland another noble Duke had taken the means to give nineteen persons the power of voting on one farm. So long as the monopolists were fighting a battle against the country, and so long as they thought there was a chance of obtaining 520 power, there was nothing which went against the spirit of registration which they would not do — no conduct they would not practise. Now the tables were turned, and the game was up. They had warred against the general interests and common sense, and now they were a broken party. The free traders, on the contrary, were a compact body, with an invincible principle which they were determined should be the basis of legislation; and to secure the presence of a majority in the House to vote for the abolition of the Corn Law, there were no means which the law allowed and which justice sanctioned that should be left untried. They had made up their minds to do that; but they would go with the Government in any proposition to give the proper advantages and defence to the honest elector. By every new change which was to make the system a better system the free traders would gain. Hon. Gentlemen might seek to revenge themselves on the League; but the fact had gone forth to the world that the law was as good as dead, and not all the speeches they could muster—not even those of the hon. Member for Warwickshire, solemn as they were, could ever wake from the grave that which, with all due ritual, had been buried.
MR. STAFFORD O'BRIEN
regretted that anything had occurred to disturb the celestial serenity of the hon. Member who just spoken. The evil to which attention was drawn was a plain one, and should be dealt with. None could deny the existence of an extensive association, with enormous funds at its command, one of the great objects of which was systematically to interfere in the registration of every county in the kingdom. The effect was to marshal every county into two parties—to fight the battle of registration by subscription—and to injure most deeply, as a necessary consequence, those who were unwilling to go to extreme lengths, either on one side or the other, in politics. The matter was not introduced at the present moment because, as the hon. Member had facetiously said, the Corn Law was dead, but they brought it forward to the notice of the House because they saw an association, a vast money-power, such as he had described, interfering in an unconstitutional manner with constitutional rights, and which was either to be left to its evil operation, or, to be effectually encountered, to be met by a similar association, thus perpetuating a similar evil. They asked the House to decide the case between them. That was 521 the question before them. As to the resolutions passed at Willis's rooms, he had not heard any hon. Gentleman on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, propose or approve of the adoption of any such system as the creation of false votes. The contest was unfair; on the one side an enormous money-power at work, and on the other no such thing.
MR. E. ELLICE
, JUN., understood hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain, not that it was necessary a battle should be fought, but that the weapons provided were unequal. In the county with which he was connected, the system condemned so loudly existed in full force; but it was practised by the party with whom the present complaint originated. There a Conservative registration association was formed by all the county men, the end sought after being to destroy, as far as was possible, the preponderating power of the Reformers—a wealthy party attempting to suppress freedom of opinion in the district boroughs, which were composed of the poorer classes. The evil was in Scotland incalculable; for unless assistance was afforded to the poor voters to go twenty miles to the Sheriff's Court, and defend his qualification, his name was struck off the list. If the hon. Member for Buteshire doubted the existence of fictitious votes, he had only to examine the evidence taken before a Committee of the House, asked for some years ago by the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Horsman), to convince himself of the fact being as had been stated. It would give him (Mr. Ellice) great gratification to see a corrective measure emanate from the Government.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
was sorry that he could not say, with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that they were all agreed; because he really thought they were not. He would go to the original question—whether an inquiry should be instituted into the highly unconstitutional proceedings of the Anti-Corn-Law League. He thought that the debate upon that question had been turned to another subject, namely, the nature of the Registration Act. He did not mean to say that that was not a question which demanded the attention of the House; but at the same time it was a totally distinct question. The real question before the House was, whether certain acts so unconstitutional as to be subversive in their nature of the entire system of English laws, had been perpetrated by that body which 522 called itself the Anti-Corn-Law League? The hon. Member for Durham said that the Anti-Corn Law League were doing most righteous work. That was, they were collecting together half a million of English money for the purpose of enabling honest men to purchase freeholds, or, perhaps, they only spent the half million of pounds in merely persuading those men. He thought these were the very words, as he took them down at the moment. That the Anti-Corn Law League persuaded honest men, upper servants and others, men who, out of honest earnings had saved some little trifle, to purchase those freeholds. No fault could be found with that mode of proceeding if they were impartial; but if they were not, they were then labouring to introduce into the electoral body of the country a majority in an illegal manner. If the electoral body were left alone, without tampering with, it would present a certain amount of opinion on one side and on the other. He trusted that a Committee would be formed to enter into an inquiry concerning the operations of the Anti-Corn-Law League.
wished to say one word only—one word for Ireland. He understood the complaint was that frivolous and vexatious notices of objections were served, compelling the voters to take long journeys for the purpose of proving their qualification. Now in Ireland, by the Irish law, it was not necessary to serve such objections, for every voter must go and state his case without any notice whatever. He must travel twenty miles, and in the county which he represented, fifty, to put his case on record; and if he failed to attend, and personally prove his qualification, he could not exercise his right to vote. There was no necessity for any notice of objection; if anybody questioned the vote, the case must be heard to the satisfaction of that individual. [Mr. FERRAND: Is that annually?] No, not annually; and that was another grievance; for the consequence of the registration system in Ireland was to afford facilities to the committing of fraud; so that the thing was worse. In the county which he represented, in three or four populous parishes there was not a man who could register a vote without travelling fifty miles or more, first, as in a case of ejectment, to substantiate his right. And what was the result? He represented a county with a population of 735,000, and only 2,300 were on the registry. He 523 stated these things as useful to know in an inquiry. They were evils which, years ago, he had urged in vain to Gentleman on his side of the House. He was not aware if he might entertain a hope of meeting with better success from the powerful party on the opposite side; but, if not, he would content himself with having exposed what was, practically, a grievance.
§ MR. M. MILNES
should be exceedingly glad if a remedy could be applied to the evils which had been the subject of that evening's discussion; and he trusted that when the question again came before them, Ireland would not be forgotten; for he thought it would be altogether contrary to the whole spirit of the administration of the right hon. Baronet if he remedied the evils in England, and left them to continue in Ireland. In saying this, he wished to protest against the assumption of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller), who, with his usual amusing ability, had attempted to lay down the position that the guilt of the case, whatever it might be, was perfectly equal between the two parties; or, if possible, if such a thing could be imagined, there was greater guilt on that, the Ministerial, side of the House. Now, he would merely ask his hon. and learned Friend whether, if the landowners were to parcel out portions of their estates for the purpose of making votes, and meet the Anti-Corn-Law League with their own weapons, they would not be able, with the greatest facility, to beat the League out of the field. He was certain that in his county Lord Harewood could, out of his own estate alone, make as many votes as the League. But he rejoiced to say that the landowners of England had not entered into what he considered such an unworthy conflict. He believed that the spirit of the county representation implied the requisite of residence; and that the Members for counties should represent the opinions of the electors resident in those counties. If all the sums collected by the Anti-Corn-Law League were devoted to the purpose of enabling the farmers of England to give anti-corn-law votes, he thought it would be a rather expensive proceeding. Indeed, it would be very difficult for the League to impress upon the mind of the public that their quarter of a million of money was to be spent solely in facilitating votes. Why, everybody knew what "facilitating votes" 524 was. It might be perfectly true, that in their written documents they said nothing about assisting men in the purchase of votes. But they did not know what their agents and the parties to whom the money was instrusted would do, or if they would properly carry out the intentions of the League. It was utterly incompatible with their enthusiasm on the subject that it should be so. If, however, the 2,000 votes which it was said were added to the register of the West Riding were real bonâ fide voters, and had obtained the franchise by their own money, it was a fact at which he must rejoice. With regard to the question which had occupied the attention of the House, he thought that it was only by legislation that any good could be effected; and he was disposed to think, therefore, that the proposition before the House would encumber their future proceedings.
LORD J. RUSSELL
said: I have always thought that the delivery of hundreds of objections, without inquiring whether the votes are good or not, is a great abuse; and many years ago I introduced a Bill upon the subject, in which I provided, as I thought, a remedy. I will not now discuss whether it was a proper remedy or not; but I proposed that, after the voter had been twice before the registration court, and had his name placed upon the list, his vote should not again be objected to, unless some particular circumstances had arisen to justify it, such as a change of occupation, or his parting with a portion of it. That was my remedy for what I considered as an abuse. I confess that it does not seem to me to make any difference in the case that the Anti-Corn-Law League have done this; and when hon. Gentlemen say that you must inquire into the subject because the Anti-Corn-Law League have done it; for my part I cannot see the sense or the justice of saying that you must inquire into it when it is done by the League; but you must leave the abuse to remain as it is when it is done by other political parties who have other aims in view than the abolition of the Corn Law. I think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard said, you should have a general remedy to prevent parties, for any purpose whatever, interposing this vexation, delay, and expense, which do, in fact, disfranchise many of the real freeholders. The hon. and learned Member for Buteshire (Mr. Wortley) has alluded to the creation of fictitious votes. I be- 525 lieve that nowhere has that practice been carried to such a great extent as in Scotland. I have heard, and he also must have heard, many instances in which the right of voting has been created, where, in fact, the voter does not receive 5s. a year from that which nominally gives him 10l. a year. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade (Sir G. Clerk) must be aware that that practice has existed, and that many elections have been carried by those voters who really have no property in the county. I do hope, when remedies are applied, that they will be general and legislative remedies; and that they will not be adopted for any purpose or party in particular. With regard to those voters who have been encouraged by the Anti-Corn-Law League to purchase freeholds, if, as the hon. and learned Member for Bute says, there have been in Yorkshire instances of workmen having no real property, who have obtained legal instruments whereby they vote, then I say that that is a fraud, and it ought to be put a stop to. But if, on the other hand, men, having gained a sum of 50l. or 60l. by their industry, choose, at the instigation of the Anti-Corn-Law League, or any other body, to lay out that money in the purchase of freehold land, they receiving the rents and profits of that land, and appear before the registration courts to establish their votes, then I say those votes are as good as any others. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Milnes) says, that the freehold right of voting in the counties of England implies residence. Now, I deny that that has ever been the case. It never has been necessary for the purpose of voting at county elections; and the right hon. Gentleman opposite will perhaps recollect that, in considering all the points of the franchise at the time of the Reform Bill, that point amongst others was considered, and it was fully and deliberately determined to leave the right of non-resident voters as it had existed from all time, and as it is now existing. I shall therefore oppose any proposition which may be made for disfranchising county voters on the ground of non-residence.
§ MR. HUME
said his vote had been objected to for three successive years. He hoped the time had come when there was a disposition in both parties to look fairly at the subject, and that they might have as many voters as possible who were honestly entitled to the franchise; for he 526 was anxious to create protectionist as well as free-trade voters. As the matter was before the House, the Government would probably bring in a Bill, as they had ample evidence before them on which to found one.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, with respect to the crimination and recrimination upon this subject, he thought one party had been as much to blame as the other. The only question to be considered was whether they should proceed by inquiry, or by bringing in a Bill. He hoped that the admissions made on all sides would preclude the necessity of a Committee; both sides seemed anxious that a Bill should be brought in. But he warned whoever brought in that Bill not to attempt to tamper with the registration, which would not remedy the abuse. Much might be done by simplifying the suffrage, and more by extending the suffrage; they would do little good if they did not largely extend the suffrage, stopping not much short of household suffrage, He agreed with the noble Lord, that the moment a created vote was actually made it was as good as any other; but supposing the Anti-Corn-Law League—he put the supposition in their case not by way of complaint, but of illustration—supposing that or any other body, with large funds at command, were to employ them in procuring votes to a great extent throughout the kingdom: they did not purchase votes, but they persuaded people to purchase votes. So far, so good; but suppose some great body persuaded people to purchase votes, they would got a set of instruments for their own purposes. Their object might be good or bad: he believed the object of the Anti-Corn Law League to be a good one; but if it might be employed for a good purpose, it might be abused for a bad one. Every voter so made would be, pro hac vice, a mere machine in the hands of the makers, for there could be no guarantee. Was it to be believed that a voter so made would immediately turn round? Any large body, with money, going through the county, employing their funds for a bad purpose, might put upon the register persons who would vote as they were desired to vote. He would legalize votes so largely that there could be no motive to create votes.
§ VISCOUNT EBRINGTON
rejoiced to hear what had fallen from the hon. Member who just spoken. He had been anxious to state, with reference to the question of 527 the Corn Laws, a burden which fell upon real property. It was necessary that associations should be formed to defray the expenses which offered an impediment to a poor man buying real property, consisting not only of stamps to the revenue, but lawyers' expenses, owing to legal formalities. An association was obliged to be formed to enable a poor man to obtain what all were desirous he should get.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.