§ House in Committee.
§ On the question that Lincoln should stand part of the Schedule,
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
would not condescend to petition the House on the part of the borough of Lincoln, nor would he plead ad misericordiam, as far as its condemnation might apply to that borough or himself. His father, brother, uncle, and great uncle, and, as the noble Lord smiled, he would add his great grandfather, had represented that borough. 61 His family had performed those acts which he considered to be the paramount duty of an Englishman, and he had followed their excellent example, if that was bribery and corruption. Of these acts he was not ashamed; he would tell the noble Lord that, in spite of the House of Commons he would repeat them. If the noble Lord admitted, on a question connected with this important subject, that to give refreshment to a county representative body, which was not to influence the vote, was justifiable, he would ask the noble Lord with what right he could charge an individual like himself (Colonel Sibthorp) with giving to the poor man that which he had a right to have, and which he (Colonel Sibthorp) should have been unworthy of representing the city of Lincoln if he had forgotten? He knew it was vain to contend against the premeditated intentions of the noble Lord; but let the noble Lord think what he would of the constituencies of England, he (Colonel Sibthorp) had that opinion of the independence of the city of Lincoln that he was confident the electors would act as men, and that they would not be ashamed either of what they had done, or of what their representative had done. He would not insult the borough, nor degrade himself, by petitioning the noble Lord to remove Lincoln out of the schedule. The noble Lord and his coadjutors might inflict any punishment they thought proper upon it; and he (Colonel Sibthorp) had done his duty in denouncing the unmanly, arbitrary, and unjust character of the whole proceeding.
§ MR. W. MILES
had expected that his hon. Friend the Chairman of the Lincoln Election Committee would have moved to strike out Lincoln from the Bill; but as his hon. Friend was not now present, he himself, as a Member of the Committee, wished to call the attention of the House to the evidence and the report. The counsel stated that there were forty-six cases of bribery, but only three were brought before the Committee, and of these only one was proved, and that was only a 10s. case. The report of the Committee stated that a system of treating had for a long time existed in the city of Lincoln, and five or six houses were mentioned which had been opened by the candidates for that purpose. But the real difficulty was to ascertain what was and what was not corrupt treating, because that depended upon the intent with which the refreshments were given. The report 62 of the Committee also stated that sums of money were paid to voters for their lost time; and they expressed their opinion that practices of this kind must always be open to serious evils, and required some definite enactment to prevent them. More good would be done by stating, in plain language, in an Act of Parliament, what corruption was, than by Committees of appeal, or Commissioners scouring the country at a very great expense to find out what was patent to everybody.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
hoped that the Committee, having already agreed to include four boroughs in the schedule, would also consent to insert Lincoln, and not think it necessary again to discuss the principle of the measure.
§ MR. ANSTEY
did not think that the case of Lincoln was governed by the rule which applied to Horsham. There was sufficient information obtained about Lincoln already. But the Horsham rule would also apply to the city of London; and as he saw the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) in his place, he would give him an opportunity of coming forward and saying that he did not shrink from an investigation into matters of which the world had heard so much. Management, no doubt, had prevented the presentation of a petition against the return for London, and management had caused the petition which had been presented against the return for Horsham not to be prosecuted. In neither case was there any proved fact to proceed upon; the charges as to each rested upon common fame. Why not then apply the same rule to both? It was generally believed that in London the "long shore men" had been bribed to the number of 1,000. It was also affirmed that personation had been practised to a great extent. These corrupt practices were alleged to have been committed by persons in the interest of the noble Lord and his Colleagues; and that allegation rested, he believed, on unimpeachable evidence. It had been asserted by a Member in his place in that House, and yet the noble Lord took no notice of the matter. It was stated out of doors, that no less than 32,000l. were spent in procuring the election of the Ministerial candidates at the last election for the city of London. That was too large a sum to be expended for a bonâ fide purpose. He would now put this question to the noble Lord—would he include the city of London in the schedule of the Bill? His reason for asking that question was this— 63 he was promised by a Member of the House that he should be placed in a position to state names and to specify particular sums in connexion with corrupt practices at the last election for London; but the document upon which the statement was to have been founded had miscarried. He called upon the noble Lord to break the silence which he had hitherto observed with reference to this matter, and to attempt to vindicate the character of his friends and constituents in the city of London.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
The Committee must recollect the circumstances under which I determined to proceed with the Bill now under consideration. Various reports were made from Election Committees, and many Members thought that the writs for the boroughs to which these reports referred ought to be suspended until further inquiry was made into corrupt practices alleged to have taken place at the elections for those boroughs, with a view of determining whether Parliament ought to legislate on the subject. Various opinions were given on that point; but I confined myself to voting, as an individual Member of the House, upon the questions as they arose relative to the issuing or suspending of the writs. It, however, was urged by several Members, and especially by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, that it was fit that some Member of the Government should introduce a Bill for the purpose of determining the form which the inquiry into the reported boroughs should take. For some time I declined to take this course; but at last, seeing that a Bill on the subject which an independent Member had introduced was perpetually causing the delay of public business, I did undertake to introduce the Bill which is now before the Committee. The hon. and learned Member, thereupon, thinks that I am a fair object of attack, and that he is justified in bringing a personal charge against me. [Mr. ANSTEY: I made no personal attack.] Well, the hon. Member at least attacked the character of my constituency, and called upon me to put the city of London into the schedule of the Bill. I deny that, because I have undertaken the management of this Bill, at the request of influential Members of the House, I am bound to put the place I represent in the schedule without any cause being assigned for that proceeding, merely to gratify the curiosity or the malignity of those who pursue me as the introducer of this measure. I am merely 64 acting in the discharge of my public duty, and I maintain that the place which I represent could only be put in the schedule in consequence of having been the subject of the report of an Election Committee, or upon other substantial ground being laid for that proceeding. I will relate to the Committee the history of my connexion with the city of London. I represented the borough of Stroud, which had done me the honour to elect me in the first instance without opposition, and subsequently, when a contest took place, I was returned for the borough by a large majority. I was elected without being put to any expense whatever, and I was allowed perfect independence as to my political course in this House. A numerous body of the electors of London—some thousands I believe—addressed a requisition to me, stating that a great public question being at issue, namely, that of protection or free trade, they desired that I would allow myself to be put in nomination as the advocate of free trade. I told the deputation which waited upon me that personally I had no desire to leave the constituency with which I was connected—that it was possible that constituency might think me ungrateful for leaving it for another; but seeing that the decision of the city of London upon the great question of free trade must necessarily exercise an important influence upon public opinion, I would consent to become a candidate; but I distinctly stated that my election must be conducted without recourse being had to any of those means to which the term "corrupt practices" could be applied. The deputation assured me that my wishes in that respect should be strictly followed. The election for London took place, and I was returned by a small majority of nine. At the last election I was asked whether I would be a candidate in conjunction with three other gentlemen. I replied that I felt honoured by having been elected for London, and that I was willing to be a candidate again; but that I would not be connected in a requisition with any other person whatever. The election took place, and I was returned by a great majority. No person, that I know of, has complained of the manner in which that election was conducted. I have not paid out of my own pocket the sum of 32,000l. I paid nothing more than I thought necessary for the lawful expenses of the election. I contributed no money to be applied to corrupt practices, nor did I resort to any management to prevent an election 65 petition being presented; and that having teen my conduct, I think I ought not to be questioned respecting any rumours which are said to prevail, although I know not whether they do or not. I have heard of those rumours from the hon. Member, but not from any one else. Where the hon. Member picked up these rumours I cannot tell; but I think I ought not to be taunted with them, because I have proposed a Bill which deals with the cases of certain boroughs, of the merits of which I knew nothing. [Colonel SIBTHORP; Oh, oh!] I have no personal feeling against any of the Members for the boroughs in the schedule. Let me assure the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln that I have no personal feeling against him. I hope that he and his posterity may continue to represent Lincoln as long as his ancestors have represented it. I have brought forward this Bill on public grounds; and I do not feel called upon to place the city of London in the schedule merely because an hon. Member gets up and says that there are certain rumours afloat affecting the character of the Prime Minister's constituency.
§ MR. HUDSON
said, he could readily believe that the noble Lord was unacquainted with any corrupt practices at the last election for London; the noble Lord was the last person who would be allowed to know anything about the matter. The Chairman of the noble Lord's Committee also declared that he had nothing to do with bribery. Doubtless he had not. The Committee-room was the last place in which bribery was carried on; that business was always transacted by the outdoor agents. The noble Lord's memory failed him when he said that he was the champion of free trade at the first election for London; he was then a protectionist, and advocated an 8s. duty against the sliding-scale. The noble Lord subsequently became a free-trader along with the right hon. Member for Tamworth, the one giving up the fixed duty and the other the sliding-scale.
§ Committee divided on the question that Lincoln stand part of the Schedule:—Ayes 69; Noes 13: Majority 56.
|List of the AYES.|
|Abdy, T. N.||Bowring, Dr.|
|Adair, H. E.||Boyle, hon. Col.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Brockman, E. D.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Brotherton, J.|
|Bagshaw, J.||Brown, W.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Clay, J.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Clements, hon. C. S.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Paget, Lord A.|
|Craig, W. G.||Parker, J.|
|Dick, Q.||Pilkington, J.|
|Duncan, G.||Reynolds, J.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Rich, H.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Romilly, Sir J.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Fagan, W.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Fox, W. J.||Shell, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Glyn, G. C.||Smith, J. A.|
|Grace, O. D. J.||Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Spearman, H. J.|
|Grey, R. W.||Spooner, R.|
|Hawes, B.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Hay, Lord J.||Thompson, Col.|
|Hayter, W. G.||Thompson, G.|
|Heald, J.||Thornely, T.|
|Humphery, Ald.||Tollemache, hon. F. J.|
|Jervis, Sir J.||Turner, E.|
|Kershaw, J.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Ward, H. G.|
|Lewis, G. C.||Williams, J.|
|M'Cullagh, W. T.||Wilson, J.|
|M'Gregor, J.||Wilson, M.|
|Matheson, Col.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Maule, rt. hon. F.||Wood, W. P.|
|Mitchell, T. A.||TELLERS.|
|Moffatt, G.||Tufnell, H.|
|Nugent, Lord||Hill, Lord M.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Bennet, P.||Miles, W.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Disraeli, B.||Napier, J.|
|Floyer, J.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Henley, J. W.||Urquhart, D.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||TELLERS.|
|Lacy, H. C.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Masterman, J.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
§ Lincoln to stand part of the Schedule.
§ On the question that the borough of Aylesbury be inserted,
, as one of the representatives of the borough, said, he and those by whom he was returned courted inquiry in the most full and searching manner. Indeed, he thought that every Member who had been returned purely to that House was bound to call for inquiry whenever there was an allegation of corruption.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he had listened with perfect astonishment to the speeches of both of the representatives of the principal towns of the county which he (Mr. Disraeli) had the honour to represent. As to that maudlin sensibility which said that an impeachment under any circumstances was entitled to an inquiry, he could not at all sympathise or agree with it; and knowing the amount of real business they had to transact, and the great difficulty they experienced in getting through the busi- 67 ness brought before that House, he entirely protested against the principle laid down by the noble Lord, one of the Members for Aylesbury, upon this subject. He did not care whether his conduct were to be impeached in that House or elsewhere; all he desired was, if a charge were made, and if an inquiry was to follow, that that inquiry should he one attended with public advantage. With regard to the borough of Aylesbury, he could speak with perfect frankness; he did not represent it; and whether it was disfranchised or not was to him a matter of perfect indifference. As regarded most of those who lived in the town, they were generally electors of what were called "liberal principals;" and, therefore, being supporters of Liberalism, and opponents of liberty, they generally opposed him. But, in former days, the Aylesbury people generally were even then exposed to exaggerated charges of corruption—corruption that was not more characteristic of constituencies than of other classes in the community—a corruption rather the result of a different moral tone from that which at present prevailed. And how did the Legislature interfere with the state of things in Aylesbury in old times? Why, seventy years ago they opened the borough to the hundreds—they made the suffrages of that borough devolve upon a larger district—in fact, the area of Aylesbury was turned into a small county; and he spoke on his honour as a gentleman when he stated his belief that corruption was unknown in Aylesbury and its district, and that its electors were as pure as those of any county in England. He did not believe that such a thing as a bribe was offered, much less accepted, amongst the electors of Aylesbury. Was it not, then, monstrous, because of the mere imputation of a charge of treating, created by the accidental vote of a Committee, they should seriously be called upon to put in the Bill the name of a borough of that kind—an old English constituency, which he was certain was as pure as they could ever make any borough, even if they had recourse to the ballot, which was passed the other night by the House, or to any other means they could possibly devise—was it, he asked, not perfectly monstrous that a Bill of pains and penalties should be passed in that manner upon a constituency of that character; and that its two representatives, the one being a Liberal nominally, who, from a principle of morbid sentimentality, required that his 68 purity should be established by an inquisition—that he on the one side, representing the Liberal interest, should come there and denounce his constituents; and that the other hon. Gentleman, who was supposed to represent the "illiberal" party, should come there in order to place himself in a clean position in the House of Commons, and could find no other mode more convenient than that of holding up his own constituents to public reprobation? He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman meant again to appear on the hustings at Aylesbury, and wished his speech that night to serve him as a letter of recommendation; or, whether, on a subsequent occasion, he meant to support electoral districts; but that was the only way which he (Mr. Disraeli) could possibly account for it. The noble Lord (Lord Nugent) was the victim of a too pellucid sentimentality. As the representative of the county of Buckingham, he utterly protested against the speeches of the two representatives of Aylesbury, and must say that they would not be justified by their constituents in the course they had taken. He appealed to the evidence which had been published: it presented not the shadow of what any man could admit to constitute a reasonable ground for an inquiry; and, as one of the Members of the district, he said this, without any reserve or equivocation, and without any desire by saying it to please the electors—that was not his object; he was sure he could not gain the support, whatever he might say, of the electors of Aylesbury; and from his knowledge of the people of that borough, he solemnly protested against this legislation of cant, and against this holding up of the constituency to public reprobation.
rose to vindicate himself against the not very intolerable charge of the hon. Member who had last spoken, and who impeached the few words which he had taken the liberty of offering. Whatever motives the hon. Gentleman might choose to ascribe to him in the part he had taken that evening, he begged to say that he did not wish the inquiry to be instituted merely because the last election of the borough had been impugned; but because the tribunal appointed by that House to try these matters had reported that in the case of one of the Members, facts had been proved of a nature to disqualify him from sitting as the representative of Aylesbury. Therefore a primâ facie case for inquiry had been made out, and a strong 69 case had been shown against, at all events, a portion of the constituents; and therefore, in order to relieve the constituency from the shadow of an imputation, he courted investigation, and he only trusted the inquiry into the conduct of that borough, as well as of all the other boroughs in the schedule, would be made with the greatest rigour and severity; otherwise, if they were not rigidly and strictly prosecuted, they would do much more harm than they ever would do good. "To temper justice with mercy" in such cases, as an hon. Member had entreated, would be to commit an act of injustice to the public.
§ MR. Q. DICK
defended himself from the uncalled-for attack made upon him by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. He had merely stated that he cordially assented to the Bill being made applicable to Aylesbury because he wished to see the constituency freed from the charges made against it, and he firmly believed it would come out unscathed from the ordeal of the proposed inquiry.
§ Borough of Aylesbury inserted.
§ Upon the question that Bodmin be placed in the Schedule,
§ MR. WYLD
said, that no maudlin sentimentality should prevent him from standing up in defence of the honour and integrity of the borough which he represented. There were special reasons why the framers of the Bill should not have included Bodmin within it; and he would briefly allude to them. But he would first remark, that a series of boroughs had been placed in that schedule by the Solicitor General, and now at the eleventh hour the Solicitor General came down and inserted the name of Bodmin and other boroughs represented by Gentlemen who had for so many months given Government their best support. He might ask, was this the consideration which the Government showed to Gentlemen who had supported the present Administration all the Session? And was it in this way Government showed its disinterested spirit by including Bodmin among the list of boroughs in the Bill? He never cared for any fear, favour, or affection, and would act independently, whatever Government might be in power. On the part of the borough, he had made no objection to the strictest possible investigation; but it was unjustly stigmatised by being placed in that Bill, of which the preamble set forth that "corrupt practices had prevailed in certain boroughs," which was altogether unsubstantiated as far as Bodmin was concerned. 70 Why, what was the nature of the evidence before the Committee? It was stated in the report that the last election was the purest, the quietest, and altogether the best conducted election for that borough which had ever occurred; and the Judge who sat at the assizes for the district, shortly after it had taken place, complimented the mayor of the borough upon this gratifying circumstance. And what had the Committee reported to the House on the subject? Why, that the practice, which was one of long standing in the borough, had prevailed at the last election, of giving a printed ticket to each voter after he had polled, entitling him to five shillings' worth of refreshment; but it was not proved that these tickets had been issued with the knowledge or at the expense either of the sitting Member or his agents. These tickets, even if they had been given by the sitting Member, would come under the category of what the noble Lord at the head of the Government and the right hon. Member for Tamworth had termed "proper hospitality," in contradiction to "corrupt treating;" these 5s. tickets had actually been subscribed for by a large proportion of the electors of the borough themselves, to be given to their poorer brethren, who had to come a distance of sixteen or seventeen miles to record their votes. One of these 5s. tickets was all that a labouring man received to procure refreshments for himself and his wife after a long journey. This was all that was proved against Bodmin; and yet it was to be placed among the boroughs introduced into that Bill. Why, if such trifles were to be called proofs of corrupt influence, the efficacy of the measure would be totally destroyed—the thing would be made perfectly ridiculous. He could not account for such a proceeding, unless it were that certain persons wanted to tamper with the constitution, and were seeking covertly to carry out their designs by first making the people dissatisfied with the present mode of voting. He protested against the ancient and respectable borough of Bodmin, which was proved to be innocent of corrupt practices, being placed in disgraceful companionship with boroughs which had been proved to be guilty of them.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, it appeared by the evidence that refreshment tickets had been issued to the voters of Bodmin by the friends of both candidates. An hon. Member called his attention to 71 the fact, and asked why that borough had not been included in the Bill? Bodmin was consequently at once included in the list. Considering what the House had done in the other cases, he thought that, notwithstanding what had fallen from the hon. Member for Bodmin, it would be unjust to make an exception in favour of that borough.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I consider the hon. Member for Bodmin to be very ill treated. The Solicitor General has given the House his reasons for inserting the borough of Bodmin; and I think the Solicitor General ought to be ashamed for giving such reasons. He admits that he knows nothing of the case of Bodmin—that he has not read the evidence nor the special report. This seems to me to be a canting, lying, hypocritical Bill. The whole thing is miserable and hypocritical, and not really founded upon fact. "I confess," said the Solicitor General, "that this is a very weak case." Why, does any one doubt that it is a very weak case? There are other things besides the Bill. The whole thing is weak from the beginning to the ending. I do not much fear, Sir, that the reputation of Parliament is endangered by the investigation that has already taken place; but what I do fear for the reputation of Parliament is the intellectual gauge which is given by these measures as to the remedial agency which is to put an end to practices which we all disapprove of. If this is your machinery, and these are the men who are to prevent organic changes, then I think indeed the constitutional future of this country is gloomy. Anything more ridiculous in conception or feeble in execution I never witnessed. If the hen. Member for Bodmin divides the House, he shall certainly have my support.
§ MR. LACY
said, that he never was so surprised in his life as he was on Saturday, on returning from the sea-side, to which he had taken a sick relative, at finding that Bodmin was to be placed in the schedule. Never had so foul a charge been made against a borough that had deserved it less. The report stated that the treating was without the knowledge of the sitting Member. The Solicitor General, however, in arguing upon it afterwards, said it did not matter whether it was done by the principal or agents. Now, in Bodmin it was neither the one nor the other. He (Mr. Lacy) had not got the evidence; but he presumed his solicitor had. The thing had already been disagreeable enough with- 72 out his reading the evidence. It had cost him about 1,000l.; and he was still open to be asked by every booby that he met, if it was not yet settled. He had been bothered and plagued merely because an hon. Member, like a schoolboy, had said, "Tom is as bad as I am; why don't you put Bodmin down?" The Solicitor General had no objection to put Bodmin down, not having road one word of the evidence. In his case, it was proved that six gentlemen clubbed together to pay for eighty tickets. One refused to pay, and the other five had to defray the expense. He himself never heard of it until three weeks after the election, and yet he was to be put into such a Bill as that. He should move that Bodmin be expunged from the schedule.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that in inserting Bodmin, he had only followed the general rule in regard to all those cases in which special reports were made. However small the amount given to voters at elections, it was evidently given for the purpose of influencing their votes; and such was a case for inquiry by the House of Commons.
§ MR. BANKES
The Solicitor General had admitted that this was a very weak case; and he (Mr. Bankes) wished to know whether, on a weak case, the House would consent to put Bodmin in the Bill? As the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had truly and eloquently said, if they passed this Bill, they would succeed in bringing upon that House the ridicule of the country.
§ MR. G. TURNER
said, the Solicitor General had admitted that he had not read the evidence in the case of the Bodmin election. Yet he called upon the House to perform a judicial duty. He doubted whether the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) was contributing much to the cause of purity of election by proposing to meet a great evil by punishing constituencies for giving 5s. refreshments to poor voters. He thought the best course for the House would be to sanction a provision in the Bill allowing a reasonable amount of refreshment to the electors.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
had been urged to put Bodmin and Bolton in the Bill by Members on the other side of the House. He was perfectly willing to withdraw the names of Bodmin and Bolton from the Bill, if such was the pleasure of the House.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, the further they went into this Bill the more extraordinary 73 it seemed, and the more difficult it was to reconcile its provisions with common sense. There seemed to be no principle acted upon in the selection of the boroughs to he inserted in the Bill—they were kicked into the Bill and kicked out again on mere caprice. The Solicitor General ought to show why he would not exempt Bolton and Bodmin, and put in Aylesbury and Lincoln. Was there no better justification for all the penalties and inquisition which this measure provided than such whimsical notions? He thought they were going on in a course which must end by covering the authors of this Bill with ridicule, and disgusting the whole constituency of England.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I want to know what it is that the Government really intend doing with this Bill. It seems very strange that they should consent to withdraw two boroughs from the Bill, in consequence of a very slight debate. The Solicitor General, when he spoke first, favoured us with what he called the principle of the Bill, and said it was based upon the report of the Committees. The Solicitor General, when he spoke last, favoured us with another principle of the Bill, namely, the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Wyld), whose plaintive appeal he could not forget. The hon. Member said, with great feeling, is this the return you are going to make to me for my continued support to the Government? if so, there is no encouragement whatever for hon. Gentlemen about me to support the Government, nor for me to remain its supporter. His speech was what Quintilian calls the irony of rhetoric—he made an appeal which I am sure no Secretary to the Treasury could misunderstand. The effect was great—the appeal was at once responded to. The hon. Gentleman was successful, not only for himself, but for a more distinguished Gentleman, the name of whose borough was also set down in that fatal schedule. The learned Doctor the Member for Bolton, has, through that appeal, also escaped. I can well understand the astonishing efficacy of this most telling little speech. The hon. Gentleman sits on the favoured side of the House. But the learned Doctor (Bowring) disclaims against being excepted. He saw in a moment the innocence and inexperience of the hon. Member for Bodmin—he saw instinctively that his appeal would tell, and, feeling that, took a high ground. He called for investigation. He confessed that 74 some of the Bolton electors were corrupt and profligate. I have not the slightest doubt of it. I never knew an election in which the candidates did not say that those who voted against them were corrupt and profligate; nor a beaten candidate that did not say the whole constituency was the basest in the united kingdom, although there was not a shilling expended. I believe there is no subject about which so much monstrous exaggeration is resorted to as this one of bribery. The Solicitor General, the servant of the Crown, has surely selected the best evidence, and made out the best case; and yet Her Majesty's Solicitor General brings forward a Bill of pains and penalties, and asks the House to sanction it. Upon what grounds? Why is this measure for purifying the constituencies of England brought forward? Why is this stigma affixed upon some of our old boroughs and upon whole constituencies? Listen to Her Majesty's Solicitor General, After an election in one borough, it had been proved, horribile dictu! that a man and his wife, who had come many miles to vote, had accepted a five-shilling ticket for refreshments from the friends of one of the candidates. Now, this is a culled instance—this is a chosen case—this is the best testimony which the Solicitor General of the Crown can produce, in order to call upon the House of Commons to disfranchise a constituency of this country. I confess, Sir (I admit that it is a great fault on ray part), that although anxious to discharge my duty as a Member of this House, that I have not yet read this Bill through. I have sufficient experience to know, that at the end of July or the beginning of August there is always some strange, newfangled scheme introduced before the Legislature by the Government, who, like skilful actors, wish that the last scene of the melodrama should be the most brilliant, and that the curtain should not fall until the blue lights and rosy flashes have gratified the imagination, if not the understanding, of the spectators. A poor elector and his wife get 5s. for refreshment—they purchase a slice of roast mutton and a glass of brandy and water, which are as much as 5s. at election times would purchase, provisions being twice as dear then as it any other period. Are these people to be summoned, and brought perhaps ten miles to be examined upon this five-shilling refreshment? This is the evidence upon which the Solicitor General is to carry out his Bribery and Corrupt Prac- 75 tices at Elections Bill. Well, then lot us look at the machinery by which this Bill is to he worked out. The Commissioners are to hold courts of inquiry on the spot. They are to proceed in the gravest manner to put an old man and woman to the rack about a glass of brandy and water and a slice of mutton, or a pint of half-and-half. The Commissioners are to come down from London, open an inquiry "in the market-house, or other public building," with great expense and great solemnity, about a plate of mutton and a glass of beer. And then the unfortunate old man and woman that have accepted this treat are to be frightened out of their wits, and to be obliged to travel several miles, it may he, to be tested about this awful corruption. And then, says the Bill, the Commissioners must publish the notice of such investigation in some newspaper in general circulation. This awful affair about the old man and woman having the slice of mutton and glass of beer is to be made the subject of all this parade, all this exposure and judicial paraphernalia. But this is not wild hypothesis—this is the dry substance of an Act of Parliament brought forward by Her Majesty's Solicitor General; and these are the instances selected to justify his legislation. Now, I ask the House, can anything make legislation more farcical; and is it possible that the House of Commons can for a moment lend its sanction to such conduct? Had it been straightforward and stupid legislation, the House might have tolerated it. But it was stupid, and at the same time subtle—and so managed, that hon. Gentlemen who sat on the other side of the House, if they supported the Government—may escape the impending disaster. This admixture of the lower motives of Parliamentary life, and such pretended purity of legislation, will not be lost upon the country. We are now told as suddenly as their insertion was proposed, that two boroughs are to be omitted in this black list. I want to know why Sligo and Lancaster, neither of which are in the printed schedule, have not been also omitted by the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Solicitor General) along with Bolton and Bodmin? Why are their names to be retained, and Bolton and Bodmin left out? And why should Bolton and Bodmin escape with impunity? I should be sorry for our legislation to be annoying to the learned Doctor opposite (Dr. Bowring), or to the hon. Gentleman who gave such splendid maps to the borough of Bodmin. 76 Well, I do not think that geological knowledge in this country is too extensive—and a present of maps should be encouraged rather than be repressed. But if Bodmin and Bolton are to be omitted, why should not Sligo and Lancaster? Some person, it seems, threw the names into the lion's mouth in the same manner, and why were they permitted to remain? I think it is highly objectionable that this Bill should not have been reprinted, and an accurate schedule of the intentions of the Government put before us. I think, too, that we ought to have some more formal notice of a measure to disfranchise the people of England. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL: It was three times on the Votes.] On the Votes! Why, not one Member in fifty ever sees the Votes. I think that a notice of so important a character should have been given in a more solemn way. I will ask the House whether so important a matter ought to be treated in so flippant a manner? I think, too, that the whole argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Solicitor General) was unworthy of himself. The Government ought to have come forward with a clear statement of what they intend. It is not altogether that these two boroughs, in this flippant manner, are taken out of this Bill of pains and penalties; but what will be the effect produced upon the public? You call upon the country to sanction what is, at the first sight, one of the greatest invasions of the constituent privileges that can be contemplated, and you hold out to the country that you have not ventured to take the step until after the most matured investigation, and the deepest and wisest counsel. But what does the Crown officer say tonight with a frankness that does him honour? Why, that the Bill was prepared in a haphazard manner—that names of boroughs were flung across the table of the House, and that he inserted them in this black law—that an hon. Gentleman, not now present, over the green table, said, if you insert such a borough, why not insert such another borough—and that the Solicitor General, in order to show that there was no such thing as party feeling, says he is ready for anything, and takes the first name which is thrown over the table, and inserts it in this Bill to disfranchise the people of England. After the strange confessions of the Solicitor General to-night, the Committee, I think, will do well to take a little more time for consideration, before it proceeds with this Bill. 77 We ought to move that you, Sir, report progress, in order that the Government may come forward with a measure more matured and better founded. The hon. and learned Member's proposition ought to be sanctioned, not only by the evidence as it exists, but by their own counsel; and I hope the Government will not attempt to take a course which, as regards the people of England, is the most important that they could take, without a little more thought and consideration for the public rights and public opinion. That the Government may have the opportunity of pursuing that course, I move that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, that he could not but admire the tactics which on this occasion were pursued by the hon. Gentleman. They were quite new, exceedingly ingenious, and might be found of great use, if not in promoting the public welfare—if not in attaining any measure useful to the State—at least in embarrassing the progress of measures which might have such objects in view. He had heard it lately made a matter of regret that there was not at present a leader of Opposition in the House—a leader who might in some degree control, and be responsible, for the conduct of the party who followed him. But although that was the state of things which existed in former days, he could not but observe that Gentlemen opposite had now found a better plan. They had two leaders of Opposition, who it appeared were to adopt two different lines of policy. His hon. and learned Friend, the Solicitor General, yielding, it might be, too soon and too easily to suggestions from the other side of the House relative to Bodmin, presented an opportunity for the new school of tactics to be displayed. First, then, got up the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, one of the leaders of the Opposition, and he considered that Bodmin had been inserted in the schedule on far too light grounds—that there had not been sufficient evidence adduced to justify its appearance there at all. The hon. Gentleman was supported in that view. The general sense of the House appeared to be with him. There was no charge against the sitting Member—the charges which were made against the electoral body were confined to a few persons. Such being the case, his hon. and learned Friend consented to leave Bodmin out of the schedule. Up immediately started the other leader of the Op- 78 position, exclaiming that in sparing Bodmin we could only be acting from corrupt motives; that he would not have thought of omitting Bodmin and Bolton, if the Members for Bodmin and Bolton had not been supported by Government; and so inferring that all supporters of Government had nothing to fear. Now let the House observe the tact with which this was managed. Had Bodmin been retained in schedule, what an outcry we should have had! The hon. Member for Dorsetshire would have taken up the cry—Government were acting most unjustly—here was a great case of hardship: a borough disfranchised for a couple of slices of cold mutton and a glass of brandy and water. But now came the stratagem—now appeared the obvious advantage of leaders of Opposition marching different ways—one Gentleman very indignant at the insertion of Bodmin—the other Gentleman very indignant at the omission of Bodmin. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire talked of this Bill as brought in to produce the effect of the last scene in a melodrama. If it were a melodrama, certainly both the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Dorsetshire and Buckinghamshire played well their parts, having settled beforehand that one hon. Gentlemen was to be indignant at the insertion of Bodmin, while the other was to be indignant at its omission. He thought that in bringing forward this Bill, and asking the consent of the House to it, the only fair ground they could take was, the assertions of the different reports of Committees appointed by the House. The hon. Member for Oxford-shire said that they ought to have pursued a different course; and he begged the Committee to consider what would have been the case if they had taken that course. Was his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General to have gone through the evidence in each of these cases, and without attending to the report of the Committee—was he to have carefully weighed the value of the evidence of every witness, and have determined how much criminality attached to each? If they had come forward and had said, "We have gone through the evidence in the case of fifteen boroughs; we do not rely on the reports, but we have made up our minds that, as to twelve of these boroughs, there is sufficient evidence, and that as to three there is not"—only conceive what a case the hon. Member for Oxfordshire would have had to have followed through all the evidence. He 79 would have said, "They proceed entirely on party grounds. I will show you on the evidence of John Brown and Thomas White, you ought to have inserted this borough, and omitted the other." It would have lasted the hon. Member for Oxford-shire, with his ingenuity and readiness in picking holes and taking an advantage, for a whole year; and they would have been sitting on this Bill till Christmas. If they had fallen into that trap, he was quite sure the hon. Member would have delighted in the torments he would have inflicted on them, and he knew not when the hon. Member would have let them out of it. He thought they had taken a far better course in saying they would go by the report of the Committees. From nothing which he had heard to-night, or on various other nights (and they bad had somewhat long and not very amusing discussion on this subject), had he been at all persuaded that it was not right in Parliament to proceed and carry a Bill of this kind. His impression was, that after the number of Committees they had had sitting this year, and the number of those Committees who had declared that, in certain cases there were practices which had prevailed, not only in late elections, but in many former elections, either of bribery or treating, he thought it was due to the country that there should be some further investigation; and that Parliament should have before it the means of carefully considering what measures they should adopt on this subject. If they shut their eyes and said they would take no further proceedings, they would throw great suspicion on their conduct. His belief was that they had taken the fairest method of investigation—the most impartial mode of investigation—by requiring the Committee to be formed like Election Committees; and if these Committees thought it advisable to have the examination on the spot, then to have a commissioner named by the senior Judge who appointed the revising barrister. He believed that was at least an impartial course. These boroughs, as he had said, were taken out of this general mass, on account of these reports being made; and when they were asked what course they should pursue after these reports were made, he must say that must depend on the nature of the evidence and the opinion of the Committee. At all events, he thought that, by this strict inquiry, they would show they were ready to condemn these corrupt practices. He believed it 80 would redound to the character of the House that they should show themselves ready to investigate the cases and adopt such measures; and he was sure that hon. Gentlemen who had given as much opposition to this measure as if it had been a party measure of the Government, would find themselves, by maintaining the character of Parliament, as much gainers as any other parties.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that in this discussion they had had tragedy, comedy, and melodrame, and it would be well if at last they did not come to farce. The noble Lord had said that there was a private understanding on that side of the House to take a particular hue; but did it not occur to the noble Lord—he was sure it would to the country—that no Gentleman, or set of Gentlemen, or human being, could have imagined that the Government would take the course it had done. Was it very hard to conceive that on a question affecting the rights and the franchise of the people of this country, that the Government would have put places into the schedule of the Bill without examination, and then without examination put them out? In the whole history of Parliament, such another instance could not be found. The noble Lord found fault with him (Mr. Henley) because he wished the evidence to be looked to; but that was the natural course for any one who wished to come to a correct conclusion. But the operation of the Bill, after all, was like hanging a man first and trying him afterwards. Was it not a fact that both the Committee and the Commission would commence their labours with a foregone conclusion? He contended that they were not in a position to go further with the Bill that night; from the conduct of the Government it was more and more apparent that they ought not to proceed hastily. He thought the proceedings of to-night would go far to satisfy the people of England that Members of this House were inclined to "strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." The very hair on their head seemed to stand on end at hearing that a poor unfortunate devil had got a glass of beer for his vote; and yet when an hon. Member got up and complained of their inserting his borough in the schedule, though he had supported the Government for the last three months, that instant the borough was taken out of the Bill.
§ DR. BOWRING
said, after what had passed, he could not consent to Bolton 81 being withdrawn. He denied that the Government could have been influenced to withdraw it from party motives; for his hon. Colleague invariably voted against Government, and he gave them by no means an unqualified support. But he courted inquiry, and he was sure if there were vile and corrupt people among the electors, it was for the interest of all parties that they should be exposed.
This comes of "that same giving back." A stratagem of war, of course a blameless one, is played off upon us from the opposite side of the House. Resistance is made to putting two boroughs into the schedule; and when the Government concedes the point, it is told it was because the Members for those boroughs voted on their side. The only way to get out of this position, is for the Government side of the House to insist on coming to a division, and then their constituents will know what every man supported. The tendency of leaving these boroughs out of the schedule, is plainly to give ground for maintaining that treating is not bribery. Bribery is admitted to be a sin; but treating was never prohibited. The distinction is taken from that chaplain to Newgate, who said, "If you will drink, let it be punch, which is a liquor nowhere spoken against in Scripture." This side of the House knows full well, that treating operates against the purity of election as well as bribery, and that the object of both is the same, to give the decision of elections to the longest purse. The only way for the independent Members on the Government side to clear themselves, would be to go to a division.
§ The Committee divided on the question that the Chairman do report progress:—Ayes 35; Noes 116: Majority 81.
|List of the AYES.|
|Arkwright, G.||Herries, rt. hon. J. C.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Bankes, G.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Benbow, J.||Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.|
|Benett, J.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Miles, W.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Burroughes, H. N.||Napier, J.|
|Cabbell, B. B.||Neeld, J.|
|Coles, H. B.||O'Brien, Sir L.|
|Dodd, G.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Floyer, J.||Taylor, T. E.|
|Forbes, W.||Urquhart, D.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Verner, Sir W.|
|Goddard, A. L.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Grogan, E.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||TELLERS.|
|Harris, hon. Capt.||Disraeli, B.|
|Henley, J. W.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Abdy, T. N.||Lennard, T. B.|
|Adair, H. E.||Lewis, G. C.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Locke, J.|
|Anson, hon. Col.||M'Cullagh, W. T.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||M'Gregor, J.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Mandeville, Visct.|
|Bagshaw, J.||Matheson, A.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Matheson, Col.|
|Barron, Sir H. W.||Maule, rt. hon. F.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Melgund, Visct.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Monsell, W.|
|Berkeley, hon. C. F.||Morpeth, Visct.|
|Blackall, S. W.||Morris, D.|
|Bowring, Dr.||O'Brien, T.|
|Boyle, hon. Col.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Paget, Lord A.|
|Brockman, E. D.||Paget, Lord C.|
|Brotherton, J.||Parker, J.|
|Brown, W.||Pearson, C.|
|Buller, C.||Perfect, R.|
|Bunbury, E. H.||Pilkington, J.|
|Buxton, Sir E. N.||Price, Sir R.|
|Callaghan, D.||Raphael, A.|
|Christy, S.||Reynolds, J.|
|Clay, J.||Ricardo, O.|
|Clay, Sir. W.||Rich, H.|
|Clements, hon. C. S.||Romilly, Sir J.|
|Cobden, R.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Craig, W. G.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Dick, Q.||Sandars, J.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Scholefield, W.|
|Duncan, G.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Duncuft, J.||Smith, J. B.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Somerville, rt. hon. Sir W.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Spearman, H. J.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Spooner, R.|
|Fagan, W.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Ferguson, Sir R. A.||Tancred, H. W.|
|FitzPatrick, rt. hon. J.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Fortescue, hon. J. W.||Thompson, Col.|
|Fox, W. J.||Thompson, G.|
|Gladstone, rt. hon. W. E.||Thornely, T.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Tollemache, hon. F. J.|
|Greenall, G.||Townshend, Capt.|
|Greene, J.||Turner, E.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Turner, G. J.|
|Grey, R. W.||Tynte, Col.|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Hawes, B.||Watkins, Col.|
|Hay, Lord J.||Willcox, B. M.|
|Hayter, W. G.||Wilson, J.|
|Headlam, T. E.||Wilson, M.|
|Heald, J.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Howard, P. H.||Wood, W. P.|
|Hutt, W.||Wyld, J.|
|Jervis, Sir J.|
|Labouchere, rt. hon. H.||Tufnell, H.|
|Lacy, H. C.||Hill, Lord M.|
§ The question that Bodmin be added to the Schedule negatived.
§ On the question that Bolton be inserted in the Schedule, the Committee divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 14: Majority 104.
|List of the NOES.|
|Benbow, J.||Boldero, H. G.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Christy, S.|
|Disraeli, B.||Somerset, Capt.|
|Dodd, G.||Taylor, T. E.|
|Mullings, J. R.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Newdegate, C. N.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Sibthorp, Col.||Henley, J. W.|
§ House resumed. Bill to be re-committed.
§ House adjourned at a quarter to Two o'clock.