HC Deb 20 July 1848 vol 100 cc603-10

LORD JOHN RUSSELL moved the Second Reading.


hoped that the noble Lord would not at that hour of the night proceed with a Bill of so complicated a character, which in his judgment it was impossible properly to consider during the present Session. The period could not be far distant when a prorogation must take place, and, therefore, to suppose it possible to carry such a measure was out of the question. What had the present Government done since November? They had promised everything, but done nothing. He did not hesitate to say that a more incompetent, a more deceitful, or, as the hon. Member for Youghal had said, a more "hollow and treacherous" Ministry had never occupied the Teeasury benches. But what had that House done? Since the month of November, 70 public Rills had been introduced, of which 10 were withdrawn; and 44 Bills had been introduced by private Members, of which 15 had been withdrawn; and many of these Bills had been measures of great importance. This Bill, if it were to be read a second time to-night, could not pass both Houses at an earlier period than three weeks. He objected to it, therefore, because of the late period of the Session at which it bad been brought in; he objected also to its complicated machinery, and to its partiality. He objected to the Bill because there was to be a secret and a scandalous inquiry into the private concerns not only of the constituency, but of Members of Parliament, their characters and conduct, who were liable to be summoned before the Commission. He felt it to be his duty to reject this Bill in limine, and he should move that it be read a second time that day six months.


, although he entirely concurred in many of the observations of his hon. and gallant Friend, could not concur in his present Motion; because, though he might object to the details of the Bill, he considered the principle of the measure to be so great an improvement upon the Bill which had been withdrawn, that he rejoiced at the discretion the noble Lord had used. It was but fair to state that their object had been, not to screen delinquency, but that the inquiry should be fairly and fitly conducted; and, now that they had a Bill which gave a hope of such fair and proper inquiry, they gave it a ready acquiescence. For himself, he was satisfied in giving his decided support to the present stage of the measure, though he believed they must look to another Session of Parliament for the remedial operation of the Bill, which could have no operation this Session; and he hoped, therefore, when the noble Lord introduced this Bill, he had made up his mind not to withheld the writs for the places now deprived of representatives. As to the borough of Derby, it did appear to him that no case had been made out which would justify the House in withholding the writ; and unless very strong circumstances were shown with regard to Leicester, he should say the same of that borough. As to the time at which the present measure was to come into operation—though the noble Lord might be disposed to pass it with as little delay as possible—yet it was to be hoped that the Bill would not take effect during the present Session. He regretted that the noble Lord had not earlier turned his attention to the subject, for it scarcely was it becoming in him, as Prime Minister, to bring forward a measure which he did not fully approve. He hoped, however, when they got into Committee on the Bill, they would be able, with the and of the noble Lord, to remedy its defects. He would not, however, conclude those brief observations without protesting against treating being considered as equivalent to bribery. It might be necessary to restrain treating; but there was no necessity for confounding it with bribery. He had only to add, that he should support the Bill of the noble Lord.


said, the hon. and gallant Member opposite had referred to him respecting the measure now before the House, and had accused him of bringing forward the Bill. Greater justice, however, had been done to him by the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, who gave a more correct version of the facts. For many years past he had taken great part in the inquiries which had been instituted into that class of subjects respecting which it was now proposed to legislate; and he well knew the invidious nature of the task imposed upon those who undertook to bring forward measure of that class; it was, therefore, unwillingly that he applied himself to the subject. The hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House had told them that he (Lord J. Russell) did not agree with the arguments put forward by those who originally supported the Bill; and that he did not concur in the views entertained by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Flint boroughs. To this the only reply he thought it necessary to make was, that, upon a subject of such a nature, it appeared to him most desirable to obtain as much agreement as possible; and, thinking the Bill sufficient for its purpose, he had consented to support it. As the hon. Gentleman opposite said they had no desire for bribery, he hoped they would support the Bill. He framed it in its present shape, believing it to be the best that he could under the circumstances hope to carry; and, as he had not been convinced by the arguments urged against the Bill, he could hardly do otherwise than persevere in proceeding with it. Though the hon. and gallant Member as well as other Gentlemen present were opposed to the Bill, yet he believed the great majority of the House were willing to go into Committee, and consider its details. This being, as he fully believed, the sense of the House, he considered it was not reasonable to move an adjournment of the debate. He had been accused of bringing forward the Bill on the 20th of July. But if he had not done it then, he must have brought it forward at a still later period of the Session.


observed, that they were about entering upon an inquiry into the conduct of certain boroughs. If they showed that they were in earnest, he would be willing for his part to make a return of the expenses that he had incurred at the last election; and if other Gentlemen did the same, it would greatly facilitate the proposed inquiry. He could not understand why the boroughs regarding which petitions were presented, should be the only places subjected to investigation. He should support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Lincoln; and he believed that the noble Lord himself would be glad to get rid of the Bill.


supported the second reading. There had been a feeling in the country formerly that Election Committees did not do their duty; but after what had recently taken place the same feeling could no longer exist. He disliked the previous measures which had been introduced on this subject; but he thought such a Bill as the present necessary; and, without pledging himself to all the details, he hoped that it might be made a good Bill in Committee.


, after some observations, consented to withdraw the Motion, adding that his objections to the principle of the Bill remained unaltered. If it passed, it would be a reflection upon the reports of judicial tribunals, that is to say, the Com- mittees by whom the petitions from the places named in the schedule had been tried. Not one word had been said by the noble Lord or by the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) concerning the borough of Horsham. Yet it was a matter of notoriety that at the present assizes for the county of Sussex a qui tam action was pending, in which an informer was the plaintiff, and Her Majesty's Attorney General the defendant! It was not consistent with the dignity of the Government or its officers that such an inquiry should be left in such hands; and what did it suggest? Either that the noble Lord was not sincere in the wish he professed to scrutinise the malpractices of the late Ministerial Member for the borough of Horsham; or that the proposal of this Bill, recommended by the noble Lord, was backed from the additional consideration, that if it passed there would then he accorded to the defendant in that action a powerful reason for moving the court to postpone the trial. ["Hear!" and loud cries of "Divide!"] These were circumstances which those hon. Members who cried "divide" would do well to remember, because they afforded reasons for demanding the postponement of this Bill until a Sussex jury had given its verdict in the action against the Attorney General. On looking over the schedule in this Bill, he observed that the few boroughs in it which were charged with bribery and corruption were boroughs represented by the great Reform party opposite, the more immediate adherents of the Government. The inquiry which the Bill proposed was one that would last for a long period of time. It would be one commencing with the earliest time, and ending with the year 1848. But he could not avoid directing observation to one point. In some instances, as in the case of Leicester, the Committee had recommended that there should be further inquiry; and the recommendation was not acted upon. The Members returned were supporters of the noble Lord. In other cases, as in that of Great Yarmouth, the recommendation was acted upon; but the sitting Member in that instance sat on the opposition side of the House. Probably the noble Lord hoped to gratify the great Reform party with a small measure, in requital for the great disappointment he had recently given them, and so had reserved those cases which might please them; for, in the plentitude of his power, he had granted further inquiry into cases in which the Committee had not recommended it. But he (Mr. Anstey) objected to the Bill on four grounds. In the first place, because it had an ex post facto operation, which was contrary to the spirit of English law. In the next place, because its operation was partial, being confined to certain boroughs and constituencies, and not extended to all. In the third place, because it was confined in its operation to those boroughs and other constituencies, the disfranchisement of which seemed to be desired by a certain party in the House, whilst every other was excluded. And in the fourth place, because its principle was not uniform, it proceeding in one instance upon a principle which, in another place, it denied; receiving hearsay evidence in one part, which it rejected in another. There seemed to be a suspicious inconsistency in leaving London out of the proposed inquiry. For if rumour told truth, the noble Lord had undergone enormous expenses in his election, in which hundreds of pounds went for nothing, and in which the entire expenses, he (Mr. Anstey) believed, were upwards of 30,000l. Did the noble Lord mean to deny that the principal contributor to that fund was the great representative of the monied interest before which the noble Lord cowered? Did he mean to deny that rumour—and more than rumour, although there were laws of libel and slander which it was dangerous to infringe—could he deny that men had had the courage out of the House, on their responsibility to the law and to society, to denounce the fact, and to point to the very men who had received the rewards they had earned by voting for the noble Lord and Baron Rothschild? Would the noble Lord grant an inquiry into the condition of the city of London? Then the witnesses under his indemnity clause might come forward and identify themselves. But there seemed to be something of playing fast and loose in the affair. It seemed that mere rumour was sufficient, in some instances, to cause the institution of an inquiry for the purposes of disfranchising freemen; but it was not sufficient to set on foot an inquiry which might fix a stigma on the character and conduct of a great Minister of State.

The House divided on the question, that the word "now" stand part of the question:—Ayes 216: Noes 9; Majority 207.

[It will be sufficient on the division to give the Noes only.]

List of the NOES.
Anstey, T. C. Somerset, Capt.
Archdall, Capt. Urquhirt, D.
Halsey, T. P. Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Hobhousc, T. B. TELLERS.
Hodgson, W. N. Hudson, G.
Mandeville, Visct. Sibthorp, Col.

Bill read a second time.