HC Deb 27 July 1848 vol 100 cc915-22

On the Order of the Day for going into Committee,


said, he considered this a most partial measure, inasmuch as the city of London and other boroughs, the constituencies of which were amongst the most corrupt in the country, were exempted from its operation; and he would therefore oppose the Bill clause by clause. It was not unusual, he believed, for hon. Gentlemen holding high situations—Under Secretaries of State, for instance—to promise electors situations in the Customs or Excise for their sons, and situations as necessary women or dressers for the female members of their families. If this Bill received the sanction of Parliament no man would be secure from the charge of corrupt practices, although he might be perfectly innocent. He was aware that he might be charged with offering a factious opposition to the measure; but he considered that he was justified in opposing a Bill of this nature by every means in his power. He (Col. Sibthorp) begged to move as an Amendment that the Bill be committed that day three months.


thought that the greater part of the observations of the hon. and gallant Member would be more in place in Committee on the Bill. He trusted, therefore, that they would be allowed to go into Committee on the Bill, as the hon. and gallant Member would have other opportunities, at future stages of the Measure, of persevering in his opposition to it, should he then think fit to do so.


said, that the objections to the measure were not objections of detail, but of principle and substance; and no more amendments in Committee could set right a Bill which was open to opposition on such grounds. How could it be said that boroughs—and such were included in this Bill—could be guilty of corrupt practices, when Committees had reported of the Members for them that they had merely been guilty by their agents of treating? He admitted that treating might be carried on upon so large and costly a scale as, in some cases, to amount to bribery; but acts of that kind answered for themselves. Harmless acts of treating were not illegal at common law; but they were now considered wrong, because prohibited by an Act of Parliament. Why, this was poisoning morality at its very source. But if harmless treating was to be designated as "corrupt practices," what designation was to be given to the bribery of the Whigs of Derby, and of the Radicals of Leicester? But boroughs were introduced into the schedule attached to this Bill, with respect to which Committees of that House had reported that further inquiry was necessary; others, with regard to which it was not reported that such inquiry was necessary; and others, in reference to which Committees had reported that further inquiry was not necessary. The hon. Member showed that this was the case, by reference to some of the boroughs named in the Bill. The Bill, too, was an ex post facto law. What course should Parliament take? Was it intended that the decision of the Commissioner should be upheld and acted upon, unless a strong-ease was made to the country? His objection to the Bill was not on account of its details, but of its principle. The second section gave such plenary powers to the Commissioners that it removed them entirely from the jurisdiction of the House. The fourth section empowered the Commissioners to revise the decisions of Election Committees. Those who had borne the inconvenience and enormous expense of a contest before an Election Committee, were to be afterwards subjected to the annoyance of having a decision in their favour reversed. The third section empowered the Commissioners to inquire not only into the mal-practices of electors, but whether such practices were in conformity with the customs of the place. The Commissioners had first to inquire what was custom; and this would involve them in such antiquarian researches as, at five guineas a day, would be the source of no small profit to the learned Gentleman engaged in the inquiry. This mischievous Bill would prove a fertile source of expense to the country, and also cause a delay of justice. A suffcient number of learned and competent men could not be found to act as Commissioners. The deficiency would have to be supplied by the appointment of parties who were unsuccessful in their profession; and these men would have to decide on the character of Members of that hon. House. A few unknown barristers, in whose selection the House had no voice, would be invested with the power of inflicting the severest pains and penalties on their fellow subjects. While the Speaker was to authorise parties to prosecute an inquiry into an election, no provision was made for hearing the parties interested. This was very disgraceful indeed. It was disgraceful for those who always had the name of liberty on their lips, and who, when they sought to oppress the weak, did it in the name of human progress—it was disgraceful for them to cause such interruption. The eleventh clause gave absolute power to the Commissioners to summon witnesses, and examine them without any of those restrictions which the constitution had interposed to prevent breaches of faith and personal honour. The spiritual relation of clergyman and penitent, and also that of lawyer and client, were to afford no protection to the witness. He was hound to answer every question, or be subjected to such penalties as were inflicted by the superior courts of Westminster Hall on persons refusing to give evidence. The second clause gave an indemnity against future prosecution for bribery, perjury, &c, to all who might come forward and give evidence under this Bill. [An Hon. MEMBER: Divide, divide!] No, the House shall not divide; and I speak in the spirit of prophecy when I say so. This Bill offered a direct premium to guilty men to come forward and give evidence, not of the truth, but of such facts as they might think fit to adduce; and then it was enacted that, after they had once satisfied that condition of giving evidence, right or wrong, true or false, it mattered not to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. Then, forsooth, they were to be exempted from all liability to prosecution—not only for acts to which their evidence related, but for all practices whatsoever, however guilty in character, or however openly proved against them in the existing courts of criminal jurisdiction, which might in any manner relate to the previous election. So that if, for instance, in the case of Horsham, the guilty party came forward and said, "I am the party that bribed—I bought and sold the electors," it would then be impossible to prosecute him. No notice was to be taken of the truth or falsehood of the evidence. He (Mr. Anstey) was justified, therefore, in describing this measure to be but a servile copy of the Bill of the hon. Member for the Flint boroughs. Clause seventeen referred to the expenses of the inquiries; it provided that every Commissioner under this Act should be paid at the rate of 5l. 5s. every day that he should be actually employed in conducting any inquiries under the Act, over and above his travelling and other expenses. The Commissioners would have to lay before the Treasury a statement of the number of days that they had been employed, together with an account of their travelling and other expenses; and then the Treasury was to make an order for the payment of the same. Now, there was no provision in the Bill that the "travelling and other expenses" should he properly and necessarily incurred—no limit was assigned to what might be a wasteful and profligate expenditure; not that he attached very much importance to any such limitation. The eighteenth clause prevented the appointment of any counsel for the defence. The inquiry might be, and probably would be, exparte. If it were to be so, then there would be a consistent tenor of injustice, whereat hon. Members who valued uniformity over and above every thing else, would no doubt rejoice. This Act would, notwithstanding any declaration in itself to the contrary, be a private and not a public Act; and the result would be a series of actions at law, and conflicts of the Judges with that House, such as they had witnessed when, amid the cheers of Members occupying seats on the Ministerial side of the House, it was proposed to summon to their bar, and commit to the Tower, the venerable Judges of the land for having duly administered justice. He concluded by saying that he would go with his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sibthorp) into the lobby against the further progress of this Bill


, having taken part with his hon. and gallant Friend in opposing this Bill when it was last before the House, begged to say that, on the present occasion, he would altogether abstain from voting upon it. As he found that, in offering his opposition to this Bill in its present state, he differed from those hon. Gentlemen with whom he was in the habit of acting, he felt that he had no right any longer to obstruct its progress. But his objections to the principles of this Bill were as strong as ever. He was perfectly satisfied that this Bill would confer no benefit upon, whilst it would introduce into, all the boroughs to which it related scenes of unpleasantness and heartburnings. It was impossible for it to produce any good effect. He thought the hon. and learned Solicitor General would have acted wisely had he listened to the few observations which fell from his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lincoln, who suggested that, rather than look for any practical and beneficial results under this Bill, he should apply his legal mind and judgment to the amendment of the law, which had been found inefficient in its operation, and endangered the seat of every Member in that House. If he had set about some such definite measure as that, he was satisfied that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have accomplished the object which he had in view, viz., the prevention of practices which no one in that House could justify. A long inquiry had taken place before a Committee of that House with regard to his (Mr. Hudson's) own election for the city of York. And what was the result? The production of a large blue book. With regard to the evidence given therein, no proceedings were afterwards taken. The effect of that inquiry was to spread dissension throughout the city of York. Men were fetched from York, who reported private conversations held with him—a practice which the Solicitor General himself would be the first to reprobate. And he (Mr. Hudson) saw no protection against similar mal-practices being suffered to take place with regard to the boroughs named in this Bill. Private conversations at the dinner table, and elsewhere, were reported to the Committee on the York election; his banking book—nothing was too sacred to be exposed to the world through the medium of the Election Committee. If they wished to put an end to corrupt practices at elections, let them bring forward some measure embodying a definite and general principle. Why should they seek to visit a few boroughs with punishment, and allow corruption and bribery to have full play throughout the rest of the kingdom? He could not see with what fairness, or semblance of fairness, the right hon. Gentleman could push on this Bill. In London it was alleged that corrupt practices took place at the last election; and surely London, too, ought to form one of the names in the schedule of the Bill. It was the poor and miserable—"the runners," as they were called—men who followed the candidate about, and were obliged to cheer whether the Members made a good speech or a bad one—that would feel the penalties of the Bill most. If they did not allow refreshments to the poor voters, the practical effect of the Bill would be to disfranchise all but the wealthy voters, for the poor man would not walk a long distance merely to give his vote, unable, as he often had been, to provide refreshments for himself. The Bill did not grapple with the influence, the unjust influence, of the opulent, and the noble, and the powerful. Their legislation was entirely directed against the poor man. It was well known that the hon. Member for the West Riding and his friends had resorted to the system of creating faggot votes, by first buying a piece of land, and then dividing it; and by this means they had carried several elections. This fact showed that it was not by giving refreshments only that many elections bad been overborne. It was a system which influenced the votes, not in a legitimate, proper, and constitutional manner. Again, he could name boroughs in his own neighbourhood, the representation of which was really vested in a noble Lord. Was not this a greater violence to the constitution than the receipt by a poor man of his refreshments? The object, however, was to disfranchise the poor freemen, by whom the Reform Bill had in reality been carried, through the means of a specious inquiry. And what would be the practical result? The Solicitor General had not ventured to answer this question; but he ought to do so, and not quite depend upon his majorities. What would the hon. Gentleman do with Horsham and Derby? What would be the practical effect of it in these boroughs? It would have been fairer to the House if the Solicitor General had told them what would be the real result of the proposed inquiry? People could not be made pure by Act of Parliament, He would conclude by again Raying, that he objected to the provisions of the Bill, although, after the majorities which had already maintained it, he would not now vote upon the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend.


called upon the Attorney General to answer two questions. The first was, whether it was in the power of the House of Commons to delegate its anthoriy to a second body; and whether a Committee of this House to which such power would be delegated, could again delegate that power to a third body, a Commission? The second question he had to ask was, whether this Bill was a private or a public Bill; and whether or no it would not be treated as a private Bill in courts of law; and further, if the decisions of the courts of law might not by this Bill be brought into collision with those of this House? He regarded the measure as partial, insidious, and hypocritical, and it was his determination to support the Amendment.

The House divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question:—Ayes 96; Noes 2: Majority 94.

[It will be sufficient to insert the Noes.]

List of the NOES.
Hodgson, W. N. Urquhart, D.
Sibthorp, col. Anstey, T. C.

House in Committee.

On Clause 2,

MR. HENLEY moved as an Amendment the omission of the words "empowering a Committee to examine sitting Members, Candidates, and their Agents." It was not fair, under such circumstances, to subject Gentlemen to severe cross-examination.

The Committee divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question;—Ayes 110; Noes 22; Majority 88.

[We give only the Noes.]

List of the NOES.
Anstey, T. C. Henley, J. W.
Bankes, G. Hood, Sir A.
Beresford, W. Mullings, J. R.
Berkpley, hon. H. F. O'Brien, Sir L.
Carew, W. H. P. Packe, C. W.
Christy, S. Sandars, G.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Urquhart, D.
Dodd, G. Waddington, H. S.
Farnham, E. B. Willoughby, Sir H.
Floyer, J.
Godson, R. TELLERS.
Gwyn, H. Sibthorp, Col.
Hall, Col. Hobhouse, T. B.

said, that as it was then twelve o'clock, and as there were fifteen other Orders of the Day to be gone through, he begged to move that the Chairman do now report progress.

The Committee divided:—Aves 2; Noes, 117: Majority 115.

List of theAYES.
Anstey, T. C. Gwyn, H.
Sibthorp, Col. Urquhart, D.

After some further conversation, House resumed. Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at a quarter past Two o'clock.