HC Deb 15 June 1848 vol 99 cc681-8

, in reference to the notice given by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire of a Motion for the issue of a new writ for the borough of Leicester, appealed to the hon. Member whether he would proceed with his Motion after the notice which had been given by the hon. Baronet opposite, comprising all the cases of vacant boroughs?


was not surprised at the appeal made to him by the noble Lord, after the unconstitutional course which had been pursued, and the inconveniences it had produced—inconveniences which had now become insufferable. He could not, after the plan which from the outset he had expressed himself determined to pursue, accede to the request. He felt bound to persevere with the Motion, in the present uncertainty of the Bill brought in by the hon. Baronet the Member for Flint passing. Since November last eighteen Acts of Parliament had been passed. Of these four were Money Acts; three were Acts for the amendment or elucidation of statutes already in existence; two were the famous Coercion Acts; one was the Superannuation Fund Act; another had reference to a Commission appointed to superintend public works in Ireland; another gave additional time for the construction of certain railways; another sanctioned certain reforms with respect to the Court of Chancery; and the last was the celebrated enactment for the suspension of the constitution of New Zealand. That was all that they had done since the month of November last. They were now in the month of June, and he could not consent to wave his present Motion until the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Flint should be disposed of, for he did not think that there was any immediate prospect of that measure coming under the consideration of the House. Indeed it was evident that a very considerable period must elapse before it could be taken into consideration, for no less than forty-eight Bills had precedence of it. It was by no means creditable to that House that they should have to make the admission that during that prolonged Session nothing had as yet been done to check corruption and repress the practice of bribery at elections beyond the clumsy and coarse device of suspending writs—an expedient which was had recourse to without regard to the size of the constituencies, and irrespectively of the merits of each particular case. No remedial measure was dreamt of until the Bill of a private Member (the Horsham Election Bill) found its way to the table of the House, in company with 48 others, in the middle of the month of June. And it was in reference to a system of legislation so tardy and so unmethodic, that he was called upon to postpone his Motion. He could not accede to any such application. The effect of the system pursued by that House, with reference to the boroughs whose writs were now in abeyance, would be to silence all complaints for the future, and foster corruption rather than to discourage it. Let them look to what had happened in the boroughs of Bewdley and Kinsale. He had not seen the reports which had emanated from Committees of that House with respect to those boroughs, and, therefore, had no authority but hearsay on which to rely; but this he knew, that it was very generally understood that the Gentleman who had proposed his noble Friend the Member for the former borough, gave a great entertainment to the constituency at the last election, and that he walked from that entertainment to the polling place. That certainly looked very like treating, but nevertheless there was no petition from Bewdley; and the reason there was not was simply this, that the party in Bewdley who were prejudiced by the "treating" which prevailed at the last election, had sufficient common sense to see that they would not get their own man by petitioning, but that all that would come of a petition would be, that the writ would be suspended, and Bewdley be left without a representative at all. In the case of Kinsale, too, the impression was strong, and of very general prevalence, that corruption and bribery had been practised at the last election. It was said that a certain body of worthy and independent electors, who had not distinguished themselves by any remarkable purity at previous elections, had taken shipping for the new world, and were waiting for the wind, when they heard that a new election was going on. The story went, that on receiving that information, they left their wives and children, disembarked, returned to Kinsale to give one more vote in their country's cause, and having done so, went back to the vessel richer if not better men. He was very far from insinuating that the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies had any cognisance of these proceedings, or gave them his sanction; but certain it was, that common report alleged most positively that they had occurred. No petition, however, was presented, the people of Kinsale being prudently of opinion that it was better to submit to the suspicion of a little corruption than undergo the certain penalty of disfranchisement. The House used to pursue a more judicious and a more equitable course in former years. In the year 1831, a petition was presented alleging that gross bribery, corruption, and treating prevailed in the borough of Liverpool. The writ was in that case suspended, but it was suspended for a limited period, the duration of which was defined. The Committee reported on the 28th of March, 1831; the writ was suspended on the 16th April until the 30th of that month; and on the 30th a new writ was issued. A similar course was pursued in the cases of Carrickfergus, Warwick, and Stafford. The writ in those cases was suspended for a specified period, and at the expiration of that period either the punishment of temporary disfranchisement was prolonged, or a new writ was issued. That was an intelligible proceeding; but to advise that certain boroughs should be indefinitely disfranchised until a certain Bill was passed, was to act without justice and without precedent. But the case was still worse, still more intolerable, when they found that the House of Commons used no exertion whatever to pass the Bill, on the passing of which the issuing of the writs was made to depend. He would be no party to such a proceeding; and the less so when he found that the Government were resolved that a Bill of their own on the subject of these borough elections should depend on and go pari passu with the measure introduced by a private Member of that House. He was free to admit that if the writ ought to be suspended in any case, it ought to be supended in the case of Leicester; but he did not see why bribery, which was a statutable offence, should be treated in a different manner from any other statutable offence. And yet it was so, for in the case of bribery the innocent were subjected to the penalty as well as those who, being alone guilty, were alone legally punishable. The population of Leicester was 63,000. At the last election 3,000 electors voted. There were 600 freemen in the town, and although it was proved that some of them had been bribed, it was only fair to admit that the evidence went to show that some of them voted without being bribed, and that others did not vote at all. The majority in favour of Mr. Gardiner was 170, so that the race was close enough between those who held the opinions of the hon. Member for Montrose and those who ventured to think that the institutions of the country were even now worth preserving. But what he wished especially to direct attention to was, that it was distinctly proved before the Committee that all the bribes were distributed at a certain building known as the Reform-office. And who was it gave them out? Why, Mr. Staines, who was a man who kept a public-house known by the imposing designation of "The Rights of the People." It was unquestionable that great distress at prevailed in that borough. The poor-rate amounted to as large a sum as 13s. in the pound, and there was in certain quarters a strong feeling of dissatisfaction with the institutions of the country. He could not bring himself to believe that it was wise or just to keep such a community, at such a period, without any representation in that House. Regard being had to all the circumstances of the case, he was of opinion that he should best discharge his duty by persisting in his determination to take the sense of House on the following resolution:— That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of two Burgesses to serve in this present Parliament for the borough of Leicester, in the room of Sir Joshua Walmsley, and Richard Gardiner, Esq., whose Election has been determined to be void.


opposed the Motion. The hon. Member who brought it forward had stated that he had no connexion with the town of Leicester, and the fact was no doubt as he stated. Had it been otherwise, in all probability he would not have submitted any such Motion. The House had yet to take into consideration the report of the Committee presented only a few days since, in which it was distinctly asserted that many cases of bribery had occurred in that borough. The question for the House was, whether they could entertain that report, and act as the Committee recommended or not. His family had been for some years connected with Leicester county and town, and he did not hesitate to say that it was one of the most corrupt places in the kingdom. In the year 1826 no less a sum than 66,000l. was expended by three candidates, and bribery to quite as large an extent was practised on occasions of many previous elections. When he was very reluctantly induced, in the year 1839, to offer himself as a candidate for Leicester, he told his committee that he had rather lose the election altogether than that there should be a single case of bribery on his account. A certain number of freemen went and tendered their votes to his committee at a certain price, just as they had done on a recent occasion, the only difference being that they were now offered at the rate of 17s. 6d. a head, whereas they were offered to his committee at so high a price as 1l. a head. This had gone on for such a length of time that it was quite right that a stop should be put to it at last. He should vote against the issuing of a new writ.


, as Chairman of the Select Committee to which had been referred the petition in the case of the Leicester election, recommended the House to refrain from issuing a new writ until the evidence taken before the Committee was in the hands of all the Members. It was not fair to the Committee not to pursue such a course. If much delay, however, should occur in the "progress of the Bill introduced by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Flint Boroughs, he should at a future day vote for the issue of a new writ, for he did not think it right that the writ should be kept in abeyance for a definite period. As to the freemen of Leicester, he might be permitted to say that it did not appear to the Committee that a recommendation to disfranchise them would meet the justice of the case. It was true that there were indications of corruption amongst some of them, but there were similar indications amongst the ten-pounders. Orders were given on shopkeepers for hats and other articles of costume, and it appeared that an extensive system of treating prevailed. In short, the case presented features which induced the Committee to believe that it was not expedient that precisely the same course should be adopted with respect to Leicester as had been adopted in the case of Great Yarmouth.


trusted his hon. Friend the Member for North Northamptonshire would not press his Motion to a division.


was of opinion that the hon. Member for North Northamptonshire would have done far better for the interests of those whom he represented, had he acquiesced in the proposal which he had submitted to him. He would then have spared the House much time expended in a rather profitless discussion. The statement made by the hon. Member who was Chairman of the Committee appointed to try the petition in the case of the Leicester election, and the wish which that hon. Gentleman expressed that the writ should not be issued until the evidence taken before that Committee should be in the hands of the Members, met his entire approbation, and he had no doubt that they would also command the approval of the House. He would take leave, however, to say, that so far from the suspension of writs being an unusual and unconstitutional proceeding, it was a proceeding in justification of which numerous precedents might be cited. So far back as a few years after the Revolution, that was to say in the years 1697 and 1698, in cases where there were reports presented from Committees of the whole House, that corruption or corrupt practices prevailed in any borough, the House proceeded to suspend the writs. That had occurred in the case of Aldborough, when the writ was suspended from December 1696, to December, 1697, being one entire year; and it was only on the presentation of a petition from all the inhabitants, promising that the elections should be conducted with greater purity for the future, that the House was induced to consent to the issue of a new writ. A similar occurrence had taken place in the cases of Bishop's Castle and other boroughs in the beginning of the reign of Queen Anne; and many instances were recorded in the reigns of George I., George II., and George III. So well confirmed was the practice, as well by Act of Parliament as by precedent, that in the year 1820, he being an independent Member of that House, finding that there were many boroughs with respect to which inquiries were pending, brought in a Bill to provide that the writs should be suspended for those boroughs during the period of the then approaching dissolution, and that the constituencies should not proceed to the election of any Members until an opportunity should be afforded to the new Parliament to inquire into the charges alleged against such boroughs. Lord Castlereagh, who at that time possessed great influence in the House, and could have stopped the Bill at any moment, so far from resisting it, consented to its introduction. The Bill was accordingly introduced, and he believed it received the consent of both Houses of Parliament. It was clear, therefore, that it was incorrect to state that it was an uncommon, unprecedented, or unconstitutional proceeding to suspend, under certain circumstances, the writs for certain boroughs. With respect to the remedial measure that had been proposed, he did not hesitate to admit that it was highly desirable that the decision of the House should be taken as soon as possible, as to whether they approved or disapproved of the principle of the Bill that had beer introduced by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Flint boroughs. If the louse should think fit to approve of the principle of that Bill, the sense of the majority ought to prevail, and the Bill ouglt to be carried forward without delay. If the House did not approve of the principle of that Bill, he would then go of with the Bill with respect to the borough of Horsham, and see whether its provisions might not be enlarged. But certainly the House ought to declare its opinion on the subject one way or another. The plan of hon. Members opposite appeared to be to throw every possible obstruction in the way of the Bill of the hon. Member for Flint, and then to make the tardy progress of the measure an excuse for bringing forward such Motions as the present. The proceeding, however, was one to which it was to be hoped the House would not extend its sanction. They ought to decide on the earliest opportunity, whether or not they would proceed with the Bill.

After some further debate,

The House divided:—Ayes 6; Noes 129: Majority 123.

List of the AYES.
Baldock, E. H. Sidney, Ald.
Benbow, J.
Hudson, G. TELLERS.
O'Connor, F. Stafford, A.
Sibthorp, Col. Goring, C.
List of the NOES.
Adair, H. E. Frewen, C. H.
Adair, R. A. S. Fuller, A. E.
Aglionby, H. A. Glyn, G. C.
Anson, hon. Col. Grace, O. D. J.
Armstrong, R. B. Granger, T. C.
Bellew, R. M. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Benett, J. Grey, R. W.
Bernal, R. Guest, Sir J.
Birch, Sir T. B. Hallyburton, Lord J. F.
Bowring, Dr. Hanmer, Sir J.
Boyd, J. Hastie, A.
Boyle, hoc. Col. Hayter, W. G.
Bramston, T. W. Headlam, T. E.
Brotherton, J. Heathcote, G. J.
Cardwell, E. Henry, A.
Carew, W. H. P. Herbert, H. A.
Chaplin, W. J. Hill, Lord M.
Christy, S. Hood, Sir A.
Clay, J. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Clifford, H. M. Hume, J.
Cobden, R. Jervis, Sir J.
Cochrane, A. D. R. W. B. King, hon. P. J. L.
Cocks, T. S. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Lewis, G. C.
Crawford, W. S. Lincoln, Earl of
Darner, hon. Col. Lushington, C.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Macnaghten, Sir E.
Dawson, hon. T. V. M'Gregor, J.
D'Eyncourt. rt. hn. C. T. Mangles, R. D.
Divett, E. Martin, J.
Dodd, G. Matheson, Col.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Duncan, G. Miles, W.
Dundas, Adm. Milner, W. M E.
Edwards, H. Moffatt, G.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Morgan, H. K. G.
Estcourt, J. B. B. Morpeth, Visct.
Evans, J. Mowatt, F.
Fordyce, A. D. Mulgrave, Earl of
Fox, W. J. Norreys, Lord
Freestun, Col. O'Brien, J.
O'Connell, M. J. Spooner, R.
Ogle, S. C. H. Strickland, Sir G.
Pakington, Sir J. Stuart, Lord D.
Palmer, R. Stuart, H.
Parker, J. Sullivan, M.
Pattison, J. Talfourd, Serj.
Pearson, C. Thompson, Col.
Pechell, Capt. Thornely, T.
Pendarves, E. W. W. Tollemache, hon. F. J
Perfect, R. Townshend, Capt
Pinney, W. Tufnell, H.
Plowden, W. H. C. Turner, E.
Pugh, D. Tynte, Col.
Raphael, A. Verney, Sir H.
Ricardo, O. Vivian, J. H.
Rich, H. Ward, H. G.
Richards, R. Watkins, Col.
Robartes, T. J. A. Westhead, J. P.
Roche, E. B. Wilson, J.
Romilly, Sir J. Wood, W. P.
Russell, Lord J. Wrightson, W. B.
Salwey, Col. Wyvill, M.
Scholefield, W. TELLERS.
Smith, rt. hon. R. V. Seymer, H. K.
Smith, M. T. Trollope, Sir J.