HC Deb 07 March 1850 vol 109 cc496-521

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to protect the Parliamentary electors of Great Britain and Ireland from undue influence, by the use of the ballot. He said that if he were in need of any apology for bringing forward this Motion, it was only because the hour at which he brought it forward was somewhat of the latest—[it was then Nine o'clock]. With respect to the Motion itself, he considered it of such deep importance, that until some hon. Member, more competent for the task than himself, undertook it, he would continue to press it upon the attention of the House. He found in Her Majesty's Speech at the opening of this Session of Parliament a very sound constitutional maxim. It was to the effect "that by combining liberty with order, by preserving what is valuable, and amending what is defective, you will sustain the fabric of our institutions as the abode and shelter of a free and happy people." Nothing could be more constitutional, no sentiment could be more deserving of praise; but he submitted to the Government that where the Ministerial tree bore such blossoms, the people would expect to gather some fruit. The mere assertion of liberal principles unattended by liberal acts was much about the same as a strict observance of religious ceremonies without Christian deeds. He was there to ask the House and the Government to carry out the maxim as he had just quoted—"to preserve what is valuable," by jealously guarding the purity of election; and "to amend what is defective," by protecting the elector from the power of undue influence; and he fearlessly appealed to the arguments of former debates, as yet unanswered, and, as he believed, unanswerable, to prove that the ballot could achieve this desirable reform. He knew it was almost hopeless to make this question palatable to the House, but he hoped to increase his claim to their indulgence by avoiding as much as possible the arguments he had used on previous occasions. He considered the ballot to be the most popular of all those measures of Parliamentary reform which had been submitted to the House by his hon. Friends on various occasions. He considered it ought to be the primary step, because it was the stepping-stone to all other questions of Parliamentary reform. No constitutional reform could take place unless through Members sent to that House by those legally entitled to send them there. With the electoral body he had to deal, as at present formed; he sought not to remodel the formation, and he thought this loss objectionable to the generality of Members, because in seeking it they sought to alter no existing institution. They sought merely to protect the elector in the discharge of a duty which they had entailed upon him, and because at present he was unable to discharge that duty, from the obstructions and abuses which had crept into our electoral system, and which were as notorious as the longitude and latitude in navigation. This simple proposition, simple as it seemed to him, had always hitherto been met with lively indignation. Minister after Minister came down to that House driven to his wits' end to prove that some vital objection existed to a man discharging his duty sub silentio, even when it was confessed that he was unable to discharge it vivâ voce. This was, in his opinion, a very difficult question to argue against, while the arguments in favour of it were, he thought irresistible. The arguments against it had been gradually dwindling away—they had become "small by degrees and beautifully less," until, at length, they had ended in silence and hard voting. When other questions of Parliamentary reform were brought before the House, there was no want of eloquence against them on the part of their opponents; but the moment the ballot was mentioned, hon. Members became perfectly mute. They shied and dogged the question by every means in their power. When Mr. Ward brought forward his Motion on the subject, in 1842, the same complaint was made, and the great difficulty then, as now, was to get the Government on their legs. The consequence was that people believed that they opposed the measure for other reasons than those which they assigned, and the people were ready enough to assign reasons for them. The people believed that they opposed the measure solely because they could not endure to see the upper classes and the aristocracy shorn of their undue and unconstitutional influence. The course he intended to pursue on the present occasion was to meet some of the objections which had been most lately put on record as arguments against the measure. He found that they had a fresh opponent in the field. He found that they had to contend with the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department. That right hon. Gentleman was formerly a supporter of this measure. The brilliant eloquence, the acute logical powers of that right hon. Baronet, made him an undesirable opponent; while his high character, and the important position he held in Her Majesty's Councils, made his example most dangerous. It was for this latter reason that, feeling as he did his incompetence to cope with such an adversary, with some hesitation he had resolved to deal with the apostacy of the right hon. Gentleman, and to ask him to explain some parts of his conduct on this question. He begged to say that he did not assume for a moment that any Gentleman was compelled always to remain of the same opinion. Grave states-men and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House had changed their opinions frequently, and with their opinions had changed their votes; and he must say, as an humble individual, that he had thought them perfectly right. There was the question of the corn laws, for instance, upon which the noble Lord the Member for London, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon, and other great statesmen, had changed their opinions and votes; but, before they did so, they gave that House, the country, and their constituents the most complete, elaborate, and anxious explanation; and he submitted that if they had not adopted that course they would have appeared, in the face of the country, as so many unequivocal and naked rats. He (Mr. Berkeley) therefore maintained that hon. Members who changed their opinions on so important a question as the ballot ought to follow a similar course, and give to the House and the country a most complete and ample explanation. Now, how stood the facts of the case? In 1848, when he (Mr. Berkeley) had the honour to propose, and the great luck in that House to carry, a resolution in favour of the ballot, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary did not vote. The friends of the Motion first became aware of the loss they had sustained by reading that melancholy obituary of departed Reformers—the division-list of the House. The right hon. Gentleman appeared in the House on that occasion; but, like the phantoms in Macbeth,"come like shadows, so depart, "he came like a shadow and so departed—he pointed to his vote and glided noiselessly out of the lobby. When the hon. Member for Montrose brought forward the general question of reform, he (Mr. Berkeley) ventured to arraign the silent system, and then they had the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. And what did it amount to? It seemed that in 1838 the right hon. Gentleman voted with Mr. Grote in favour of the ballot, and when Mr. Ward brought forward the question in 1842 he voted with him also. The right hon. Gentleman said, that his reason for so voting was, that he then represented a constituency (Devonport) where undue influences prevailed, and that therefore he had been induced to give his reluctant support to the ballot. In 1847, however, the right hon. Gentleman became Member for Northumberland, and as that was a pure constituency—as he was then breathing wholesome air—and as he had at length escaped from the foul atmosphere of Devonport, he thought it right to turn round and vote against the ballot; the reason he assigned being, that public opinion had of late acted so powerfully upon the upper classes that they had become politically virtuous. Surely never before had such a reason been given by any statesman for a vote. It had been laid down by Burke, that when a Member entered the House of Commons, he entered it as Member for all England, and that he should not attempt to legislate for the county, city, or borough which returned him, but for the community at large. He (Mr. Berkeley) left the House to say, whether, upon this principle, the right hon. Gentleman's reason for his vote on the subject of the ballot would hold water. He begged to call the attention of the Government to another extraordinary circumstance connected with the house of Grey. In 1837, Lord Howick, then Member for Northumberland, now Earl Grey, voted against the ballot, the reason he assigned for doing so being the same as that now assigned by his right hon. Relative, namely, the increased political virtue of the upper classes. In 1841, however, the noble Lord, having been defeated in an election contest for Northumberland, turned short round upon his former opinions about the increasing purity of the upper classes, and showed that he had been talking nonsense on the subject, for at the declaration of the poll at Alnwick the noble Lord made a most sweeping and unmeasured attack upon the Duke of Northumberland, Lord Tankerville, and his opponent, Lord Ossulston, for unworthy trickery, for unscrupulously violating their promises, and for unduly influencing the electors. [The hon. Member read extracts from Hansard, from the noble Lord's speech at Alnwick, as quoted by Mr. Ward in his speech on the ballot in 1842.] Mr. Ward on that occasion claimed the noble Lord as a proselyte, and challenged him to support him with his vote. The noble Lord, however, contented himself with walking out of the House without voting at all. It appeared, therefore, that the test of purity of political opinion in the mind of the family of Grey was a Northumberland election. If a Grey were rejected, straightway the community was plunged into the depths of vice; if a Grey were successful, the electors were immediately full of virtue. But now as to the fact of the increased political purity said to be grown among the upper classes. There was a Committee which inquired into the corruption of the franchise in 1836. That Committee had evidence laid before it from all parts of England and Ireland, evidence which it was impossible for any one who had not actually read it to conceive. In 1848 he had quoted in extenso from that evidence, and proved that a general state of demoralisation characterised all elections at which anything of party spirit prevailed; and succeeded in establishing cases not to be upset—and he defied the right hon. Gentleman to upset them—of the grossest intimidation, corruption, and malversation, in every possible way, of the franchise. As an appendix to the report of that Committee, he had quoted the evidence seriatim, taken before almost every one of the Election Committees from that time to this—evidence proving that the same demoralisation, the same intimidation, the same corruption prevailed in 1848 and 1849, as in 1836. He would ask, which was to be believed in preference, the bald but bold assertions of individual Members, be their position what it might, or the evidence on oath taken before so many Committees, backed by the distinct statements of facts adduced by other Members of the House whenever the subject had been discussed? There was the distinct evidence of the hon. Member for Birmingham in 1848 and 1849, who stated, of his own knowledge, that no election for the great city he represented ever took place without at least 1,000 of the electors being prevented from voting by intimidation. The hon. Member did not mention the many hundred other electors, who on all those occasions did vote upon intimidation and against their consciences. The hon. Member who seconded his Motion in 1849—the Member for Macclesfield—showed, from his own experience, the state of intimidation into which the metropolis was plunged at every election; and he had himself given, on the same occasion, examples of the intimidation practised at particular elections. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman to show to the House what increase in political virtue had taken place in the upper classes in 1848, 1849, and 1850, that should supersede the goodness and expediency of the ballot, which he himself admitted, in 1838 and 1842. He presumed that the right hon. Gentleman would have the tact to avoid, on the present occasion, the obsolete claptrap that formerly served a turn—about the unmanliness and the un-Englingshness, and so forth, of the ballot—the twaddle about its being cowardly to give a vote and conceal its object. The right hon. Gentleman must see that he might as well suggest it as cowardice for a man to use his watch and then conceal it, since the political intimidator and bully had no more right to your vote than the pickpocket to your watch. Nor, he conceived, would the right hon. Gentleman venture to suggest that the English people were less fitted now than in 1842 for the ballot, after the proofs which the Government had received of the sound sense, intelligence, good feeling, and loyalty of that people, in times of great excitement abroad, and sedition, nay, of rebellion at home. Perhaps, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman might contemplate the proposition that the people were less anxious about the matter now, because they did not so earnestly agitate the question. Let the right hon. Gentleman beware of such an argument as that, lest he confirmed what was said against his Government—that it refused to reason what it yielded to agitation—lest he justified the character of the Whigs given by that straightforward nobleman the Marquess of Anglesea, that they were a kind of tide-waiting legislators—that they floated in on the tide of reform, stopped when it became slack water, and floated back with the ebb. To those hon. Gentlemen who were now to carry out the Marquess of Anglesea's graphic metaphor, punting their boats about in slack water on this question, he would give the earnest advice to reflect maturely on the position of things in this year, 1850. The threat of Gentlemen on the Opposition benches to appeal to the country must be ringing in their ears; and, ringing there, it could not but bring to their minds the last appeal of the same sort which led to the general election, under the contending banners of free trade and protection, in 1841, and to the results of that contest. If the appeal then was an appeal to demoralisation, what would an appeal now be? It would be an appeal in which wealth and power, putting on the screw to its last round, would override the towns, and stalk over the counties, trampling on the chartered rights of the tenant farmers more boldly, more basely, more unblushingly than ever. It would be an appeal to strength to dictate to weakness—an appeal to wealth to deal with poverty—an appeal to the House of Lords to elect the House of Commons. He would say one word as to the vain attempts of recent legislation to deal with the least of the evils of the present electoral system—the evil of overt bribery. They had made laws stringent enough against overt bribery, but they had entirely omitted the prevention of secret bribery, and of that intimidation by exclusive dealing, which contained within itself the principle of bribery. They had, in short, strained at the gnat, and swallowed the camel. Exclusive dealing was the right arm of intimidation—the essence of bribery, in its very worst form. In the case of simple bribery you gave a man a reward for selling his conscience; you, perhaps, saved him and his family from ruin, from starvation, and in some cases a positive good might accrue, though no excuse might be taken as an extenuation. But in exclusive dealing you punished, you perhaps ruined, a man and his family, because he followed the dictates of his conscience, and there could be no doubt which was the worse offence. Again, they had passed a measure by which it was impossible for a man to stand against treachery and rascality; he referred to their law of agency, under which agency was definable to be a man's walking arm-in-arm with a candidate, or being seen in his committee-room, or placarding one of his bills, or wearing his colours, and so on, the further fact of any such person afterwards giving a sovereign to an elector being deemed sufficient to eject a candidate, if elected, from his seat. He had on this point consulted many of the most eminent election agents, and they were unanimously of the opinion that, under this law, after a general election, there would be more seats unjustly declared void on petition than had ever been declared void before, justly or unjustly, from the utter vagueness, and unlimited extent, of the definition, and the wide field given to stimulation of agency. He had urged this question on the House in the honest conviction that it was a measure due to the people of England, to the constituencies who elected that House, as a measure called for by justice and by humanity; and he now committed his short sketch to them, prepared to receive counter conviction from any man who could furnish him with it.

Motion made, and Question put— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the Parliamentary Electors of Great Britain and Ireland from undue influence, by the use of the Ballot.


seconded the Motion. His hon. Friend had endeared himself to the people by his able, unyielding, and not always unsuccessful, advocacy of this most important principle. For be it remembered that there was now, on the Journals of the House of Commons, a resolution to the effect that, in the election of Members of Parliament, the votes of the electors ought to be taken by way of ballot. He believed that this was the darling measure of the people, and that it was one to which they were most justly entitled. It was demanded alike by all who possessed and by all who sought the franchise, as the only means of giving them the secure exercise of that franchise. Without the ballot, the elector could never substantially enjoy the vote which the constitution gave him. The ballot was alike his due, whether he claimed the franchise as a trust, as a right, or as a privilege. In relation to its character as a trust, it was objected that those who so exercised being responsible for its exercise to the non-electors, could not consistently conceal its application; but this argument, at all events, could not be justly held by those who resisted an extension of the franchise on the ground that the people were not yet fitted for it; since, if they were not fit to vote, they were equally unfit to control a vote. If any persons doubted the extent to which undue influence prevailed, he would ask them to look at the different constituencies, and see whether there were any in which numerous electors did not abstain from voting through fear of incurring the displeasure of influential individuals, or from the hope and expectation of some reward. Now, the ballot would, on the one hand, prevent intimidation, while on the other hand it would prevent the possibility of corruption. He felt it difficult to believe in the sincerity of those who opposed the ballot on the ground that it would promote deception and encourage a spirit of disingenuousness, and that it would be found ineffectual for the object it was intended to accomplish. He believed the opposition offered to the ballot arose from a love of power. Its opponents could not divest themselves of a notion that they had a right to direct and govern the votes of those who lived on their estates, or with whom they dealt. They were averse to the measure because they had no confidence in the people, and they had no confidence in themselves. They talked about the just influence of property; but what was the just influence of property? It was this—that when a possessor of property was a humane and considerate man, he would be respected and looked up to by those around him, who would be anxious to know his opinions, and who would probably in most cases be guided by his views; but anything beyond that was tyranny. If it were considered desirable that property should have more influence, that House had better pass a law providing that people should have votes in proportion to their property. That would be preferable to the present system, which pretended to give people votes, but which was nothing better than a mockery and delusion. It was said that the ballot would be ineffectual to accomplish the object it was intended to effect. He would admit that that might perhaps happen in some small places; but the conclusion to which he came was, that the franchise ought not to be continued in such small places, but that larger bodies ought to be invested with the right of electing Members of Parliament. He would not say that he considered the ballot would be a panacea for all evils, or that it might not be attended with some disadvantages as well as with great advantages. He was not in favour of doing things in secret, and he thought it would be much better if all electors had the manliness and independence to exercise their franchise, without deferring to the influence of others, and also if persons in the higher classes were too high-minded to stoop to intimidation and corruption. But they were to legislate for men, not as they ought to be, but as they are; and when he knew the situation to which families had been reduced because electors had given their votes conscientiously, he considered that they ought not to call upon men to make such sacrifices for the enjoyment of the privilege or right which the constitution had placed in their hands. It was said that the ballot would be useless, because the electors would themselves divulge in what way they had voted; but was it likely, when it was important to a man that his vote should not be known, that he would be so great a fool as to proclaim for whom it had been given? He (Lord D. Stuart) thought, however, that it was likely, after a time, that the habit of concealing votes would be laid aside. He believed that if they had the ballot the rich and powerful would by degrees abandon their attempts to tyrannise and to corrupt; that things would then be placed upon a better footing; and that the people would not be anxious to conceal their votes. In the recent discussions on the Irish franchise, they had heard something from hon. Gentlemen opposite of the leaven of democracy, and of that House proceeding in a downward course. He was not afraid of the leaven of democracy; he wanted the people to have the constitutional right of electing their own representatives, and he Considered that, when that House was really and truly elected by the people, and was more in harmony with their wishes and desires, so far from being lowered it would be greatly elevated. He believed that the ballot would tend to the general welfare and benefit of the nation; and the Motion before the House had therefore his hearty concurrence.


said, he would not occupy the attention of the House for more than a few minutes; but as the Mover of the resolution had devoted a considerable portion of his speech to a review of his (Sir G. Grey's) conduct upon this question, he would in a very few sentences gratify the hon. Gentleman's curiosity, by informing him what were the opinions he entertained, and what course he intended to take on the Motion before the House. He differed from that hon. Gentleman in his estimate of the importance of the ballot. He (Sir G. Grey) never had Stated that he considered the question one of vast importance; and when he had supported a Motion for the ballot, he had said that he had no great confidence in the success of the plan. He had supported it, however, in deference to the opinions of a large body of constituents, to whom he owed much, and who had given him most disinterested support. That constituency, by petitions addressed to that House, had certainly persuaded him of their desire to obtain the ballot as a protection for some of their number, with regard to whom he stated at the time that he thought undue influence had been exercised, and for whom he endeavoured, in the absence of other means, to procure the protection they required. He agreed very much in the opinion which had been expressed a few nights ago by the hon. Member for Middlesex, that the advantages and evils of the ballot were both greatly exaggerated. The more he had heard the question argued, and the more consideration he had given to it, the more satisfied he was that so far from preventing bribery, the ballot, if adopted, would in some constituencies greatly facilitate the commission of wholesale bribery, and in most constituencies would render it difficult to bring home acts of bribery to particular parties. At the same time be thought there were cases where the power of giving secret votes might enable honest voters to exercise the franchise according to their own judgment and conscience, free from external control. He believed, however, that in the vast majority of cases the ballot, if adopted, would be wholly inoperative. He did not think it would be a panacea for intimidation or bribery. He considered that publicity was of the very essence of our elective franchise. He would say nothing about the ballot being English or un-English, but it was notorious to all who had had any experience in contested elections that the record of the vote is not, in 99 cases out of 100, the first indication of the intention and opinions of the voter. Where the political opinions of candidates were marked and distinct, and where the great majority of the electors were politically divided into marked and distinct classes, the relative strength of parties was well known, and the candidates knew upon what voters they could rely. He believed that if secret voting were adopted, publicity would still remain as the very essence of our electoral system. The question, then, was—whether it was necessary or expedient to adopt the ballot for the protection of a minority of voters? He had stated that, on the occasion which had been referred to, he had, in deference to the expressed wishes of his constituents, but with hesitation and reluctance, given his support to the purpose for the adoption of the remedy they had suggested. The hon. Member for Bristol had said that he (Sir G. Grey) stated last year that the political virtue and purity of the upper classes had so far increased that he (Sir G. Grey) thought the ballot no longer necessary. The hon. Gentleman had invented that speech for him. He had used no such expression. What he had said was, that of late years the growing influence of public opinion had produced a much more powerful check than formerly existed against the use of those undue means which had been frequently exercised with a view to induce electors to vote contrary to their opinions. The hon. Gentleman would see that that was a totally different thing from extolling political virtue and purity. He (Sir G. Grey) had spoken of public opinion as expressed through the press, in the country, and in that House, and of the exposure which followed attempts to intimidate or corrupt electors: and he believed that this afforded a better security than any law that could be adopted by the Legislature for altering the mode of voting. He believed that if they were to adopt the ballot, they would not protect that class of electors who, with known political opinions, wished to abstain from voting. Their opinions being known, electors might still he prevented from voting, or compelled to vote by undue influence. With regard to the various lights in which the franchise was regarded, he differed from those who treated it as a mere privilege, for he considered the franchise, not as a mere privilege, but as a trust conferred for the benefit of the community, and there was much force in the argument that should therefore be exercised in the face of the community. These considerations induced him, in the exercise of his own judgment, which he felt bound to follow, under the present circumstances of the country, when there was no indication of any earnest desire for the ballot, when there was no expression of public opinion on the subject, and when he believed the people generally did not desire it—although the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol had by a lucky accident, carried his Motion by a narrow majority last year—to decline to concur with the hon. Gentleman in the change he proposed—a change which he (Sir G. Grey) believed would confer advantages upon a very small portion of the community, and which advantages would, in his opinion, be counterbalanced by the evils with which it would be attended.


, amid loud cries of "Divide!" said, that this was by far too important a question to be decided without discussion. It seemed there was impatience at the slightest discussion on the question of reform. Why, hon. Gentlemen opposite had called for a division before the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department had an opportunity of declaring the views of the Government. [Sir G. GREY: My own views only.] He was glad to hear that the ballot was to be an open question. Now, he wished to make a remark to agricultural Members especially, who seemed so impatient. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had lately expatiated much on the importance of having the independent voice of the tenant farmers of England expressed in Parliament. The hon. Member was desirous that the opinions of that class should be obtained free from all external influences, and that they should be treated as an intelligent and independent body of men. He (Mr. Gibson) was prepared to treat them in that spirit; and for that purpose he would give them the protection of the ballot, in order that they might give their unbiassed votes at elections. The right hon. the Secretary of State had said, that when he voted for the ballot, he had done so in deference to the generally expressed opinion of those electors who sent him to that House; and he (Mr. Gibson) could tell hon. Members opposite that if they adopted a similar line of conduct—if they voted in deference to the opinion of the tenant farmers, they would also vote for the ballot. The right hon. the Secretary of State had said the ballot would be inoperative in the great majority of cases. If so, where was the danger of making the experiment? But it could hardly be called an experiment, seeing that it was in full operation in many other countries; and he would venture to say, that in no country wherein it had been adopted, would you find the electoral body willing to relinquish it. But with regard to its being inoperative in the great majority of cases, it was for the sake of the minority by whom it was required that his hon. Friend brought it forward. It was precisely for that minority of cases, where undue influence was exercised, that the ballot was required. Therefore to say that it was inoperative in the great majority of cases was to say nothing. You might apply the same rule to your police or your criminal law, that in the great majority of cases they were inoperative. The question was, did they not come into operation in those particular cases where the protection of police and of law was required? What he asked was this—what public advantage did you attain by compelling men to make known their votes? The advocates of the present system of open voting said that a man must give his vote under certain restrictions, one restriction being that he should be compelled to publish it to all the world. But if you established such a restriction, you were bound to show its advantages. Was a man to vote as he wished, or was he not? That was the question. He believed that the House would say, that every man was to vote according to his conscience. Well, then, if by your compulsory publicity you compelled a man to vote otherwise than he would have voted, had he the protection of the ballot, you violated the principle on which you had given him the vote—namely, that of voting according to his conscience and understanding. If, on the other hand, publicity had no effect, and a man voted publicly as he would have done secretly, then the restraint in question was inoperative. In either case, therefore, there was no argument for the continuance of the compulsory publicity of a man's vote. In the former instance the restraint was oppressive, in the latter it was inoperative, and therefore on both grounds it ought to be got rid of. There was another argument which appeared to him of importance, and it was this, that if candidates knew that the electoral body could exercise their own free choice, and act upon their convictions, when voting for Members of Parliament, they (the candidates) would no longer appeal to a mere unthinking cry or clap-trap agitation. Every candidate, thus knowing that every voter was at liberty to vote as he thought fit, would more maturely consider the subjects on which he had to address the constituency. The result would be a change for the better in hustings speeches, and the introduction of a higher and more considerate tone to political expositions. The electors would also be induced to give greater consideration to political questions, and feel more interest in their investigation. It was a fact, which he could vouch for, that many men at present would rather know nothing of the political questions of the day than be informed of them, and felt a great reluctance to investigate them, simply because by being ignorant of the course they were about to take, they avoided the risk of having their convictions running counter to their interests. On these grounds, with the view of improving the political intelligence of the people, of improving also the character of the speeches and appeals of candidates, and believing that it would create greater tranquillity at elections by doing away with mobbing and other such proceedings, by which men were deterred from the ordeal of passing through two lines of opposing voters in order to record their votes, he held that the electoral body ought to possess the protection of the ballot.


said, representing as he did in that House a large portion of that particular class of Her Majesty's subjects who desired to be enabled to use the franchise, without the permission and not under the compulsion or control of their landlords or their customers—deeming it to be his bounden duty to speak their sentiments, whenever this, to them most important, subject should be brought forward—he had felt much pleasure when his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol last Session asked leave to bring in a Bill, in seconding his Motion, and boldly expressing his sentiments on the question. He could now, as he did then, corroborate to the utmost extent his statements of the disgraceful state of thraldom in which the inhabitants of this metropolis, as well as other cities and boroughs, were plunged; and he was enabled to point out the demoralisation of constituencies in Wales, his native country, under the influence of the landlords. Well had the hon. Member called attention to the fact, that although for the last few years the screws and engines of compulsion had not been resorted to, unless in particular instances, with that fierce determination which marked their use in times of great political excitement; yet it was a miserable argument to pretend that, therefore, corruption and intimidation had gone out of fashion. Let the aristocracy now, if they could, stir up an election, and the same scenes would be enacted which he had ventured to describe last Session. Carriages, with their titled occupants, would roll from door to door, as they did in 1841; the threats and cajolery of ladies being carried to a much greater extent with tradesmen than their male relatives dared to go. Now, as a plain man, but he trusted an honest one, he confessed that he was utterly unable to comprehend how hon. Members could defend the present system. Why would they not be candid, and say that it was folly to entrust the present class of voters with the franchise, but that a man should vote so many times, according to his property? He could understand that, although he should not approve of it. But that they should by law qualify one set of men to elect representatives, and then permit that privilege to be usurped by another, did seem to him to be a state of things contrary to reason and common sense. It was in vain to deny that state of things. In the country the landlord was always canvassed first. Mr. Ward showed this when he brought the question forward, and proved the fact, that where estates changed hands, all the unfortunate creatures on those estates who had a right to vote, from being Tories became Whigs, and then again Tories, according to the politics of their master. Why, how much better for an auctioneer to put up an estate, and describe a fine property, well timbered and watered, abounding in natural productions—pheasants, hares, rabbits, pike, trout, and electors, the market and polling place at a convenient distance—than the barefaced system of intimidation carried on under the pretence of tenants at will being-free political agents. Of all practices most abhorrent to an Englishman was this system of intimidation, openly repudiated, but quietly winked at and encouraged. We have have had this system maintained too long, by thorough-going Tories and half-going Whigs, until it has become a scandal and disgrace to a civilised nation. In these times of change they knew not how soon they might be called before their constituents. It was, therefore, the duty of those who believed in the virtue of an honest and fair return to knock off the shackles from the wrists of those appointed to elect them, to extend the suffrage to its permitted limits by allowing men to vote who now refused, and give the middle and working classes the power of expressing their real opinions. It was with great pleasure that he supported the Motion of his hon. Friend.


wished to assign his reasons for giving a vote adverse to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol which appeared to him to justify the conclusions to which he had arrived. He entirely differed from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester in his argument that this Motion ought to be agreed to, on the ground that the electors of this country required the protection of the ballot. He (Mr. Heald) did not admit that the ballot would be a protection; but even supposing that a considerable portion of the electors of this country agreed in opinion with the right hon. Gentleman, his answer was, that the general electoral body did not ask for it. He would venture to state, without fear of contradiction, that the electoral body of this country prided themselves too much on having it known distinctly what class of principles they maintained, and who were their favourite candidates on the occasion of a contested election. It appeared then to reduce itself to this, that it was the cause of that minority to which the right hon. Secretary of the Home Department adverted. He (Mr. Heald) thought he knew his own borough (Stockport) as well as any Gentleman who had ever represented it, and he was perfectly prepared to state publicly and to maintain it, that not merely four-fifths of the constituency of the borough he had the honour to represent, but nine-tenths of the constituency of the whole empire, did not, as they could not, want the ballot either for protection or secrecy, without being prepared at once to abandon all their long established tastes and usages. They must feel that it would be a reflection on their integrity, on their honesty, not to avow, by the public record of their vote, what were their peculiar feelings on great political questions, and he honoured that principle. He was not disposed to part with any essential feature of our English national character. He was not ashamed himself of any vote he had over given, and he knew this, that, having to meet a popular constituency on the hustings, and being examined as a candidate for their suffrages on such occasions, and having his political views publicly canvassed, he had a right, on the other hand, to be dealt with openly and in a manner consistent with English feelings and usages. But there was a minority, he was sorry to be compelled to admit, in all our constituencies, whether county or borough, that was to be regarded in a very different view; and he had heard it contended in that House, that this minority required the ballot for their protection. Now, what was that minority in our various constituencies? His experience for thirty years had proved to him, and he hoped to be corrected if he were wrong, that it was a nondescript portion of our constituencies—a party, which at most of our closely-contested elections, hesitated to declare their principles if they had any, and to secure whose votes the conflict of parties was kept up until nearly the close of the poll. He did not charge it upon the candidate, but upon the conduct of a very small minority; who, wanting manliness to act upon their convictions, waited until the fate of an election was hanging in the balance before they committed themselves. He asked the House and the country whether they were prepared to give up a long-established system merely to meet the wishes of that small, and, as he hoped, still diminishing minority? If the House differed with him in opinion, his judgment should bow to theirs; but the sooner the country was relieved—and he said this without qualification or hesitation—from the importunities of that small portion of the community, the freer would be the votes and the more permanent their hopes of the constituencies of this empire.


said, it would be extremely satisfactory if the very favourable character which the hon. Gentleman gave of his own constituents could be received as a fair one of the electoral body generally. The hon. Gentleman represented Stockport—a borough certainly not remarkable for its purity, nor for the little cost of its elections, but somewhat remarkable for the tumultuous and disgraceful proceedings by which several of its elections had been characterised. He knew something of that borough, and would let the House know something of it also. Crossing the enormous viaduct by which the North Western Railway traversed that town, the passenger might observe on either side several largo mills and tall chimneys. Indeed it was well known that Stockport was almost entirely supported by its cotton trade, and that many of the owners of these mills employed from 500 to 2,000 persons each in carrying on their business. Now, not only over these, but likewise over nearly all the tradesmen in the town who supplied the hundreds of articles required in the wear and tear of those large manufactories, did the owners exercise a direct influence, for a large employer was, in fact, like the great landed proprietor with numerous tenants and labourers dependent on him. He was himself much in the position he was describing. He employed large numbers of persons who at frequent stated intervals attended at his counting-house to receive payment and orders—men employed at subsidiary trades and manufactories. As a matter of course, that species of influence which the ballot was intended to guard against, existed to a large extent in such cases; and it was left wholly to the morality and conscientiousness of the parties having that influence, whether it was exercised or not against the rights of the electors who were subject to it. He was not about to say that the employers at Stockport were less pure or less disposed to exercise their influence than those of Rochdale, or of this metropolis, or elsewhere. He merely asserted that such an influence existed in the hands of men employing thousands of persons likely to be affected by it, without charging any one man more than another with abusing it; and he asked whether, when party spirit ran high, as it often did in small towns, and sometimes where there was really very little to fight about, sometimes through private and sometimes through personal motives, they could lay their hands to their hearts, and say, that that influence was not exercised by candidates and employers connected with all political parties. He believed that no one could conscientiously declare that in the great majority of elections, whether for counties or for boroughs, particularly where the constituencies were limited, such influence had not been exercised adversely to the independence and conscientious voting of the electors. The borough of Stockport was no exception. The hon. Gentleman said that nine-tenths of the electors of that borough did not want the ballot. Nine-tenths of the electors did not vote for him, and he could not speak for more than did vote for him. The hon. Member would, perhaps, before long, be asked to present a petition from the majority of his constituents in favour of the ballot. In Lancashire, where all classes were as independent as in any portion of the kingdom, he (Mr. Bright) could assert that the great majority were in favour of the ballot; and the principal reason why it was refused to them by hon. Gentlemen opposite was, because they knew that in many instances, were the ballot granted, the returns to that House would be very diffierent from what they were. He was amazed that some hon. Gentlemen who talked so much about morality, who quoted all parts of Scripture upon all kinds of questions brought forward in that House, and who presumed to be the main defenders of the Church and of that Christianity which the Church was supposed to embody—he was surprised that they should oppose a proposition for removing a system which gave rise to immorality, cruelty, and oppression on the part of the powerful and wealthy classes, while it caused the humiliation and degradation of the more dependent classes of electors—a proposition to which there was no valid objection, and the most that could be said against which was, that it would not do all the good its advocates promised. The time was not far distant when the whole of the representative system, of the franchise, and mode of election, would be subjected to a more thorough investigation and reform. They had had one night's debate on Parliamentary reform, and they should have many more on the subject. Our Parliamentary representation was so monstrous upon the face of it that we were subjected to the ridicule of every foreigner who examined into it. [Laughter on the opposite benches.] It would be wise for hon. Gentlemen instead of raising an unmeaning laugh to give some arguments to the House in favour of the system they upheld, a system which was ridiculous in theory, and which, in practice, was found to occasion great evils throughout the country.


said, that it was very seldom that he trespassed upon the attention of the House, and it was with reluctance that he did so in the present instance; but as the metropolis had been all luded to in connection with this question, he thought it might be expected that he should state his views upon the subject of the ballot. He was decidedly opposed to the practice of secret voting as contradistinguished from open voting, and he objected to making that a matter of con cealment—namely, a man's vote—which everybody ought to be made acquainted with.


said, that he should give his vote in favour of the Motion. The hon. Member for Stockport had said that only one-tenth of his constituents were anxious for the ballot. The experience he (Mr. Muntz) had of the borough of Birmingham led him to believe that a very large proportion of the electors would like to have it, and that that proportion consisted of the most respectable class, principally shopkeepers, who did not think it just either to themselves or their families to have the system of open voting continued. Now, before he happened to be in Parliament a sharply-contested election took place in Birmingham. In the course of it both parties called upon him to see some of his workmen. One party said there was no use in seeing them, as no doubt he (Mr. Muntz) had interfered with them as a master in the exercise of their franchise. He told the party that he had not done anything of the kind, for he should as soon think of meddling with a man's pocket as with his vote, and that, however his men might vote, he should not employ them the less on that account. The circumstance showed in itself how a master could, if he were so inclined, intimidate his men, and prevent them from enjoying the free use of the right of which they were possessed; because had he gone to any of the men, and said they must vote for this or that candidate, they would have implicitly obeyed his directions. And this was done in every large manufacturing town, for the masters were in many instances just as tyrannical with regard to their men as ladies were in electioneering matters with reference to the shopkeepers with whom they dealt. He asked hon. Gentlemen whether they should leave the franchise in such a state as that it became prejudicial to the interests of those who openly and conscientiously exercised it? He advised those who travelled on the Continent to ask what had been the effect of the ballot in Belgium, where it had been established in the year 1830. He had inquired about its operation in that country, and found not a single instance in which it had operated prejudicially. If it had worked well in Belgium, why should it not work equally well in England? His own belief was that they would never realise the independence of the people of this country until they had given them vote by ballot.


did not think it worth his while to pay any attention to what fell from the hon. Member for Manchester. The hon. Member for Birmingham wished this country to imitate Belgium, but he (Colonel Sibthorp) believed this country never would so much degrade itself. There was far too much aping of foreign institutions now-a-days, and Expositions Françaises, and such like humbugs. He had listened with great satisfaction to what had fallen from his excellent Friend the Member for the city of London; he wished there had been more of it. The hon Member's integrity of character and unwavering consistency made him despise the ballot. He (Colonel Sibthorp) did not know what the First Lord of the Treasury thought of the ballot. Perhaps if it would relieve him of that Colleague who cost him so much uneasiness and trouble in bill-making, Baron—Baron—something or other—the noble Lord might not be much blamed for supporting the Motion. He (Colonel Sibthorp) had had the honour of a seat in that House for twenty-seven years, and during that time he thanked God he had never done any act which would lead him to wish for the protection of the ballot. His conduct had always been there in accordance with what he had professed at the hustings. He had not been elected for the express purpose of opposing a particular policy, and then turned round and voted for it. And while his conduct was thus open, he believed every one who voted for him had as little cause for concealment. He did not wish to be supported by the subtlety and trickery of an un-English ballot. He had never bribed a single individual, nor had he influenced a tenant, and he never would. He opposed the Motion, on the broad honest English principle of doing nothing of which to be ashamed. If they were to have honest men, good men, and proper men in that House, they must he chosen by the people openly and fairly, and not by substituting a foreign, mean, undermining system.


said, that hon. Gentlemen who expressed so much repugnance to this proposal seemed quite to forget that the principle was in full force in those clubs of which they were themselves members. The hon. Member for Stockport had, he thought, made a great mistake in what he stated regarding his own constituency. He thought the hon. Member had libelled them, because he (Mr. Hume) had recently communicated to him the resolutions of a public meeting held in the hon. Gentleman's borough, and attended by thousands of electors, where the ballot was unanimously supported. How, therefore, the hon. Member could stand up and say that nine-tenths of the electors of his borough were against the ballot, he confessed he could not understand. But the hon. Gentleman further stated that the remaining tenth were a class of people that could be bought any day by anybody. Well, now, give them the ballot, and that was the very class that could no longer be subjected to bribery and corruption. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "Oh, oh!" but who did they think would buy a pig in a poke? Hon. Gentlemen opposite had not had the courage to attempt to offer any argument against this measure: they were merely about to give a silent vote without stating any reasons for the manner in which they would record it. He also thought the hon. Member for the city of London mistaken OS to the feeling of his constituents—


explained that be had never said his constituents were against the ballot: what he stated was, that he had never received any intimation from them that they were anxious for it.


He only knew this—that the numerous meetings hold lately in the metropolis all terminated unanimously in favour of the ballot. He must say, in conclusion, that those who used the ballot to protect themselves, acted most unjustly, un-English-like, and unmanly, in refusing it to others.


rose to explain. He said he was certain that neither the hon. Member for Montrose nor the hon. Member for Manchester wished to misrepresent him. What he said was, that he believed the great body of the constituency of the empire, including nine-tenths of his own, did not require the ballot as a means of protection in recording their votes. His argument was that such a proportion prided themselves in having it known what were their distinctive principles, and who was their favourite candidate.


replied: He said, he should have occasion only to detain the House a few minutes, for he found that he had very little to answer. He had first to accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. He was quite willing to admit that the right hon. Gentleman had never used the phrase, political virtue; but he had ascribed the sentiment to that right hon. Gentleman, whose explanation fully bore him out. With respect to the ballot, he never admitted that it would be inoperative as against bribery: he thought in large constituencies it would be a decided preventive; he was not prepared to assert the same in small constituencies, but the existence of the latter ought to cease, for the ballot could make them no worse than they were. He had heard nothing that night to shake his opinion as to the ballot being perfectly competent to check bribery, and put down intimidation; he never pretended it was a panacea. The hon. Member for Stockport argued against the ballot, as if electors were compelled by it to secrecy. So far from it they might march with a band of music to poll, proclaiming their votes as they went if they pleased; while the elector, to whom secrecy was safety, would claim the ballot as his just protection. The hon. Member for London had talked about the ballot not being necessary in London; must he read his (Mr. Berkeley's) speech in '48, to show the hon. Member the exact reverse? The hon. Member forgot that he (Mr. Berkeley) had been chairman of a London election committee in 1847; he really could not make that speech over again—not that the hon. Member's friends were one jot worse than his opponents. On the present occasion he (Mr. Berkeley) trusted that he should have the support of all those who had hitherto supported the Motion; and he would hold up to them the brilliant example of Mr. Ward, who had instigated him to take up this important question. Mr. Ward had been consistent whether in office or not, and to prove his conviction of the necessity of protecting the elector, one of his first acts while serving Her Majesty in the Ionian Islands, was to give the people the ballot.

The House divided:—Ayes 121; Noes 176: Majority 55.

List of the AYES.
Adair, H. E. King, hon. P. J. L.
Adair, R. A. S. Langsten, J. H.
Aglionby, H. A. Locke, J.
Alcock, T. M'Cullagh, W. T.
Anderson, A. Meagher, T.
Armstrong, R. B. Mahon, The O'Gorman
Bagshaw, J. Mangles, R. D.
Barnard, E. G. Marshall, W.
Berkeley, C. L. G. Martin, J.
Bernal, R. Milner, W. M. E.
Blake, M. J. Mitchell, T. A.
Blewitt, R. J. Moffatt, G.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Morris, D.
Boyle, hon. Col. Mowatt, F.
Bright, J. Muntz, G. F.
Brocklehurst, J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Brotherton, J. Nugent, Lord
Clay, J. O'Connell, M.
Clay, Sir W. O'Flaherty, A.
Cobden, R. Osborne, R.
Collins, W. Paget, Lord A.
Currie, R. Paget, Lord C.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Paget, Lord G.
Devereux, J. T. Pechell, Sir G. B.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T. Perfect, R.
Duke, Sir J. Pigott, F.
Duncan, Visct. Pilkington, J.
Duncan, G. Rawdon, Col.
Dundas, Adm. Reynolds, J.
Ellis, J. Ricardo, O.
Enfield, Visct. Rice, E. R.
Evans, Sir De L. Romilly, Col.
Evans, J. Romilly, Sir J.
Evans, W. Salwey, Col.
Ewart, W. Scholefield, W.
Fagan, W. Scrope, G. P.
Fox, W. J. Scully, F.
Freestun, Col. Shafto, R. D.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Smith, J. A.
Glyn, G. C. Smith, J. B.
Greene, J. Spearman, H. J.
Grenfell, C. P. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Grenfell, C. W. Strickland, Sir G.
Hall, Sir B. Stuart, Lord J.
Hallyburton, Lord J. F. Sullivan, M.
Hardcastle, J. A. Talbot, J. H.
Harris, R. Tancred, H. W.
Hastie, A. Tenison, E. K.
Headlam, T. E. Thicknesse, R. A.
Henry, A. Thompson, Col.
Heywood, J. Thompson, G.
Heyworth, L. Thornely, T.
Hill, Lord M. Towneley, J.
Hobhouse, T. B. Trelawny, J. S.
Hume, J. Tufnell, H.
Humphery, Ald. Villiers, hon. C.
Kershaw, J. Wakley, T.
Walmsley, Sir J. Wood, W. P.
Wawn, J. T. Wyvill, M.
Willcox, B. M. TELLERS.
Williams, J. Berkeley, H.
Wilson, M. Stuart, Lord D.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Forbes, W.
Adderley, C. B. Forester, hon. G. C. W.
Archdall, Capt. M. Fuller, A. E.
Arkwright, G. Gaskell, J. M.
Armstrong, Sir A. Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.
Ashley, Lord Gore, W. O.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Bankes, G. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Baring, H. B. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Baring, T. Grey, R. W.
Barrington, Visct. Grogan, E.
Bateson, T. Guernsey, Lord
Bennet, P. Halsey, T. P.
Beresford, W. Hamilton, G. A.
Blackall, S. W. Hamilton, J. H.
Blair, S. Harcourt, G. G.
Blandford, Marq. of Hatchell, J.
Bowles, Adm. Heald, J.
Bramston, T. W. Heathcote, G. J.
Brisco, M. Henley, J. W.
Broadley, H. Herbert, rt. hon. S.
Brockman, E. D. Hervey, Lord A.
Brooke, Lord Hildyard, R. C.
Buck, L. W. Hildyard, T. B. T.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J.
Bunbury, E. H. Hodgson, W. N.
Burrell, Sir C.M. Hogg, Sir J. W.
Burroughes, H. N. Hood, Sir A.
Buxton, Sir E. S. Hope, A.
Cabbell, B. B. Hornby, J.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Hotham, Lord
Cardwell, E. Howard, Sir R.
Carew, W. H. P. Hughes, W. B.
Castlereagh, Visct. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Cayley, E. S. Jermyn, Earl
Childers, J. W. Jocelyn, Visct.
Christy, S. Johnstone, Sir J.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Clive, hon. R. H. Jones, Capt.
Clive, H. B. Knox, Col.
Cobbold, J. C. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Cocks, T. S. Lennard, T. B.
Cole, hon. H. A. Lewis, G. C.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Lindsay, hon. Col.
Coles, H. B. Littleton, hon. E. R.
Compton, H. C. Lockhart, W.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Mackenzie, W. F.
Cubitt, W. Martin, C. W.
Denison, J. E. Matheson, Col.
Dick, Q. Maxwell, hon. J. P.
Dodd, G. Melgund, Visct.
Drummond, H. H. Meux, Sir H.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Miles, P. W. S.
Duff, G. S. Moody, C. A.
Duncombe, hon. O. Morgan, O.
Dundas, G. Mulgrave, Earl of
Dunne, Col. Mullings, J. R.
Du Pre, C. G. Mundy, W.
Edwards, H. Naas, Lord
Fergus, J. Newdegate, C. N.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Norreys, Lord
Filmer, Sir E. Oswald, A.
Fitz Patrick, rt. hon. J. W. Packe, C. W.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Palmer, R.
Foley, J. H. H. Palmer, R.
Palmerston, Visct. Stanford, J. F.
Patten, J. W. Stanley, E.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Stanley, hon. E. H.
Peel, F. Stanton, W. H.
Pelham, hon. D. A. Sturt, H. G.
Plowden, W. H. C. Taylor, T. E.
Plumptre, J. P. Thompson, Ald.
Portal, M. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Price, Sir R. Turner, G. J.
Prime, R. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Reid, Col. Vane, Lord H.
Repton, G. W. J. Verney, Sir H.
Richards, R. Vesey, hon. T.
Rumbold, C. E. Waddington, D.
Russell, Lord J. Waddington, H. S.
Russell, F. C. H. Walpole, S. H.
Sott, hon. F. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Seymour, Lord Watkins, Col. L.
Shelburne, Earl of Wegg-Prosser, F. R.
Sibthorp, Col. Wellesley, Lord C.
Smollett, A. Wortley, rt. hon. J. S.
Somerset, Capt.
Sotheron, T. H. S. TELLERS.
Spooner, R. Howard, Lord E.
Stafford, A. Masterman, J.

The House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.