HC Deb 26 April 1852 vol 120 cc1185-92

SIR EDWARD BUXTON moved for leave to bring in a Bill to allow Candidates to give refreshment to Voters at County Elections to a limited amount.


thought that a measure of this kind would be most objectionable, and would tend to demoralise the Electors.


said, that in his own county of Essex, at the present time, there were actually two lawyers going about canvassing the electors on the strength of this proposition. He was sure that the hon. Baronet who wished to introduce the Bill was in ignorance of this fact, and he would suggest to him to postpone it, at all events until after the next elections.


could not see any reason for postponing this measure, which the prospect of an early election rendered all the more necessary. Several Committees of that House had recommended that some such law should be passed; and it was an insult to electors to suppose that their votes would be influenced by the small allowance which it was proposed to grant them under the present Bill.


said, he did not hesitate to say that he should give this proposition every opposition in his power, and at every stage. It was said that it was only sought to give reasonable refreshment to voters; but what was reasonable refreshment, and where would they draw the line of distinction?


said, he must appeal to the House not to condemn the Bill before they saw it, and had an opportunity of discussing its merits. Every one knew that persons in the humbler classes of life could not be expected to come a considerable distance to the poll if they were then placed in a worse position than they would be in if they remained at home. All that the hon. Member for South Essex asked for was, power to grant refreshment to be tendered by the presiding officer at the poll booth to a very limited extent, all other refreshments being considered illegal, and the parties offering them to be liable to penalties.


begged to state that the object of his Bill was to permit candidates at county elections to grant permission either to the officer who had the arrangement Of the elections, or to persons appointed by him, and in his sight to give a ticket for refreshment, not exceeding in amount half-a-crown, with a provision that no voter should under any circumstances receive more than one such ticket. He would not enter into the reasons which might be stated in favour of such a law; but he would state his belief that a provision for such moderate refreshment would tend, not to the increase, but very much to the decrease of bribery at elections.


said, that if the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby) divided the House on this question, he should vote along with him, for he strongly objected to any such Bill. His principal objection was this, that refreshment given to voters was not the real and legitimate purpose for which it was done; it was in reality a mode of bribing the publicans and persons who kept beer-shops, and by doing so you did, in point of fact, obtain by means of corruption the votes of persons attending such shops. He thought that one of the best means of preventing bribery would be to disfranchise every person who kept a public-house or beer shop, though he did not mean to say that he would be the one to propose such a law. It was manifest, without entering into further details, that unless the House wished to open a door to that which for a long series of years they had been endeavouring by stringent provisions to put an end to, they would on the present occasion put a final stop to all such proceedings by refusing to entertain this measure.


thought that if this measure passed, it should not be confined to counties, but should also be extended to boroughs.


said, he must object to proceeding with the discussion of this measure at that late hour of the evening. Suppose this Bill passed into a law, it would, in the case of the West Riding of Yorkshire, where there were 37,000 electors, authorise the expenditure of no less a sum than 4,500l. for "reasonable refreshment." He thought that a more monstrous proposition was never brought before Parliament, and he should move the adjournment of the debate.


seconded the Motion. If this Bill passed, it would certainly be the herald of a similar measure with respect to boroughs, for he did not see why the convenience (as it was called) of the poor voter should not be as much consulted in boroughs as in counties. It would open the widest door to corruption, for if the issue of as many half-crown refreshment tickets as there were voters were allowed, it would be impossible to prevent their being accumulated by a skilful agent in the hands of that portion of the electors who were corruptible.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


hoped that the hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) would not press his Motion for the adjournment of the debate, because the House would be in the same position when the debate was resumed that they were then: that hon. Members would rise and make speeches upon a Bill which they had never seen. This was a subject which had never been very much considered by many Members of the House, who had given their most anxious attention to the suppression of treating; and there was a large body of opinion in the House that nothing would tend so much to put a stop to treating and corruption as a well-regulated measure of this kind. He thought, therefore, that the fairest thing would be to allow the Bill to be introduced and to discuss it afterwards.


said, that the hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall) could not have selected a worse illustration in support of his argument than the West Riding of Yorkshire, because on every occurrence of a contested election in that district refreshment tickets had been given by mutual consent. If refreshment was not given when a man was brought thirty, forty, or fifty miles to the poll, it would virtually disfranchise the poor voters, and those who were less willing to come to the poll. He thought that the Bill should be permitted to be introduced.


said, that in some elections with which he had been connected, he had found that the issue of tickets such as were contemplated by this Bill, had had the effect of reducing the expenditure for refreshments to voters from 1.400l. or 1,500l. to 125l. He believed, therefore, that this Bill would be the means of effecting a saving of expense, instead of leading to bribery and corruption. He thought, also, that it would save the time of electors, and prevent them lounging about in public-houses, as they would probably go home after spending, perhaps, a couple of shillings out of their half-crown ticket.


said, that the question was not whether treating should take place or not, but whether it should take place in a sneaking and underhand, or in an open, legal, and legitimate way. This Bill would enable the candidate to keep in his own hands the control of the expenses which every one knew took place for this purpose; whereas, at present, it was obliged to be left to others, and he then lost all control whatever over it. Whether this Bill passed or not, refreshments would be given; and he thought, therefore, that it was impossible to contend that Members who were opposing its introduction were standing up for purity of election.


said, he would withdraw his Motion for the adjournment of the debate.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 58; Noes 19: Majority 39.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Edward Buxton, Mr. Christopher, and Mr. Adderley.

Bill presented.

Notice taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members not being present, the House was adjourned at half after One o'clock.