HC Deb 29 June 1852 vol 122 cc1389-91

Sir, I wish to say a few words in support of the Motion I am about to offer to the consideration of the House, lest it should be thought presumptuous in me to move for a return of this nature, when there are so many older and more experienced Members of this House, by whom such a duty could no doubt be more properly performed. I have not undertaken the task without first consulting a great number of Members, all of whom have agreed that such a return would be extremely useful; but there is a strong repugnance, nevertheless, on the part of hon. Gentlemen to move in the matter, lest they should make enemies in such an influential quarter. None deny that the most gross extortion is practised by the underlings of the returning officers; for though the returning officers, namely, the Sheriffs and Mayors are responsible, they leave the matter entirely to their deputies, and I believe know nothing of the illegal practices of their "employés." Some have resisted these exactions. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) successfully disputed them in a court of law. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. T. Hobhouse) did so when Member for Aylesbury; but, as a general rule, few like to do so. I do not move for the return for my own benefit, having, through inexperience, paid the charges made upon me, though I have every reason to believe many of them were illegal; but I do it from a wish to expose the gross extortion practised upon candidates by these underlings of the returning officers, and to check as far as possible all corrupt practices at elections—a subject which the House has dealt with in a way this Session, and which all parties affected great anxiety to compass, but I have not been convinced of the sincerity of any one of them. It is high time that the whole system were purified, and it is evident nothing can be done whilst the very officers appointed under the Reform Act are themselves guilty of corruption, and go unpunished. The corrupt practices resorted to and encouraged at elections, in order to get a seat in this House, and the slavish and unscrupulous adherence to party insisted on if you wish to retain it in quiet, must tend to prevent honest men, who reflect at all, from being candidates for Parliamentary honours. Sir, the part I have taken in this House in endeavouring, as far as in me lay, to expose and check corrupt practices, will no doubt be visited upon me, and I may in consequence be denied the honour of appearing in this House in the next Session; but my sense of duty and what is right, enables me cheerfully to incur this risk, for I will never, to secure any object, however coveted, sanction corrupt practices of any kind, or become the obsequious and convenient tool of any party, Whig, Radical, or Tory. I beg. Sir, to move for the following Return:—

Motion made, and Question proposed— For a Return of all Charges actually made by the Returning Officer, or by his Deputy, or by the Clerk of the Peace or Town Clerk, or by any other Officer employed under the provision of the Act 2 Will, 4 c. 45, of each County, City, and Borough in England and Wales, upon each Candidate at the General Election of 1847 for such County, City, and Borough; distinguishing Charges made on such Candidates as did not go to the poll, and at any time subsequently at any vacancy for any County, City, or Borough, during the present Parliament.


said, the legal charges of the Sheriff were very small. It rested with hon. Members to see that they were not exaggerated. It certainly was desirable that some means should be adopted of checking these accounts. Members ought to be returned free of expense, coming forward as they did to fulfil a public duty. He had on a former occasion made a proposal to that effect; and until it was carried out, there would be no remedy for the existing charges. It would be the best course, at the ensuing election, for candidates to ascertain what were the legal expenses, and refuse to pay anything beyond.

Motion agreed to.

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