§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time."
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, he regretted that Her Majesty's Government should have sanctioned the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell). It had already gone through three editions, but though they had wasted time and paper upon it, it remained as bad a Bill as had ever come before them. He warned the Government against the mantraps and spring guns set by the other side, for they would get caught if they did not mind. The Star Chamber was a farce compared with the tribunal which this Bill would create. It would send down Commissioners—briefless barristers he supposed—into various parts of the country; and, like poachers, they would lie waiting for their prey in the darkness of the night, and endeavour to entrap innocent and unwary persons—persons less likely to be guilty of corruption than the noble Lord himself. It would be well to sift what took place at the last election in the pure and immaculate City of London— how much money was paid, and to remember, qui facit per alium facit per se. Let the noble Lord remember that solemn warning about the mote in his brother's eye, and the beam in his own. It was a roost unchristian-like Bill, and would restrain men from exercising those duties which their country had called on them to perform. If the Government chose to give an hon. Member an appointment of 2,000l. or 5,000l. a year, that was not bribery; but if a poor man got a shilling for refreshments, it was so. [Cries of "Question!"] He knew hon. Gentlemen did not like to hear these things. There were two kinds of bribery—real bribery, and made bribery; and it was principally with the latter that this Bill would deal. The Bill would encourage perjury, and he should, therefore, move that the third reading should take place that day three months.
§ MR. HUDSON
paid, it would afford 1054 him much gratification in seconding the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln. He had taken a very active part against a similar Bill, introduced by the right hon. and learned Master of the Rolls, on a former occasion, and he should, consequently, use his best endeavours to defeat this measure. The former Bill was stopped in the House of Lords by Lord Denman, who said it was so unconstitutional it ought not to he allowed to proceed. If the constituencies were to be dealt with, it ought to be by both Houses, in the same way as St. Albans had been treated. In that House, where party feeling ran high, he could conceive a case of an inquiry being directed to affect one party in a borough, when the other was as much open to it. He remembered such an inquiry with reference to the city of York about fifteen years ago, the sole object of which was to damage the Conservative electors, leaving those of the Whig party untouched. The object was defeated by his exertions: for as soon as it was found the Whig voters were equally involved, the inquiry was abandoned. A Whig Government being in office, the counsel on their side got their fees allowed; but he had been about 1,100l. out of pocket by his defence of the electors of York on that occasion. He had no personal interest in defeating this Bill, having no constituents to bribe or intimidate; but he was convinced its passing would give great dissatisfaction to the country. If not defeated here, he was confident it would be in another place. What was the necessity for the Bill? Why could not corrupt places be dealt with singly like St. Albans? Probably the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) believed what was stated by one of the Committees on the St. Albans inquiry, that all boroughs were corrupt alike, and thought it would be less trouble to deal with them in the lump. It was an insult to the constituencies of England to act on such a belief, and to introduce a wholesale Bill like this. It had been said that Leicester ought to be inquired into; and nothing would be more easy than to make out a primâ facie case for that or any other place, and get a commission sent down to ransack gentlemen's papers, and inquire into their transactions. If it were true that corruption existed in every borough, the best course would be to pass a Bill authorising commissions to visit every one of them. The machinery of this Bill was aimed purely at the poor 1055 man, whom it was sought to crush, and leave hon. Gentlemen in possession of all the privileges they now enjoyed. He would not entrust to this House the powers conferred by this Bill; for he considered that nothing was more dangerous than the assertion of the powers and privileges of Parliament as against the people themselves.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day Three Months."
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
said, he cordially agreed with the preceding speakers in the view they had taken of the Bill. He saw no reason why these constituencies should be subjected to such an inquisition as this Bill would create. In the City of London there was a body of persons, 1,000 in number, who regularly expected the sum of 40s. each before they voted. [Cheers.] He did not say any of them voted for the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell); he believed they did not; he was confident the noble Lord knew nothing of such a practice. Was the House prepared to send such a Commission as this Bill would authorise into the City of London, or to any place with 10,000 or 20,000 constituents? If not, it was a mockery and a delusion to apply it merely to small places. He admitted that he represented a borough which had played an important part before a Committee of that House; and he was convinced it was dangerous for candidates to engage in contests for such boroughs. But the effect of such a Bill as this would be to bring a set of fellows forward as candidates who had nothing to lose, either in character or money—mere desperadoes, who would aspire to a seat in that House as a last resort. Every one knew there was such a thing as patronage in that House, and that it was generally given to those who supported the Ministers. Would the noble Lord say that that was a less corrupt practice than the practice of paying voters at an election?
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: —Ayes 281; Noes 6: Majority 275.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to; Bill read 3°
§ MR. CHISHOLM ANSTEY
said, he had an Amendment to propose to the first clause. The House would remember that the Bill originally provided that when any Member had reason to believe in the existence of corrupt practices in any borough, 1056 he might move for an address to the Crown to issue a Commission of Inquiry. The Bill was afterwards altered, requiring the intervention of an Inquiry by a Committee of the House before any such Commission could be applied for. What he now proposed was, that the fact of the existence of corruption might also be ascertained by a judicial inquiry before a Court of Record; and he therefore begged to move the insertion of words to that effect.
In p. 1,1. 1, after the word 'That' to insert the words 'any judicial proceedings have been had in some Court of Record of competent jurisdiction by which it hath been ascertained or made to appear, or that.'.
§ SIR ALEXANDER COCKBURN
said, he thought it would be very inconvenient to insert the words proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman; for all that such an inquiry could do would be to ascertain individual cases of bribery; but the object sought by this Bill was evidence of wholesale corruption.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he agreed in what the hon. and learned Gentleman had just stated, and wished that the hon. and learned mover of the Amendment would explain how it was possible that any judicial proceeding could take place which could throw open an inquiry into what was, in fact, the object of the Bill, namely, a wholesale system of corruption.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
did not think any proceedings before a Court of Law would prevent the necessity of an inquiry, either by a Committee or at the bar of that House.
§ Question "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
wished to know why the provision of this Bill should not be extended to counties? It was at present confined to cities and boroughs. He believed county electors were quite as corrupt as, and certainly much more dependent than, 10l. voters in boroughs. The clause creating the 50l. voters, and which was commonly called the "Chandos clause," was opposed by him at the time it was brought forward; but several of his hon. Friends the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) among the number, supported it on the ground that good might come out of evil, and that, as that class of voters would be so corrupt, it would at last lead to the ballot. Well, they had been waiting for upwards of twenty years, but the ballot appeared to be as far off as 1057 ever. It was well known that the 50l. tenants-at-will were wholly at the control of the landlords. By the 6th Clause of this Bill, the definition of bribery was "by way of the gift or the promise of the gift of any sum of money or other valuable consideration." As the tenants-at-will were perfectly dependent upon their landlords, he would ask, whether a promise to continue them in their farms, if they would vote for Mr. So-and-so, was not a valuable consideration, taken with the fact that if they did not so vote they would be immediately ejected? Another question referred to in the Bill was that of treating; and he believed there was ten times more treating in the counties than in the boroughs. Why, then, were counties to be exempted from the operation of this Bill? He thought the proposition to be a very great insult to the borough electors. Look at St. Albans; since the disfranchisement many of its voters would be merged in the county constituency; and did the House believe that they would be more pure as county voters than they had been as borough voters? Not a bit of it. He believed that some of them were even now established as agents for the Protectionist party. At all events, a time would no doubt come when the charge of corrupt practices would be made against counties. What, in that case, would the House do? Why, they would of course propose another Bill applicable to counties. Why not, then, do it at once? It could do no harm, but might do good. He therefore begged to move the insertion of words that would carry on this views.
§ Amendment proposed, in p. 1, line 14, after the word "any" to insert the words "County, Division of a County."
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, if he were not mistaken, the hon. Member for Pins-bury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had just voted against his (Col. Sibthorp's) Amendment to postpone the third reading of the Bill till that day three months; and, by that vote, he had condemned the boroughs and had supported the noble Lord's Bill. That being the case, although he (Col. Sibthorp) might be disposed to extend the same measure to counties as the House had determined to apply to boroughs, yet, coming as the proposition did from such a quarter, he felt it necessary to be cautious how he accepted the hon. Member's favours — Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes. But this he would repeat, that he had never controlled a tenant's vote in his life, and never would.
said, the reason why he should support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury was, that this Bill, in a great measure, would be the machinery for transferring the franchise of small boroughs to large towns. He was very much afraid that would be the way the Bill would work. It provided for inquiry, the result of which was to be laid before Parliament, but they did not know what ulterior course would be taken; in his opinion, therefore, there was no valid reason why counties should not be included. His attention had been drawn to a large amount of bribery in counties, not by landlords only, but by Freehold Land Societies—freehold societies which were countenanced by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright). He had heard of some of these societies being established in that portion of the country in which he (Capt. Harris) resided, and he understood the object was to bring the men who joined them completely under the control of those who apportioned the lands. Many of the men who held freeholds were in debt, and likely to continue in debt, and so long as they were in debt they held their votes at the disposal of the committees of those societies. He thought there was as much ground for inquiry into that state of things in the counties, as for inquiring into the practices in cities and boroughs; and considering, as he did, that it was unfair to the cities and boroughs not to include the counties, he should vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ MR. P. HOWARD
said, he would support the Amendment, because it was invidious towards cities and boroughs to suppose that they alone were subject to temptation. He observed that the title of the Bill was sufficiently general to admit of the Amendment without alteration—the title being, "to provide for more effectual inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament."
§ MR. SHARMAN CRAWFORD
said, if there was any necessity to protect the tenants at will in England from unjust influence, that protection was doubly necessary in Ireland, where corrupt practices were at the present time being carried into effect, and he should, therefore, feel it his duty strenuously to support the Amendment.
§ MR. CHISHOLM ANSTEY
said, the hon. Member for Christ Church (Capt. Harris) seemed more conversant with the party politics of the county in which he re- 1059 sided than with Freehold Land Societies, which he represented to be of so base a nature that the freeholders were obliged to render their votes at the dictation of the committees of those societies. The 40s. freehold qualification was such that the voters need not be influenced in the way suggested. The hon. Member (Capt. Harris) had not named the county; he had not named the society; he had not named his informant; and, if the character of the hon. Gentleman did not stand so high, he (Mr. G. Anstey) would be inclined to think the whole story anonymous and fictitious. With regard to the Amendment proposed, if the object of the Bill was to exclude counties because of the amount of population, why not exclude Manchester and Liverpool, and Edinburgh and Glasgow, which were far more populous than several counties? If the object of the Bill was to exclude counties because of their extent, why not exclude the borough of Wenlock, which was thirty miles long, or Aylesbury, which was nearly the same size, and much more extensive than the little county of the Isle of Wight, or the county of Rutland. Whether the object was population or territory, this distinction ought to be abolished, and he should therefore support the Amendment.
said, the hon. and learned Member seemed to think he had advanced a charge that was incorrect. He would repeat what he had stated, that he had understood from several persons that money was advanced to these freeholders to purchase the freeholds—[Mr. C. ANSTEY: Where?]—and that they were to pay the money back by instalments, and that during the time the money was in course of repayment the votes were at the disposal of the committee of the society. [Mr. C. ANSTEY: What society?] This he had not heard from one quarter, but from a hundred different people, and whetherit was correct or not, he thought the House would agree with him it was a fit topic for inquiry.
§ MR. HUME
said, he was one who had encouraged these Freehold Land Societies. He belonged to one in the City of London, and he would venture to say the imputation which had been made, was a calumny upon that society. He knew they were associated for the purchase of properties in different parts of the country; but so far from interfering with the exercise of franchise, there was never the least question put to the members as to their political opinions. The great point with these so- 1060 cieties was the extension of the suffrage, without noticing who the individuals were who obtained it. He hoped the hon. and gallant Member (Capt. Harris) would take the opportunity of ascertaining at an early day what society was referred to, because this calumny at present applied to all similar societies; and these societies were conferring great benefits, inducing habits of economy and prudence in those who joined them. With regard to the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. T. Duncombe) he would be glad to hear from the noble Lord who brought in this Bill, whether he had any objection to it, because if he expressed his approbation, the Government, he apprehended, would have no objection, and he hoped the point would then be conceded of applying the provisions of the Bill, as they ought to he applied, to all classes of electors.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he could add his testimony to that of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) with regard to the Freehold Land Societies. Speaking particularly of the largest—the one which had extended the suffrage the most, the one in Birmingham, and those in Lancashire—he was quite sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Capt. Harris) was entirely mistaken—that he knew nothing about them but what he had picked up from the papers of his party, which of course could not be relied upon. The hon. Gentleman might certainly have had some connexion with another society in Birmingham, a Conservative society of which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) was a member; and he (Mr. Bright) could not say that the practice of that society was not as the hon. and gallant Gentleman had represented. But the practice was not so in those societies with which he (Mr. Bright) was acquainted. If the hon. and gallant Member, or any one else, chose to become a member and a freeholder, no one would ask him what were his political opinions, or how he intended to vote. With regard to the Amendment, nothing had been said against it. The only thing that had been attempted to be said was, that as the county constituencies were very large, that kind of treating and bribery was not carried on for which boroughs were so notorious. That was just as good a reason for exempting many large constituencies in boroughs, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, or Birmingham, or any of the metropolitan boroughs. He believed there had never since the Reform Act been a single petition against the returns 1061 from the large boroughs or cities, with the exception of the City of London, where some old freemen still existed; and he had never heard of any charge of bribery against those constituencies to an extent to require the notice of Parliament. Therefore, if the answer was to be that county constituencies were so large, it would be equally an answer if it was proposed to include these large constituencies in the Bill. As they were legislating, it would he far better to include all, to make no difference between counties and boroughs, for whatever difference existed in the amount of independence, at least they expected equal virtue in both when the votes were given. They did not know but that hereafter, when the strife of parties became vehement, recourse might be had to extensive treating in counties, which ought to come under the operation of this Bill. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were never guilty of bribery, they would not come under the operation of this Bill. They must either admit that they wanted a different scale of virtue in boroughs and counties, or that a different scale of virtue already existed. He, therefore, thought it desirable to include counties in the Bill, and he should vote for the Amendment.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, the reason why he did not insert the word "counties" in the original Bill was, that, although they had had many complaints for now three-quarters of a century with regard to the prevalence of corruption in boroughs, he did not remember an instance in which it had been stated that in a county, or in a division of a county, bribery had generally prevailed. Of course, they were aware that, from the time of Old Sarum down to the last instance (that of St. Albans) the practice of bribery had generally prevailed, with regard to which Parliament had made inquiries, and Parliament had legislated. He had therefore thought fit to confine the Bill to that class of cases with regard to which Parliament had already interfered and instituted inquiries. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down might make a distinction between large towns and small towns; but, in the first place, it was very difficult to draw the line as to the size of the towns which should be included; and, in the next place, he remembered an inquiry with respect to the town of Liverpool, and an intention intimated of proposing a Bill upon that subject. The reason he had not included counties, was exactly that 1062 which he had stated. He did not think there would be any objection, if complaints arose, to bringing counties under the operation of the Bill; but he thought it objectionable to insert the words at this moment, because the hon. Member who made the Motion did not propose it in Committee, did not state anything of the kind, until the House was considering the third reading of the measure. No notice had been given of the Amendment, though three other notices had appeared on the paper, and he did not think it so important that it ought to be adopted without notice. The hon. Member should have given notice of his intention to move the insertion of these words in Committee, when the question might have been fairly discussed. He did not think it fair now to move to include "counties."
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he did not oppose the principle of the Amendment. If they were to inquire into the conduct of constituencies, he thought a limitation to a particular class of constituencies was an odious distinction. But it was his sincere belief that the county constituencies of this country were pure. That was his firm conviction; and he was quite sure, if his firm conviction were not well-founded, they would have had complaints made to that House. If, in indicating the character of borough constituencies, it would afford satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen opposite, he could say also that he believed the corruption of borough constituencies was very much exaggerated: it applied to a very limited class of boroughs. Although the principle of the suggestion was one which he would not quarrel with, it would be well for the House to consider how it would work, how the Bill would apply, supposing the word "counties" was inserted. Suppose they established a charge of corruption, were they prepared to disfranchise a county, and leave a considerable portion of England unrepresented? The machinery which applied to boroughs did not apply to counties; and however good the principle, it was not well considered, not sufficiently matured with respect to this Bill. If the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) should succeed in bringing counties under similar Parliamentary control, then it would be necessary to devise different machinery to that contained in this Bill. The subject appeared to he one which required more consideration than it had received. He quite agreed 1063 with the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that the suggestion ought not to have been brought forward in this manner; that there ought to have been fair notice, that it might have been seen whether, if they adopted the machinery of the Bill, they could apply it to the principle of the Amendment. It struck him that the machinery was inapplicable. He would ask the House, were they prepared to sanction what, for aught they knew, might lead to the disfranchisement of the whole West Riding of Yorkshire, and leave the most considerable provinces of England unrepresented? He did not disapprove at all of the principle. He did not see why, if they legislated for boroughs, counties should not be included; but he hoped the House would not proceed to include them in this manner.
§ LORD ROBERT GROSVENOR
said, if his memory did not deceive him, though he much doubted it after what had fallen from his noble Friend the Member for the city of London, he thought there had been a charge made of the most extensive bribery ever practised at an election having been practised at an election for West Gloucestershire. On account of some technical difficulty it was not inquired into—it -could not be brought before the ordinary tribunal; but a Committee was apppointed to inquire whether a noble Lord had not been guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House in the manner in which he interfered in that election. As his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) found it very difficult to draw the line between the constituency of one borough and that of another, so he (Lord R. Grosvenor) thought it very difficult to draw a line between boroughs and counties. Whether the machinery of the Bill were applicable or not, he did not know, but at present he should vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. WAKLEY
thought, after what had fallen from the noble Lord and the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, the House ought either to adopt the Amendment, or adjourn the debate. It was quite clear this matter was not lightly considered. The attempt to draw the line was not only absurd, but unjust—most unjust. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the constituencies of the counties were pure. Then keep them pure, by placing before them the fear of inquiry. But he entertained a different opinion, and he thought counties stood quite as much in need of a Bill of this kind as cities and 1064 boroughs. Gross corruption had been practised in counties, and he believed at the next election there would be more corruption than ever, because the motive would be more powerful than ever. It would be a gross insult to cities and boroughs to make such a Bill applicable to them and not to counties. The Bill was merely for a Commission of Inquiry, not for disfranchising any constituency. It was only a measure for a preliminary inquiry upon which the House might proceed, and they might disfranchise individuals as the result of that inquiry. He did not say he should persist in the Motion, but he thought he should, that the debate be now adjourned.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, when the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Essex (Sir E. Buxton) was introduced to legalise treating, it was acknowledged that the practice of paying for dinners was almost universal throughout England; and it was stated that there was an agreement on both sides that no adverse proceedings should be commenced on either side on account of that practice.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
would remind the House, that at the assembling of the present Parliament, a very great number of petitions were presented against the returns for counties after the last general election, among which were petitions from North Staffordshire and Cheshire; and he did not, therefore, see why counties should be excluded from the operation of the Bill. It was quite notorious that, in the West Riding of the county of York, it was a matter of arrangement between the contending parties that they should give tickets for refreshment, and pay the expenses incurred by the electors on the days of polling. The terms of the Bill were certainly large enough to include counties, because the 6th Clause directed that inquiries should be made whether any corrupt practices bad been committed by way of treating. Every principle of English justice required that a rule which was considered fair for boroughs, should be applied to counties also. He did not like anything that appeared one-sided justice. He would observe that there were three Universities which sent Members to that House, and he knew that the practice was to pay the travelling expenses of the poorer class of clergymen, and an allowance for their table while they remained in the city, If the House affirmed the Amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), he should take the 1065 liberty of moving, that the word "Universities" be added to the Bill, objecting as he did to any course which was of a partial and one-sided character.
§ SIR ALEXANDER COCKBURN
said, he saw but one reason for voting against the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and that was the time and the stage at which this Amendment had been brought forward; otherwise he must say, that he himself fully concurred in what had been said as to the propriety of applying the principle of the Bill to counties. He believed that treating was carried on in counties to a considerable extent, and other influences were also brought to bear, to which the attention of that House could not be too soon directed. When he found it publicly avowed that a noble Lord, a Member of the House of Peers, in direct violation of the privileges of the House of Commons and of the rights of the people, had entered into a corrupt compact, to cause the return of a Member for a county constituency, which Member was to be in that House under the immediate and direct control of that noble Lord, and to be his nominee—when he found that this Member was denied the privilege of soliciting the suffrages of the electors on his own account, and that he was only permitted to ask for them in the name and on the behalf of the noble Lord who was his patron, he repeated that the attention of the House could not be too soon directed to influences of such a nature. He admitted, therefore, the propriety of applying the principle of this Bill to counties. But in this stage of the Bill the adoption of such an Amendment would give the Bill an entirely new character, and extend it to a case to which it was not intended to apply originally. But for this he should have had the greatest repugnance to voting against the Amendment.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, he had never heard anything with more surprise than the statement made by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the West Riding of Yorkshire might be disfranchised by the operation of this Bill. Now he (Mr. Horsman) contended that the Bill contained no machinery of disfranchisement whatever. The Bill only empowered the Queen, after receiving an Address from the House of Commons, stating that corruption had been practised among any constituency, to issue a Commission of Inquiry. That was the whole of the power conveyed by this Bill. Under these circumstances he did not see on what princi- 1066 ple they could shut out the operation of inquiry from counties.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, that the case of West Gloucestershire was the only instance which had been mentioned in which bribery and intimidation had been practised. It was said that treating took place in many counties; but no great demoralisation was occasioned by a candidate giving an elector a slice of bread and cheese, or a sandwich and a glass of beer. If that was all the treating that was to be put down in counties by the grand machinery of this Bill, he thought it was hardly worth the while of the House of Commons to interfere in so unusual a manner to put down an evil which a few days ago a large number of Members of the House thought it not unfair to legalise. When it was proposed to include counties in a Bill which was described by the noble Lord who brought it forward as one which was in the nature of a Bill of pains and penalties, he thought that some better reason should have been assigned than that given by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), that "there was nothing against it." Therefore, although no man in the House had a stronger repugnance to bribery and corruption than he had, he should feel quite justified in voting against the Amendment.
§ MR. HUDSON
said, he could corroborate the statement of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Alderman Sidney) with respect to the practice at contested elections in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It was a regular understood thing there that half-a-crown and five shilling tickets should be issued. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), when he spoke of the purity of his hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), should not have forgotten that the hon. Member for the West Riding had never stood a contest. Whenever he did, he, or his friends for him, which was the same thing, would, he might depend upon it, have to pay the half-crowns and the five shillings. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had talked of having never heard of corruption in counties, and put on an appearance of exceeding innocence; but the noble Lord had himself contested counties, and, if he were candid, must admit that he had paid larger sums than the mere legitimate expenses ought to have amounted to. He (Mr. Hudson) disapproved of the Bill altogether, and would not vote at all on this Amendment.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."1067
§ The House divided: —Ayes 109; Noes 71: Majority 38.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ On Question, "That the Bill do pass,"
§ MR. STANFORD
Sir, though I am aware that the privilege of addressing the House at this stage of a Bill is but sparingly used, I cannot, on the present occasion, refrain from availing myself of the Opportunity which it affords of recording my sentiments on the important and deeply interesting subject with which it deals, as well as of examining the claims of its supporters to be esteemed the uncompromising foes to, and bond fide extirpators of, the shameful and degrading practices of bribery and corruption which so unfortunately pervade our electoral system. Sir, I unhesitatingly say that there was never perpetrated in this House a greater farce, or to use a more vulgar but apposite and expressive term, a greater piece of humbug, than trying to delude the country into the belief that this measure is calculated, or was ever sincerely intended, to prevent corrupt practices at elections. I do not charge one party in this House more than another with conniving at this almost transparent deception — this organised hypocrisy. I draw a bill of indictment against the entire assembly, and do not shrink from declaring my conviction that there is no real anxiety, either on the part of Government, or of the Opposition of Whig or Tory, to eradicate this stigma Upon our representative system; and it is to the pressure of public opinion from without, and to the efforts of the, I fear, small band of really honest electors in each constituency throughout the country, that in the absence of any serious attempt in this place, we must look for any chance of elevating the standard of political morality on the part of the constituencies at large. A distinguished and well-known foreign writer on the Constitution of England has affirmed, that "the liberties of this country are secure so long as the House of Commons remains incorrupt;" that is, while it purely and faithfully represents the Wants and wishes of the people. Now, I ask, can this be alleged to be the condition of the present House, or how far will it justly be descriptive of the House about to be elected? Is it not well known that at every general election from 1,500,000l. to 2,000,000l. are spent by candidates and their friends, with the aid of leagues and clubs, in stifling 1068 true political action, in promoting drunkenness and debauchery, and degrading the franchise to a mere marketable commodity? I blush to think that foreigners who, in other respects, not unjustly take England as a model of representative government, should be able to hold up the finger of scorn at this debasing element of our elective machinery. But it has long been sufficiently notorious. It did not require the disfranchisement of St. Albans or of Sudbury to lay bare these political scandals. It is generally taken for granted that the electors in boroughs are more to be swayed by a ten-pound note than by any merit or personal qualifications in a candidate, or by any preference for his political tenets; and not an experienced electioneerer in the country but would at once tell you that a "purity principle" candidate has not the shadow of a chance. In counties, this is not the case, though the legitimate expense is very great: there, men are returned by wholesome and proper influences, namely, high character, ancient family, large landed estate, and estimable personal qualifications, made known by long residence among the electors—influences which, for the safety and welfare of the country, as well as for the honour of this House, will, I trust, long continue to operate. But, in borough constituencies, no hon. Member can hope for a permanent tenure of his seat unless prepared on each occasion of an election to bleed freely. These things are not, it is true, publicly admitted in this House; but, sotto voce, they are a common topic of conversation, and particularly at this period. Our ears are constantly refreshed with interesting dialogues of this kind, between two hon. Members: "Well, how are you getting on in your borough?" "Oh! I've a very awkward customer to deal with!" & c, & c. Now, it would be naturally supposed that this "awkward customer" was some candidate exercising a legitimate influence, formidable for his merit, his moral worth, his talent, his experience, his professional reputation, or commercial ability. But nothing of the kind: push your inquiry a little further, and you find it is some ambitious, venal competitor, with, probably, no single claim upon the suffrages of the constituency beyond a long purse and a loose conscience; a man introduced by some pettifogging attorney, backed by a staff of paid agents, and with a dirty aide de camp in the guise of "The Man in the Moon," as at Aylesbury, or "the Bell-metal Man," at St. Albans, to do the actual bribery. This 1069 is the "awkward customer," and is generally found the really formidable opponent. But how, Sir, can I blame the poor electors, when you, the elite of the noblemen and gentlemen of the United Kingdom, the highly born, the highly educated, men of honour, honourable in every sense—except at elections, when you have very convenient consciences—wink at such vile and debasing practices. How can I expect better things from a poor mechanic, a needy labourer, or small shopkeeper, when you lend yourselves to the offence? You say, in answer, though it will be hardly admitted in extenuation, "If I were to kick against these practices, I should myself be kicked out, to a dead certainty." There is some truth in this plea, bad as it is; and I shall myself possibly be made more fully sensible of its force at the coming election. Let, then, this probability that I may be addressing the House for the last time, at any rate for the last time on this subject, secure for me greater indulgence than I could otherwise hope for, if I venture to say that there are not a few hon. Members of this House who, so far from disavowing any participation in these corrupt practices, positively glory in them. I remember, at Cambridge, to tell a lie to a proctor was considered part of the moral code of an undergraduate; so there is a species of crooked morality in this House with regard to election matters, though any hon. Member would feel indignant at the imputation of the slightest moral delinquency in any other case. In election proceedings, mal-practices are made a constant subject of postprandial boasting. One hon. Member plumes himself upon having spent 10,000l. in contesting such a place; another with having fought two contested elections and one petition, at a cost of 20,000l: and what, indeed, is recognised as a stronger claim to a rod ribbon, or a Baronetcy, an Embassy, or a Lordship of the Treasury, or any other snug Ministerial "desideratum," than, having successfully bribed an expensive constituency, except it be the conviction of a Minister that you will successfully do it again? There is not the slightest encouragement from any quarter, either among the electors or elected, to pursue a purer system. I have known, it is true, even among the poorer electors, some few whom no bribe could tempt; and I particularly remember, in the course of my canvass for the borough I have the honour to represent, a poor shoemaker being pointed out to me, who had 1070 seen better days, and whose misfortunes were attributable to his steadfast and honest adherence to his political principles. But I well remember, also, that his fellows looked upon him as a kind of crackbrained person, who, as the phrase went, did not know on which side his bread was buttered. And I believe that no very dissimilar notions are entertained hero of a man who does not unreservedly ally himself either to the set of men who hold in their hands the honey of the hive, or to the only other set, they who are trying to get possession of the sweet confection. If you are wise in your generation you range yourself with the In 's; or, if their tenure of place be shaky, it may answer better to enlist under the banners of the expectants. But to enter this House upon highminded principles, as a really independent man, determined to speak your own sentiments; to vote for measures irrespective of men; to have, in short, no other motive in the discharge of the gratuitous and truly laborious duties—when faithfully performed—of a representative, than to preserve an approving conscience and a grateful constituency:—such a political phoenix—such a moral phenomenon— would be politely called an "eccentric individual;" a refined nomenclature for dubbing him an ass. It is in vain to quibble about it; corruption and bribery, under one form or other, is the motive power of our Government, from the hustings to St. Stephen's, and you don't care to suppress it. You have already passed various statutes framed nominally to prevent and to punish bribery; but who ever heard of their being enforced? Why does not Mr. Attorney, as the custom morum of the public, put existing law in motion against your Coppocks and Edwardses, and a hundred other such worthies, as well as enforcing some doubtful penalties against a poor devil of a publisher for a trifling evasion of the Stamp Act? But, I repeat, there is no real disposition, no bond fide intention, to prevent or punish anything of the kind. I charge the noble Lord the late Prime Minister, one of the leading statesmen of this age, with having readily consented to the insertion of a clause in this Bill which must inevitably destroy the little merit which the Bill did possess, and make it a mere brutum fulmen, or idle threat. One might fancy that the noble Lord distrusts the work of his own hands —that he even is not anxious to see the constituencies called into being by his own 1071 Reform Bill, exercise their franchise freed from and uninfluenced by corrupt considerations. He probably dreads the consequence of a pure election, namely, a violent democratic majority in this House—a result by no means in my opinion improbable. But is it right to avert even such a calamity by such means—by degrading and corrupting the major part of every borough constituency in the kingdom, and thus sending men to this House who instead of representing any principle, represent absolutely nothing but their ability to bribe? What weight can be attached either to the speeches or votes of such men whether for Free-trade or Protection, Popery or Protestantism, when money alone has secured their seats? Read the Report of the Committee of 1842, and then let me ask if I am not right, if I am not borne out in all I say, whether there can be a greater absurdity, a greater libel upon representative institutions, than a borough election as commonly conducted, except it be the still grosser injustice and the still more solemn piece of mockery, an Election Committee. Look at their decisions; take only those of last Session as an example, when one hon. Member was unseated for want of a proper qualification, though every one knew him to possess ten times the required qualification; and, per contra, as a kind of set-off, you seated another Gentleman who in his place declared that, had he sat on the Committee, he was so ashamed of the bribery and corruption by which he gained his election that he would have unseated himself. Yet this is the barrier you have set up to inquiry: the sanction of a Committee, before even the preliminary step of appointing a Commission to inquire—to drag corruption to the light —can be resorted to. Sir, not a Member sits here but must feel that this Bill is a mere piece of waste paper; and I wish, Sir, it were permitted to me to ask your opinion. That there are means to put down bribery at elections without having recourse to the ballot, I in my own mind have no doubt; and had I the influence requisite to give them a fair reception here, I would point out how, in my opinion, such an end might be attained. But it is fruitless to do so, for I am more than ever persuaded by the manner in which this peddling measure has made its way through this House that there is no sincere wish to see the people of this country justly appreciate their privilege of the franchise, or to see them exercise it in a manner becom- 1072 ing men worthy of the name of freemen. But don't let us add gross hypocrisy to our other offences, by endeavouring to palm off this trumpery device on the country as an honest and bond fide en deavour on the part of the House of Commons to extirpate bribery and corruption at elections.
§ MR. WAKLEY
said, he had heard some extraordinary speeches since he had been honoured by a seat in that House; but of all the queer speeches he had ever heard in it, that of the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed them appeared to him to be the queerest. He could not, for the life of him, understand what was the meaning of the hon. Gentleman. He could tell the hon. Gentleman that there was one way of adopting purity of election, and that was by adopting the ballot. The ballot would afford an effectual security against intimidation and corruption, provided the constituencies were large. The hon. Gentleman had intimated in a variety of ways that they all neglected their duty, and he had told them that any man who honestly spoke his own sentiments in that House was an ass. Surely the hon. Gentlemen did not mean to say that he was himself an ass. [Mr. STANFORD: NO!] But had not the hon. Gentleman spoken his own sentiments? [Mr. STANFORD: Yes.] Then he should be glad to know what the hon. Gentleman was. The answer to that question followed as a matter of course. He had been told that the hon. Gentleman, before he had been elected for Reading, had promised to unite himself by the closest ties to a lady of that town. It appeared, however, that the hon. Gentleman had not fulfilled that pledge. But he (Mr. Wakely) acquitted him of all blame on that head, because he was sure the fault was not his. Surely he could not blame any lady for not having united herself with such an animal as he had described himself to be. A number of Members of that House had endeavoured to secure purity of election, not by indictments, but by the adoption of the ballot; and yet, on the very last occasion on which they had had the ballot under their consideration, the hon. Gentleman had recorded his vote against it. Now he (Mr. Wakley) said it was impossible to obtain purity of election without the ballot. But he concluded, from what the hon. Gentleman had said, that the hon. Gentleman was taking leave of Parliament and of his Friends in that House. It appeared to him (Mr. Wakley), however, that on such 1073 an occasion the hon. Gentleman might have been more civil in the language he used. He did not wish to say anything disagreeable to the feelings of the hon. Gentleman; and if he had said anything of the kind, the hon. Gentleman had only to blame himself for it.
§ Bill passed.