HC Deb 03 August 1853 vol 129 cc1236-43

Order for Committee read.


, in moving that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, with a view to the House going into Committee on this Bill, said, it was his belief that it had at last been so modified as to meet the views of hon. Members generally, and he hoped, therefore, that there would be no further objections to it. It was now a Bill merely to prevent the use of bands, bellringing, and colours, at elections.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, the hon. Member was mistaken in supposing that the Bill as it now stood was unobjectionable. He (Mr. Cowper) still entertained many objections to it; and he would venture to suggest to the hon. Member, that at this late period of the Session he should proceed no further with it, particularly as it was generally anticipated that in the following Ses- sion the whole question of elections would be taken up by the Government.


said, he should move, in pursuance of notice, that the Bill be deferred for three months. He had read the Bill carefully over, and he thought he had designated it as it deserved when on a former occasion he had called it a mean, low, dirty Bill. It was a dangerous and delusive measure; it was a trap set for unwary men who might suddenly find themselves to have been guilty of an offence which they had had no intention of committing, and therefore subject to serious pains and penalties. It restricted the liberty of the subject, and yet it had been brought in and fathered by one who professed to be an extreme Liberal, and by another who professed to be a Conservative. The Bill, he was persuaded, would do no good; and therefore he begged to move that it be postponed till that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.


said, he should support the Bill with the greatest pleasure. He could conceive nothing more likely to warp the judgment of electors than the excitement of the colours and emblems used at elections; and he thought it important, therefore, that they should be abolished.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 19: Majority 66.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.

Clause 1 (Candidates employing bands, bellringers, or flagmen, &c., at Elections, to be disqualified).


said, that the House had declared by a large majority in favour of the principle of diminishing the expenses of elections, to which, having gone through an election contest himself, he had no sort of objection. But he must say that he thought this clause had been drawn in too stringent a form. As it at present stood, it appeared to him to be a mere snare for candidates who might find themselves guilty of violating the law without knowing it. It was made an offence by the clause, for instance, "to hire, employ, or engage any band of music, or any musical instruments." Now, he could conceive many instances in which a man might offend against this clause without being aware of it. He might give money, for example, to a German band playing in the street; and if this fact were taken advantage of by his antagonist, he might be deprived of his seat for so innocent a circumstance as that. What he should propose was, that the penalty of 100l. should be substituted for disqualification. The Bill would still prohibit what was considered to be a great evil; but it would prohibit it by the imposition of a money payment, which would not be so harsh or unfair as causing a candidate actually to forfeit his seat.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 18, to leave out from the word "shall" to the end of the Clause, in order to insert the words "for every such offence forfeit the sum of 100l. to such person as shall sue for the same, to be recovered as any debt of that amount may by law be recoverable," instead thereof.


said, that the effect of the Amendment would be this. Supposing a very wealthy man happened to be a candidate, he would pay the fine of 100l. with as much pleasure as he would pay the same sum in the form of bribery, and the nuisance of bands and colours would remain the same as before. He hoped, therefore, the Committee would not consent to the Amendment.


said, that they had already so many pains and penalties, and so many rounds for making elections void, that he was exceedingly unwilling to add another to the list. He trusted, therefore, that if the Bill went through Committee, it would be with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford, and not with the clause as it then stood, which would have the effect of causing the seat to be void. The House having now affirmed that general principle, he would suggest that they should suspend legislation on the subject till they saw the Reform Bill which the Government had intimated their intention of bringing forward next Session.


said, that the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman to postpone the Bill till next Session came rather too late, he thought, after it had already gone through Committee once, and been amended and again recommitted. For himself, he would rather take a good thing when he could get it, than trust to any Government for what they would do next Session. The hon. and learned Gen- tleman had declared there were so many pains and penalties that he was sick of them, and yet he supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford, which did not abolish the penalties, but merely substituted one penalty for another. He (Mr. Aglionby) confessed he cared very little which of the two penalties was adopted, though as he found the penalty of disqualification already in the Bill, he thought it better to support the clause as it stood.


said, he hoped the clause would pass without the proposed Amendment, because he thought it most objectionable that any stimulus should be given to the passions of the people at elections.


must say, that he thought the best course would be to postpone legislation upon this subject until the next Session of Parliament, when the whole question of a reform of the representation was to be brought before the House.


wished to put a question to the Government as to the bearing this Bill would have with regard to agency on the part of candidates or Members. The maxim of law being, Qui facit per alium facit per se, he wished to know whether, supposing agents appointed generally to manage elections did any of the acts alluded to in this Bill, the candidates for whom they acted would be liable to be unseated?


said, he thought the best course would be to give up this Bill, and to proceed as soon as possible with the next order on the paper, the Lunatics Care and Treatment Bill. He entirely concurred in the recommendation of the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) that, on the whole, it would not be advisable to proceed further with this measure during the present Session. He (Sir J. Graham) was aware, from experience, of the great abuses which took place with regard to the use of flags and banners at elections; and not only was the employment of great numbers of flagmen by opposing parties a means of corruption, but it frequently led to serious breaches of the peace. He thought it would be impossible, in a measure dealing with the question of the representation generally, to overlook the employment of flagmen, but he would be sorry to see provisions adopted affecting the seats of Members on account of bells being rung or music being played. The question which had been put by the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) was one of considerable importance. It was well known to hon. Gentlemen that the Election Committees had carried the construction of agency very far, and he had no doubt that under this clause the general principle of agency would apply, unless the House provided otherwise. He did not know, under the general construction of the clause, how any candidate would be safe, and he must say that he had no inclination to interfere with the celebration of local triumphs after the old English fashion.


said, he entertained strong objections to the Bill, because he mere fact of a band of music performing in any town or village where an election was going on, or within ten days after such election, might endanger the seat of a Member who had been elected by an overwhelming majority.


said, there could be no doubt, that under this clause, a candidate who hired a band of music through an agent would forfeit his seat. He thought it was most desirable that elections should be conducted peaceably, and that electors should have an opportunity of fairly and dispassionately expressing their opinions in favour of the candidate whom they desired to support. He begged to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) whether it would not be desirable, for the purpose of insuring peaceable elections, to do away with the system if open voting, and that, instead of the present mode of taking the votes, voting papers should be sent round to the houses if the electors. As the general feeling of the House seemed to be in favour of postponing the whole question until the next Session, he should beg to move that the Chairman do now leave the chair.

The Question having been put,


said, he was astonished, after this measure had been so fully discussed and approved of by such large majorities, that Gentlemen, led on by a Minister of the Crown, should now stand up and attempt to pull it to pieces in detail. He knew by experience that there could be no worse system in the world than that which now prevailed at elections in this country, and that flagmen, and banners, and bands of music tended to keep up a state of feeling which ought, by every means, to be discouraged. The people, instead of considering who was the best candidate, were now led away by this kind of display, and, in too many instances, fixed upon the colour and not upon the man. This state of things helped to keep up a sort of feudal system in the counties, where the tenantry were driven like sheep to the poll, under a banner inscribed with the words, "The tenantry of the noble house of So-and-so." The people had to follow their clique, and to sacrifice their honest opinions in favour of those who had the power of compelling them to do so by means not strictly constitutional. These tenantries, who formerly followed their leaders on predatory excursions, were now led by their landlords to the poll, and compelled there to do violence to their consciences. ["No, no!"] Such was the fact; and if they were to enter upon an inquiry it could be proved to demonstration. Would the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) get up and say that a measure would be brought forward next year to put an end to this state of things? [Sir J. GRAHAM: I don't think it probable.] He had always thought that there was a very poor chance of the people getting any Reform Bill next year that would satisfy them, and the observation of the right hon. Baronet confirmed his fears. For his own part, he should support the present Bill, which he recommended his hon. Relative to press; and if it were rejected the blame would not rest on his shoulders.


said, he must deny that the tenantry were driven to the poll by their landlords in the manner described by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, who had stated what was utterly contrary to fact. Did the hon. Gentleman not know that those things of which he complained were commonly done, not with the wish, but in opposition to the wishes of candidates; and that if they had their will there would be no treating, and no lavish expenditure beyond the legal and necessary expenses of the election? He (Mr. Ball) believed that the consequence of this and similar measures would be that the better class of men would be prevented from entering that House, and that their places would be supplied by others who would condescend to flatter and cajole the multitude, and who would make intrigues more frequent, and expenditure more lavish.


said, he thought it rather hard that, after all the discussion that had taken place on the subject of this Bill, the First Lord of the Admiralty should raise an objection to its principle at this stage. He would, notwithstanding, suggest that the measure should be postponed until next Session, as it would be merely a waste of the time of the House to persevere with it after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet.


said, that there was a large class of persons having votes, many of whom were not able to comprehend the details of public questions, and he thought it no disadvantage that such persons should have the assistance of party symbols to guide them. If they were to obliterate all party distinctions, so that the voter should not be able to distinguish between the Blue and the Orange parties, he would soon lose all concern in the election, except so far as his own interest was concerned. He (Mr. Cowper) believed that in the absence of wiser views on political subjects amongst a large body of the electors, it was well that men should have the distinctions of party to guide their consciences.


said, he was in favour of the principle of the Bill; but the question was whether the mode proposed by the Bill was the best mode. He thought that the penalty of losing the seat was altogether disproportionate to the offence.


said, that having been supported on every occasion by large majorities, it was not his intention to withdraw the Bill.


said, that there was a large class of the community whom they would not admit to the franchise; but they had a right to express their opinions, and what means had they except by assembling in processions of showing their sympathy for one candidate or the other?

Motion negatived.

Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 84: Majority 37.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 48; Noes 73: Majority 25.


said, that with a view of nullifying the operation of the Bill, he should move that the word "shillings" should be substituted for "pounds."

After short discussion,


would suggest, that as this was almost the last Wed- nesday they would have this Session, they had better not waste any more time upon a Bill of this nature. There was a Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), in which the country took ten times as much interest.


said, he entirely concurred in the propriety of postponing this Bill until next Session, and he should therefore move that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again that day three months.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 66; Noes 45: Majority 21.

House resumed.

Committee report progress; to sit again this day three months.

The House adjourned at two minutes before Six o'clock.