HC Deb 25 March 1858 vol 149 cc785-8

Order for Second Reading read.


moved the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


moved, as an Amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months. He said that it was proved by the Commission that the Galway freemen received bribes, but it was also proved by the Commission that a certain number of persons bribed them. By the Report of the Commissioners it appeared that a certain number of the constituency acted as bribers. The Bill was directed against the bribed, and punished the least guilty of the two classes. It passed over altogether the most guilty, the bribers—and therefore, this being an unjust Bill, he opposed it. The House, no doubt, was startled the other night by an hon. Baronet who seconded the Motion for the introduction of the Bill, stating that he was guilty of bribery, and yet that hon. Baronet sat in that House. If the Bill should pass the second reading, and go into Committee, he (Mr. Roebuck) would then move that that hon. Member be expelled from the House, because if they only punished the poor men who received bribes, and allowed the bribers to sit in that House amongst themselves, they would be shamed before the world.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, this was too serious a question to be treated lightly; for if they rejected the Bill altogether, the House would appear to be setting its face against any remedy for a proved system of extensive bribery. No doubt there was this great inconvenience connected with the Bill as it now stood, that, as the hon. and learned Gentleman well remarked, it punished alone the poor bribed men, who were not nearly so guilty as those who corrupted them. Still it seemed to him that if they were, under these circumstances of proved bribery, to set their faces against the remedy of corruption in any borough, they would lose, and justly lose, credit with the country. He, therefore, thought they should assent to the second reading of the Bill, and then in Committee strive to amend any defects that might exist in it, so as to show that that House was determined to set its face against bribery and corruption, whatever shape it might assume.


observed, that two schedules were set forth in the Report of the Commissioners, one comprising the bribers, and the other the bribed. There was also a large number of freemen who were proved to have been neither bribers nor bribed. Were the innocent to suffer with the guilty? The Government ought to explain what course they intended to pursue on these points.


said, that this Bill was introduced by the Chairman of the Election Committee, which had recommended the issuing of the Committee of Inquiry, and the present Government had nothing to do with it. The Commissioners having reported some time ago, it was the duty of the Government of that day to have taken the matter up, if they thought, it called for legislation. It was a simple question for the House to decide how it would deal with persons who had been proved guilty of bribery. After the Bill should have been read a second time, it would still be open to any hon. Gentleman to propose some mode of reaching the other culpable parties. On the other hand, to reject the measure would be nothing else but declaring that wholesale bribery should go unpunished.


said, he thought there was much reason in the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, that it would be most unjust to punish the most innocent parties, comparatively speaking, whose poverty was unable to resist the temptation of bribery, and to allow the most guilty parties, who had bribed them, to go free. He was of opinion that, if a measure to disfranchise no fewer than 500 electors was necessary, it ought to be brought in by the Government of the day. This Bill proposed to punish those whose offence was least heinous—namely, the poor freeman who was hardly able to resist temptation, while the rich tempter was either to escape, or to he dealt with at some indefinite future period. Were they not really beginning at the wrong end, and legislating in the wrong direction? They would find some lessons in ancient history to guide them in this matter. He would call their attention to the mode in which the Romans sought to check bribery when practised for the purpose of procuring seats in their Legislature. They passed a stringent enactment not against the poor voter, but against the rich corrupter; and while the money promised as a bribe could not be recovered from the candidate if he refused to pay it, on the other hand, if he did pay it the recipient could by law claim the continuance of that payment as an annuity for the rest of his life. A law of that description would prove very beneficial in this instance, because it would enable the Liberal Member for Galway to extend his benevolence to some hundreds of butchers, bakers, tailors, and other humble trades people, many of whom were in great distress.


I own that I am not satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I understand him to say that this Bill will punish the persons who are the least guilty, while the bribers, who are evidently the most guilty parties, are exempted from the measure. It appears to me, therefore, that if we agree to the second reading we have no certainty whatever that the most serious offenders will receive any punishment. I do not say that the second reading ought to be put off for six months, or rejected altogether; but I think the first step that ought to be taken is, either by a prosecution or by any other course which the House may deem fit, to proceed against the bribers. It is quite proper that the corrupt freemen should he punished; but if there were no other alternative before us, I would rather that they should wholly escape than the wealthy bribers should go altogether unpunished.


It appears to me that our course is very clear, and I. think the majority of the House will be of the same opinion. A lengthened discussion at this late hour is not very desirable; hut it seems to me that if we do not assent to the second reading of the Bill all parties will escape. I am therefore prepared to follow the advice of my right hon. Friend and vote for the second reading. But in doing so I intend when the measure is in Committee to propose that those who are not guilty should not be subject to its penalties, and I will also support a Motion to the effect that on going into Committee it be an instruction that the bribers be included within its provisions. That is the course which we are prepared to take, and that I shall advocate with my utmost energy; and I hope it will he satisfactory to the House. I trust, therefore, that the Bill will be allowed to receive a second reading.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2° and committed for Tuesday 20th April.

House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.