HC Deb 20 February 1862 vol 165 cc498-512

said, that he rose to move for a New Writ for the election! of two members for the city of Gloucester. In submitting the case of this ancient city to the attention of the House, he could not but express his opinion that the conduct adopted by the House towards the constituency and great mercantile community of Gloucester had been both unjust and unconstitutional. He was not about to offer any defence, extenuation, nor even apology, for the malversation of the franchise which had so disgraced Gloucester; but he begged to call the attention of the House to a fact of which it must be perfectly aware, that the plague-spot prevailed not only within the walls of Gloucester, but within the walls of some forty or fifty other places. Up to that moment the House had viewed such matters with stolid indifference. Attempts had, indeed, been made to deal with the evil, but they had all ended in one miserable Bill which had been a miserable failure. Owing to circumstances that might be explained, but for which no apology could be offered, Gloucester now stood in a very unenviable position, but it was one which the House could no longer ignore. The House had said, "Our dignity is hurt—our virtue is insulted—and we must find a remedy." What was that remedy or nostrum? It was to punish the innocent, and let the guilty go free. Such had been the result of the Royal Commission. He should have to trouble the House with a short narrative of what took place at the two elections which had brought down upon Gloucester the indignation of the House. An election took place in the year 1857, at which there were three candidates—Sir Robert Carden, Mr. Price, and Sir Maurice Berkeley. The agents of these gentlemen agreed that no unconstitutional means should be resorted to, and none but legal expenses incurred. The day of polling arrived, but while the agents of Mr. Price and Sir Maurice Berkeley kept their pledge, the agent of Sir Robert Carden bought him into the borough. This naturally caused great exasperation among the constituency, because a pledge had been given and broken. A petition was presented against the return, and the matter was referred in the usual manner to a Select Committee. A number of the working classes came before the Committee, and swore that bribery had been committed by Sir Robert Carden's agents, while a number of tradesmen and others of the class above the working classes swore directly to the contrary. It was a case of fustian-jacket against broad-cloth, and broad-cloth won the day. The petition against the return had, indeed, a narrow escape of being declared frivolous and vexatious. He must then make a small leap in his narrative, and go to the Royal Commission. When that Commission sat, it was proved beyond doubt that the working men who had been examined before a Committee of the House of Commons had told the truth, and that the class above them had sworn that which was false. The result of the election petition was well calculated to exasperate the partisans of the defeated petition. Unfortunately, in 1859, another election came off. The Liberal party then met, and said, "We will win this election." They used every sort of bribery that was to be used, they committed every illegal act that was possible, and they sent back Sir Robert Carden to London, defeated at his own weapons. The House of Com- mons then instituted a Royal Commission, which sat under the provisions of the Act of Parliament. Nothing could be more admirable than the manner in which the Commissioners, who were able and intelligent men, prosecuted the inquiry. They carried out to the fullest extent the intentions with which the Commission was granted. Against that Commission he had not a word to say. So far as it was a judicial Court of Inquiry, it was constitutional and proper. But the Commissioners had under the Act a kind of sacerdotal function. They set up a confessional, and they addressed all the rascality of the town, saying, "Come unto us all you political sinners; confess what you can of yourselves, cast dirt at your neighbours and friends, and we will give you absolution." The men thus invited, naturally afraid of the sting of the law, rushed to that confessional as to a sanctuary, unburdened their souls, and disclosed the iniquity of others. When they had made a clean breast of it, the Commissioners said, "You are now safe. We will grant you an indemnity. Return to your virtuous homes, and pax vobiscum!" He must trouble the House with some of the facts from the budget collected by the Commissioners. The population of Gloucester was 35,000. The electoral district contained 17,000 persons. The electoral body consisted of 1,600. The Commissioners inquired into the transactions of the two elections of 1857 and 1859. They found that at the election of 1857 there were twenty-two persons who had received bribes, while the Select Committee which sat on the petition found that not a single soul had been bribed at that election. The Commissioners found that sixteen persons, eight of whom were included in the twenty-two who had offered bribes, had been guilty of treating. They found that in 1859 a very different state of things prevailed. Seventy-one persons, inclusive of seventeen of the offenders of 1857, had offered bribes; 250 persons, including a considerable number of the offenders of 1857, had received them; and forty-four, nearly the whole of whom were included in the previous schedules, had been guilty of treating. The Commissioners also found that many of the electors had been employed as messengers and doorkeepers. Under the head of bribery they found that there had been 365 corrupt persons in the two elections out of 1,600 electors. He would assume, although he believed the estimate was ex- cessive, that there were 400 persons in Gloucester who, at these two elections, had been guilty of some malversation of the franchise. In that case there were 1,200 electors who had gone through the test of that fiery ordeal the Commission, and who had come out of it, and Stood before them enamelled as honest men. Few bodies of electors have had such an ordeal to go through, and yet they let the 400 dishonest men go, while they withheld their rights from those 1,200 proved electors. And where was this done? In the county of Gloucester of all places in the world. And yet in the very same county were the boroughs of Cirencester and Tewkesbury, which had no enviable reputation. The number of electors on the registry for these two boroughs was 800, the number that went to the poll thanks to intimidation and other causes did not amount to 600, and yet they allowed those 600 doubtful electors to return four Members to Parliament while they refused to allow 1,200 proved, honest men to return two. Was there any justice in that? But did the evil stop there? Not only were those 1,200 honest electors deprived of the franchise, but also the commercial community of Gloucester —bankers, merchants, shipowners, men residing at a port, the second on that great estuary the Severn, into which vessels entered from 200 up to 1,200 tons. And what was the trade of that place? It was very considerable both with the Baltic and with our North American possessions in timber and in grain, and yet they refused to Gloucester her political agents —those men who had the guardianship of her interests, who were the medium of communication with the Government as well as her organs in that House. Would any hon. Gentleman underrate the importance of Members of Parliament to a great commercial or great manufacturing community? It was scarcely possible to overrate their importance. He did not allude only to those hon. Members who displayed their eloquence in that House, but to those men who looked after the local interests of their constituents, who cared for their manufactures, and were what was called excellent local Members. Nor was he without authority upon that point. One of the greatest authorities that had ever come into that House stated what those duties were in such a manner as would make any hon. Member who was inclined to treat the matter lightly, think seriously of what consequence those duties were to a constituency. It was at the election for Bristol in 1780 that Mr. Burke described what those duties were. A gentleman of great mercantile eminence stood for Bristol; he was a man of large fortune, he belonged to all the institutions of the city, and exercised a generous hospitality. That man, of course, was an awkward customer. Now, how did Mr. Burke recommend himself to his constituents, and how did he meet the claims of such a man? Was it by referring to his great powers of oratory, to his eloquence, to the superb manner in which he treated national and political questions. Nothing of the sort. He kept that out of sight, but these were the words in which he described the claims which he considered he had for re-election— My canvass was not on the Change nor in county meetings, nor in the clubs of this city; it was in the House of Commons; it was at the Custom-house; it was at the Council; it was at the Treasury; it was at the Admiralty. I canvassed you through your affairs, and not your persons. I was not only your representative as a body; I was the agent, the solicitor of individuals. I ran about wherever your affairs could call me; and, in acting for you, I often appeared rather as a shipbroker than as a Member of Parliament. There was nothing too laborious or too low for me to undertake. The meanness of the business was raised by the dignity of the object. If some lesser matters have slipped through my fingers, it was because I filled my hands too full, and in my eagerness to serve you, took in more than my hands could grasp. Am I to be 'How d'ye doed' out of my seat by this gentleman? He thought he had properly estimated the value of a Member of Parliament, of which they had deprived Gloucester. It was true that Gloucester was perfectly well known to their Chancellors of the Exchequer, whoever they might be. Gloucester was of value to the Budget, but where were the agents of Gloucester to run in and out of the Treasury, the Board of Trade, and the Admiralty"? Gloucester was deprived of them for no other cause than the sins of 400 persons. And now he would ask what was their authority, what their precedent for that? He could find but one, and of that precedent he thought they ought to be ashamed. He found that the writs for the city and for the county of Gloucester were withheld by the Rump Parliament, in 1648—the year before the decapitation of Charles I. Well, at that time five Members for the county—the House would remember that at that time counties had more Members than at the present moment—and two for the city were refused seats in that House. Now, there was no charge, at that time, against either the city or the county of malversation of franchise; it was a whim of the Rump Parliament, whose eccentricities the House was well aware went to a great length, to say nothing of their passing a Bill to expel the Lords from the Upper House. But did the county or the city of Gloucester sit easy under that infliction? They did not; they held meetings; they issued strong remonstrances; they said, "You have no right to inflict upon us taxation without representation;" and they went further and said, "Unless you reinstate our members, we will no longer pay taxes, nor will we obey the laws which you make." The document which embodied these views was so short and so much in point that he would quote it. Hon. Members who were curious to see the original might find it in the British Museum — That after great sufferings and trials, the vast expense of treasure and blood for our rights and liberties and privileges of Parliament, such persons in whom we have already lodged our trusts, and who have sufficiently manifested their endeavours to perform the same—namely, Nathaniel Stephens, Esq., Sir John Seymour, Edward Stephens, Esq., John Stephens, Esq., and the Right Hon. Thomas Lord Fairfax—have been since December, 1648, and still are denied the freedom of sitting and voting in Parliament. The restoration of which Members we desire with all freedom to their former capacity, and declare that we shall not otherwise consent to pay tax or other impositions, or hold ourselves bound by any law to be made without the restitution of these our representatives, with a supply of all vacancies by a free election according to the fundamental laws and constitutions of this nation, it being the undoubted birthright of all the freeborn people of England that no tax or other imposition be exacted from them but by their consents had by their representatives in a full and free Parliament. Shortly after this remonstrance, writs were issued for the city of Gloucester and the county of Gloucester, and the following Members returned—for the city, W. Lenthal, Esq., and Alderman Pmy; for the county, Judge Hole, George Berkeley, Christopher Guise, Sylvanus Wood, and John Howe. Upon these grounds, he begged to prefer the petition to the House that they would grant a restoration of rights to Gloucester. With a confident hope that his proposition would not meet with any opposition, he would conclude by moving — That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of two citizens to serve in this present Parliament for the city of Gloucester, in the room of Philip William Price and Charles James Monk, Esquires, whose election has been determined to be void.


said, that it was not the intention of the Government to offer any opposition to the Motion, or to that other Motion of which notice had been given by an hon. and Gallant Member opposite (Major Edwards) for the issue of a writ for Wakefield; but lie must, at the same time, express his dissent from the opinion of the hon. Member, who had that evening advocated the claims of the constituency of Gloucester, that that city had been unjustly treated by the House. He did not think the House would feel that such was the case, having heard the terms—terms which we should be sorry to repeat—in which his hon. Friend had characterized the conduct of a large number of the voters. He could not admit that there was a sharp line of demarcation between the 400 electors whom the hon. Member allowed to be corrupt, and the 1,200 electors asserted to be perfectly pure. He believed that where corruption was found to prevail to a great extent—and the advocate for the borough admitted the corruption of one-fourth of the constituency—such a state of things would never be found to exist if the respectable portion of the constituency not only abstained from offering or receiving bribes themselves, but did their utmost to oppose all bribery and corruption on the part of others, and endeavoured by their own exertions to stop those evils. He was anxious to state, also, that the course which the Government were prepared to take upon the present occasion was not dictated by the opinion that these two boroughs had been adequately punished for the general corruption proved to prevail in them at the election of 1859. He believed, that if it was the determination of Parliament to place an effectual check on bribery, the strict rule hitherto acted on with regard to disfranchisement must be relaxed, and that, where general corruption was found to exist, disfranchisement ought to be had recourse to oftener than it has been, and the elective franchise transferred to some more fit body. He agreed with his hon. Friend that the elective franchise was highly to be valued, and no doubt it was convenient for a thriving city like Gloucester to be represented; but, whatever its interests might be, the trust reposed in a constituency might be justly forfeited by abuse. On the other hand, there might be cases where a large num- ber of the electors were not implicated in corruption, and in respect to which case the House would not think fit to proceed to the extreme course of disfranchisement, but would adopt some less punishment to mark their sense of the improper practices of a considerable portion of the voters. That was a point that came under the consideration of the Committee on the Corrupt Practices Amendment Act, and that Committee reported the following as one of their resolutions:— That if, after the presentation of a report to Parliament by a commission of inquiry into corrupt practices at an election for any county, city, or borough, that extensive bribery has prevailed in such place, the House of Commons shall resolve that no writ ought to be issued for an election of a Member or Members for such place for a period of five years, no writ shall be issued for an election of a Member or Members for such place till the expiration of five years from the date of such resolution; provided that such provision shall not be held in any way to affect the right of Parliament either altogether to disfranchise such place, or to alter, suspend, or take away the right of voting of all or any of the electors therein. That Resolution was intended to apply to places in which corruption so extensive did not prevail as to justify the extreme remedy of disfranchisement, but in respect to which it was nevertheless desirable that the writs should be suspended for a time, not merely by a Resolution of the House, but under the authority of the Legislature, in order to allow a considerable change to take place in the constituency. A provision, founded upon that Resolution, would be inserted in the Bill which he hoped to introduce shortly to amend the Corrupt Practices Act. But dealing with the case before them, he at once admitted that he adhered to the opinion he had before expressed in that House, that there were serious objections to the suspension of a writ for a protracted period by the single authority of that House, and without reference to any proposed or pending legislative measure. With respect to the two boroughs to which it was proposed to issue writs, peculiar cirumstances existed at the time when the reports of the Commissioners were laid on the table, which prevented any Bill being proposed; and after the period which had now elapsed, the seats having been vacant since 1859, he did not think that the House would—and he was not sure that it ought to be induced either to proceed by disfranchisement Bills, or by applying to them retrospectively an enactment such as he had just explained. Under these circumstances, the Government did not feel it their duty any further to oppose the issue of these writs; but he trusted that it would be the determination of the House in all future cases not to allow constituencies among whom corrupt practices exist to escape without a much severer measure of punishment than had been applied in the present instance, and that Parliament would be prepared to proceed either by absolute disfranchisement or by a suspension of the writ for a time sufficiently long not only to mark the disapproval of the Legislature, but also to allow a considerable change to take place in the constituency.


The Government cannot take any other course in this matter than that which the right hon. Gentleman intends to pursue. The suspension of a writ by one branch of the Legislature is an arbitrary and unconstitutional proceeding, and one to which recourse ought not to be had unless under exceptional circumstances, and with a clear conception of what is to be the policy of the House under the circumstances. Let me recall to the memory of the House what has taken place with regard to the borough we are now considering, and with regard to the borough of Wakefield. In 1859 Parliamentary Committees of inquiry reported against the returns for both Gloucester and Wakefield, and a Motion was made for the suspension of the writs. As the Motion was made in contemplation of Royal Commissions of inquiry into the circumstances which took place at the elections, the object of the suspension was obvious, and the Motion was entirely proper. When the year 1860 arrived, and the then Secretary of State laid upon the table of the House the Report of those two Royal Commissions, he stated it was the intention of the Government that no Motion should be made for a new writ for either of the boroughs without a week's notice. Shortly afterwards, another Member of the Government—the right hon. Gentleman who was then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and who now fills the office of Secretary of State for the Home Department—gave the House some clearer conception of the policy the Government intended to recommend; and it was this—that a notice of one week should be given in order that the Government should have an opportunity of recommending to the House, that the writ should be suspended for not less than five, nor more than ten years: and the House, with that policy before them, consented to the suspension of the writs for Gloucester and Wakefield. Yet the whole of the Session of 1860, which was a Session of unusual duration, passed away, no steps were taken to legislate on the subject of the suspension of writs, and the suspension for these two writs has been continuously arbitrary and unconstitutional. The suspension was at the end of the Session still existing, without any remedy being applied to the circumstances. Well, what took place in 1861? An hon. Gentleman brought the question before the House, and Motions were made for issuing the writs, certainly in one case, and I believe in both. What happened then? The Government opposed the issuing of the writs, and said that the Corrupt Practices Bill, which was then about to be introduced, would give an opportunity by which the evil might be met and a proper punishment for the offence awarded. Nevertheless, the Government of 1861 themselves declined to introduce into this measure the provision which was required in the case of the two boroughs; but they said it was open to any hon. Member to make a proposition which would involve the suspension for five or ten years. Neither the Government nor any Member of the House, however, made such a proposition, and the consequence was that another year passed, and this arbitrary and unconstitutional suspension of the writs still remains, and the question is still involved in the unsatisfactory circumstances to which I have adverted. Now, I do not clearly understand that a distinct engagement has this evening been entered into on the part of the Government, that if the writs under discussion are issued, they will be prepared to introduce a measure to meet, if necessary, any circumstances of a similar character which may in future arise. For my own part, I am strongly of opinion that it is most expedient to lay down some precise and definite rules by which the House may be guided on these questions of the suspension of writs. There are, I think, two cases in which writs may properly and legitimately be suspended. They may, for instance, be suspended in the case in which a Committee of this House—an Election Committee—has adversely reported against the returns of a particular borough, and when, acting upon that report, the issue of a Royal Commission is in contemplation. It is desirable that the suspension should under these circumstances take place in order to afford the Commission an opportunity of in- vestigating those details which it is necessary to ascertain. I am also of opinion that after a Royal Commission has reported adversely to a borough, the issue of a writ for that borough may constitutionally and properly be suspended if Parliament is prepared to legislate in the matter. If, however, Parliament should not be prepared to do so, the suspension of the writ is an arbitrary proceeding, and, as the result of the determination of only one branch of the Legislature, clearly unconstitutional. The evils to which such a suspension gives rise, irrespective of those to which I have already referred, are not inconsiderable. The Legislature in suspending a writ seeks, I take it for granted, to pursue a remedial rather than a retributive course; but, as hon. Members are well aware, corrupt practices are more prevalent during the excitement of an election than in times of ordinary tranquillity, and what, I should like to know, has been the result in the cases of Gloucester and Wakefield since the writs for those towns have been suspended? Why, their state has been one of chronic electioneering; so that the House of Commons, by the course it has taken, has actually encouraged and stimulated that mood of the public mind which is most favourable to that very corruption which it is the desire of the House to put down. Therefore, I think we ought to come to some clear understanding upon the course to be adopted in future with regard to this matter. When a Committee reports that a Royal Commission ought to be issued, no one can doubt on either side that the writ ought to be suspended; but if a Royal commission investigates the matter, and generally reports against the borough, the writ ought not to be suspended unless the House is prepared to fulfil the duty which, in my opinion, is imperative upon it—that is, to legislate upon the subject; and although I cannot conceive any opposition to the issuing of this writ now, which really, perhaps, ought to have been issued before, I still hope, if unhappily similar instances are brought before the House, that those who lead the House will certainly not advise as they have hitherto advised on this matter, but will be prepared to assent either to the issuing of the writ, or suspend it with a view of providing a remedy for the evils of which complaint was made.


said, that when a Resolution similar to that under discussion had been proposed last Session he had opposed it; nor could he help thinking that the circumstances of the case completely justified that course. He at the some time, however, quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken in the opinion that it would not have been quite constitutional to negative that Resolution, had he not believed that further action would be taken, and that it was the intention of Parliament to deal with the question finally and specifically. The tenor of the discussion which had taken place on the subject last Session was, indeed, if he was not mistaken, calculated to lead to the supposition that it would be so dealt with. He was not, he might add, one of those who entertained the opinion, that if that supposition had been acted upon, such a proceeding could be fairly held to be open to objections which were urged against ex post facto legislation, inasmuch, as, although the; offences against which the Act of Parliament was levelled might have been committed before it passed into a law, still it was no doubt competent for the Legislature to prevent the exercise of the electoral privilege in cases in which it had; been so greatly abused as in the instances of Gloucester and Wakefield. It was, he also thought, a mistake to suppose that it was confounding the innocent with the guilty to visit with punishment for bribery and corruption the whole of the electors of a borough, because, unless Parliament were satisfied that all grades and all parties took part in the commission of those offences, they would not be likely to inflict the punishment at all, while, when they clearly ascertained that such was the case, they would be proceeding simply in accordance with a well-known principle of our law—which made, in many instances, a whole hundred responsible for the acts of one or more of its Members—in including a whole borough within the scope of any penalty the House might deem it right to impose. If, therefore, the Government had introduced a Bill visiting Wakefield and Gloucester with punishment for their past delinquencies, he should have no hesitation in saying that they would be doing a purely constitutional act. The matter, however, now assumed a different form. The last Session and the portion which had expired of the present had been allowed to pass away without the introduction of any such measure as he had indicated, and he, under these circumstances, felt bound to concur with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in the opinion that it was not a constitutional practice, or a convenient precedent, to establish, to suspend writs from time to time, in the hope that something might by possibility be done on the subject. No promise having in the instance under discussion been made on the part of the Government, that they were prepared to legislate in order to meet the requirements of the case, and the opportunity for doing so having been allowed to pass away, he, for one, could scarcely hope that the majority of hon. Members would sanction what would be an extraordinary stretch of power—the suspension of the writ any longer. He, at all events, was not prepared to negative the Resolution. He must, however, express a hope that the discussions which had taken place would not be barren of good results in the cases of Wakefield and Gloucester, and that they would yet take a respectable rank among the boroughs of England. He hoped, also, that hon. Members would bear in mind that those towns simply furnished types of cases which might be expected to occur again and again—which were, indeed, the more likely to occur in the future, owing to the fact that Parliament seemed disposed to deal with them so lightly. It was expedient, therefore, that the Government should deal with the subject vigorously and expeditiously, and that any measure which they might introduce should affect not only those constituents who might have been found guilty on the Report of a Royal Commission of receiving bribes, but also those persons by whom bribes were given and offered. He was thoroughly convinced, that if there were any probability of the law being put in force against persons offering bribes, the number of persons so offending would be much smaller. At all events, if that course were adopted, bribes would be offered much more carefully than at present. He would recommend that when a Committee reported to the House the names of persons offering bribes, the Bill should provide that those names should be handed over to the Attorney General and to the Law Officers of the Crown to decide whether a case could not be made out to justify a prosecution.


said, he agreed with his right hon. Friend and with the hon. and learned Gentleman, that it was not expedient to leave questions of the kind to be dealt with according to the mere caprice of the House of Commons. It appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) had very nearly approached the true remedy of the evil, when he hinted that the seats should in every case be taken away from corrupt constituencies and transferred to others; but he did not agree with him that the number of electors in any particular case was any reason why a different course should be resorted to.


said, he had referred to cases where there were a large number of electors who were not compromised by the corrupt practices complained of.


said, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he had himself said there could not be extensive corruption without the entire community being implicated in it; and therefore the distinction he had drawn between a large number of voters and a large number of innocent voters was perfectly immaterial. But he (Mr. Bentinck) could not help pointing out that Parliament had dealt with small boroughs in a way that it would not venture to adopt towards large ones. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Berkeley) said, the conduct of the house towards Gloucester had been both unjust and unconstitutional. He (Mr. Bentinck) entirely agreed with that; for he believed, that if the House had acted towards Gloucester in a just and constitutional manner, it would have disfranchised it long ago. The House ought to be extremely obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his extreme candour; for he had told them that a large liberal constituency in which he was interested had resorted to every possible illegal act. He stated, it was true, that there were 1,200 electors who were perfectly honest, nay, he said they were perfectly "enamelled." Now, the House knew that enamel was often used to conceal imperfections, and he was afraid that such had been the case at Gloucester. He stated, also, that forty other borough constituencies were quite as bad as Gloucester. That was a very sweeping statement, but one which he believed was fully justified, as, if they searched the archives of the House, they would find that a much larger number than forty had been convicted of bribery within the last few years. He only hoped the hon. Gentleman would bear in mind the facts he had stated the next time he rose in his place eloquently to advocate the lowering of the borough franchise.


said, he wished to be informed whether there was any law or usage of Parliament which would justify the Government in acceding to the Motion that Session any more than during the preceding. Whatever was the limit to the power of the House in that respect, he hoped they would exercise it to the utmost in the case of guilty Gloucester. If the hon. Member for Bristol could have proved that the guilt of 1859, as exposed before the Royal Commissioners, was unprecedented, or had occurred under circumstances of peculiar temptation, or if he could have shown that it was limited to one party or to one class of electors, then there might have been some reason for saying that Parliament ought not to punish the whole constituency of Gloucester for the offence of a few. It appeared, however, from the Report of the Commissioners, that from time immemorial the practice of bribery to a gross extent had prevailed at Gloucester. To such an extent, indeed, had it prevailed that in 1852, when the three candidates agreed to try the experiment of an election without bribery, the electors stigmatized the resolution as a conspiracy to rob them of their rights, and to get their votes for nothing. Although the Commissioners had no authority to inquire into the circumstances of any election prior to that of 1857, they ascertained that as early as 1816 one gentleman expended upwards of £20,000 to procure his return; that two years afterwards another spent £16,000; and that at every subsequent election bribery had been practised upon an extensive scale, sometimes openly and sometimes secretly, but always controlling the return of Members. Such a constituency deserved to be disfranchised, and that punishment would be inflicted if the House was really sincere, and the Government was honestly seeking to put down bribery and corruption. The hon. Member for Bristol had understated the number of electors who were bribed at the last election. The persons whose names were mentioned in the Report of the Commissioners amounted to 28 per cent of the whole available constituency, and the list included men of all parties and all classes, from an alderman of the borough down to the humblest freeman. Under these circumstances he thought it was unworthy of the Government to consent to the issue of a writ upon that occasion.