HC Deb 29 November 1867 vol 190 cc434-7

, in calling the attention of the House to the anomalous and embarrassing state of the law relating to the Elections for the boroughs of Totnes, Great Yarmouth, Lancaster, and Reigate, in consequence of the postponement of the period at which the disfranchisement was made executory, said, that in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he would not have brought forward the matter if it had not been urgent as well as important. The House was aware that in consequence of the Reports of the Election Committees for these four boroughs, and upon the joint Address of both Houses of Parliament, Commissioners were sent down to inquire into the bribery and corruption alleged to exist in those boroughs. The Commissioners reported that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed in all these boroughs. A clause was consequently introduced into the Reform Act enacting that from and after the end of the present Parliament these boroughs should respectively cease to return any Member or Members to serve in Parliament. He was no stickler for precedent—but an error that might be productive of great discredit to the House had been caused by an unwise departure from precedent, because if the words inserted in former Acts had been used in the Reform Act the present state of things would not have existed. In the case of a dissolution of Parliament occurring before the 1st of January, 1869, these boroughs would not return Members of that House; but should any vacancy occur by the death of one of the sitting Members for Totnes and Great Yarmouth, on the fact being duly certified to the Speaker, he apprehended that the right hon. Gentleman must make out a warrant for a new writ to fill the vacancy. A return must be made to that writ, and a Member would take his seat for a borough which had been condemned in the most unqualified terms by the House. And by whom would that Member be elected? By a constituency so corrupt that the names of many of them had been appended in a schedule, and they had been declared incapable of voting ever after for any Member of Parliament. That state of things could not have been intended by the Government, for there were no Members of that House more decided in condemning these boroughs. There was certainly one exception—that of a right hon. Gentleman who now filled a high post in the Government. The right hon. Member for North Lancashire (Colonel W. Patten) warmly defended the borough of Lancaster. Two divisions took place in that House. An hon. Gentleman (Mr. Howes) who represented the county in which Great Yarmouth was situated defended that borough; but on a division the numbers in favour of retaining the representation of Great Yarmouth were only 49, while the number voting for its disfranchisement was 325. The right hon. Member for North Lancashire thereupon coupled Great Yarmouth with Lancaster and took a division, when 159 Members voted for disfranchisement, and only 87 in favour of his Motion. That showed an unmistakable opinion on the part of the House in favour of disfranchising these boroughs. What was his complaint against the Government? That they had not followed the precedents in the case of Sudbury and St. Albans. In the last case it was provided by a special Act that from and after the passing of that Act the borough of St. Albans should cease to return any Member or Members to Parliament. In the case of Sudbury the words were the same. Now, if these words had been used in the Reform Act the present difficulty would have been avoided. In former cases, where electors had been guilty of flagrant corruption like these four boroughs, the Legislature dealt with them very differently from the way in which the Government had dealt with these four boroughs. As regarded the voters by the New Shoreham Act, it was provided that— Whereas a wicked and corrupt society, calling itself a Christian Society, has for several years subsisted in the borough of New Shoreham, in the county of Sussex, and consisting of various persons having a right to vote at elections, &c., and it went on to give the names of the sixty-eight voters who had been guilty of bribery, and proceeded to enact that those men who were stigmatized were thenceforward incapacitated and disabled from giving any vote at any election for the choosing of Members of Parliament. That Act was still in force, and he could not understand why those men who had been guilty of such extensive corruption, especially at Great Yarmouth, should not have been treated as were the electors of New Shoreham. In the cases of Reigate and Lancaster it was true that two days' notice had to be given prior to the issue of a writ; but he believed that, as the case now stood, if a vacancy occurred, by death or otherwise, at Great Yarmouth or Totnes during the Recess, a writ must issue for the return of a new Member. That was a result which he was sure had never been contemplated; and he thought that, whether by a Resolution of the House or by some other mode, such a scandal should and might be prevented.


thought that all the anomaly to which the hon. Member had just called attention was caused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer not having adopted the suggestion which he had himself made to him last Session. He then put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he ought not, according to precedent, to have brought in a separate Bill dealing with those four boroughs. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought differently, and hence this difficulty. He had also put it to him whether it was right that the present Members for those corrupt boroughs should still sit in that House. All would agree in this, that, although they might tolerate the Gentlemen who sat for those four boroughs, still they did so only for a short time; and certainly they ought not to allow any more gentlemen to come among them from those places to contaminate them. He entertained a strong opinion on that question, and confessed that he, in common with the rest of the House, was partly to blame for permitting the clauses relating to those boroughs to pass as they stood. The mischief, however, he should think, might yet be easily remedied by the House passing a Resolution to the effect that no writ should be issued for either of those condemned boroughs until Parliament had first assented to it.