HL Deb 20 June 1828 vol 19 cc1443-50
The Earl of Carnarvon

, in moving the order of the day for the second reading of this bill, said, it would be his duty to call the attention of their lordships to the general bearing of the evidence on which this bill was founded. Their lordships had all the details of that evidence before them, and he would not waste the time of the House by repeating it. What he wished to call the attention of the House to was the general character of the borough. The great point for their lordships to consider was, whether there was not evidence of long-continued corrupt and vicious practices; whether there was not evidence that that corrupt character still existed; and if their lordships left the borough in its present state, whether it was not to be expected that future elections would be equally corrupt. The first period to which he would refer their lordships was to the election in 1802; and upon that occasion it was admitted, even by the counsel in defence, that the evidence of corruption was as complete as could be necessary to bear out the enactments of the present bill; and it might be fortunate for that borough, that this proceeding was not taken up twenty years ago, for their lordships could not then have hesitated to annihilate the franchise of that borough, and transfer it to some place more deserving. That evidence was complete; for, on the testimony of one of the agents for a candidate, which was undisputed, it appeared, that on several occasions he had paid a fixed and accustomed bribe to more than one half of the voters. It might be urged, if the present were a criminal proceeding against an individual that that bribe had been transmitted through an inferior agent; and after a lapse of time that inferior agent could be brought to the bar and give his evidence. But though this direct evidence of guilt was wanting, there was circumstantial evidence quite as strong. The superior agent had made out a list of the voters, and transmitted it with the bribes to the inferior agent; giving him at the same time directions to return no written account. But, indeed, the counsel at the bar had admitted that the case of 1802 was complete, and grounded his whole defence on the improvement which had taken place since. At the election in 1806, 12l. was given for single, and 24l. for double votes. After the election of 1807, the prosecution of sir C. Hawkins was commenced; and though he was acquitted, yet one of the agents confessed that he had given bribes to the voters; and the question for their lordships to consider was, not whether sir C. Hawkins had himself given bribes, but whether there was a disposition on the part of the voters to receive them.—The next election was in 1812, upon which no criminatory proceedings were taken; but, after the proceedings in the House of Commons, and after the trial of sir C. Hawkins, there was a re-action in the borough, and no one was willing to venture their money in the election; but though no one was found ready to bribe, it did not follow that there was no one willing to receive bribes. In the next election, in 1818, we had now no means of ascertaining the full extent to which the practice of bribery was carried; but it was no weak point in our favour, that Mr. Swann, the successful candidate, was condemned and imprisoned, after being prosecuted. After this prosecution of Mr. Swann, there was another interval of panic, and he had every reason to believe, that the election of Mr. Grenfel), in 1820 was not attended with any bribery.—He next came to the elections in 1824 and 1826. In those elections their lordships must recollect that there was no great number of candidates; besides which, the repeated trials and occasional convictions had operated much to deter bribery. He believed the two candidates, Messrs. Stanton and Barclay, set out with the intention of not resorting to bribery. Their agents continued to canvass the boteen roug has long as the could without bribery; but at last they were obliged to resort to that practice, and Mr. Stanton carried the election by a majority of sixteen of whom were sworn to have been bribed. At the time of the election one of the agents had got the start in bribery; but the other, as soon as the banks were opened, obtained 500l., and gave it to his inferior agent, with directions to employ it in such a manner, as would secure the election, with strict injunctions to lay no details before him. Those instructions proved that the money was intended for bribery. In 1826, the whole contest remained between lord Perceval and Mr. Manning. Lord Perceval, a man without money in his pockets, was arrested before the poll closed, and withdrawn from all active opposition; but yet he was the popular candidate, and, until some bribes were given, his poularity prevented Mr. Manning rising above him. He then found that the agent, unknown to the principal, gave bribes, by which an impulse was given to the voters, and the majority turned in favour of Mr. Manning. In 1825, previous to, the general election, Reid and Spry were deputed to go to Mr. Adey, to ask whether it was the intention of lord Perceval to stand; and it appeared that those men asked whether lord Perceval would bribe, because if he did not, he would stand very little chance. Mr. Adey afterwards came down to canvass, and the answers he received of the voters were such as "Speak to my wife,"—"Time enough yet,"—"You may have me if you will." Mr. Adey received such answers from one-half of the voters. This practice was not confined to the lower classes. Publicans and traders were not ashamed to own a similar spirit of corruption. The noble earl proceeded to extract various other instances of bribery from the evidence. He feared he should be opposed, on the present occasion, by the crown lawyers. He did not mean to say that the learned lord on the woolsack, and the other noble and learned lords, would not give an impartial hearing to the present bill, but he was afraid that they were too much attached to what they called vested rights. But he conceived that their lordships would be justified in taking the elective franchise from Penryn, in consequence of the general character for vicious practices which it bore. But he did not propose to disfranchise that borough on character alone, seeing that in 1802 there was a case of complete and complicated bribery. Their lordships should also consider what was the probable object of increasing the number of the voters. It had been maintained, that the increase had grown out of the increasing trade and wealth of the borough; but that attempt had failed, as the increase of voters had taken place chiefly among the poorer class. The noble lord here noticed the evidence of other witnesses, and particularly alluded to the conduct of Stanbury. The 3,000l. expended by that man in treating the voters could not have been expended without the hope of his gaining something by the speculation. Under these circumstances, some remedy ought to be applied to stop the practice of bribery in Penryn. He certainly did not think the evidence strong enough to warrant him in proposing that the franchise be transferred to some town out of the county. If the bill should pass a second reading, he should in the committee move that the franchise be extended to the adjacent hundred; though he must, at the same time, protest against such a method of punishing bribery in boroughs; because it would, if pursued, take away from the monied interest even the indirect representation which they at present enjoyed, by being enabled, through their money, to represent such places, as Penryn. He should not propose to give the freeholders of the adjacent hundred a double vote, but allow the inhabitants of Penryn to be upon an equal footing with them.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that, having as a part of his duty, attended to the evidence produced at the bar in support of the bill, their lordships would expect him to state the effect which that evidence had produced on his mind. The noble earl had assumed, from the office which he held, and the opinions he supposed him to entertain, that he would, as a matter of course, oppose the second reading of the bill. He wished the noble earl would be good enough to state from what vote of his, in that or in the other House of Parliament, he had felt himself justified in coming to such a conclusion, supposing that the bill had been supported by sufficient evidence. It was because the bill was not supported by evidence that he felt himself called upon to oppose it. The noble earl had not referred the House, as, he was bound to do in candour, to the course which parliament was in the habit of adopting, with respect to such bills as the present. If the noble earl had done so, he must have admitted, that the House had not proceeded to the disfranchisement of a borough in any one instance, without proof of bribery against the majority of the voters—not mere conjecture, as in the present case—not mere assumption or probability, but distinct and positive proof. The case of Shoreham was the first. The number of voters in that case did not exceed one hundred and forty; and out of that number ninety-two had been proved to have taken bribes. The next case was that of Cricklade, in which, out of one hundred and seventy-two voters, one hundred and sixty had been proved to have received bribes. The Aylesbury case was another. The borough contained about four hundred voters, who were summoned by beat of drum to receive their bribes. In the case of Grampound there were fifty-eight voters, forty-seven of whom had received bribes. The greater part had been prosecuted, some had been overlooked in consequence of their poverty, and a few had escaped through some informality in the proceedings. The noble earl was bound to have stated these facts, that the House might be in possession of the usual course of dealing with corrupt boroughs. The noble earl had begun with the case of 1802; but why had he not taken the last? With respect to Penryn, the evidence related only to eleven voters, and the noble earl had examined some witnesses to prove the bribery, but had not called the others, in consequence of a contradiction between them. One of the cases was that of Thomas James, who said he had received a bribe of 10l., and afterwards of ten sovereigns, from Mr. Stanbury, without making any promise. And, what wag the result?—that instead of voting for Mr. Manning, in whose interest Stanbury was acting, he had voted against him. Besides, the witness had been contradicted by Stanbury himself, who denied having given him a bribe. He would not go through the whole of the eleven witnesses; but a woman of loose character, who had spoken to having seen bribes given under very improbable circumstances, had been contradicted, and had contradicted herself. In fact, there was only one witness who had not contradicted their own evidence. Under these circumstances, no case had been made out against Penryn; and that was the reason why he would not consent to legislate upon an assumption, that bribery had been committed.

Lord De Dunstanville

said, that the object of the present bill was to extend the right of-voting to the freeholders of the surrounding hundreds; and it had been said, that as he possessed considerable property in that neighbourhood, it would give him the power of influencing the elections. It was true, he had property in that part of the country; but there were nine or ten other persons, some of them members of that House, who might, in like manner, be said to increase their influence, if the bill was passed. But he was convinced the charge was untrue; for the independence of the freeholders there, especially of the substantial yeomen, was such, that if all the men of rank were to unite their influence in favour of one I candidate, and a popular candidate was to start, he would beat their united strength. He would not, however, avail himself even of the chance of increasing any supposed influence he might have, but would show his impartiality by declaring, that there was no evidence to justify the change now proposed. In his opinion, no case had been made out, either in law or equity, to justify the present bill.

The Earl of Eldon

said, he thought it his duty to express his opinion upon the evidence given in support of the bill. In his life, he had never seen one so utterly destitute of foundation.

Lord Dacre

said, that if he could consider the question merely as a judicial one, he should feel obliged to give a verdict of acquittal; but it was not a novel practice for that House to examine witnesses to other facts than those of corruption. Inadequacy of numbers, as well as preference of their own over the general interest, was a cause of disfranchisement. In some boroughs, such, for instance, as those which have burgage tenures for the basis of their votes, it was impossible, at all times, to detect the corruption of the voters. If, therefore, nothing but the adoption of proof of corruption, on the part of some of these boroughs, was to be the means of admitting others into the representation, they would ultimately reject all those boroughs that were the depositaries of the commercial interests of the country, from the hope of commanding a seat in the House of Commons. He was no friend to those wild doctrines of reform that would establish universal suffrage, or even householder's suffrage in every case; for he did not think that any one uniform principle of voting could be adopted. There was one principle fixed in the landed property of the kingdom; there was another in the personal and commercial property of the country; and the last was represented by the populous boroughs that sent members to parliament, and some of them almost depended on the principle of universal suffrage. Whenever a bill of the nature of the present was before the House, he should look into it to see whether its object was to remove the franchise to an interest similar to that from which it had been subtracted; and if it was, he should support it. As the object of this bill was to transfer the franchise from the commercial to the landed interest, he should certainly oppose it, because it was in contravention of the principle he had just stated. The right of representation ought to be exercised for public advantage, alone; and he would not do any thing that might divert it to, the purposes of private advantage, convinced, as he was, that the time must come, when the great manufacturing districts would claim their right of having, representatives in parliament.

The Marquis of Salisbury

said, that the preamble of the bill ran in this form—. "Whereas on account of the increased wealth and population of Manchester, it is expedient that it should return burgesses to parliament." Now, in that single sentence were embodied the wildest doctrines of radical reform. If there were no other grounds for opposition, he should oppose this bill on that alone.

The Earl of Carnarvon

observed, that if the preamble contained the wildest doctrine of radical reform, it was a doctrine which had been acted upon by our ancient monarchs in summoning; the representatives of boroughs to parliament; and it was especially one that was adopted by that very radical reformer, Henry 8th. As he saw the general opinion of the House was against the bill, he would not press it to a division.

The bill was then negatived.