HL Deb 01 May 1834 vol 23 cc368-81
The Earl of Radnor

moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Liverpool Freemen's Disfranchisement Bill. He would suggest, that the same system should be adopted in regard to this Bill which had been followed in the Warwick Borough Bill; namely, that evidence be heard at the Bar.

The Earl of Eldon

said, that if witnesses were to be examined merely for the purpose of adducing reasons for the passing this Bill, they might as well have walked out of the House at once. He (Lord Eldon) had known the country long, and he could say, from his experience, that the subjects of this country had the greatest reliance on the decision of that House of Parliament; and by its conduct both in its legislative and judicial capacity it had frequently been the means of saving the Constitution, by the exercise of its privileges. If he were to express an opinion upon this Bill—and he should not do so at any great length—he should beg the attention of their Lordships to what this Bill, which they were now called on to read a second time, was. It was this, that in the year 1834 it was found out (for he supposed that it had not, and could not be found out before, or there would have been a Bill of the same kind sooner)—it was found out that some freemen of Liverpool, previous to the passing of the Reform Bill, had been corrupt, and because those few freemen had been corrupt, they were called on to disfranchise the whole of the freemen of Liverpool, innocent as well as guilty. If the intention of the Bill was merely to disfranchise the freemen made since the Reform Bill, he could understand it; but here they were called on to disfranchise all—the innocent as well as the guilty; nay more, they were called on to go further than he believed Parliament had ever gone before, for the Bill before them proposed to enact that all future freemen should be disfranchised. That such a Bill had ever before been submitted to Parliament he did not believe. He was an old man, and it might perhaps be said, was too fond of the institutions of his country, but he recollected that Lord Mansfield, when Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, said that all new laws on the subject of bribery were useless, because the common law was sufficient to overtake those guilty of that offence. But upon that Charles James Fox said, that he could not make up his mind to disfranchise those guilty of bribery unless an Act was passed to point out to the people, that for bribery they should be liable to the punishment of disfranchisement in addition to what they were liable to by the common law. He (Lord Eldon) in the same manner could not make up his mind to punish all parties for the offence of a few. He could not consent to confound the innocent with the guilty. If this Bill were to pass into a law, their Lordships might depend upon it that it would be the forerunner of a change in the Constitution of the country. He would not further object to the measure, but this he would say, that whatever evidence was brought forward, it would not induce him to punish the innocent for the offences of the guilty.

Lord Wharncliffe

begged to suggest to their Lordships that it would be better, before hearing evidence in support of the Bill at the Bar of the House, that the persons who promoted the Bill should be called on to make out their case—and should lay before the House the general grounds on which they asked their Lordships to pass the Bill. That appeared to him (Lord Wharncliffe) to be the proper course of proceeding. At the same time he admitted, that the precedents were in favour of the course of proceeding proposed by the noble Earl. He, therefore, felt some difficulty on the subject, and instead of directly negativing the Motion, he would content himself with moving that the evidence to be adduced should be confined to a certain period of time. The precedents of Cricklade, Aylesbury, Grampound, and East Retford, were all in favour of such a course of proceeding. The first went to introduce the voters from the adjoining Rape of Bramber. The argument in the case of Grampound was strongly insisted on, that it behoved the Legislature to remove, by total disfranchisement, that borough, as a blot on the Constitution, because it belonged to a county (Cornwall) already sharing in too great a degree the representation. He adverted to these cases, partly to show their Lordships that the present was a new case, but in fact there was no precedent for disfranchising men yet unborn as was proposed by the Liverpool Bill. He would next proceed to show their Lordships that, there never was a Bill brought before them by which such injustice was done as by that now before them. In 1830 an election took place at Liverpool, owing to the lamented death of Mr. Huskisson, and he was free to own that it had been since proved that corruption to a great extent then took place among the freemen. He did not stand up in their favour for their conduct on that occasion, whatever might be said of him as an enemy to Reform. He had never defended corruption, and he defied any man to point out an instance in his political life in which he had done so. On that occasion corruption was proved, and if the freemen had then been punished, their punishment would have been just and proper, and he did not mean to defend them. But that was previous to the Reform Bill, by which precisely the same remedy was applied to the corruption of Liverpool which was applied to other boroughs. They ought, therefore, not to take into consideration any corruption which existed previous to the Reform of the House of Commons. After the election of 1830 a petition was presented, and a Committee appointed under the Grenville Act. The Committee came to the Resolution that bribery took place at the election. But subsequently to that election, and previously to the passing of the Reform Bill, two other elections took place, both in the year 1831; and it was a singular fact, that the very parties who were promoting this Bill, in their speeches at the time publicly bore testimony to the propriety with which those two elections had been conducted. At the next election there were four candidates; two Whigs; one was a Tory, and the other was a moderate politician. One of the liberal candidates and the moderate man were returned. Immediately after that election, a Committee was formed in Liverpool, avowedly for the purpose of collecting evidence, and making every inquiry into the proceedings. That Committee was composed of the parties who were promoting this Bill; and notwithstanding they used great exertions for a considerable time—notwithstanding the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, that gross bribery and corruption had prevailed at the election of 1830—when Parliament met they were unable to present an election petition on the subject. A petition, then, was subsequently presented to the House of Commons, signed by 3,000 persons, complaining that bribery existed at that election, and calling upon the House to inquire into it. The House of Commons entertained this petition. A petition was also presented, signed by 7,500 electors denying the allegation, and requiring to be heard on their own behalf. On this the House of Commons appointed a Select Committee—not a Committee under the Grenville Act—not a Committee, the members of which are sworn, and obliged to attend—but a Committee not armed with powers to examine witnesses, and on oath. That Committee came to the conclusion—"That cases of bribery and corruption had been proved at the late election for Liverpool, but that such cases did not appear to have been with the authority of the candidates, or to have been pursued systematically or extensively." That was the Resolution of the Committee after the parties had had an opportunity of raking up every fact that could possibly tend to forward their views. That Resolution, however, was carried in the Committee by a majority of one voice only. After the Reform Bill had been passed—after, in point of fact, the Legislature had applied the remedy usually administered in cases of corruption—after the enfranchisement of the 10l. householders, whereby the constituency was increased from 4,000 to 12,000—after all this, one would have thought that this Report of the Committee would have put an end to the subject; and it was extremely hard, after the accusing parties had had one opportunity of bringing their case fully before the House of Commons, subsequent proceedings should be adopted with the view of extending the inquiry, and of raking up old grievances which the Reform Bill was supposed to have remedied. Upon a debate which took place after in the House of Commons, it was admitted by the Paymaster of the Forces and the Solicitor-General, that this Resolution was not sufficient to ground a Bill of Pains and Penalties upon, and another Committee was therefore appointed to rake out further evidence. That Committee came to certain Resolutions upon which the Bill at present before their Lordships was founded, and carried through the other branch of the Legislature. He had endeavoured to distinguish the periods of time, and to point out to their Lordships what would be applicable to the period prior to the passing of the Reform Act. He endeavoured to show what only could be applicable to the period that had elapsed since. He fully admitted the corruption of the voters of Liverpool previous to the Reform Bill. But what happened subsequent to that Bill? The constituency had been changed. The first Reform Bill did not go the length of disfranchising freemen for treating. The second Reform Bill was kept within still narrower bounds, and not only confirmed the present freemen in their rights, but those also who should hereafter become entitled to their freedom, either by birth or servitude. It would be a most gross injustice to turn round now upon these persons, and say, "We will punish you for acts done before the Reform Bill passed." To justify this Bill proof of corruption subsequent to the Reform Act should be produced. The second Committee sat many days, and went as far back as 1819 for evidence of bribery. In their Report two cases were particularly alluded to of persons who subscribed 400l. each for the election of General Gascoyne, and who, id consideration of the money thus advanced were to get tide-waiters' places. Non constat whether these very two individuals, after this Bill passed, would not still have a right to vote as 10l. householders. The Committee, not content with referring to the bribery which took place at elections for Members of Parliament, referred also to bribery in the election of a Chief Magistrate. The Committee declared, that the suspension of the Writ, and the threat of disfranchisement in consequence of what occurred in 1830, had a good effect upon the subsequent elections. Were they now, in the face of such a declaration from the Committee, to turn round and say, that notwithstanding the good effect produced by this threat, ale freemen were to be disfranchised? Suppose the law threatened him with punishment, and in consequence of the threat he amended his conduct, would it be fair to turn round and say, "You shall be punished, though you have improved in your conduct?" The Committee recommended a measure to secure more purity, not only in the election of Members to serve in Parliament, but also in the election of a Chief Magistrate. This Bill, however, made no reference at all to the office of Chief Magistrate. The Committee recommended, also, that the superior class who were guilty of corrupting others ought to be punished. In place of doing this, the present Bill, while it would punish the poor freemen, would leave the rich in possession of their franchise as 10l. householders. In place of acting in this way, the rich who corrupted others ought to be disfranchised nominatim. There was a great number of the freemen against whom no charge was ever insinuated of having received bribes in 1830. Including those against whom no charge of bribery was brought, freemen's sons, and persons whose names were upon the register, having inchoate rights, this Bill would deprive of their rights not less than 4,541 persons, while it left to several guilty persons the privilege of still voting as 10l. householders. Whatever might have been his opinion of the Reform Bill, and, though all his anticipations of its effects were more than realised, still as it was now the law, it ought to stand upon its own bases, and not be made an instrument of punishment in any election cases, except such as occurred subsequently to passing that Act. Had anything taken place since 1830 to warrant the disfranchisement of the freemen of Liverpool? Why, there were 12,000 voters, and, at the subsequent election, the whole amount of bribery proved was 48l. 9s. 9d., of which 27l. 3s. was said to be distributed in bribes. But what was the evidence? One witness said, he saw a bribe given, but did not know the name either of the giver or the receiver. Another said, he saw a ribbon given to one, and a 5l. note in a voter's hand, but did not know who gave it to him. Another species of bribery was alluded to which, perhaps, could not be much blamed. It was stated, that several manufacturers gave half a day's wages to their men. There was only a small sum of 3l. 10s. not satisfactorily accounted for. He did not refuse to hear evidence if the noble Earl (the Earl of Radnor) thought it would make his case better, but he thought the examination should be confined to what took place subsequently to the passing of the Reform Bill. Everything that occurred before should be forgotten and forgiven. If the freemen of Liverpool should hereafter return to their former courses let them then be punished. The franchise of no place would be safe if so small an amount of corruption as that just mentioned was to be a sufficient ground for disfranchisement. He would undertake, at this rate, with 200l. to disfranchise any place. The petitioners now came before their Lordships to amend their case at the expense of the country, knowing that it was not sufficiently strong. If the country paid their expenses, he should certainly propose that the expenses of those on the other side should be defrayed in the same way. Would it be fair to call the parties again before their Lordships, and put them a second time to the trouble of an examination on matters which occurred in 1830? In this, as in other cases, attempts would be made to persuade the country, that the House of Lords was desirous to crush all inquiry into matters of corruption at elections. This he must deny. The specific business of the House of Lords was to guard the rights of individuals. They would not—and it was high time to declare, that they would not—take this, or any other case, upon the mere showing of the House of Commons; that no names which might be applied to them, no insinuations that might be thrown out, should turn them from their duty; that they would neither give up their own rights, nor sacrifice those of others. The object of the Motion with which he should conclude was, that their Lordships would confine their inquiry into the alleged corruption of the freemen of Liverpool, to the period that had elapsed subsequently to the passing of the Reform Bill. That was a compact under which it was agreed to contine certain rights; and he maintained that their Lordships had no right to take those rights away, unless they were firmly convinced, that they had been subsequently abused. He would therefore conclude by moving as an Amendment to the Motion before the House, "That the right of voting for Members Of Parliament for the borough of Liverpool, having under the provisions of the Act of 2nd William 4th, cap. 45, intituled 'An Act to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales,' been very greatly altered and extended to a very large number of persons, in addition to those who, before the passing of that Act, had or might acquire the exclusive right of voting for such Members, Counsel be directed to confine their examination of witnesses, to acts of bribery and corruption at any election that has taken place subsequently to the passing of that Act."

The Earl of Radnor

said, the noble Lord, by this Amendment, took him rather by surprise. He was a little surprised at it, because the course he proposed was the same as that followed in all the five cases to which the noble Lord referred. The noble Lord told them last week, that it was his intention to oppose the second reading, and endeavour to throw out this Bill altogether; and the noble Lord left them up to the present time with this impression. The noble Lord referred with expressions of disapprobation to the proceedings of the House of Commons with reference to this Bill. With these proceedings, whether blamable or not, he had nothing to do. He for one could not agree to the wish of the noble Lord to limit the inquiry to the election since the Reform Bill. The noble Lord had said, that he did not think there had been much bribery at the late elections; but was it not well known that at the election of 1832, one of the candidates relinquished the contest on the very first day because he would not consent to give money to the voters? It was in evidence, that the electors asked for beer and money, and refused to vote without them. He would, however, oppose the Motion of the noble Lord, mainly on the ground, that however bad the conduct of the electors might have been at the last election, the present Bill was not founded on the corruption then practised, but on the Report of the Election Committee, which declared, that "a gross system of corruption had prevailed in the borough of Liverpool for a series of years back." It was rather inconsistent in the noble Lords opposite to stand up now for the purity of Liverpool when that very borough was the one chiefly quoted as having a large population, and as notorious for its corruption, in their speeches against the Reform Bill. The noble Lord said, it would be hard to go back to cases of corruption that occurred before the passing of the Reform Bill; but it should be recollected that the Bill to disfranchise the borough of Liverpool had been brought in long before the Reform Bill passed into a law. That Bill was brought in before the dissolution, and in fact was going on through the House at the same time with the Reform Bill; and it was only withdrawn at that time to be again brought in after the re-assemblage of Parliament on the general election. He should, for these reasons, most strenuously object to the Motion of the noble Lord. The extended investigation had been opposed upon the ground of the expense to which it must subject those who opposed the Bill; but he did not think that there could be any great doubt, that the Corporation of Liverpool, which possessed an income of 198,000l. a-year, was well able to bear any expense that the inquiry might lead to. If, upon a strict investigation of the whole case, the Bill did not appear to be a fair one, he hoped the House would reject it, but, if otherwise, the Bill, as an act of justice, should be passed.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that he was desirous of saying a few words on this occasion. He would first observe, that if the inquiry were to be confined to the last election, or the election before that, it would be placing the House in a very difficult situation. He for one should object to disfranchise any single voter who was not clearly and distinctly proved to have been guilty of corruption in 1830, namely, three years before the operation of the Reform Bill; but he would disfranchise, not only at Liverpool, but all over the country, everyman who had in any manner participated in corrupt practices at the elections subsequent to that period. He would hold those men up to public exposure and reprobation, and more particularly those amongst them who were the persons who gave the bribes. There might be some excuse for the poor distressed man, the wants of whose family might drive him to the necessity of selling his vote; but what excuse could be offered for the gentleman, to whom the poor man was accustomed to look up to as an example which he was to follow in all moral considerations? What excuse, he asked, could there be for this rich man, who was guilty of the base act of corrupting his poorer, but, morally speaking, his more honest neighbour? He would therefore appeal to his noble friend, if it would not be better to name in the Bill every man who was proved to be, by his corrupt practices, undeserving of the elective franchise.

Lord Wynford

said, that he entirely concurred in every word that had fallen from the noble Duke opposite. He should never be found to say one word to protect corruption. Let a case be made out in which corrupt practices were proved to have taken place, and he should be one of the first to support any measure for the disfranchisement of that place, or at least to so alter the nature of its constituency, that it should no longer have the power of being corrupt. Under these considerations, it would be quite impossible for him to vote for the motion of his noble friend, and it was with great pain that he felt himself compelled to differ from his noble friend on any occasion. The House of Commons had sent a Bill up to their Lordships, declaring, that gross and notorious corruption was proved to have taken place in the borough of Liverpool, at the election of Members to represent that borough in Parliament. Would their Lordships then say, that they would not go into the inquiry, or that they would, in the slightest degree, cripple that inquiry? He, for one, would say, let the witnesses come to their Lordships bar, and then the House would see what weight was due to their evidence. Much had been said, as to limiting the inquiry to the period since the passing of the Reform Bill; but surely the Reform Bill was never considered to be a Statute of Limitations against corruption. So far from having any hesitation as to the adoption of the present Bill, if the corruption should be proved at the bar, he would most gladly concur in passing a still more effectual measure. He would not only deprive of his franchise, but he would brand with public scorn, any man who was proved to have been corrupted, and he would more especially deal out a full measure of punishment to those who had corrupted others. He would stick their names upon a board, to point them out as persons to be avoided by their honest neighbours. That House, it was known to their Lordships, could not act upon evidence taken before the House of Commons. The chief object in procuring the evidence from the other House of Parliament, was, to compare it closely, and see if the different witnesses agreed in their stories. He could not believe that the corruption that was stated to have prevailed at Liverpool, stopped short with the freemen alone. It was his opinion, that the household voters were equally tainted, and he thought it only just, that one measure of punishment should be dealt out to the corrupt of all classes. He would, therefore, propose, that they should go on to disqualify all household voters, as well as freemen, who should be proved to have in any way participated in the alleged bribery and other corrupt practices. He would take away from those men all future right to vote, because, in the language which it was proved they themselves were accustomed to use, "they considered a vote of no other value than what it would sell for." He disapproved of the principle of establishing one general rule of voting all over the kingdom as extremely unjust. A French minister had said, on the extension of the elective franchise, at the time of the Reform Bill, that he could not see the use of giving to the English a franchise merely to sell it. On the best consideration that he could give to the Bill before their Lordships, he had come to the determination of voting for it, if its principle should be established by evidence, but, at all events, he should be no party to stopping it in its course.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, that, on the same grounds that had been so ably stated, by his noble and learned friend who had just spoken, he should give his support to the noble earl opposite; but at the same time he could not entirely approve of the Bill before their Lordships as it at present stood. His most anxious wish was, to do justice to all parties, and he should give his decided vote for the disfranchisement of every man, household voters as well as freemen, who should be proved to have forfeited, by their corrupt practices, the trust that had been confided to them. He would lend his best aid to stigmatize and hold up to public scorn and reprobation every man who had been concerned in the system of bribery that had been stated to have prevailed.

The Marquess of Salisbury

was desirous that the House should follow the precedents that had been laid down on former occasions. The practice hitherto had been to confine the evidence, in the first instance, to an inquiry into what had occurred at the last election. This was deemed necessary before any step was taken towards disfranchisement. The usual practice, in all former precedents, was, not to disfranchise particular individuals, but only to proceed upon such general corruption as might be proved to exist and render it proper that the franchise should be extended as in the case of East Retford. When it was proposed to disfranchise a large and a particular class of voters, he thought it only fair that it should be proved that they had continued in the exercise of corruption after the passing of the Reform Bill. He should, therefore, suggest to his noble friend to withdraw his Motion, and that counsel be instructed to direct their attention, in the first instance, to any acts of bribery or other corrupt practices that might have prevailed at the last election for the borough of Liverpool.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that the noble Marquess had anticipated most of the observations which he had intended to offer to their Lordships. He felt anxious, however, to say a few words upon this subject, from an ancient connexion which he had once sought with this very borough of Liverpool; for he saw, that among the many misdeeds of that borough, there was an allusion made to the misdeeds of the election of 1812, when he was a candidate. Turning away from that topic, for the present, he would proceed to call their attention to what had fallen from the noble Marquess who had just preceded him. He saw the difficulty of going into the proceedings of all the elections at Liverpool, for the Reform Bill having passed within the last three years, and having been devised, as a remedy for the mal-practices then existing, he was bound, as a friend to that measure, to consider whether it was not fitting to try its efficacy by seeing what it had accomplished. There was also great difficulty in acceding to the proposition of the noble Baron, and confining the inquiry to what occurred at the last election. It was a line of conduct obnoxious to misrepresentation, and which certainly would be misrepresented. It would be represented, and not without show of justice, that by such a proceeding their Lordships were endeavouring to shut out the light, and to withhold the truth from the public. Having adverted to the proceedings at former elections at Liverpool, he felt, that he should neither perform his duty to that House, nor to his friends at Liverpool, if he did not express the deep feeling of disgust which had been excited in his mind by reading, in the evidence, the history of the transactions at the former election. He had not read more disgusting evidence than that which was given respecting the election of 1830, when two shops were opened, with a slit in their walls, to which persons were brought by individuals who ought to have known better, and through which 10l., 30l., 40l. were paid for votes which ought to have been given honestly and conscientiously; and, on the last day, 60l., 80l.—ay, and even as much as 120l. It was a spectacle mixed up with every disgusting feature which the mind could contemplate. He had heard, that in the election of 1812, similar things had happened. He did not believe it at the time, but he did believe it now. It was only justice to his opponent at that election, the late Mr. Canning, to say, that that right hon. Gentleman knew no more of that bribery than he did. Indeed, Mr. Canning had told him so in private conversation. They had neither of them paid one silver penny in that way; for, as was well known, the election was conducted on both sides without expense to the candidates. They had heard, indeed, that a great deal of "beer" was given away by their respective friends. They did not then know what "beer" meant. There were tickets for beer. These tickets were currency. They said, "Deliver a cask, or half a cask of beer to the bearer." But the beer was never delivered, notwithstanding. The tickets were changed for money, and thus there was a currency, under the name of treating, to enable the parties to see what they could do in the way of bribery. He had hoped, that the Reform Bill had put an end to all this, by introducing a more extensive constituency. If the remedy devised by the Reform Act was effectual, let the electors of Liverpool get off for what they had done before; but if the Reform Act still enabled the old offenders to offend again, let us go into the inquiry, and then if their guilt be proved, let those old offenders be dealt with according to law.

Lord Wharncliffe

wished their Lordships to sift to the bottom the proceedings at the election since the Reform Bill. Then, if that inquiry did not turn out for the advantage of the borough, let their Lordships inquire further. He had no objection to let his Motion be so modified by the introduction of the words "in the first instance," as to let the occurrences of the last election form a preliminary step to future inquiries.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

had no objection to offer to that modification. He hoped that whatever might be the result of the present inquiry, as relating to the last election, at all events those 500 individuals who had been convicted of bribery and corruption would receive salutary punishment in order to secure in future the freedom of election at Liverpool.

The Earl of Durham

thought the course now proposed was contrary to all precedent. He moved on the East Retford case to confine the inquiry to the last election, but he was opposed by the noble Lords who now recommended a different course, and it was decided against him on the score of precedent. The counsel were instructed to open their case as was best for them. The Amendment for introducing the words "in the first instance" was agreed to, and counsel were called in. Further proceedings postponed. It was arranged, that whenever the House should find it convenient to proceed with the case, four or five days' previous notice should be given to counsel, in order that they might be prepared with the witnesses.