§ Mr. Western
in rising to move the order of the day for the consideration of the Special Report from the East Retford Election Committee (of which he had been chairman) lamented, that his state of health was such as to prevent him from bringing forward this subject; a duty which he would otherwise have been bound to discharge. It was, however, a satisfaction to him, that it would fall into the hands of his hon. friend, the member for Blechingley, who, haying undertaken it in compliance with his wish and that of the committee, would, he was confident, do ample justice to the case. He would not anticipate any thing that his hon. friend might have to say, but content himself by stating, that the Special Report was voted unanimously by the committee, and in his judgment deserved and required the immediate and serious attention of parliament.
The Order of the day being read,
§ Mr. Tennyson
said, that he should no do justice to himself if he did not, in the first instance, express his unfeigned and unqualified regret, that a subject of so much importance would not have the full benefit of the talents and experience of his hon. friend, the member for the county of Essex, on whom, as chairman of the East Retford Election Committee, it would naturally have devolved. He regretted it still more, on account of the cause assigned by his hon. friend; namely, the condition of his personal health, which must always deeply interest those who had enjoyed any opportunity of appreciating his public or private worth. Circumstances, rather than any imagined qualifications of his own for the task, had cast it upon him. He should have declined it, under the apprehension that he could not do it justice, if he had not been assured of the kind assistance of his hon. friend, and of the support of the committee. For the aid and co-operation he had received from them he was grateful; but still he must entreat the indulgence of the House for the imperfect manner in which he should lay before it those grounds, which induced the committee to arrive at an unanimous con- 1201 clusion upon the subject now under consideration.
The candidates at the last election for East Retford were sir Robert Lawrie Dundas, a knight of the Bath, and an officer distinguished in his majesty's military service; William Battie Wrightson, esq., a gentleman of high and honourable character in the county of York, and sir Henry Wright Wilson, well known as a respectable member of the last parliament. Sir Robert Dundas and Mr. Wrightson were returned. A petition was presented against that return, and the committee to whom it was referred, decided, that the election was void, and made a special report to the House, which he would now beg leave to read. After having resolved that sir Robert Dundas and Mr. Wrightson had, by their agents, been guilty of treating at the last election for East Retford, the Report proceeded as follows:
"The Committee consider it their duty to direct the serious attention of the House to the corrupt state of the Borough of East Retford. It appears to the committee from the evidence of several witnesses, that at elections of burgesses to serve in parliament for this borough, it has been a notorious, long-continued, and general practice, for the electors who voted for the successful candidates to receive the sum of twenty guineas from each of them; so that those burgesses who voted for both the members returned have customarily received forty guineas for such exercise of their elective franchise. It further appears to the committee that an expectation prevailed in the borough, that this custom would be acted upon at the last election, although they have no sufficient proof that such expectation was encouraged by the candidates then returned."
It would now be his duty to state to the House, as briefly as possible, the substance of so much of the evidence as would justify the special report which he had just read; but he was anxious, before he proceeded further, to express his hope, that in any of the observations he might feel it his duty to make, he might not be considered as casting personal reflection upon sir Robert Dundas and Mr. Wrightson for both of whom he entertained the highest respect.
The special Report commenced by stating, in general terms, the corrupt condition of the borough. That corruption had two principal features; one, the most extensive 1202 treating, and the other, a species of bribery, not peculiar indeed to East Retford, but which seemed to have become more completely established there, as a rooted and inveterate habit, than in any other borough, and to have reached in pecuniary amount, and with regard to the openness of the practice, an extent and audacity unparalleled elsewhere. With respect to the treating, he should not dwell upon it at any length; yet he should scarcely do his duty to the House, if he did not state, that it clearly appeared from the evidence, that during some months prior to the election, several public houses in the interest of sir Robert Dundas and Mr. Wrightson, had been open to the voters up to and beyond the period of the return. The law only deemed the treating which took place between the teste of the writ and the return, that which would vacate the seat of a member who had resorted to it; but, there was obviously, little difference in effect, between treating prior and treating subsequent to the teste of the writ, and no difference whatever with regard to the moral condition of voters who required to have their intellects thus stimulated, in order to fit them for the due exercise of their elective franchise. He might refer the House, for evidence of the extent to which this treating was carried, to the minutes generally; but more particularly to pages 61, 62, and 63, and pp. 133, 134, where, on the evidence of Jonathan Marr and William Jackson it appeared in substance, "that the agent's House, and several public Houses in Retford were open for the party ultimately successful for some months prior to the election, and until two or three days after it. When the opposite party was gaining ground, there was no limit whatever to the liquor distributed. The freemen frequently met at these Houses at six in the morning; and, if the doors and windows were not open, they would rattle at the shutters to gain admission. Sometimes the liquor was stopped at ten or eleven at night: sometimes it went on till morning. The numbers frequently assembled at one of these Houses, were from thirty to forty, and sometimes even as many as sixty would he seen together."— This treating was at the expense of the candidates eventually returned; and it was upon proof of this, that the committee pronounced the election to be void. The House would observe, that the minutes only stated the treating on the part of the 1203 successful candidates; but there was reason to conclude, that the same scenes were also taking place on the other side. The natural and almost necessary consequence ensued; namely, outrageous rioting, which threw the whole town into consternation;—rioting to such an extent, that it became indispensably necessary to call in a military force. The terrific details of these riotous proceedings, might be found in the minutes pp. 39 and 40 and pp. 190, 1, 2: but he had referred to the treating and its consequences rather for the purpose of discharging his duty by touching on all the points glanced at by the special Report, and for the purpose, undoubtedly, of directing the attention of the House to these practices as too general at elections for small open boroughs, than for any ulterior object he had in view, with regard to the borough of East Retford. He hoped that some method might be shortly devised to put an end to such proceedings; and ventured to recommend the subject to the attention of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Wynn).
He should now proceed to the gravamen of the charge against this borough; namely, the receipt, by the electors, of what was called election-money or head-money, customarily paid by the successful candidates after each election. The fact was so clearly made out, by the testimony of every witness who was examined upon the point, that any hon. member who had taken even the most cursory view of the evidence, must be perfectly satisfied of the existence of the practice at East Retford. He would now point out, as briefly as possible, such portions of that evidence as seemed to bear most distinctly on that point; and he entreated the indulgence of the House, while he discharged this tedious but essential part of his duty. Stephen Hemsworth, p. 17 of the Printed
Minutes, said, "The expression losing your election, meant losing the forty guineas. That at two former elections he received forty guineas."
§ Samuel Buxton,
p. 69, apparently between sixty and seventy years of age, said, "He had voted at four preceding elections, but not at the last." On being asked, whether he got any thing at those former elections, he said, "he did." On being asked, whether it was "all right" at those elections (which was an expression shewn by the evidence to apply to the due payment of the election money), he 1204 replied, "Yes; they sometimes used to tip me a letter, and put it into my window with 20l. and so on; and that it was "all right," the same as Mr. Kirke and Mr. Foljambe (friends of the successful candidates) had told him it would be this time, if he would vote for Mr. Wrightson; that at those former elections he received two sums of 20l. that is 20l. from each candidate." He was asked, whether other voters were as fortunate as himself? His reply was, "If they win, they expect it, the same as a labouring man that goes to his day's work. It had been the practice ever since he was twenty years of age."
a shoe-maker, pp. 74, 78, stated, "That the inducement held out to him, and, in his presence, to George Palfreyman, another voter, by Thornton, the agent for Mr. Wrightson, was, that if they would vote for him (Mr. W.), they would be sure of their money; but as to sir Henry Wilson, he was a mean man, and if they voted for him, they would get nothing." On being asked the sum he was to have, he replied, "In fore times they used to have forty guineas."
shoemaker, p. 85, confirmed the last witness; for he deposed that "Thornton said to him, he (P) was on the wrong side; that sir H. Wilson was a very mean man; that he would never get any thing for his vote; that he was sorry he should be led away, this being his first election; that if he promised Mr. Wrightson, he would be sure of his money, and that he (Thornton) would ensure it." When asked, why he desired Thornton to book him? he replied, "Because he thought there would be the money for his vote."
another shoemaker, p. 95, stated, that "He received forty guineas after the election of 1818; that Thornton in his presence canvassed the witness's journeymen in these terms: 'He asked them for their votes, and said he would assure them of their forty guineas; but that sir Henry Wilson was a shabby old man, and would give them nothing.'" The witness said, "That Thornton repeated this many times."
§ William Baker,
another shoemaker, p. 104, said, "He had been eighteen years a freeman; had never voted, but had been applied to for his vote, at three prior elections; that it was 'all right' at those 1205 elections; and that he had received forty guineas at each of them; that strangers paid him; but after one of Mr. Crompton's elections, he was sent for to the bank at Retford, and there paid 10l., being the balance due to make up twenty guineas, he having previously borrowed 10l. of Mr. Foljambe the banker." He stated, that "Twenty guineas for each vote was the custom of Retford;" and he corrected his former statement by saying, that "He had not received any thing from Mr. Osbaldeston or Mr. Marsh."
a banker at Retford, who was evidently reluctant to speak of this practice, p. 120, said, "He had witnessed four elections, including the last, admitted, that it was reported to be the notorious practice of the place, that the burgesses who voted for the successful candidate, received a sum of money for their votes after the election. That 20l. or twenty guineas, was the sum said to he paid on those occasions, and twice that sum for a double vote."
clerk to Mr. Foljambe, who was also a witness obviously very unwilling to depose on this matter, said, "He had witnessed four elections at Retford." At first he said, with reference to the practice in question, "He had very little doubt such things had been done; he thought there was no doubt." Then he is asked, whether he had ever heard of any election where it was omitted? he replied, "Yes." Q. "When was it?"—"About fifteen or sixteen years ago, I heard there was a member came who never paid any thing." Q. "What member was that?"—" Mr. Marsh." He mentions, "Forty guineas as the sum said to be usually paid at Retford upon elections."
being recalled, said, "He recollected Mr. Marsh being a candidate for Retford. He had heard that he had not paid his election money; that Mr. Marsh had not offered himself again for Retford." And on the witness being asked, "Whether Mr. Marsh would have had any chance if he had so offered himself?" he replied, with a smile, "I think not."
a smith, p. 133, said, "He had voted at three elections, including the last, and that at the two former elections he had received forty guineas, which was the understood price 1206 at Retford." This witness corroborated the statements of the witnesses Giles, Palfreyman, and Hindley, as to the use made of a reference to this practice by Thornton in his canvass; when witness heard him address the freemen at the Vine public house, he (Thornton) said, "They should all get their money, if they voted for Dundas and Wrightson; but if they voted for Wilson, they would not get a farthing." From the Evidence in pp. 135, 136, 141, 142, it appeared, that this witness, William Jackson, had received 20l. through his brother, by the contrivance of Thornton, Foljambe, and one William Burton, as an inducement to him to come back to the party of Dundas and Wrightson. In p. 142, he said, "He took this 20l. to be part of the election money;" and in p. 145, he added, that "He expected to receive 22l. more; that he expected forty guineas for his vote, that being a customary thing at Retford,and he having received it before. He expected to receive the 22l. when all the rest were paid, but he did not apply for it, because there was a petition coming up." He added, that "It was not the custom for the unsuccessful candidates also to pay the forty guineas, but only the winning candidates."
Mr. Thomas Bigsby,
a respectable solicitor at Retford, and partner with the town clerk, spoke of the practice at first with some reluctance, like Foljambe and Fox. He spoke of it accordingly, by reference to general rumour, but said, "He had no doubt of it. Now and then a candidate escaped. Mr. Osbaldeston in part" (which the hon. gentleman said he would afterwards explain), "and Mr. Marsh altogether. The reputation was, and he presumed, that at quiet elections the voters received bribes of that kind, and he had heard of no distinction between quiet elections and others in that respect. That he should think very nearly all the electors availed themselves of the custom, and that forty guineas was the sum he had heard of, as that received by the voters."
The only remaining witness necessary to refer to was William Brown, who, p. 174, stated, that "One John Taylor applied to him for his vote, a few days prior to the election, and said, that the witness would get nothing from sir H. Wilson, so he had better come over to 1207 their party and have the regular thing, which was forty guineas."
§ Francis White,
p. 181, and some other witnesses, spoke to the same effect, but the hon. member thought it would be an unnecessary waste of the time of the House, to make any further quotations from the minutes. In his conception, there was amply sufficient to justify the House in any proceeding it might think fit to take. Upon the evidence he had stated, there could not remain the shadow of a doubt, that the practice referred to in the special Report had long existed at Retford, and that the great majority of the burgesses were corrupted by it. After much diligent inquiry he had only discovered five burgesses who had not accepted this remuneration for their votes; and they were persons who had moved in a higher sphere than the rest. Although the payment of head-money was not strictly and distinctly bribery, yet it had the same result. If not bribery, in some respects it was much worse; for it operated more steadily and uniformly—with a corrupt and demoralizing general influence upon the whole body of the electors, and not merely upon specific and selected individuals. It operated silently and without any effort, or overt-act, on the part of the candidate; the necessity for which, and the danger thence arising, in ordinary bribery, must obviously limit its extent. The practice clearly offered to the elector an inducement to vote for the strongest party, without regard to the qualifications of the candidate; and it had been so employed in the present instance. A body thus corruptly dealing with their franchises could not be a proper or safe depository for the constitutional trust reposed in them. Their limited number and inferior condition in life left them still more open to the mischiefs of which he complained. In all there were about two hundred voters, of whom about one half only were inhabitants of Retford; the remainder residing in London and other parts of the kingdom. The resident voters were of the very lowest class in society. There was not amongst them even a single tradesman of the higher order. They were chiefly inferior shoemakers and shoe-menders, and other minor artizans. The body did not comprise an individual who could, with any sort of propriety, be named as proper to exercise the local magistracy. If ever there was a case for admitting the county magistracy 1208 to concurrent, or rather exclusive jurisdiction, it was this. The House had seen what had been the consequence of the feeble condition of the borough magistracy at the last election; namely, the most frightful disorders, and a necessity for military protection. That, however, was a text for another branch if the subject, not now to be discussed, because it formed no part of the special Report. The present question was, whether the practice of receiving forty guineas at head-money, was sufficiently proved to justify the House in adopting the course which he should venture to recommend. He thought it sufficient for that purpose, that every witness, whether a voter or not, had admitted it as matter of notoriety; and that every witness who was a voter, when asked the question, stated, that he had himself received the election-money, whenever he had voted, except in the case of Mr. Marsh, who had left them in the lurch, and with some qualification in the instance of Mr. Osbaldeston. This gentleman, he was informed, had paid the voters according to a scale of his own, formed with reference to the degree of promptness with which they had promised him. He held in his hand a paper, upon which this payment had been made on the part of Mr. Osbaldeston; and he there found the voters classed as entire-men, half-men, or quarter-men, accordingly as they were, under that arrangement, to receive twenty guineas, ten guineas, or five guineas, a-piece; or, with a cypher against their names, when they were to receive nothing. The authenticity of this paper he could, if necessary, prove at the bar. He mentioned it now, merely to explain what had been stated as to a partial payment by Mr. Osbaldeston. To the evidence which he had quoted from the printed minutes, he might add the decisive inference afforded by a petition recently presented to the House from several burgesses of Retford [see App. to Votes, No. 1796] deprecating any disturbance of their privileges; in which petition, although they mast be, and were obviously, aware of the imputation under which they lay, they did not venture to deny the existence of the practice of receiving head-money, but contented themselves by affirming, "that they never, either directly or indirectly, made any agreement with their candidates, either at the last or former elections, nor had they any promise or offers of reward whatever 1209 from their candidates." In his judgment the charge set forth in the special Report was sufficiently established. Independently of what had been proved, it was notorious throughout the country, that such a custom prevailed at Retford. He would ask any member, in the least acquainted with the place, whether he was not aware of it? Upon the whole, he thought the case was made out, but if the House should, in this instance, as in that of Penryn, deem it necessary to have further testimony, he had been furnished with a mass of supplementary evidence; he would not say more conclusive than that which he had stated, but which must satisfy the nicest scruples of the most incredulous member in the House. To be prepared with this, he had thought it necessary to send a professional gentleman of talent and experience (not to Retford, for he was advised that to send him there would be to expose his life to danger from the violence of the freemen), but into the neighbourhood of the borough. The result had been, that he was in a condition to prove, in the most distinct manner, the payment of election-money at two, three, four, or five, preceding elections to the voters generally, with the qualification before stated, as to the cases of Mr. Osbaldeston and Mr. Marsh, in 1812. He was anxious to save the time and labour of going into an investigation at the bar; but, if the House desired it, he was provided with a list of persons to be examined there, either before a committee of the whole House to further consider the special Report, or in the committee upon a Bill to be brought in. It could scarcely be expected that he should prove the case so closely as to bring the payment home to each individual voter, but if what he had offered, or might further produce at the bar, did not satisfy the House, any gentleman might fix upon a given number of names from the printed list of the burgesses which lay before him—he might name all the A's, B's, and C's, or all the D's, E's, and F's, or adopt any other fanciful selection—and he (Mr. T.) would undertake to prove, that nineteen twentieths of those so named, who had voted at former elections for winning candidates, (always with some exception as to the election of 1812) had received the head-money of forty guineas, or twenty guineas for a single vote. That appeared to have been the established price for a long period. A person of the name of Oldfield, well 1210 known as the author of a work on the Representation of the Country, was employed at Retford by one of the parties, in the election of 1812, which afforded him means of local ascertainment, and gave his account of this borough more authority than his work might be entitled to in other respects. Speaking of the election which took place at Retford, in 1802, he said, "This contest produced as much corruption as ever disgraced the history of an election; the price of votes here has been for the last sixty years [he wrote in 1816], forty guineas a man; but, upon this occasion, one hundred and fifty were given."
He would now state the course which he proposed to pursue. For the present he should content himself with moving a resolution, "That the corrupt state of the Borough of East Retford required the serious attention of the House." To this motion he thought the House would have no difficulty in acceding, while it would afford him an opportunity of ascertaining what its feeling and opinion might be, with respect to any ulterior proceeding. At the same time, it might be uncandid if he did not declare what he should propose, if left to act upon his own views. He should, if the House adopted the resolution he had stated, ask for leave to bring in a bill to exclude the borough of Retford from representation in parliament, and to enable the town of Birmingham to return two members in lieu thereof. He had selected Birmingham as one of the towns which seemed to stand most in need of parliamentary representation, on account of its wealth, trade, and population. Manchester had been appropriated by a noble lord (J. Russell) who had recently given notice of a motion to provide for the representation of that town; while the claims of Leeds and Sheffield were, in a degree, diminished by the additional representation of Yorkshire. His bill would propose the direct transfer of the franchise from Retford to Birmingham. As Retford was unrepresented, and two members were thus deficient in that portion of the legislature which represented England, it would be improper to adopt the course pursued with regard to Penryn; namely, to limit the proceeding to a simple disfranchisement in the first instance, leaving parliament to agree, if it could, as to a proper substitute—indeed, he thought that course inexpedient in any case, but it would be particularly so in 1211 one like this, where the representation of the deprived borough being vacant, the Crown might possibly assert a right to supply the deficiency, by sending a writ to a new town of its own selection. Accordingly, the bill he should propose would provide for the disfranchisement of Retford and the enfranchisement of Birmingham uno flatu. He should propose a town, and not a county; for a county had the advantage of the disfranchisement of Grampound, and the non-representation of several towns of immense commercial importance, was not only considered a grievance, but was, in fact, a practical evil. With respect to the idea of opening the borough to the adjoining hundreds, the ground usually laid for that; namely, that a large proportion of the electors were not corrupt, did not exist in this case. It might be said, that East Retford was a considerable place. According to the last population returns, it contained about two thousand five hundred inhabitants. Including a population adjacent to East Retford, there were in all about four thousand inhabitants. It was, therefore, a very inconsiderable town, in comparison with a great number of others which were not represented in parliament; and, in the present state of the country, certainly, could not be one on which a selection for that privilege would fall. There were, even in Nottinghamshire, eight unrepresented places containing a larger population than East Retford; and, if the franchise were transferred to Birmingham, the county of Warwick would, even then, be still worse provided with representatives, in proportion to its population, than the county of Nottingham would remain. At present, the latter had, in this point of view, double the representation of Warwickshire. If, therefore, all, or the vast majority, of the Retford electors, were in too corrupt a state to be allowed to retain their franchise, it appeared to him, that any other considerable town had as good, or a better, claim than the remaining inhabitants; and certainly better than the freeholders of the adjacent hundreds, who had no pretence whatever, and could not require a double representation. The principal inhabitants of Retford had, indeed, proposed to petition the House to disfranchise the borough; and Mr. Lee, a highly respectable magistrate there, had been engaged in promoting this petition; but the 1212 danger to him and others friendly to it, from the violence of the freemen, whose privileges it might compromise, was such that the parties were intimidated, and the petition was abandoned.
He thought that the plan of opening the borough to the hundreds was absurd and anomalous in every case, but in this it would be altogether gratuitous, unless a particular wish existed in any quarter to bestow upon the duke Newcastle the nomination of two members in that House; for his grace had the prevalent interest and weight in the hundreds adjacent to Retford. Upon the whole, therefore, he trusted the House would think, that, if the electors of Retford were disfranchised, it could not do better than seize such an opportunity for satisfying the anxiety, and necessity for representation, which existed at Birmingham. By taking advantage of such occasions as they arose, and thus gradually supplying one of the great and obvious defects which time had created in the constitution, we should give content to large, and sometimes disturbed, masses of the community, who now thirsted for representation, and considered it unjust, as it was indeed, absurd, in a representative government, to be left without a provision for it. These collected bodies of the population would be much less excitable in troublesome times, and much less disposed to devise political theories, or assert political principles for themselves, if their grievances could be stated and discussed by members of their own in that House. Next, we should, in fact, by giving representation to an immensely important mass of trade, and wealth, and commercial intelligence, be doing that which, he was persuaded, would be acceptable to the country at large, except, indeed, to the radical reformers, who would privately lament that their strong ground was moving from under them. Such a course would also be consonant to the ancient practice of the constitution, which formerly tolerated the discontinuance of decayed boroughs, and the enfranchisement of more prosperous towns; a practice which seemed calculated to meet the varying interests and population of the country. The power which the Crown thus possessed and exercised for centuries, however politically objectionable and dangerous we should now justly deem it, appears, nevertheless, to have been formerly a source of renovation for the 1213 constitution; and, if it were now to be understood, that no such changes should in future take place, even by authority of parliament, that would be, in effect, to inflict upon the constitution a principle of inherent decay and ruin. Happily, parliament never had sanctioned any such principle. Parliaments of Henry 8th and Charles 2nd had added towns and counties to the representation, and even in the last parliament, the franchise had been transferred from Grampound to Yorkshire. We had not yet, indeed, a parliamentary precedent for a transfer from one town to another, but he trusted the case of East Retford would be allowed to furnish a first instance and example. Such a measure would be expedient in itself, harmonize with the ancient practice of the country, add stability to the constitution itself, and give satisfaction to the people at large. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, as a preliminary resolution, "That the corrupt state of the Borough of East Retford required the serious attention of the House."
§ Mr. Ferguson
thought it was impossible for the House to refuse to go into the inquiry; but with respect to transferring the franchise, his mind was not made up on that point. He had certainly a moral conviction of the guilt of the borough, but he had not that judicial knowledge which would enable him to vote for transferring the franchise to another place.
thought the evidence quite sufficient to warrant the disfranchisement of East Retford. The country was greatly indebted to the hon. member for his motion.
§ Mr. D. Barclay,
said, he had opposed the disfranchisement of Penryn, because he thought the proof of corruption had failed, and he would support the present bill, because he thought the evidence was sufficient, if uncontradicted, to justify that measure.
§ Sir J. Mackintosh
concurred, that the evidence given before the committee formed sufficient ground for the introduction of a bill of disfranchisement, unless that evidence should be rebutted.
Lord John Russell
agreed that the evidence would be sufficient to pass the bill, 1214 if it were not contradicted; but at the same time the House ought to grant the borough the opportunity of contradicting it at the bar of the House.
The motion was agreed to. After which Mr. Tennyson moved for leave to bring in a bill "for excluding the borough of East Retford from electing burgesses to serve in parliament, and to enable the town of Birmingham to return two representatives to parliament in lieu thereof.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, he would not oppose the bringing in of the bill, but would reserve his opinion as to whether the borough should be disfranchised, until he should have heard evidence at the bar. He would also refrain from giving any opinion as to the place to which the franchise ought to be transferred.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
would not oppose the bringing in of the bill, but was decidedly of opinion, that the House ought not to rest upon the evidence given in the election committee, but that it was incumbent on those who brought it in to prove their case at the bar of the House. Those who originated the measure of disfranchisement ought, in the first place, to make out a case at the bar, and then give leave to the corporation to answer it.
§ Mr. Ferguson
said, that before the bill passed, evidence ought certainly to be given at the bar, in the only way in which the House could receive evidence. But he thought the jurisdiction of the House very lame, while it remained without the power of taking evidence on oath.
§ Mr. W. Smith
complained of that perversion of constitutional doctrine which required the same nicety in establishing the line of evidence, in the case of electioneering corruption and in the case of a criminal accused for a breach of the laws. What comparison could there be between the crime and punishment of an individual offender against the law, and the disfranchisement of a borough on account of corruption and bribery? The offence and punishment of a private man concerned himself; but a public body held its privileges as a trust to be used beneficially for the public; and, in taking them away for abusing them, no injury was done to any one. These electors were entitled to very little sympathy; for, if the respectable part of them found that the election was carried by corrupt practices, they should have petitioned parliament themselves to correct such practices; instead of which, 1215 they had suffered them to prevail for a long course of time, without taking any notice of them.
§ Mr. Charles Ross
said, that if it was an affair of the gravest importance to bestow the right of voting upon a place which had it not before, it could not be of less importance to take it away from one which now possessed it. Even if the case of corruption should be proved, he did not see why the House should depart, in punishing it, from that practice which had always prevailed, except in one case.
objected to this too rapid progress of reform. He thought that these forced marches would prove counter marches. He would oppose the bill in all its stages, as he had done that of Penryin; and for the same reasons he had resisted "the march of intellect" in the Coventry bill.
§ Sir Charles Forbes
was of opinion, that by far the greater number of the members of that House—he believed nine tenths—obtained their seats by money or by money's worth; and that, if they did not pay in meal, they paid in malt. He who paid his money down for his seat was the most independent member, because he was under no obligation, if otherwise independent, to vote contrary to what he conscientiously thought to be the most proper course. He was perfectly free to vote for those measures, which he himself approved, without consulting the wishes or the views of any person or party. Many of those who got their seats in another way, were bound to vote as they were directed by others; as in the case of Treasury boroughs, and others which were held upon much the same tenure. The consequence was, that when they were called upon to vote on some important questions, they found themselves obliged to resign, because they could not screw their courage to the sticking point of voting in direct contradiction to the dictates of their consciences. Many of his friends had been under the necessity of accepting the Chiltern hundreds, from the cause which he had stated. Boroughs which were represented in that manner were by far the worst. He believed that, in the time of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, a proposition had been suggested, that so much of these boroughs should be struck off on the one side, and so much on the other. As to parliamentary reform, he did not understand what was meant by it. If it meant, that no members were to be 1216 returned except from the purest and most disinterested motives, he was apprehensive they would have but a thin House, and that many places would remain without representatives. As matters stood at this time, he did not look at how the members obtained their seats. He looked at their conduct both in and out of that House, and thought of them accordingly. In short, he looked at measures, and not at men. He remembered that, the first time he came into parliament, he was called upon to serve on a Helston election committee. In that instance, the clearest case of corruption had been made out. That was a case in which the duke of Leeds had interfered, who was clearly proved to have paid to the corporation of Helston 1,500l. for paving and lighting the streets of that borough; which, of course, was so much saved to the corporation. He was then told, that it was a very serious matter to hold up a nobleman as a person guilty of bribery and corruption;but, if these matters were to be thus narrowly looked into, he maintained that, generally speaking, to catch one rogue in ruffles was of much more consequence than to catch ten in rags. Yet no serious notice was taken of this business of Helston; and why should not Helston be disfranchised for corruption as well as Penryn or Retford? What was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. Ever since that time he had set his face against these partial attempts at reform—this mode of punishing people, not because they were guilty, but because they were found out; or, in other words, because they were not so cunning and hypocritical as others were. Let some general plan of reform be brought forward, and then he would consider it; but he could not approve of these partial proceedings. He would vote against this bill, unless he saw good grounds from the evidence to alter his opinion; but if he should see such grounds, he would at once fairly state that he had altered his opinion. He fully agreed, that the question ought to be determined by evidence taken at the bar of the House; which he considered quite as much to be relied upon as evidence taken at the bar of the House; which he considered quite so much to be relied upon as evidence taken on oath before the election committees; for an honest man would tell the truth without any oath, while a rogue was not to be depended on, even when examined on oath.
§ Lord Palmerston
said, he was not at all prepared to sanction the free trade in votes, which the hon. baronet seemed to contend for. He asked, whether anything could more contribute to the views of those who so eagerly contended for theoretical reform, than that the House should be so unwise as to maintain such abuses as this? The evidence before the committee established a primâ facie case of gross and general corruption; which not only justified, but required, some proceeding on the part of the House. The case of Penryn was different from this; for there only a small portion of the borough was corrupt; while here the whole borough was corrupt. As for the case of Helston, two bills had been brought into the House on that subject, but had been lost in the other House.
Leave was given to bring in the bill.
It was accordingly brought in, and read a first time.