HC Deb 23 March 1804 vol 1 cc1011-6

The report of the committee on the Aylesbury election was taken into consideration. The first resolution, charging Mr. Bent with bribery, was agreed to. The second, relative to the system of corruption, was left open to the House to found any measure upon. Upon coming to the resolution in which the name of John Rawbone is inserted among those implicated in the charge of bribery,

The Marquis of Titchfield

rose, and stating his opinion that sufficient proof did not appear to sustain the charge against this man, he moved that his name should be omitted.

Mr. C. Wynne

said, that he was a member of the committee appointed to try this case, in which it appeared that John Raw-bone was present at a table, when another person received a bribe, and this in consequence of a previous invitation. The committee, therefore, felt it their duty to report his name, leaving it to the House to decide whether his presence upon the occasion alluded to should be considered an assent to the act, and a participation of the guilt.

The Master of the Rolls

thought that it would be extremely wrong, upon the grounds stated by the hon. member, to institute any such prosecution against the subject of this motion, as that which took place in the Hchuster case.—The motion was agreed to.

Sir G. Cornwall

rose, agreeably to notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill to prevent bribery and corruption in the election of representatives for the borough of Aylesbury. The hon. Baronet observed upon the scandalous system of corruption which prevailed at Aylesbury during the last election. A number of the voters not being satisfied with two candidates, deputed some of their body to search for a third, whom they found out, and from whom they received a certain sum of money, as a reward for their support at the election. This had appeared in evidence before the committee, and he, as their chairman, had been appointed by the almost unanimous voice of the members, not to move for the disqualification of the voters concerned in the bribery, nor for their prosecution, but to move for leave to bring in a bill for preventing of bribery and corruption in the election of members to serve in Parliament for the borough of Aylesbury.

The Marquis of Titchfield

conceived the object of the bill to be to throw open the borough, and as such he highly disapproved of it. He had no objection to any proceeding against the guilty persons, but he trusted that Parliament would never consent to infringe the rights of above 300 electors for this borough, merely upon the ground that, according to the report of the committee, of which the hon. Baronet was chairman, 50 voters had been implicated in bribery. He hoped that no such attempt, at disqualification would ever be countenanced in that House; and feeling that the idea ought not to be entertained, he should vote against the motion.

Mr. C. Wynne

begged to set his noble friend right, as the corruption was much more extensive than he had stated; for although the names of only 50 persons were mentioned, not less than 200 electors were proved to have accepted bribes. This case was, indeed, so distinguished for open profligacy, that he had never heard of any thing at all like it. It was as unblushing as if the bellman had been sent round the town to offer a bribe to any elector that would accept it; and those bribes were proved to have been distributed by the supporters of each of the contending parties. He did not, therefore, conceive that any grounds could exist to render it more strongly incumbent on the legislature to interpose.

Mr. Rose

said, that from the depositions of Wilson, a man who was very well disposed to evade the facts, as the House was aware, it appeared that above 200 of the electors of this borough had accepted bribes; that they were all collected in a room, on the table of which there was at one end a bowl of punch, and at the other a bowl of guineas, from which each man had his douceur; that of the 270 who supported Mr. Bent, only 50 votes were free votes. This was evidence sufficient to convict those, men before a jury: and, with such evidence before gent, could they, he would ask, consistently with their own character, or indeed with common decency, consent to reject a bill which had for its object to prevent the recurrence of similar corruption.

Sir John Newport

stated, that the letter of invitation to the third candidate was signed by 200 electors, each of whom covenanted for and received his bribe. It was the custom among the electors of this borough to demand Christmas boxes of their representatives, and, to enforce the payment of them, they say, that they shall always have a third candidate at the election, in order to enhance their own value. They had become discontented with the old candidates at the last election, and they contrived to find a third, of whom they made use to plunder the other two and himself also. It appeared, that in addition to the other guilt proved against those gent, of Aylesbury, that many of them went to each of the opposing parties, and promised their support. As they could not vote for more than two candidates, they of course meant to trick the third. When the third candidate arrived at Aylesbury, pursuant to the invitation already referred to, his carriage was dragged through the town, and at the house he stopped, all the voters inclined to sell their support to him were assembled, none being admitted but persons qualified to vote, and each received two guineas. The hon. Baronet, after commenting upon the turpitude of such conduct, observed, that in his judgment the House should be happy to avail itself of such cases to throw open those boroughs, and thus to advance towards that pure representation of the people, which some gents, had proposed to attain by other means that were not consonant with the free spirit of our constitution. This appeared to him to be the method by which Parliament might purify the representation of the people in that House; and he declared, therefore, that he never gave a vote with more sincere satisfaction than that he felt in supporting the motion under discussion,

Mr. Nicholas Calvert

approved of the motion, as he considered this to be one of those jobbing boroughs, all of which he should be happy to see thrown open. There any man, who had a few thousands to spend, might, however unknown to, or unconnected with the place, or however exceptionable in character, contrive, by a judicious application of that sum, to obtain his election. In such boroughs, from what he heard, he was disposed to believe, that there was generally an understanding between the partizans of the old and new candidates, the policy of both of whom it always was, and for obvious reasons, to create a contest. The only practicable way, as it struck him, of removing such scandalous artifices, was by opening these boroughs.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it was enough for him to know that gross bribery had been committed in the borough of Aylesbury; that a select committee had, upon grave investigation, decided that such was the case, and had in consequence reported such proceedings to the House. He must think it incumbent upon him to vote in support of a measure, in the first instance, which purported to go to the prevention of a repetition of such practices. But he did not mean it to be understood, that by such vote he held himself pledged to the support of this or that measure: on the contrary, he positively and unequivocally declared, that he did not bind himself to any thing more than the support of a bill with a title such as the present, reserving to himself to express his opinion, whatever it might be, without any restraint whatever, in an ulterior stage of the business. Indeed, he confessed that there was some degree of' doubt upon his mind with respect to the present case, as Robert Dupree, Esq, the witting member, had a charge laid against him, which was different in the case of the Cricklade and Shoreham elections. With the resolutions before them, which the House had received, he thought that they must see the propriety of admitting the bill which was then proposed.

Mr. Hurst

declared, in the most distinct terms, that he thought it becoming the dignity of the House that they should adopt some measure for the assertion of its own rights, and for the preservation of the freedom of election, in an instance where they were so flagrantly violated. But he could not, at the same time, refrain from expressing his disapprobation of a principle which had been laid down in the speech of the hon. gent, who said that the number of corrupt voters was not necessary to be looked to, for that he thought it was sufficient that the existence of, bribery within the borough was proved, in order to make him see the necessity of adopting a parliamentary regulation, to prevent the recurrence of such a case hereafter. Now he was of opinion, that the bribery or corruption of any small portion of the inhabitants of any place could by no means warrant the House in taking upon them to interfere with the manner of voting within that district. In the present case, it was manifest that a regular system of corruption had been adopted and acted upon to a very great extent. It was, therefore, an act which the House owed to itself and to the constitution, to receive a bill for the future regulation of elections in such a place, at least so far as to prevent a repetition of such disgraceful practices. As to the internal merits of the bill, how far its contents went to prevent the evil complained of, or whether it might not go too far, he did not mean to inquire in the present stage of the business, but should declare his sentiments, unfettered by any pledge or promise, at a future period, in the same manner as the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared that it was his intention to do. The cases of the Shoreham and the Cricklade elections he thought by no means similar to the present.

The Master of the Rolls

expressed himself glad that no steps were suggested to be taken by the House to prosecute the individuals implicated, as he should consider such a measure inexpedient. By Agreeing to the introduction of the bill, he did not pledge himself as to its principle; respecting which he should reserve himself for the second reading.

Mr. C. Wynne

adverted to the cases of Cricklade and Shoreham, where he said the elections had been conducted with the greatest purity since those boroughs had been thrown open.

Sir R. Buxton

observed, that at the time when the Attorney General was instructed to proceed in the case of the borough of Cricklade, it was one of the most corrupt within the kingdom; since it had been made an open borough, it was as free and pure as any county in G. Britain. He was no friend to innovation; but he believed that if the House was to take into its consideration to amend the state of the borough representation throughout the kingdom, it would contribute much to the honour of the House, and the stability of our system.—The question was put, any leave granted to bring in the bill.

Sir G. Cornwall

moved that a new writ should not be issued for the election of a member for the borough of Aylesbury until the 27th of April.—Ordered.