HC Deb 07 June 1809 vol 14 cc924-8

The house having gone into a committee on this bill, and several clauses having been negatived without any observation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

proposed a clause, providing that nothing in the bill should extend to any legal and bona fide sale of lands, tenements, or hereditaments. The clause being brought up, and read a first time,

Mr. W. Smith

objected to it, and contended, that to any stranger it would appear to have no connection with the object of the bill; and that such a person would be apt to imagine either that he had mistaken the title of the bill, or that it had crept accidentally into the bill; the object, however, of the clause, though apparently irrelevant, was sufficiently obvious. He concluded by moving as an amendment, which he would beg leave to propose in the form of a separate clause, That where as by the 40th of the king, in the Irish parliament, commissioners had been appointed for the purpose of recompensing the claims of the proprietors of places, ceasing to. return persons to serve in parliament; and that it was probable that similar claims may be hereafter made to the imperial parliament in case of the abolition of boroughs; be it therefore enacted, That no such claims shall be admitted, unless the person or persons claiming shall swear they have not, directly or indirectly, been guilty of bribery or corruption.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

objected to the clause, and thought it more inapplicable with regard to the object of the bill than the former clause to which the hon. gent. had so strongly objected. That clause had a more general application than the one proposed by the hon. gent., which applied chiefly, if not solely, to burgage tenures. He thought it would be advisable to defer any discussion or proposition with respect to those burgage tenures until the question affecting the principle of those burgage tenures was fairly before the house.

Mr. Tierney

said, that the right hon. gent. seemed to be of opinion that he had a right to challenge those who objected to the wordin[...] nature of the clause to sub- stitute in its place, something better. Now, however it might be thought reasonable that those who objected should also amend, still he was of opinion with many honest country gentlemen who looked with laudable jealousy to the proceedings within that house, that it was in such cases the duty of himself and others, to object, while he left it to those who pressed what was thought objectionable, to prove to the committee that it was not so. He said this much to shew, that the objecting to any proposition in that house did not necessarily call upon the person objecting to remedy the evil of which he complained, because many an honest sound judging man might see gross errors in any measure proposed, without being able at the moment to apply the remedy.

After some further observations from the Attorney-General, sir John Anstruther, lords Porchester and Milton, the clause originally proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was agreed to without a division.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer brought up his clause for levying certain penalties on the person procuring his return by any express covenant to give offices.

Lord H. Petty

stated his objection to the clause as now read. He contended, that in place of remedying corruption it went to concentrate it. It would give the whole management of that species of influence to the Treasury. Now, next to putting a stop to the principle and practice of corruption, the next wise thing was to have it as diffuse and general as possible. Upon the construction of this clause would depend whether he should support or oppose the bill, convinced that at all times it was better not to legislate than to pass provisions which it was intended not to make efficient. He concluded with moving, as an amendment, that the word "express" be left out.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not suppose that, after the discussion of last night, any new light could be thrown upon it. It did not however appear, that if it should be left open to imply an agreement, juries would always presume that the grant of the office was in consequence of the vote given.

Sir John Anstruther

considered the attack of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the juries of this country the greatest libel he had ever heard uttered, when he said that juries were not to be entrusted with the character of men in public situations. Where was the express agreement in the measure which gave origin to this bill? There was certainly a transfer of patronage in that case intended, although no express engagement appeared on the face of any instrument. Was it intended to realize every artifice which led to the same effect, and only inflict penalties upon the bungler?

Mr. Lyttleton

stated, that if the word 'express' was continued, the very principle of the bill was altered. If it should be continued, he felt it was his duty to vote against the bill itself.

The Speaker

stated his wish on the first view to extend the provisions of this bill to the purchase of seats in parliament, as well by office as by money. The great rule was to strike at the prominent and most flagrant points of offence. Amongst those, most certainly, was the proof of an express contract. These he would state, always impressed him with the conviction, that this species of traffic, whether carried on by implied or express covenants, was an offence against the law of parliament, and in his opinion punishable as a misdemeanor at common law. It was fully within the power of the house to provide any future enactments against any future offences, which in the course of the operation of this measure might subsequently arise.

Mr. Ponsonby

, with considerable diffidence in his own opinion, when opposed to the very high authority of the Speaker, still contended that the insertion of the term 'express' in a declaratory act of parliament conveyed the interpretation, that the penalty attached to express agreements, and that all of an indirect or implied nature, came not within its operation.

The Speaker

considered that the Resolutions of that house in 1779 bore fully upon a traffic carried on by an implied contract, and therefore he saw no reason to oppose the proposed clause as now worded.

Mr. Ponsonby

considered the Resolutions of 1779 not efficacious to redress an evil which all admitted to exist, at which the house itself connived and of which, with the circumstances known to all members, they would have been even greater hypocrites than Mr. John Bowles, when he wrote his books, to affect an ignorance.

Mr. Tierney

declared, that since he had first the honour of a seat in that house, he never heard a speech with greater pleasure than that of the right hon. the Speaker, whose authority stood so deservedly high in that house. He did think that the house after that speech would have felt it its duty to take up the present measure with sincerity and zeal. That zeal and sincerity the ministers had evinced, by setting themselves in opposition to every wholesome provision of the bill. Upon a question which ought to be considered without any reference to party feelings; the government of the country had exerted a most successful hostility. Upon them rested the responsibility of that disappointment which the country must feel.—By their conduct, they would in the ensuing summer, bring the character of that house before the tribunal of public meetings, in a manner which all disposed to venerate the character and support the dignity of parliament must regret. He declared, that if the clause now proposed remained so worded, he should be obliged to vote entirely against the bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

appealed to the honourable proposer of the bill (Mr. Curwen) whether he felt that ministers had endeavoured to defeat the object of the measure?

Mr. Curwen

, without imputing any such intentions to government, still regretted that the most material points were negatived, and that the disposition of the home was not friendly to the principle of the measure. He conjured the government, in place of anticipating guards for themselves, to yield to the opinion of the country; and not suffer it to think, that where its influence was to be affected there was nothing done.

Mr. Bankes and sir S. Romilly

both argued, that the insertion of the term wholly vitiated and defeated the object of the proposed remedy. It was stated by the latter, that in no other legislative enactment such a term as "express" could be found.

The Attorney General

vindicated the conduct of his right hon. friend, during the progress of this bill, and gave his support to the clause as it then stood.

Mr. Adam

spoke in favour of the amendment, which he thought necessary, to guard against impunity to those who gave or accepted bribes after election. He had several clauses to propose, which he should postpone bringing forward until the third reading. As to the grant of offices, the fact was, that the generality of the close boroughs were corrupted by such grants, and therefore it was the more necessary to make a provision upon this subject.

Mr. Wortley Stuart

thought any member would be liable to vacate his seat who should happen to procure a place for any man who voted in his favour, if the word "express" were omitted, and therefore he would oppose the amendment.

A division took place, and the numbers were:

For the Amendment 43
Against it 78
Majority 35
The remaining clauses of the bill were gone through and agreed to, and the report was ordered to be received on Friday.