HC Deb 01 February 1819 vol 39 cc192-4

The adjourned debate on the motion made on the 28th of January, "That the Petition do lie on the table," being resumed,

Sir Arthur Piggott

rose to say a few words on the petition from certain inhabitants of the city of Oxford, presented on a former evening, which complained of the interference of the duke of Marlborough in the election of representatives for that city in parliament. He observed, that as this petition had stated that 2,500l. had been expended by the noble duke to secure the election of general St. John; and as it also mentioned other specific acts of corruption, the House had only one course left them to pursue. The Grenville act expressly declares, that when any petition, complaining of an undue election and return, shall be presented to the House, it shall be referred to a committee gifted with sundry powers, which are afterwards described. Now the petition before the House complained both of an undue election and an undue return, and therefore the House had no discretionary power regarding the manner in which it was to be treated. He did not mean to deny to the House the power of punishing offenders and vindicating its privileges, either by its own acts, or by instituting suits at law; but the present petition fell under a particular act, according to the provisions of which its merits must be tried. It would therefore be impossible for the House to accede to the present motion, which was, that the petition do lie on the table: but should that motion be withdrawn, as he trusted it would, then the regular order would be made as usual in cases of petitions complaining of undue returns.

Mr. Denman

said, that after the consideration he had given this subject since he had presented the petition, he was ready to view it in the same light as the hon. and learned gentleman. He therefore wished to withdraw the petition, for the purpose of enabling the petitioners to make their own election of the course they should take.

Mr. Bankes

concurred with the hon. and learned gentlemen, that the House could not properly take cognizance of the petition in the manner it was presented, since it was, to all intents and purposes, an election petition.

The Speaker

observed, that the act of parliament said, that when an election, petition had been presented, an order should be made for its consideration on some particular day, and the parties prohibited from withdrawing it. As no order of the kind had yet been made out, the petition might still be withdrawn, and another presented before Thursday.

Mr. Wynn

said, that he persevered in his original opinion, that the petition could not be considered in any other light than as an election petition. The facts stated by the petitioners, if true, must go to affect the return of the member in whose behalf the noble duke was alleged to have interfered. If, therefore, such a complaint was to be considered in the light of a breach of privilege, and was referred to the committee of privileges, the example would operate so, that every other complaint affecting the return of members, and many of which might be considered breaches of privilege, would be referred to that committee, instead of the select committee, with powers to examine upon oath pursuant to the Grenville act. Parliament and the country had, before the passing of that act, pronounced its opinion on the incompetency of the former course, and on the universal confusion that attended its continuance.

Mr. C. Tennyson

contended, that the petition was not an election petition, but merely called on the House to vindicate its own privileges. The facts asserted could not affect the return of the hon. member for Oxford, unless a connexion was proved between him and the noble duke, so as to show that the latter had been his agent. He was convinced that the language of the petition was so framed as to avoid bringing the return into question. If that was the intention of the petitioners, to refer the petition to a select committee would make it fall to the ground, as they would not enter into the cognizances required. He thought it therefore desirable, that it should be referred to a committee of privileges. An election committee would not be bound to make any report; and, in a case like the present, it was of importance that a report should be produced. It would be referring the question to a fair test, if the House would enquire whether in case his hon. and learned friend had not presented this petition until the fourteen days for the reception of election petitions had elapsed, it would have closed its doors upon it as an election petition. He thought the House would then have received it, and accordingly that it should now be referred to a committee of privileges. If any other course were taken, he plainly saw, that the privileges of the House would remain unvindicated, and the complaint of the petitioners unredressed.

Mr. Bathurst

said, he had no desire to prolong the discussion; but there was one observation of the hon. member who preceded him, to which it was necessary to advert. It seemed to be his opinion, that unless a petition was couched in certain technical terms, it was not to be considered as an election petition, and of course not to be referred to a select committee, in conformity with the act of the 10th of the king. The principle and practice were wholly different, as it was the substance of the allegations that gave a character to the petition. In the case of the petition of Mr. Home Tooke, many members were inclined to view it. in the light of a libel upon the House, and to treat it as such; but as it adverted to an undue return of the silting members for Westminster, it was decided to be an election petition. Enough had been stated in the present petition to accuse the noble duke of being an agent for others. Corruption and bribery were alleged, and if such allegations were proved before an election committee, the election would be reported to be void. It was not for him to say what course the House should pursue, if the question were brought before them properly as a breach of privilege. The present was no question of discretion: the law was imperative upon the course to be pursued: the petition must go before that tribunal which the law had marked out, and could not be withdrawn.

The question, that the petition do lie on the table, was then negatived. The Speaker then observed, that in order to render the proceedings of the House on the petition intelligible, it would be convenient that the motion should be preceded on the Journals by an explanatory Resolution, viz.—"That the said petition comes within the description of a petition, the proceedings upon which are regulated by the several acts passed for the regulation of the trials of controverted elections, or returns of members to serve in parliament," Mr. Bankes moved a resolution to that effect, which was carried in the affirmative; and the petition, being an election one, was ordered to be taken into consideration on the 9th of March.