HC Deb 26 February 1819 vol 39 cc712-7
Mr. Atkins

Wright informed the House, that the select committee appointed to try the merits of the petition complaining of an undue return for the borough of Penryn, had determined, "That Henry Swann, esq. is not duly elected a burgess to serve in this present parliament for the borough of Penryn:—That John Lavicount Anderdon, esq. is not duly elected a burgess to serve in this present parliament for the said borough:—That the petition of the said John Lavicount Anderdon, esq. did not appear to the committee to be frivolous or vexatious:—That the opposition of the said Henry Swann, esq., to the said petition, did not appear to the said committee to be frivolous or vexatious." The hon. member added, that he was directed to inform the House, that the House had come to the following Resolutions:—1." That it appears to this committee, that Henry Swann, esq., was guilty of bribery at the last election for the borough of Penryn, and is thereby incapacitated to serve in parliament at such election. 2. That it appears, by evidence before this committee, that John Goodeve, Henry Durnsford, and Abraham Winn, were guilty of corrupt practices to influence the last election for the borough of Penryn. 3. That it appears, by evidence before this committee, that Henry Carter, Thomas Rosman, John Gill, Francis Major, James Cock, Charles Luckie Skinner, William Trathan, and William Lapshire, received bribes to induce then) to give their votes at the last election for the borough of Penryn."—The hon. member then moved, "That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the clerk of the Crown, to make out a new writ for the electing of a burgess to serve in this present parliament for the borough of Penryn, in the room of Henry Swann, esq., whose election has been determined to be void."

Sir C. Burrell

regretted that he felt it his duty to oppose the motion for issuing a writ for an election for this borough; but it appeared to him that the case was one which required that the minutes of the evidence, and proceedings of the committee, ought to be laid before the House. He understood that lists had been given in on each side, containing each the names of above one hundred individuals who had been guilty of bribery. It also appeared by the report, that three persons, employed as agents at the last election, had been guilty of corrupt practices. On the whole, therefore, he thought it impossible for the House to form a just opinion on this case, until it was in possession of the minutes of the committee, and that this should be done before the new writ was issued, or any other proceeding adopted. He concluded by moving an amendment, by leaving out from the word "do," to the end of the question, in order to add the words, "not issue his warrant to the clerk of the Crown, to make out a new writ for the electing of a burgess to serve in this present parliament for the borough of Penryn, until the House shall have proceeded to take the said report into further considetion," instead thereof.

Mr. Holford

said, it was not usual to suspend the issue of a new writ, unless on very evident grounds for doing so. The report did not convey such a general accusation of corruption on the part of the electors as should, in his opinion, induce the House to adopt the measure suggested.

Mr. C. Harvey

said, that the lists of voters guilty of bribery had been issued by each party, with the view of disqualifying any further votes on behalf of either party.

Mr. Carew

said, that the bribery had been so notorious that notices were issued by each party, stating that votes given to the other would be thrown away. It also appeared that the three agents who had been found guilty of corrupt practices were contractors for the borough. Un- der these circumstances, he thought the House should pause before the writ was issued.

A Member of the Committee, whose name we could not learn, said that a strong feeling existed in the minority of the committee, that there was in the transaction sufficient ground for disfranchising the borough, but they had bowed to the greater experience of other gentlemen. In his opinion, the House could not adopt a wiser or a better measure, than when the great mass of the electors of any borough was found to be corrupt, to disfranchise it. Nothing would be better calculated to tranquillize the intemperate agitation that existed on the subject of parliamentary reform. For himself, he was a moderate reformer, and he most strongly recommended, that when the electors of any borough were proved to have sold that birthright and privilege by which this country was so happily distinguished from the nations of the continent, they should be deprived of it; and that it should be transferred to any of those great towns, such as Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, or Manchester, at present unrepresented. Such a proceeding would do great good; and would put an end to the complaints of those misguided persons out of doors, who said that the House looked with indifference on corruption [Hear, hear!].

Sir J. Newport

thought that, although the House in the first instance very properly delegated their right of inquiry into the conduct of an election to a committee, yet that when that committee reported that the sitting member was disqualified on the ground of bribery, and that other persons were implicated both as the agents, and as the objects of that bribery, a primâ facie case was made out for laying on the table the minutes of the evidence on which such report was presented. He perfectly agreed with the hon. gentlemen who had just sat down, that the House should effect a reform in all cases in which general corruption was manifest. He was sure the House would consult the public interest and their own character by looking narrowly into such cases; and thereby showing the people, that while they opposed those wild schemes, which, tended to revolution, they were anxious to preserve the representation in a pure and constitutional state. The House had on former occasions, exercised the power which he had described, and he hoped they would persevere in exercising it whenever the occasion called upon them to do so.

Mr. Atkins Wright

observed, that the number of electors in the borough of Penryn amounted to between two and three hundred, while the cases of corruption and bribery adverted to in the report of the committee, were but eleven in number, only eight of which were the cases of voters. He believed it had never been the custom of the House to disfranchise any place in which the existence of general corruption had not been proved.

Lord Castlereagh

concurred in the wish to do every thing for the purpose of preserving the purity of the representation. In order, however, that he might be enabled to form a judgment on the particular case before the House, he wished to be informed by the Chair, if it was usual to take such a step as that proposed, of delaying the issuing of the writ, when no special report of general corruption had been made by a committee? If it was usual for the House to regulate its proceedings by the report of the committee, he did not conceive that the report just presented would justify such a step. If, on the other hand, the House had taken up cases in which no special report had been made by the committee, it was now in the situation of having been told by a member of the committee, that there was matter on the minutes which, if produced, might induce the House to take some ulterior proceeding. It was desirable, therefore, that the House should know what had been the practice, as no duty of the House was more important than to take care that the number of its members should always be as complete as possible.

The Speaker,

in answer to the appeal to his opinion made by the noble lord, whether it was usual to delay the issuing of the writ, except on a case stated in the report of the committee, said certainly not, But that did not get rid of the difficulty. A special report had been made, and it was for the House to estimate its importance and weight. If it was considered to involve, the disfranchisement of the whole borough, by a statement of general corruption, the House was in the habit of proceeding, in such cases, in the manner suggested by the hon. mover of the amendment. If on the contrary, it was clear that no part of; the report referred to the borough at large, but only to individuals, he was not prepared to say that, in such circumstances, the House had ever adopted the course suggested. But he spoke on this subject merely from recollection, and could wish to have an opportunity of further inquiry. The line he took to be this:—It being the first object of the House, as had been justly observed by the noble lord, to complete the number of representatives, it would not adopt a measure calculated to delay the attainment of that object, without sufficient reason, founded on the special report of a committee. Such had been the case with respect to Helston. There might be other cases of a different description, but they did not occur to him.

Lord Castlereagh

thought that, after what had fallen from the Chair, it would be desirable to postpone the debate that there might be time to consider the subject. He therefore moved, that the debate be adjourned till Monday.

Mr. Wynn

instanced several cases, among which were those of Shoreham, Aylesbury, Stockport, &c, in which the House had proceeded to throw open the boroughs in question, but said he believed that, in all those cases, the step had been taken on the motion of the chairman of the committee, made at the desire of the committee, and founded on the statement that bribery in the place in question existed to such an extent as to call for the interference of the House. At the same time, he would not say that a similar step might not be taken at the suggestion of an individual member of the committee. He approved of the suggestion of the noble lord to adjourn the debate, in order to give an opportunity for inquiring into the subject. On a subject which involved the greatest stretch of power which the House possessed, the utmost jealousy should be shown; and no place entitled to have a representative in parliament should be permitted for a single moment to remain unrepresented. At the same time he perfectly agreed with an hon. gentleman, that the most useful species of reform was the exercise of that great power, in the disfranchisement of such boroughs as evinced general corruption. Whenever such a proceeding had been resorted to, it had produced the best effects; and he trusted that the precedents of former times in that respect would be strictly adhered to.

Sir J. Newport

said, that the lenity of the House had been extended to this bo- rough some few years since; upon that occasion, a certain number of persons had been charged with corrupt practices, but instead of the indulgence exercised producing a good effect, this same borough, and probably the same persons, were accused of a similar proceeding.

Mr. Peter Moore

said, he had been given to understand, that in this case the bribery on both sides had been so general, that neither of the candidates durst propose the administration of the bribery oath; for if either of them had proposed it, he would have been hunted out of the place. He would refer to any member of the committee, whether that was not the fact? In such a case, the House was bound to send for the minutes, for the purpose of inquiring further into the business. He had, more than once, witnessed the good effects resulting from depriving boroughs of their franchise on account of bribery, and transferring it to the adjoining hundreds, so as to put the bribery on a larger scale. Though the special report of the committee in this case was not so full as it might have been, and as it ought to have been, yet he thought, in that special report, there were sufficient grounds for warranting the suspension of the writ.

Mr. Holford

wished to observe, that he believed no member of the committee was of opinion, that there was any proof of bribery having been committed by the petitioner.

Mr. C. Harvey

said, there was no charge against the petitioner. The charge was against the sitting member, who had been proved to be disqualified by the report. He would set the hon. gentleman right, as to what he had said respecting the bribery oath. There was no such thing: the charge was confined to individual bribery, and if any thing of that kind had come out, the committee would have gone into it.

The Speaker

said, that if any hon. member entertained an opinion, that on all occasions where the committee had made a special report, the writ had been delayed, it was a mistake. The writ had never been delayed but in cases where there was supposed to be sufficient reason for disfranchising the borough.

The debate was then adjourned till Monday; and, on the motion of Mr. Wynn, the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Committee were ordered to be laid before the House.