HC Deb 29 January 1819 vol 39 cc146-9
Mr. Denman

said, he held in his hand a petition containing serious charges against a, person of elevated rank. It complained, of a breach of the privileges of that House, by the interference of a peer of parliament in the election for the city of Oxford. It did not allege an undue return, but that the duke of Marlborough had been guilty of a violation of the rights of his majesty's subjects, by various illegal acts, committed for the purpose of influencing an election. The petitioners were persons of most respectable character, who had taken no part in the election; and he Conceived that they were justified in their application to have their statement referred to a committee of privileges. He now moved, therefore, that the petition be read.

Lord Charles Spencer Churchill

declared, that he had no wish to oppose the motion of the hon. and learned gentleman. From his own actual knowledge of the facts to which the petition referred, and from other circumstances, he felt the utmost confidence that the conduct of his noble relation would, upon inquiry, prove to be utterly undeserving of the imputations cast upon it. He should defer all further remarks till a future opportunity.

Mr. Wynn,

as the petition did not complain of an undue return, and (as he understood from the hon. and learned gentleman) it did not proceed from person claiming the right of voting for the city of Oxford, had no doubt that it ought not to be referred to an election committee. But he also wished to suggest to the House, that it might be very inconvenient to receive such a petition at all, until the period had elapsed within which a petition complaining of an undue return for the place in question might be presented; because, if it were referred to the consideration of a committee of privileges, the report of that Committee might indirectly determine that question, respecting which there was yet time for a petition to be presented; namely, the validity of the re turn. He would put the case of an individual favoured by administration, who might think it more practicable to obtain his object, not by a reference to an election committee, but by a petition such as the present, which might allow him to canvass the House at large. On these grounds, be strongly recommended the hon. and learned gentleman to adopt the course of postponing his motion for the reception of the petition, until after the fourteen days had elaped which were allowed for the presentation of petitions complaining of undue returns. After that period, there could be no objection what ever to its reception, provided no petition complaining of an undue return for the city! of Oxford was presented.

Mr. Denman

expressed himself grateful for the advice of the hon. gentleman, but begged to state, that he was wrong in supposing that the petitioners were not freemen of Oxford, or were not qualified to vote. It appeared also to him, that the hon. gentleman had carried the effect of the act of parliament too far. It might be desirable that it should, but the law in its present state did not exclude any person from complaining to the House of a breach of privilege within the fourteen days. Every subject had, therefore, a right to expect that his complaint should be immediately considered. He thought, too, that the consequences of a report by a committee of privileges were somewhat exaggerated, when it was supposed that it would necessarily embarrass or mislead fifteen gentlemen, acting upon oath, whose duty it might afterwards be to advert to the same circumstances. Under these considerations, and with a full knowledge of the respectability of the petitioners) he did not feel himself justified in consenting to any delay.

Mr. Wynn

observed, that he had understood the hon. and learned gentleman to have said, at first, that the petitioners had no local connexion with the city of Oxford. He felt, however, the difficulty which he had already urged to be so strong, that as the report of a committee of privileges must, if made, lie on the table till the fourteen days were expired, and as therefore there was no reason for dispatch, he should take the sense of the House upon the question of receiving this petition.

Mr. Tierney

was of opinion, that the House should not, in the first instance, refuse to receive a petition of which they knew no more, generally, than that it complained of a gross breach of the privileges of that House. When it was received it might be postponed, or otherwise dealt with. Of the petition he know nothing. His personal feelings were unquestionably in favour of he the noble duke who was the subject of it; but, as a member of parliament he felt it to be his duty to support the reception of the petition.

Lord C. Churchill

repeated his solicitude, that the allegations of the petition should be thoroughly investigated.

Mr. Wynn

would not object to the metion for laying the petition on the table, but if it were pressed any farther at present, he must decidedly oppose it.

The petition was then. It alleged various acts of bribery on the part of the duke of Marlborough, in furnishing entertainment, gifts, and rewards to voters at the late election for the city of Oxford, in order to procure the return of general St. John as one of its representatives in parliament. The petitioners offered to make good their charges before a committee of privileges, and in such case, prayed that the House would afford that relief to the realm and to the petitioners as in their wisdom should seem meet. On the motion, that the petition do lie on the table.

Mr. Wynn

said, that now be had heard the petition read, he entertained considerable doubts whether it was not in itself an election petition. It appeared to him, that if any petition stated facts, which, if true, would render an election null and void, and that petition came from persons entitled to vote, it was to all intents and purposes an election petition. This was a petition from freemen, and it complained of an act, bribery, which, if it had really taken place, would render the election in question null and void. If the House were of opinion that it was an election petition, a day must be fixed for taking it into consideration. If they entertained any doubt on the subject, it might be expedient to adjourn the consideration of it to some future day.

The Speaker

observed, that the House would see that this was a matter of great importance. If the House were clearly of opinion that it was an election petition, the regular course would be to withdraw it for the purpose of again presenting it in that form, to be taken into consideration in the usual way. If they were not satisfied on the subject, the most judicious way would be to adjourn the debate, to give honourable members an opportunity to look into the petition and to make up their minds. The words used in the petition were extremely strong, and he confessed he thought the House would find it most convenient not to decide off hand upon it.

On the motion of Mr. Wynn, the further debate on the question was adjourned to Monday.