HC Deb 01 March 1819 vol 39 cc736-9

The order of the day being read, for renewing the adjourned debate on the amendment proposed to be made to the question, "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,"

The Speaker

said, that before the House proceeded to the adjourned debate, it might be convenient to them to know in what state of forwardness the minutes of evidence were which had been Ordered to be printed. From their length he did not think they would be in the hands of members before Thursday. The House would, therefore see what time might elapse before members were put in possession of the information which might be necessary on the subject. With respect to the question of suspending the issuing of writs upon special reports, he had before expressed what had occurred to him at the moment. Since then he had looked into all the cases since the year 1770, and from these it appeared, that in all cases where reports were made, charging bribery and corruption upon a number of electors, the issuing of the writ was suspended until the House had before them the minutes of evidence taken before the committee. In the case of Ilchester, indeed, the report charged some individuals with bribery, but did not call for any general resolution. In that case the House ordered the new writ, and directed the attorney-general to prosecute the offenders for bribery.

Sir C. Burrell

was of opinion that it would be more convenient if the House did not proceed with the consideration of the question until the minutes of evidence were before them. He was the more anxious for this, as he had heard, that the evidence of one witness was objected to before the committee; and so nicely balanced were the votes, that it was only rejected by the casting vote of the chairman. In order to show the spirit which prevailed in this borough, he would beg to have the report of a committee which had sat in 1807, to examine the allegations of a petition against the return which had then been made for it.

The clerk then read the report of the committee. It was dated Feb. 4th, 1807, and stated, that sir C. Hawkins, the sitting member, was unduly elected, and that Henry Swann, esq. was one of the sitting members, and that John Trevanion, esq. ought to have been returned as the other member. The committee also passed a resolution that sir C. Hawkins had been guilty of bribery, and that several electors of the borough had been proved to have accepted bribes.

Sir C. Burrell

said, that after what the House had heard of the base and mercenary spirit which prevailed in that borough, they would see the necessity of not proceeding with the discussion until they should have the minutes of evidence fully before them. He would therefore move, that the debate be further adjourned till Monday.

Mr. Masterton Ure

said, there were few subjects coming under the consideration of parliament, of greater importance than those connected with the rights of electors, and the privileges of the House; and he felt desirous that on the present occasion they should so conduct the proceedings as to show to the people of England that if there were many persons who thought the elective franchise should be more extended, and others of a contrary opinion, that they would take care that those who had the elective franchise should exercise it, fairly, freely, and constitutionally. And here it was important to observe, that by acceding to the hon. baronet's motion, the House would enable those who had proved themselves so unworthy of being electors to repeat those acts of corruption so disgraceful to themselves and injurious to the public; while by postponing the writ it would be liable to the charge of depriving the bona fide electors of Penryn of their due share in the representation of the empire: for it should be observed, that those electors who, by the resolution of the committee, were found to have been bribed, would, notwithstanding that resolution, be entitled to vote, till they were convicted in a court of law, or disqualified by act of parliament. He might here allude to precedents, from which it would appear that there was no case where the House had delayed to issue a writ to supply a vacancy, unless the report of the committee was of a more general nature, and implied more flagrant acts of corruption. In most of these cases the chairman of the committee moved the House to postpone issuing the writ; whereas in the present case he moved that it should be issued. Finding, however, on the Journals of the House, that corruption had existed in this borough on a former occasion, and similar disgraceful practices appearing on the present occasion, he would accede to the hon. baronet's present motion.

Mr. A. Wright

said, that seven or eight persons had been proved to have received bribes in this borough. This was the extent of the bribery proved. As to the notion that a hundred voters had been bribed, it was entirely without foundation in the evidence.

Sir J. Newport

approved of the adjournment. He understood, that in addition to bribery, it was proved that neither one party nor the other had tendered the bribery oath to any voter. He understood also, that a paper had been offered to the committee, which though not accepted, as it could not be brought home to either party, tainted the character of the whole borough. It was no great punishment, after the second time of the borough being brought before the House for bribery, that its franchises should be put in suspension for a time.

Mr. A. Wright

said, there was no proof before the committee, that the bribery oath had, or that it had not, been administered.

Sir J. Newport

said, that the omission of any notice of the bribery oath in the poll book decisively proved the negative.

Mr. C. Harvey

agreed in the propriety of waiting for the minutes of evidence, and observed, that when they were laid before the House, it would be found that some of the assertions would hot be borne out by the evidence.

Mr. Bankes

acceded to the motion for delay, on the ground that this borough had been brought before the House at two not very distant periods.

Mr. Denison

thought there was sufficient evidence to show the system of gross bribery which had been practised in this virtuous borough. One fact alone Would prove it: the electors were assembled at a public breakfast, and each of them received 24l. for his vote. With these circumstances before them, he trusted the House would adjourn the debate till Monday.

The debate was then further adjourned till Monday.