, in rising to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, relative to the petition from Northampton, complaining of the conduct of the Corporation of that borough, felt himself placed in circumstances of no ordinary difficulty. Under no circumstances, indeed, did a public accuser find himself in a very grateful position; but, upon the present occasion, he felt all the usual unpleasantness of such an office, with the addition of no slight embarrassment, arising from considerations that personally affected himself; for, in this case, while he knew, on the one hand, 607 that he had been intrusted by his constituents with the execution of a duty of the most serious nature, and involving great responsibility in its discharge, he could not conceal from himself, on the other, that with those gentlemen against whom he was instructed to bring the charge that he was about to submit to the House, he was necessarily placed in a situation of direct and hostile collision. But he felt that he should not perform the duty he owed to those constituents, if he did not attempt to expose what he thought, on the part of the corporation of Northampton, a gross dereliction of duty, he was not the less anxious to guard against the imputation of being actuated (for interested in this case he was, nor could he be otherwise) by private or political rancour and malevolence. All he regretted was, that the two petitions which had been presented on this subject had not been intrusted to abler hands, and that his constituents had come to him to redeem the pledge he had given of bringing forward this case, if they should persevere in their intention of submitting it to the House.— The circumstances of that case might be thus simply stated. The corporation of Northampton, a rich and powerful corporation, at the last general election, availed themselves of that influence which they conceived their wealth and power entitled them to exercise in this manner: —A few days previous to the dissolution of the last parliament, a gentleman, of no little consideration in the county, at a meeting of the borough corporation for conducting some ordinary business, brought forward a motion for granting 1,000l. towards defraying the costs of any gentleman who should come forward, in the ministerial interest, to represent the borough in parliament. The vote was agreed to; and, in consequence, a deputation from the borough was despatched to various places to find such a candidate. A committee was formed; and, according to report (for he had no positive proof of the fact), an agreement was entered into with the candidate who offered, to this effect, that he should find a portion of money to meet the expenses of the election; the corporation undertaking to provide, partly by private subscriptions, and partly out of the corporate funds, for the remainder. Subsequently to the election, and about the middle of the last month, a circular was issued to every member of the corporation, 608 to the following effect:—"You are hereby summoned to attend the corporate assembly, to be held by the mayor, &c. of the borough in Northampton, for determining on certain propositions to be submitted on the following subjects; namely, the grant of a sum of money not exceeding 1,000l. to be applied, under the directions of a committee, towards paying the ordinary legal expenses of one of the candidates for representing this borough in parliament," &c. &c. This vote was objected to by two or three gentlemen who were present; on which the mayor read to the meeting the opinions of three legal gentlemen on the subject; and concluded, upon that authority, by informing the corporation, that the property they were about to vote was their own, and that they might grant it without fees or scruple. On this, the money was voted; the three gentlemen in question alone protesting against the grant.—This being the state of the case, he had no hesitation in saying, that, so far as common sense and reason were concerned, here was a palpable abuse in the application of the corporate funds. He might be told, that this money was the property of the corporation, which possessed as full a dominion over it, as any individual could exercise over his own private funds; that some of these corporation funds were fairly and honestly applied to the charitable purposes for which they had been originally assigned or bequeathed; and that other portions were disposable by the corporation, under the terms of their investment, at the pleasure of that corporation. But, against such doctrines he should altogether protest. The power which the corporation of Northampton assumed was one which, if permitted, would leave the minority of every corporation a poor, plundered, and despoiled body, in cases such as the present. The corporation of Northampton were placed in this dilemma. If the majority of a corporation have a power of binding the minority, in such an instance as the present, then he did not know what case could possibly arise, in any corporation in which the majority might not bind the minority. But, taking the other horn of the dilemma, and acting upon the principle that a majority of a corporation had not an unlimited power of binding the minority, he would contend, that a corporation had no such power; that they had a power only of binding the minority in 609 resolutions relating to corporate purposes; and that, as the sum proposed to be vested was not fairly applicable to corporate purposes, such a resolution was not binding upon the whole corporation. That no corporate purpose was to be answered was manifest, from the circumstance of the right of the corporation being in no manner questioned—of their interests being in no degree attempted to be invaded. So far, therefore, there was no proof of a corporate interest requiring the illegal and unconstitutional interference, which, he contended, was, in the present instance, introduced into the affairs of the corporation, by the vote proposed. What were fairly to be considered corporate purposes? Judge Blackstone—no mean authority upon constitutional subjects—said, that corporations were instituted for the peace, good order, and good government, of the town. The late sir Samuel Romilly adopted this principle, and even enlarged upon it by saying-, that corporations were not only instituted for the good government of particular towns, but for the good of the kingdom at large. Other eminent constitutional authorities confirmed this opinion; but no sound precedent could be produced in favour of the disposal of the funds of the corporation, in the manner in which they had been disposed of in the instance to which he referred. But let the House consider the mischief of this conduct, as it operated as a ground for several towns uniting together for the return of several members of ministerial principles. If the majority of the borough of Northampton were permitted to unite in one instance, why might not that majority unite and coalesce with the majority of the borough of Leicester, or of any other town, for the support of any member for each of those towns in whose support their majorities might agree. If one, why not all? Why not, also, public companies? On the same principle might the Bank of England, the East India company, and other wealthy bodies, unite their interests and patronage for the purpose of influencing elections. And thus might the purity of election be destroyed by bodies whose funds were legally and constitutionally applicable for local or general benefit only. He was aware that the investigation he sought for might be denied on the ground of his having a remedy elsewhere. To this he would reply, that his only remedy was in the interposition of parliament. In 610 courts of law or equity there was no remedy; and this he was prepared to show. The only courts to which application could be made for redress, were the courts of Chancery and the King's-bench; but neither of these had jurisdiction in the case he had stated to the House. The hon. member then cited the cases of the corporation of Colchester, and the corporation of Yarmouth, to shew, that in the one the court of Chancery, which had been applied to, pronounced that it had no jurisdiction in similar questions, though it intimated that the court of King's-bench probably had it; and the court of King's-bench decided, that it possessed not the jurisdiction in question, but referred the parties to the court of Chancery. This was the doctrine laid down, after all legal argument on the matter had been exhausted by such men as sir Samuel Romilly, sir Arthur Piggott, Mr. Homo, and the then Attorney-general, in one court; and Mr. Erskine, Mr. Justice Ashurst, and others, in the other. Was he not, then, justified in saying no remedy was to be found in a court of law or equity? Both courts were applied to on a case similar to that of Northampton, and no redress was obtained. Under these circumstances it was the duty of the House to interfere. This was not a question between subject and subject: it was a question between parliament and the offenders; and in no such case had it refused the aid of its authority. Let them recollect, too, the inequality of the parties. If an individual had to contend with a corporate body, with what unequal weapons did they meet! The one had to pay all the expenses of the contest out of his own pocket, while the other, backed by the funds of the body, was enabled to support one malversation by the commission of another. On such considerations, even if the law afforded a remedy, the House ought to interpose its authority in favour of the unprotected individual. Mow much stronger, then, was his claim, when no other remedy was to be had ! It might be said, that such interference was unprecedented. He was prepared to show the reverse to be the fact. In the Irish parliament a petition was presented on one occasion, from a freeman of Limerick, complaining of certain acts of malversation committed by the corporation of that city, and the petition was referred to a committee, which afterwards reported upon it. In that 611 case, several resolutions had been passed, and money had been voted for public purposes. The corporation had also made leases of the corporate lands, at very small rents, and finally a resolution was come to, that the interposition of the House was necessary. In, 1819 and 1820, a committee was appointed respecting the same city of Limerick, and the House came to a resolution, that the practices of the corporation were such that the House should interfere. The hon. gentleman here read from the minutes, one of the resolutions of the Limerick corporation, to this effect:—"Resolved unanimously, that, as a vexatious petition has been presented to the House of Commons, against the return of major Vereker, the chamberlain do defend the same." And then came an order to reimburse the chamberlain, lord Gort, for the expenses incurred by him in that defence. The course adopted on that occasion was, that his hon. friend the member for Limerick (Mr. Spring Rice) moved for the appointment of a committee, to examine into the disposition which had been made of the corporation funds of that city; and that numerous malversations were brought to light. The decision of that committee had been recognized and acted upon by the House. The legislature had, in fact, invariably asserted its right to interfere, and put an end to similar abuses. There was no instance in which the House had not so interfered. He trusted that he had made out a prima facie case for their interference on the present occasion: and that his motion would be agreed to. If it were rejected, the freedom of election would receive a deep wound; the character of parliament would suffer; justice would be denied; and offenders, instead of being punished for a gross act of malversation, would triumphantly escape. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That a select, committee be appointed to take into consideration the petitions presented to this House, complaining of the conduct of the Corporation of Northampton."
§ The Clerk having read the said Petitions,
(sir Charles Wetherell) rose to express his dissent from the hon. gentleman's premises, although, if he did not feel himself obliged to do so, he should perfectly agree with him in his conclusion. He perfectly agreed with him, that if the conduct of the corporation of North- 612 ampton had been such as he had described, it ought to be made the subject of serious investigation; and that, if neither a court of law, nor a court of equity, had any jurisdiction in the case, it should then be brought under the consideration of parliament. If neither our courts of law nor our courts of equity were competent to enforce a restitution of funds, which, according to the hon. gentleman, had been so grossly misapplied, then, indeed, he should arrive at the conclusion of the hon. gentleman, that the House of Commons should throw its doors open to the complaint. But he dissented entirely from the hon. gentleman's premises. The hon. gentleman had divided the question into; two parts. He first asked whether there was any remedy in the court of King's-bench, or in a court of equity; to which the hon. gentleman himself answered, no; and he then said, that it therefore became the duty of the House to interfere. In support of his first proposition, the hon. gentleman had cited two authorities. The first was sir William Blackstone; but it was well known that Blackstone did not contain any statement materially bearing on this question. The next authority quoted by the hon. gentleman was the dictum of a very eminent person, once a member of that House; a man eminent as a scholar and a lawyer; but by no means deficient in zeal as an advocate; and therefore a man whose dictum in the court of Chancery it would by no means be prudent to adopt as the cool and deliberate opinion of a judge. What, then, were the hon. gentleman's real authorities for his premises? One was, that in a case in which a corporation were charged with applying 2,000l. directly or indirectly for electioneering purposes, the matter being brought into a court of law, it had been laid down, and properly, that a court of law could not determine whether the act was right or wrong, and that, unless it was established that the money was criminally applied, the court could not deal with it. But Judge Ashurst said, on that occasion, that if a breach of trust had been committed, the proper place for the consideration of the subject was a court of equity, to whose peculiar jurisdiction it belonged. The hon. member had asserted, that in the case of Colchester the lord chancellor said, that he had no jurisdiction. If so; if the court of King's-bench had sent the matter to the court of Chancery, and the 613 court of Chancery had repudiated it, then indeed the hon. gentleman had made out his case. But what were the facts? He had himself been of counsel in the Colchester case; and, although it was some years since its occurrence, he had a recollection of the main facts. There had been many electioneering contests for the borough of Colchester, in which the mayor had espoused one side. In order to pay the expenses of that side the sum of 2,000l. had been voted by the corporation to Mr. Lowten, a solicitor in London, who had been the solicitor of the candidate whom they favoured. This sum was secured by bond. Some question arose respecting the interest, and the point having been referred to an arbitrator, he determined that it ought to be paid by the corporation. The whole sum, interest, &c. was then charged as a mortgage on the corporation estates. A considerable time afterwards, the party in the corporation with whom this proceeding originated, having become weaker, a bill was filed in the court of Chancery to set aside the mortgage. The right of the corporation to make the payment was discussed. The hon. gentleman said, that lord Eldon had declared that he could not take cognizance of such a case. By no means. What he said was, that he could not undertake to say that the original vote of 2,000l. was so obviously improper, as to constitute a breach of trust; and on that account, he could not deal with it. Instead, therefore, of denying that he could take cognizance of the improper use of corporation funds, lord Eldon had laid down quite an opposite doctrine; namely, that if a breach of trust had been made out, he could have dealt with the transaction. With respect to the Limerick case, to which the hon. gentleman had referred, a select committee had been appointed to investigate the misapplication of 800l. But the committee only reported the fact. It did not appear that any subsequent proceeding had taken place; so that the case was no authority on the subject.—With respect to the transaction now under consideration, he had no hesitation in saying, that if it was such as had been described it was a clear and undoubted breach of trust; which would be a very fit subject for an information in the court of Chancery. He could not therefore concur in the hon. gentleman's motion for submitting it to the investigation of a committee. 614 It was a most inconvenient course to bring that which was a fit subject for a court before the House of Commons. To consent to such a proceeding would be to admit that the ordinary courts were too weak to go on with their proper business. It was the practice of every day to file informations in the court of Chancery foe breaches of trust. In order that it might not be supposed that he had the slightest wish to screen delinquency, either in this or in any other case, he willingly declared, as attorney-general, that if a paper, stating this case were put into his hands, and he found upon inquiry, that the statements were founded in truths he should not hesitate to put the case in the form of an informationin the court of Chancery, in order to compel the corporation in question to refund the money which they had so improperly applied.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
, after apologizing for his presumption in rising after the very clear and able statement of his hon. friend who had brought this subject under the consideration of the House, said he was desirous to show the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, that he had fallen into an inadvertent error. In the first place, he wished to disembarrass the subject of a great portion of the legal subtleties by which it had been surrounded. It was a question which involved considerations of a much larger and more important nature, than the hon. and learned gentleman seemed to imagine. If it were merely a complaint from the town of Northampton that the corporation had, for their own benefit, or for any undue purpose, misapplied their funds, it might be a question, whether the House ought to agree to a motion for inquiry. He for one might be disposed, in such a case, to acquiesce in the doctrine laid down by the hon. and learned gentleman, that, if the petitioners had a clear legal remedy, the House ought not to exert its authority on the subject. But, what was the actual complaint? In the older and better times of parliament, if it had been alleged that a corporate body had misapplied their funds, for the purpose of procuring the return of a member to that House, he doubted whether an attorney-general would have refused an inquiry on legal grounds, or have told the complainants to go to a court of equity, in order to ascertain, not if the money of the corporation had gone to A or B, but if it had been applied to influence the 615 election of a member of the House of Commons; and that not merely as between two individuals, but with regard to the two great political parties into which the country was, and ever would be, divided. The corporation of Northampton had entered into this crusade, not in defence of their corporation interests, but simply in support of a ministerial candidate for the borough of Northampton. This was not a question merely concerning the corporation of Northampton: it affected the corporations of all England. Suppose the case brought before the court of Chancery, what was the utmost that could be expected?—merely that the parties who had misapplied the money would be obliged to refund it. This was not the duty of the representatives of the people. The House had only one of two courses to pursue—either by a bill, or by a standing order or express declaration, that they viewed the proceeding of the corporation as an infringement of their rights and privileges, and of the rights of the electors of this country. If corporations were allowed to apply their funds to election purposes, what individual would ever stand a contest? Whose private purse could compete with the funds of a whole corporation? In the Limerick case, the misapplication of the corporate funds was to the extent of 800l. The fact came out accidentally before an election committee, which merely reported that the minutes should be printed. Two years after, a select committee was appointed, upon petition, which received evidence, selected documents, and produced a report. A bill was then brought in, which was referred to another committee. This committee sat twenty-one days, counsel were heard, and the bill at length passed. His gallant friend looked at protection for the future, more than at punishment for the past, in bringing the subject before the House. Did the Attorney-general only mean to state what no attorney-general would refuse to say, "that if abuses of trust were made known to him, as attorney-general, he would allow his name to be used in prosecuting the offence." Or did the learned gentleman's proposition amount to this—that he would proceed in this particular case?
§ Mr. Spring Rice
—Then the learned gentleman's proposition amounted to nothing. Suppose proceedings were com- 616 menced in this case in the court of Chancery, was there a man living who could tell when there would be a judgment given in the case. Would an application to the court of Chancery produce the cheap and speedy justice to remedy or control such cases, and provide against their repetition? Was this the remedy which was so liberally tendered by the attorney-general? If a private individual had a purse long enough to undertake a Chancery suit, the attorney-general would be kind enough to lend his name to the proceedings. Was this the mode of redressing a great public abuse? He implored the House, as they valued their own character and fame—nay, as they wished to guard themselves from the supposition, the shame, the reproach, of sanctioning that abuse which was to buy a ministerial candidate, not to pass over the offence so lightly. He hoped that the House would not cast their rights and privileges at the feet of the courts of law, from which their ancestors had so often rescued them, and where those rights and privileges never could be trusted with safety.
§ Sir George Robinson
rose, merely for the purpose of supporting the motion of his hon. friend and colleague. He did not consider this a fit case for a court of law. It ought to be taken up on constitutional principles, and decided in that House. He would only further state, that the returning officer belonged to that body who had supplied the money; and this of itself implied such a partiality, that the election could not have taken place under him with fairness.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said, that the hon. member for Limerick had so entirely demolished the speech of the attorney-general, that he would not trouble the House at any length. This was not a case of nice legal distinctions, as to the cognizance of what court the offence ought to be submitted. It was a question of mere plain common sense. If the petition before the House stated the truth, the corporation had committed an open and enormous malversation on the funds of the community of Northampton, for which they were trustees, in the misapplication of the common property to purposes which brought them distinctly and clearly before the House.—He was one who thought the system of open corporations, under which the inhabitants of large places elected their own magistrates, the very best that could 617 possibly be devised, or had ever subsisted, for their municipal government. But it was obvious, that its attendant evil was more or less of temptation to tamper with the public property committed to their charge; and, whenever any corporation had thus betrayed its trust, and applied the funds of the commonalty to improper purposes, no occasion of repressing these malversations should ever be lost. It was quite evident that the law here would afford no remedy. An appeal to the law must be made at individual expense; and the case would be defended at the expense of those very funds on which the fraud had already been committed—the community twice paying for having been once plundered.—There was one part of the hon. member for Limerick's speech, which he had heard with great regret; namely, his allusion to this money having been taken for the support of a ministerial candidate. This was mixing a party feeling in that which was any thing but a party question. It was nothing to the purpose, whether the candidate were on the one side or the other. The case, as stated, was one of misapplication of common funds to the election of members of parliament, and he could not see how it was possible that the House could abstain from instituting an inquiry on such an allegation.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he much regretted that before he came down to the House, it had not been in his power to make himself more perfectly acquainted with the circumstances of this particular case. He had only been fortunate enough to hear the last two speeches, and to read in the votes of the House one of the petitions referred to. He could very sincerely assure the House, that, in coming to a vote upon this subject, he would solely exercise his own judgment, and decide, without reference, in the slightest degree, to any party considerations. He had reason to regret further, that in the course of what he understood his hon. and learned friend near him to have said, some observations should have escaped, calculated to excite prejudice, and interfere with an impartial decision. Agreeing, as he did in the main, with what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend, he the more regretted being under the necessity of making this exception. It was an exception, however, which he owed to candour, and a sense of justice. For himself, he 618 could declare, that he was entirely indifferent as to what the merits of the sitting members might have been. To him, it was a consideration of the most complete indifference, whether the individual referred to belonged to the ministerial side or to that of the opposition. If the act, which formed the subject matter of the petition could truly be considered a legitimate exercise of a right—if the support of the candidate, who had been supported by corporate funds, was in itself a legal, a proper, and a constitutional act, it mattered nothing to parliament, or to him, whether that gentleman sat on his side of the House or on the other. If the corporation, or a majority of that body, were of ministerial politics, who would question their right to support, by all lawful means, the candidate that agreed in sentiment with them? He would ask, what odium attached to ministerial members, or the support of ministerial candidates? The question then before the House had nothing to do with party; and he was determined to view it without the slightest reference to any consideration of that nature. If the act were in itself legal, the particular object of it was a matter of no moment to the decision of that House. But, it remained to be considered, whether it was or was not a legal and constitutional application of public funds. There appeared to him to arise a material distinction between some of the allegations contained in the petition which had been printed, and that which had last been presented to the House. Considering the subject as stated in the printed petition, he conceived that the question presented for the decision of the House, was contained in a passage of the printed petition, which set forth, that certain charitable funds intrusted to the corporation, had been by them most improperly applied, to forward election purposes. If that were a true allegation, then nothing could be more obvious, than that the application of the money was illegal, and his hon. and learned friend had most fairly and judiciously said, that there existed a legal remedy, or equitable one, and that he was perfectly willing to lend them the use of his name, in asserting that right in the court of chancery. Nothing that he had heard could raise a doubt in his mind, that if a corporation, being the trustees of a charitable fund, are induced, from, any considerations of a po- 619 litical character to divert that fund to any other than its legitimate purposes, there could not be a case of grosser impropriety, one better entitled to a legal remedy, or one more imperatively demanding a solemn inquiry upon oath. If the view of the subject were just, which he founded on the passage in the petition referred to, he had not the slightest hesitation in saying, that a remedy by law was to be preferred to any measure that might be adopted by that House. The allegation in the second petition was, that the corporation were not at liberty to apply their own undisputed property to such a purpose. Now, the distinction between these allegations, it was material for the House to observe; for it was one thing to affirm that it was a diversion of charitable funds, and quite another to allege, that it was illegal in the corporation so to apply their own funds. This question presented itself—had the corporation a right, from funds legally their own, to pay the legal expenses of an election? Now, this could scarcely be answered in the affirmative, if the doctrine of the hon. mover, respecting the general powers of corporations, be founded in law. He maintained, that, unless the funds of a corporation be applied to purposes strictly corporate, it was a misapplication, in which the majority had no power to bind the minority. While these observations were being made, he observed, that the hon. member for London listened with much anxiety. That doctrine must, indeed, to him, have proved new. What! the majority not bind the minority, in cases where there was an application of funds to purposes not directly corporate. If that doctrine were true, what became of the vote which gave 1,000l. for the encouragement of the Greeks? He stopped not then to inquire whether such an application was right or wrong, he merely observed, that it was not for corporate purposes. Under the influence of a classical taste, they had voted a sum of money for the relief of a classical people. How could the gallant officer affirm, that, in the application of money so applied, the majority could not bind the minority. The question as it stood before the House, founded on the two allegations, was one on which he would rather not then give a positive opinion. He would, for the present at least, assume, that the expenses were legal and perfectly recognized by 620 parliament—that they were, for instance as legal as those of assessor or counsel, or any other expenses of that class. Then the question resolved itself into this—was it justifiable in the corporation to apply its own undoubted funds to such a purpose? To explain himself more clearly, by giving an instance:—Might a peer, against whose interference in election matters there existed much jealousy—might Deer pay any of the expenses of a candidate, those expenses not being in themselves illegal? It had never been alleged that such conduct in a peer would be unlawful. Then, was a corporation to be placed within narrower limits than an individual? Here he had been confining himself to what a corporation might legally do; not what would be judicious of expedient. If he were a member of such a corporation, and the question were propounded to him, he would certainly advise that there should not be any such application of their funds; a corporation, composed of members, having an eternal existence, possessing, perhaps, unlimited funds — he would say, that they ought seriously to pause, before they made such an application of the funds placed at their disposal. But, though he should feel bound to give that advice, he would be far from saying, that as the law now stood, the corporation had been guilty of a breach of the privileges of that House. It was by no means an unusual circumstance, for a corporation to vote 500l. or 200l. to the chief magistrates on retirement from office—or 1,000l. to their last Lord Mayor, to reimburse him for the expenses of certain elegant entertainments—though, certainly, those, it must be confessed, were for strictly corporate purposes [a laugh.] Whatever views might be entertained on either side of this question, he thought it extremely desirable that the House should be furnished with a plain statement of what the practice in such cases had been; and, without prejudging what the law of the case would turn out to be, he would be rather inclined to vote for a committee to inquire into the practice. The question was a very important one, and he should be extremely unwilling to say any thing that might seem like prejudging it in a legal point of view; but, whatever might turn out to be the law of it, he repeated, that, were he a member of a corporation, he would never advise such an appropriation of public money; at the same time, he 621 must add, that he did not believe the corporation of Northampton wished to prejudice the inquiry, or to do any thing that was wrong. They, there was every reason to believe, had acted all along, as if they thought themselves perfectly warranted in the course they were pursuing—they had consulted the most eminent lawyers—they denied that the funds were appointed for charitable purposes. For years past, they had been in the habit of disposing of these funds in such manner as they thought proper; and, so far as could be perceived, it had never entered into their contemplation to doubt that they were doing otherwise, than disposing of their lawful property, in supporting a candidate, whose political opinions coincided with their own. They spared no pains to satisfy themselves that they were pursuing a course warranted by the general law of the land, and the privileges of parliament. They took the opinion of Mr. Warren, and that was decidedly with them. It was perfectly clear that the corporation had no wish to offend: it was evident that they had taken every pains to avoid offence, and nothing but the great question remained, as to their legal right, both as to the nature of the expenses paid, and the source whence the funds were derived. If it appeared to be manifestly a misapplication of charitable property to election purposes, then he would at once say, go before a court of law, and assert your right; and even if it should appear, as there was reason, from the second petition, to expect it might, to have been an application of property, in the disposal of which they were not specially limited, to election purposes, he would not be disposed to shrink from such an inquiry as would put the House in possession of the practice; and, when that was once ascertained, it only remained to determine whether any, and what, legislative measure might be required.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the present complaint was one which affected the rights and privileges of the House, and as such it was their duty to inquire into the circumstances out of which it arose. He concurred with the right, hon. Secretary, that it was desirable that the House should acquire a knowledge of facts, before any distinct measure was adopted. If it should turn out upon investigation that the facts, as stated in the last petition, were true, some act of legislative interposition would 622 be necessary to prevent the recurrence of proceedings so reprehensible and unconstitutional. It appeared to him, as he was sure it must also appear to the right hon. gentleman, that if every corporation in the kingdom were to be permitted to apply its funds as the corporation of Northampton was stated to have done (and if one corporation made such an appropriation, all had an equal right to do so), the practice would be a direct infringement upon the privileges of that House, and could not fail to be attended with the most pernicious consequences to the country.
§ Mr. Abercromby
considered this to be a question on which it was desirable that the House should act upon some clear, definite, and ascertained principle. The right hon. Secretary seemed to have fallen into a misconception, and to have attached the whole importance to the question— whether or not the money had been diverted from charitable purposes. But, the real and single point with which the House had to deal, was the fact as alleged, that 1,000l. had been appropriated to election purposes. The sole question was, whether the House should suffer all corporations to appropriate their funds to election purposes? If it should appear on investigation that any portion of this 1,000l. had been so employed, that would form a case in which the House would be bound to adopt measures, founded upon the ascertained fact, that a sum of money had been applied in a practice such as that House did not sanction. If it were found that the funds appointed for charitable purposes had been misappropriated in the manner complained of, it would devolve upon the House, as a duty, to order the attorney-general to take means to vindicate the rights of those charities. But he protested against that which would be contrary to the known principles of that House—namely, against its affording a sanction to the attorney-general, or any other person, going to a court of law or equity, to obtain from it a decision as to the rights and privileges of that House.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
denied that the corporation, to which he had the honour to belong, had ever made an improper application of the charitable funds intrusted to their care. It had happened to him that he had been obliged to differ with the corporation of London as to the 623 application of funds intrusted to their management, but never upon occasions of this description. He agreed with the right hon. Secretary, that such proceedings on the part of any corporation ought to be inquired into; for, if allowed to be practised, the great cities and towns of the empire might be reduced to the situation of Bath, where the corporation elected each other, and some thirty or forty persons return representatives for a population of many thousands.
Mr. Secretary Peel
disclaimed the intention of casting any imputation upon the corporation of London. He had had an opportunity, for several years, of observing the conduct of that body, and had never known a single act to have been done by it, upon which that House, or he, or any other individual, could found a reasonable complaint. He had only referred to the corporation of London incidentally, in answer to the argument of the gallant officer, and the purport of his observation in reference to it, was merely, that if the proposition of the minority being bound by the majority were tenable, the act of the corporation which he had instanced, could not, on that principle, be vindicated.
Lord John Russell
expressed his surprise at the unwillingness of the right hon. gentleman to refer the question in the manner proposed. The practice complained of might prove in the highest degree detrimental. The question certainly was not, whether the candidate, supported by a corporation, were a ministerial, or an opposition candidate, but whether a corporation was to be suffered to set one party in a town against another. If the habit of supporting the candidates of particular parties prevailed, elections in this country would soon become even more corrupt than they had been, and the general opinion of a city would be overborne by the contribution of immense sums to support the person who might happen for the time to be the favourite of the corporation. It might be said, that the funds appropriated to these purposes did not form a portion of the funds designed for charitable objects. But how could this fact be ascertained? Who could say what particular portion of the funds of a corporation had been applied to a specific purpose? If this was a legal application of the funds, he should be, on that account, even more anxious for a committee; for in, that case some measure would, be 624 the more necessary to preserve the purity of parliament.
Mr. Secretary Peel.—
I am sorry that my argument has been so completely misunderstood. What I say is this, if any corporation has applied charitable funds to election purposes, I cannot conceive a more reprehensible application of such funds. If a corporation has applied funds over which they have an entire and undisputed control, to election purposes, I do not say that I approve of such an application; all I ask of this House is, not this night to vote such an application a breach of its privileges. I have such doubts of the propriety of such an application of corporation funds, that if any corporation were to ask my opinion as to their right so to apply the general funds of the corporation, my advice would be—" Don't do any thing of the kind." And I further say, that if such an application of corporation funds shall be decided not to be illegal, my objections to it are so strong, that in my opinion, a legislative remedy should be resorted to, to prevent the recurrence of a similar application.
begged leave to withdraw his original motion, and to substitute the following:—" That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into any payment, or engagement to pay Election expenses, by the corporation of Northampton, at the late Election."—The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed.