HC Deb 07 June 1827 vol 17 cc1155-60

On the order of the day, for the third reading of this bill,

Mr. Charles Barclay

said, that his hon. relation, one of the members for Penryn had successfully shown that that borough was not only not so corrupt as other places that had been disfranchised, but that since the complaints respecting it in 1807 and 1819, the conduct of the electors had much improved. It was shown that Penryn was not so corrupt as other places; and that only a small portion of the electors could be suspected of corrupt practices. The corruptions alleged were such as were hardly provable in a court of justice. As to the evidence of Stanbury, Cearne, and others, it would be to waste the time of the House to comment on it. The evidence of Mr. Ady, the agent of lord Percival, was also not entitled to much weight, when it was considered how such individual was circumstanced, willing to make the best of his own case. Much stress had been laid on the electors' answers "to see their wives," or to "call again:" but that was the common answer. He had represented Southwark, a place, the independence of which would not be suspected; but there it was a usual answer to application, for votes, "Be pleased to call again; we have not made up our minds." With respect to the charge of corruption against Penryn, he contended that, separated from the belief of individuals, the proof was very scanty. As to the vote that he had given on a former night, he had really misunderstood the question before the House: he had imagined that the question was, whether the franchise should be transferred to the hundreds of Penryn or Manchester. He certainly was against opening the franchise to the neighbouring hundreds. If the borough were to be disfranchised, he should prefer its transfer to Manchester, considering the commercial interests to be inadequately represented in that House. He would take the sense of the House against disfranchising Penryn. If, however, that were resolved on, he should then support the proposition of the noble lord, to transfer the franchise to Manchester. He concluded with moving by way of amendment, "That the bill be read a third time this day three months."

Mr. Manning

seconded the amendment, and observed, that no case had been made out to justify the House in passing the bill.

Mr. C. Calvert.

—I cordially agree in all that the hon. member has said about the independence of the borough of Southwark. I have stood five contested elections for that borough, and to gain my return I never spent one farthing. I wish all other members could say the same thing. To be sure, I was always at the head of the poll. When I called to solicit votes, I was not told, to "call again to-morrow;" their reply was, "All's right—strong beer for ever." The "call again" at Penryn, I rather suspect, was a different sort of thing; and I am so persuaded of the gross corruption existing in that borough that the noble lord shall have my vote for its disfranchisement.

Mr. Ferguson

said, that if the hon. member had misunderstood the vote of the other night, he must have imagined the proposition before the House to be a very foolish one; namely, who should have the spoils of Penryn, before they had decided whether it was to be disfranchised. The existence of gross corruption at Penryn had been proved; and he was not to be told that its former delinquencies formed no part of the case against it. The evidence was most conclusive and showed that it ought positively to be disfranchised. As to that fellow, Stanbury, what was he doing at Penryn, with his two rooms, &c., just at the time of the election? What passed between Stanbury and the electors, in the shop, was not known; but when they came out, they evidently were well pleased, and said that "Stanbury was a very nice man." Could any one doubt that they had then received the wages of their iniquity? The House would be wanting in due regard to its own dignity, if it altered the decision to which it had already come respecting this bill.

Mr. C. N. Pallmer

was an enemy to corruption, but he would not get at it through injustice. A case of corruption proved against fifteen or sixteen individuals was not sufficient to warrant the disfranchising of a whole borough.

Lord Milton

contended, that the borough of Penryn should be dealt with as a community; and that, looking to its history up to the present time, there was a sufficient case made out to justify its disfranchisement.

Sir E. Carrington

forcibly re-stated his objections to the bill, contending on grounds of justice and general policy, that no adequate case for so strong a measure had been made out.

Mr. Secretary Bourne

said, he had felt it his duty to oppose the second reading of this bill, although he was friendly to its principle. He had opposed it, because he wished to transfer the elective franchise to the neighbouring hundreds. The House, however, had decided against him; and it was not his intention to dispute that decision. He could not forget the report of the committee of 1819, when this borough was under its consideration; and he should therefore vote for the third reading.

Lord Palmerston

thought that no person who had read the evidence, and heard the witnesses at the bar, could hesitate as to the necessity of parliamentary interference. Although he should have liked the bill better in its former state, yet, as the House seemed to prefer it in its present, he should cordially support the third reading.

Mr. Goulburn

was decidedly of opinion that, although the guilt was not so general in the borough as it had been represented to be, yet, that it was sufficiently so to call upon him to mark his sense of the existing corruption. He would therefore vote for the bill.

Lord Binning

could not help considering this question judicially, and he was therefore inclined to come to the decision, that the great majority of voters at Penryn, not having been found guilty of any crime, should not be visited with a punishment due only to a guilty few.

Lord J. Russell,

in answer to the arguments which had been urged, said, that where corruption was extensive, the guiltless voters were those alone who derived no benefit from the franchise. When the greater portion were thus degraded, they became idle and profligate. By accounts which he had received from Grampound, he was assured, that the town had taken a start, and was increasing in prosperity, since the means of corruption were taken away.

Sir Charles Forbes

rose, to oppose the bill. What, he asked, was the crime for which Penryn was to be punished? Was it anything else than the crime of being discovered? This was its offence. In the city of Canton a man's handkerchief might be taken from his person; and if dexterously abstracted, the lookers on only smiled so long as it was undetected. But if discovery ensued, then down came the spectators on the unfortunate delinquent. Just so was it with Penryn. The moment that its acts became known, down came the majority of that House—to do what? To punish a crime which confessedly was practised by wholesale among themselves. Let those who wished to dispute this assertion, lay their hands on their hearts, and reply, whether or not that which he said was the truth. Whenever questions of this description came before the House, he invariably voted against them. He opposed them, because he could never bring himself to punish partial, petty cases of alleged corruption, and leave the more enormous ones untouched. If the House were prepared to enter upon a thorough reform of parliament, a measure which would equally affect all parties—and if they were further prepared to say to what extent they would carry that reform, and what they exactly meant by it—then they were doing a fair, intelligible thing. But he could conceive no greater example of injustice, than for the House to come down with all its tremendous power to overwhelm an individual borough, for an offence which all knew to be extensively prevalent in the country. What! was it fair, was it honest, to con demn the trafficker in votes of some 15l. or 16l. a piece, and leave unmolested the corrupt dealer to the extent of thousands? Was this fair legislation? He detested humbug, and wished gentlemen would speak out. He regretted that he did not see in his place the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster; for he should have expected from him the same bold expressions of indignation—the same sentiments of contempt for this effort of partial and unjust legislation—with which he had met similar cases. But that hon. baronet, much to his surprise and regret, had thought proper to absent himself from his place. To hear gentlemen talk of Grampound, Penryn, and other places, in the terms they did, one would suppose that all in that House were immaculate! That they never heard of such a thing as paying for votes—that they never heard of places where, not merely money, but conscience was sacrificed—where candidates were bound down on pain of forfeiting their seats, to vote whatever the case might be, in favour of the minister. But, so it was—when an unfortunate crow was wounded, the whole flock fell upon him, until not a feather was left in their victim. He would ask, in conclusion, were they prepared to punish the innocent as well as the guilty? He had always understood, that it was far better that ninety-nine guilty persons should escape punishment, than that one innocent man should suffer.—Would they reverse this maxim, and condemn all the innocent, lest the guilty should not suffer? They admitted that Penryn was only partially guilty; and yet, rather than not punish at all, they resolved to punish with the last degree of severity. He, for one, could not agree in the propriety of that course, and was prepared neither to hang nor to transport, but to acquit Penryn.

Mr. David Barclay

approved of the argument of the hon. baronet, which resembled that of the hon. member for Westminster on the Grampound case, when he expressed his detestation of hypocritical cant. He declared that the electors of Penryn were not the corrupt body they were represented to be.

Mr. Van Homrigh

contended, that the evidence in this case went no further than to show that it was Stanbury who practised the corruption; and as he was not a candidate, he had committed no offence against the law by spending his money, if he chose to do so amongst the electors. He believed also that this was the first instance in the annals of parliament that a Select Committee should declare that the two members for a particular borough were duly elected, and that afterwards the House should disfranchise the same borough, on account of acts connected with that very election.

The question, "That the Bill be now read a Third time," being put, the House divided, Ayes 145; Noes 31.

Sir C. Forbes

hoped he might be permitted to inquire, what new light had suddenly broke in upon ministers, that they all at once abandoned a position which they maintained on a former night? Were they, in truth, afraid of being again discomfited? Were they alarmed at the prospect of being a second time left in a minority? Had they really altered their opinions? If so, let them openly acknowledge the change. Let them act in future consistently with the vote of that night. Let them follow up this partial act of correction by broader measures. Let them at once declare themselves the partizans of reform [hear].

The bill was then passed.

List of the Minority.
Astell, W. Keck, G. A. L.
Arkwright, R. Martin, sir T. B.
Barclay, C. Maxwell, H.
Batley, H. Penruddock, J. H.
Belfast, earl of Perceval, S.
Binning, lord Petit, L. H.
Borradaile, R. Rae, sir W.
Carrington, sir E. Saunderson, A.
Chaplain, T. Seymour, H.
Clerk, sir G. Sibthorpe, col.
Clinton, F. Townshend, hon. J.
Drake, T. T. Van Homrigh, P.
Forbes, sir C. Vivian, sir R.
Forbes, J. Wyndham, W.
Grant, sir A. TELLERS.
Hastings, sir C. Barclay, D.
Irving, J. Manning, W.