HC Deb 18 June 1827 vol 17 cc1339-41

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

Mr. Fyler

opposed the third reading of the bill, declaring that it was founded on a principle unconstitutional and unjust. He moved as an amendment, that it be read a third time on that day three months.

Lord W. Russell

thought that other remedies ought to be applied to the evils which were visible in the management of the Coventry jurisdiction. In his opinion, the bill inculcated a principle highly dangerous to a free constitution; namely, that of non-responsibility in public offices; and as a member wholly unconnected with either party, he felt bound to oppose it.

Mr. Birch

opposed the bill, and contended that the magistrates of towns had, on the occasion of the Luddite riots, and at various other times, shown themselves prompt and active in the execution of their duty, while the county magistrates were either inactive, or at too great a distance to render any assistance.

Mr. Van Homrigh

insisted that a bill of this kind, uncalled for and unsupported by any evidence, was ex post facto, novel, capricious, and calculated to do no credit to the House.

Lord Sandon

said, that instances of perjury at the election had been adduced, which not only proved the vice of the individuals, but the vice of the system. No attack had been made upon corporate rights, generally: a single remedy had only been applied to a single grievance.

The Attorney-General

said, he saw nothing unconstitutional in the proposed measure. From the statements which had been made, he thought that legislative interference was necessary in this case. When assaults were proved to have been committed with impunity; when persons were not allowed to go up freely to poll; there was evidently a want of authority in the magistrates that ought to be remedied. Mr. Fox had very justly said, that chartered privileges ought not to be invaded by law, unless a very strong case were made out. In this doctrine he fully agreed. Those privileges were given to particular bodies, not for themselves, but for the public benefit; and, when the public benefit was not secured, then the legislature had a right to remedy the evil. With these impressions he should vote for the bill.

Mr. Peel

thought the present extensive measure of redress altogether uncalled for by the alleged grievance. The remedy was worse than the disease. What was the case with respect to Coventry? A committee had been appointed to inquire into the validity of the election of the members, and they decided that those two members were duly elected; but then they turned round and found the magistrates guilty upon an indictment which had never been preferred. He called upon the House to consider the nature of the present bill before they passed it. By that bill they were about to give to the magistracy of the county of Warwick a concurrent jurisdiction, not only in the appointment of the police of Coventry, but also in the assessments. It appeared, that an officer of the town had been guilty of gross negligence, and had connived at the acts of the townsmen, who were rioting; now, it was perfectly right that this individual should be punished, but let not his sins be visited upon the whole of the magistracy; and he should certainly feel better pleased if he found the punishment more adapted to the evil than it was at present.

Dr. Phillimore

defended the committee, and contended, that, having had the rioting, and other improper conduct, during the election, submitted to them, they would have been guilty of a breach of duty if they had neglected to represent the case as it actually stood. It was clearly proved, that the most serious riots had taken place at the late election; but such disturbances were not confined to this recent period; for it would be found, that similar complaints, with respect to Coventry, were entered upon their Journals so far as a hundred years back.

Mr. Stanley

supported the bill, upon the ground that the local magistrates were unequal to the duties imposed upon them upon such occasions.

Mr. Bankes

thought the law adequate to the punishment of the offenders, without resorting to this bill.

Mr. C. Wynn,

after recounting various instances of abuse which had occurred under the present system, during the last century, the right hon. gentleman contended, that it was impossible that these evils should be remedied, unless some measure like the present were adopted. He did not feel the same apprehension, with regard to the admission of the county magistrates, as his right hon. friend had expressed. The House ought to support the present measure, as the one by which similar riots at Coventry could be effectually put an end to.

The House divided: For the third reading 65; Against it 55; Majority 10. The bill was then read a third time. Upon the question, that it do pass, lord Lowther proposed a clause, by way of rider, "That the jurisdiction of the County Magistrates at Coventry elections should only extend from the period of issuing the writ to the return of the same." Upon this clause the House divided: For the Clause 53; Against it 64; Majority 11. The bill was then passed.