§ Mr. Sykes
, in rising to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, begged to disclaim all feelings of hostility either towards the sitting members for Leicester, or towards the individual members of the Corporation of that Borough. His only object was to call the attention of the House to a subject of considerable importance, as it regarded the freedom of election. The charges which he intended that night to bring forward were already in the hands of the two members for the borough, who were not, therefore, taken by surprise on this occasion. These charges, too, were stated upon no idle rumour, but had been well ascertained, and were now ready to be substantiated by several respectable persons in the borough. The charges were, first, that the Corporation had made an undue exercise of the power they possessed—if, indeed, they possessed any such power—of creating honorary freemen, to such an extent as to overpower the voice of the other freemen of the borough. They were charged also with having misapplied the funds of the Corporation for election purposes, in having improperly taken those funds and devoted them to the payment of those fees which were due on the admission of honorary freemen, and which: they had discharged on the admission of those freemen who were considered to be in their interest. They were further charged—and if the House granted him a Committee he had no doubt he should be able to make out the charge—that the Corporation had borne a very large proportion of the expenses of the election. They were besides charged with having resorted to a compulsory mode of polling; making the electors poll in such a manner as to be most favourable to their own interests. There were several modes of poll- 1199 ing, but one was generally preferred in a particular place, on account of local peculiarities. Now there was one principle, regarding the mode of polling, which, he thought, ought to be universally acted upon. That principle was, that the convenience of the different candidates should be equally consulted, and that nothing should be done which would give any one candidate a manifest advantage over his opponents. If a particular mode of polling had long existed, and any change of that mode was proposed, if all the parties agreed to it, the change might be made; but if they did not give their consent, then, he maintained, that such a change was illegal.
He would now proceed to give the House some sketch of the history of the Borough of Leicester. The Corporation was composed of a mayor, a certain number of aldermen, a bailiff, forty-eight common-councilmen, and the freemen of the borough. The right of election was vested, not only in these persons, but also in the inhabitant householders of the town. By these means was formed a body which all would agree was fit for the exercise of the elective franchise. Besides these inhabitant householders, the Corporation possessed or claimed the power of making-honorary freemen. The charge now made against them was, that by the exercise of that power, they had reduced the large town of Leicester to the state of a rotten borough. It had formerly been the custom in Leicester for a sort of compromise to be made between the Corporation and the inhabitants, by which one member was returned by the former and one by the latter.
Such was the situation of the borough of Leicester. Some time before the last election, the resident householders amounted to five thousand; a number which no person would deny was not sufficient to constitute an elective body. There was certainly no positive necessity for increasing their number, except that which could be found in the object of the Corporation to get the election of the members into their own hands. That being the scheme of the Corporation, it appeared that, in the latter part of the year 1822, the Corporation determined to draw the whole influence of the elective franchise into their own grasp. He said "determined," because, from what they had done, it was evident that their object was, by increasing the number of freemen, to overpower the votes 1200 of the resident householders. When he stated that such was their view, he made that statement neither from any inference from, nor from any argument founded upon, their acts, but because he had that view and that object acknowledged in a document given under their own hands. When he read that document to the House, he thought they would be shocked at the open avowal of the real intentions of the Corporation. At the close of the year 1822, those persons actually made a voluntary offer of the freedom of the Corporation to no less than two thousand persons. That fact spoke for itself; and spoke too forcibly to need any comment. The object of the act was manifested by the occasion on which the offer was made. It was expected that a general election was not far distant, and the time was chosen in such a manner, that the measure might not appear to have been adopted merely for election purposes. The selection of the time, however, was not a sufficient cloak for their real intentions, which could be clearly shown by proof still more strong than that which was to be found in the act itself. This proof consisted of two letters. He held in his hand a copy of the letter which had been addressed by the Corporation to the gentlemen who were solicited to become members of it. That was an honour which was generally courted at the hands of Corporations; but in the present instance the gentlemen had been courted by the Corporation, who had their own reasons for what they did. The first letter was dated "Leicester, December 31, 1822." It began by informing the gentleman to whom it was addressed, that the Corporation of Leicester had unanimously elected him an honorary freeman of their borough. It then went on to say, that the Corporation were anxious to increase the number of freemen, by the admission of gentlemen of known principles. Now, he would ask, whether that expression did not clearly shew the object and intention of the Corporation? The letter then went on to request, that the gentleman thus elected would do them the favour to take up his freedom, at the earliest period that would suit his convenience; and it stated, that the Corporation would pay all the fees and charges incurred by his doing so, except a certain sum specially mentioned, which was small in its amount, and which, they trusted, the newly-elected, freeman would consider a 1201 sacrifice that he was willing to submit to in support of the cause.
The latter part of the letter, he contended, was nothing less than a fraudulent application of the public money, in order to obtain a number of sham-freemen, who should vote in favour of the Corporation candidate, and should overpower the real electors of the Borough. Among the honorary freemen thus elected, were one hundred and four clergymen, several noblemen's sons, and others connected with noblemen; but no noblemen were in the list, as their votes would not have been receivable, and their election could therefore serve no possible purpose. Upon the invitations thus given, eight hundred persons actually took up their freedom; and, on the last election, the two gentlemen who were favoured by the Corporation, were, as it might have been expected, returned. The old members retired from the contest, as the Corporation, in breach of the former custom of the Borough, insisted upon returning two members on their own interest. The two gentlemen who came forward to supply the places of the former members were Mr. Evans and Mr. Otway Cave. The Corporation did not entirely approve of either of them, and thinking that they possessed a sufficient force to obtain victory, they determined on a contest. With their eight hundred new freemen at their command, they relied upon a triumph, and they therefore looked out for a third candidate who would be more likely to suit their own views. He ought to observe here, that this creation of honorary freemen not only tended to influence the election according to the wishes of the Corporation, but also to increase the expense in such a manner as to deter independent candidates from coming forward. The result of the election proved that this had been the fact; for, in consequence of the increased number of out-voters, although he believed there had been no material transgression of the provisions of the Durham Treating act, the expenses of the three candidates had not amounted to less than 50,000l. That enormous expense might fairly be said to be owing to the conduct of the Corporation. He had said that the Corporation went to look out for a third candidate, and at last they found one in the person of sir Charles Abney Hastings, one of the present members. He now came to another part of their conduct, which, he thought, loudly 1202 called for inquiry. The mayor and bailiff being the returning officers, another circular letter was sent by the Corporation, of which they were the chief members, to all the newly-created freemen who had been admitted, merely for election purposes, to their freedom, without the payment of the customary fees. The letter stated, that the writer of it was directed by the Corporation to take the liberty of addressing the honorary freemen, for the purpose of representing to them the state of affairs with respect to the Borough of Leicester. It then went on to recommend sir Charles Abney Hastings, who was described in the True Blue interest as a decided supporter of king and constitution in church and state, and as strongly opposed to what some called Catholic Emancipation, but what they (the Corporation) called the Popish Ascendancy; that that gentleman was directly opposed by Mr. Evans, who came forward on the low Radical interest; who pretended great liberality of opinion, and was a friend to reform, and some other of the liberal doctrines of the day. The third candidate was stated in the letter to be Mr. Otway Cave, a gentleman whose family had been staunch Blues, but who had not made up his mind upon the question of Catholic Emancipation; who, though not quite of the true colour himself, was an admirer more of the old lights than of the new, and was certainly more blue than Mr. Evans. That letter was signed, as the other had been, by a Mr. Burbidge, who was an officer under the Corporation. He had read that letter, with the view of shewing that what the Corporation had corruptly designed, they had as corruptly endeavoured to execute. That fact, however, would be proved by other parts of their conduct. In consequence of an agreement which they made to pay a sum of money, they were compelled to borrow certain sums of money on the bonds of individual members of the Corporation, who were to be reimbursed out of the funds of the Corporation any money they might be called on to pay.
He had now detailed some of the charges against the Corporation, and the facts on which those charges were grounded; and he thought he had succeeded in making out a case of crimination, into which he trusted the House would give him the power of making the fullest inquiries. In requiring this at their hands, 1203 he was not acting without a precedent, which was to be found in the committee granted to inquire into the circumstances of the Northampton election, where it was alleged, that the Corporation had attempted improperly to interfere in the choice of members for the borough. He had before referred to the mode of taking votes; and he contended, with the utmost: confidence, that the returning officers had no right to impose conditions upon the candidate as to the manner of polling, and that they were not justified in requiring the voters to be polled by tallies, or by pens, when such a mode of polling was evidently attended with great advantage to one candidate, and a corresponding injury to another. If any new plan was proposed, it ought not to be adopted unless it was concurred in by all the candidates, and the poll should be equally open to one voter as to another. Now, in the present instance, that which he contended ought to be the rule had been departed from, and he thought the conduct of the Corporation upon that point was part and parcel of the self-same conspiracy by which the Corporation had sought to monopolize the power of electing members for the borough. Previously to the election there had been some disputes as to the mode of taking the poll, and the friends of Air. Evans had had a conversation upon that subject with their opponent. They were then assmed, that there was no intention of taking the votes by tallies, or many other way that would be injurious to Mr. Evans's interest. A few days afterwards, however, when the persons interested for the Corporation shewed those gentlemen the plan intended to be adopted, it appeared that the voters were to be polled in three distinct pens, one of which was to be assigned to each candidate. As soon as these gentlemen were informed of the plan, they remonstrated against it, and that remonstrance was adopted and signed by several respectable inhabitants; who declared they would not accede to any such mode of taking the votes, and expressed a hope that the polling would be entirely free. But, notwithstanding all the arguments which could be addressed to the good sense or impartiality of the Corporation, they were determined that the polling should be taken by pens. Accordingly, pens were assigned to sir Charles Hastings and Mr. Cave, immediately adjoining each 1204 other, and a third was given to Mr. Evans. The consequence of this arrangement, and of the support given by the Corporation to the two former gentlemen, was, that their voters polled to double the number of those of Mr. Evans; for each voter for the Corporation giving two votes at once, the first to sir Charles Hastings and the other to Mr. Cave, and their votes being thus exchanged, the result was, that when sixty persons had voted, forty of those votes had been given for sir Charles Hastings and Mr. Cave, and only twenty for Mr. Evans. Now, he would venture to assert, that there was no gentleman, who was at all acquainted with the nature of the proceedings at county elections, who would deny the unfairness of such a system with respect to its operation upon Mr. Evans. Such gentleman must be aware, that there was always a number of voters who, not liking to be of the losing party, staid behind till they saw the probable issue of a contest, and who then came forward to give their votes to the strongest candidate. The consequence of this plan of the Corporation was such as might have been anticipated. The whole thing was illegal, and, in its operation upon Mr. Evans very unjust. The only way to get rid of the consequence of such a plan appeared to be by putting a new candidate in nomination, and in fact another candidate was set up. Mr. Denman was proposed, and it was intended that the independent votes should be divided between him and Mr. Evans, in the same manner as the Corporation votes were divided between sir Charles Hastings and Mr. Cave. But the mischief was already done; and the time for remedying it was gone by. Besides, the Corporation afforded a new obstacle; for when Mr. Denman was put forward, and a pen was demanded for him; it was refused; and the notable reason given for the refusal was, that as his name had not been put forward in the early part of the contest, the returning officer was not bound to assign him a pen for his voters. Now, these proceedings appeared to him to be wholly unjustifiable, and he trusted the House would not suffer them to pass without parliamentary notice and animadversion. It was impossible that the petitioners could proceed in any other kind of way, than by this application to the House. The process in the courts of law, it had been said, was immortal; and in 1205 the court of equity, it was needless to say, that the proceedings were equally immortal; indeed, it was said that the lord chancellor himself was nearly immortal [a laugh]. In point of fact, the petitioners had no other remedy than by an application to that House, and the case was a very aggravated one, and resembled one relating to the Corporation of Durham, mentioned in Smollett's History. He would conclude, therefore, by moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the allegations of the Petition of the Electors of the Borough of Leicester, and to report their observations thereupon to the House." The House, he trusted, would inquire strictly into this mode of manufacturing votes; and he hoped that some remedy would be suggested against the misapplication of Corporation funds, and recommended to the consideration of the Committee, the act of the 3rd of George 3rd relative to the Corporation of Durham.
§ Mr. Wynn
said, he came to the consideration of this question with a mind perfectly unbiassed, not having heard one word of the circumstances, except what he had read in the petition, therefore not knowing how far they were denied; but he must say he was not at all inclined to adopt the course pointed out by the motion of the hon. member, because he thought, that, even taking the facts stated in the petition to be proved, nothing illegal had been done by the Corporation of Leicester. He did not wish to give any opinion as to whether or not the mode of polling was regular; because, if it were not the regular mode, that would be a sufficient ground for a petition to be referred to an election committee. If the city officer had persevered in his refusal to admit freemen to vote for Mr. Denman, upon the ground that he had not been proposed three days before, that would be a question upon which an election committee would decide; and he had no doubt that if that refusal had been persevered in, the committee would say, "Here is a candidate who comes forward in the usual way, and the legal voters who tended their votes for him have been rejected, and therefore, this election is void." He could not see any one illegal act charged against the Corporation; but, taking for granted that the acts were illegal, the question was one for an election committee, or it might be made the subject of an application to 1206 the court of King's-bench, for a criminal information against the Corporation for having abused their powers. What were the charges against the Corporation? It was stated in the petition, that the right of voting was in the mayor, aldermen, common-council, freemen, and householders paying taxes; but it was urged as a ground of complaint, that the Corporation had created a large number of nonresident freemen, for the purpose of voting at the election. If the Corporation had done so to any great and inconvenient extent, that circumstance might probably be a sufficient ground for bringing in a bill to limit the powers of Corporations to make out-voters; but, as there could be no doubt that the Corporation had, at present, a legal right to make out-voters, such a proceeding, on their part, could not be matter of investigation to a Select Committee. Would that House, in open violation of the first principles of justice, attempt to question the right of the Corporation of Leicester to do what was generally done by the Corporations throughout the kingdom? It was stated, that the Corporation had sent a circular letter to the freemen, expressing their wish that the freemen would elect a candidate of a certain way of thinking—a candidate whose political opinions coincided with those of the Corporation. Was there any thing illegal, unconstitutional, unfair, or unusual, in such a proceeding? Was it not, on the contrary, the general practice of electors, to look out for a candidate of their own way of thinking? It was next stated that the Corporation had remitted the fees payable by the out voters. Was that any thing uncommon or extraordinary? Was it not the common practice of the different Corporations of the kingdom, when they conferred the freedom of their respective Corporations upon non-residents, to remit the fees? He did not know whether there was any hon. member present upon whom the Corporation of the city of London had conferred the honour of the freedom of that city, but, if any such member were present, he could state to the House what the practice of that Corporation was. Now, he could state, from his own knowledge, that in two instances in which he had been honoured with the freedom of boroughs, of which he was not a resident, he had no recollection of having paid any foes. The hon. member for 1207 Hull had cited the Limerick case; but that was not applicable to the present. Upon that occasion, the House had thought fit to pass a bill for regulating the application of Corporation funds, which had been applied to election purposes; and the deficiency in the funds so applied, was made up by a rate upon the inhabitants. He must also say, that he could see nothing wrong in the conduct of the Corporation, in sending about the country for a candidate whose politics coincided with their own. It was further alleged, that the leading members of the Corporation had paid, or engaged to pay, the expenses of the election; and that the money for that purpose was raised upon the bonds of individuals. Was it to be said, that an elective body had no right to subscribe their own funds to defray the expenses of an election? Now, in the city of Westminster, which prided itself upon the purity of election, it was one of the leading principles laid down by the electors, that the members should be returned free of expense; and to such an extent was that principle carried, that a deputation of the Westminster committee had waited upon the hon. baronet opposite to repay him the sum of 2s. paid by him, as a fee upon taking the oaths at the table of that House. Surely, it could not be considered a criminal act on the part of the Corporation of Leicester, to do that which was considered highly meritorious and praiseworthy, when done by the electors of Westminster. But the petition further stated, that those individuals were to be indemnified out of the funds of the Corporation, "as the petitioners believe." If this indemnity were given, that might form aground of inquiry; but the petitioners did not state that fact positively: all they stated was, "if the House of Commons will institute an inquiry, we shall probably be able to find out that such is the fact." He objected to granting any such inquisitorial power, upon so slight an allegation. With respect to the letter, said to be written by the town clerk, stating the different shades of blue and green, and the persons whom the Corporation wished to support, he must say, that he saw no ground for imputing to this Corporation as a crime, the doing of that which the numerous corporations in the kingdom were in the constant habit of doing. The hon. member had cited the Durham act; but that act, which regulated the period of voting 1208 by honorary freemen, did not apply to the charges preferred against the Corporation of Leicester. If it did apply, it would form a ground of application to an election committee; but it formed no ground for bringing the Corporation as criminals before that House. The hon. member had not stated his object in making this motion; and he wished the hon. member would state, whether it was his intention, if this motion should be agreed to, to ground upon it a general measure, or only a particular measure, directed against this Corporation. If the charges stated in the petition were true, they might form a ground for inquiry before an election committee; but there could not be any ground for a special inquiry; and he, therefore, trusted the House would negative the motion.
Sir C. A. Hastings
said, he had hoped that the hon. member would, upon reading the petition, have withdrawn the motion made upon such slight grounds as those stated in the petition, which contained imputations upon as honest, as respectable, and as independent a body of electors, as any in the kingdom. The petitioners did not go so far as to say that they would prove, or even endeavour to prove, any of their charges; but they merely said that they suspected this, that they believed that, and that they apprehended the other. If the House, upon allegations of suspicion and belief, were to call upon a respectable body to answer charges, they would be opening a door which would lead to much mischief and inconvenience; because any private individual, having a pique against a corporation, might bring them before that House, at a considerable expense, to answer charges which had no other foundation than his suspicion and belief. If the corporation of Leicester, in supporting a member entertaining principles similar to their own, had been guilty of a crime, they had been guilty of a crime of which every corporation in England had, at one time or another, been guilty. Another charge was, that the corporation had assisted the candidates with funds, to defray the expenses of the election. Now, he thought that he should have been one of the first persons made acquainted with that circumstance; but he must say, that it had never been stated to him, that any funds had been voted for that purpose. He admitted that, before the commence- 1209 ment of the election, some friends of the candidates had come forward, and contributed towards the expenses incurred in canvassing, &c, and he had no doubt that they had an unquestionable right so to apply their private funds; but of any other subscription he knew nothing. He agreed with the hon. member for Hull, that the contest was an expensive one, and he should at any time willingly travel from Leicester to Hull, if the hon. member would state in what way a contested election could be conducted without expense. With respect to the honorary freemen who had voted at the election, he would say, that he was perfectly disinterested; because, if the number of honorary freemen who had voted for him were deducted, he should still have a decided majority. He could not help stating to the House one circumstance, which would shew the candour of the petitioners in complaining against the non-resident voters. Of the petitioners, not less than eighteen were honorary freemen of Nottingham; and at the last election for that borough, every one of those individuals exercised that right of voting, which they made the subject of complaint, when exercised by the honorary freemen of Leicester. The hon. baronet concluded, by expressing a hope, that the House would agree with him, that there were not in the petition sufficient grounds to warrant the appointment of a select committee.
Cave admitted that there was an agreement between the committees of the several candidates to pay the expenses of the out-voters. Of the learned gentleman who had acted as assessor at that election, and who was suspected of having acted in a partial manner, he must say, that so anxious was that gentleman to avoid all appearance of partiality, that, in one or two instances, his decisions were against the party whom he was supposed to favour. He denied that the corporation had gone to hedges and highways to select honorary freemen. Those gentlemen were as respectable as any other voters of the borough.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he could not suffer the House to come to a vote upon this motion, without expressing his earnest wish that the House would, by their vote, mark this course of proceeding with the signal reprobation that it deserved. If that House were to listen to motions of the kind, they would be preparing the way to 1210 supersede the operation of the Grenville act, and he believed that the object of the petition was to supersede that act, in the present instance. He believed that the parties, who had presented this petition, had taken a legal opinion, to ascertain whether or not they could prove a case, under the Grenville act, against the sitting members; and that, having received an answer in the negative, they had suffered the time limited by the Grenville act to pass by, in the hope that that House would grant a select committee, and thereby rid them from those liabilities, which they must have incurred, if they had brought their complaints before the regular and ordinary tribunal, in cases of this description. If the petitioners had proceeded under the Grenville act, they must have entered into recognizances: they must have defrayed the expenses of the opposing party, if the allegations in the petition should be deemed frivolous or vexatious: and, in any case, they must have borne the expenses of their own witnesses. It was, therefore, infinitely more convenient to the petitioners, after having obtained a legal opinion, that they could not make out a case for the ordinary tribunals, to come down to that House and ask them to step out of their way, and appoint a select committee, before which an inquiry might be taken at the public expense. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more unjust, more undignified, or more unconstitutional, than that that House should enter into an inquiry into the local politics which prevailed in borough and county elections. The hon. member had read letters, directed to the freemen of the borough, in order to secure a majority for a favourite candidate-Taking all the charges to be true, he put it to the House whether they could not make better use of their time, than by employing it in investigating, upon an election petition, the different shades of blue which distinguished the different interests in that borough. He thought that House could not occupy their time more uselessly, or in any manner which could tend more to lower their dignity, than by going into an inquiry to ascertain whether or not certain individuals in the borough of Leicester were Blues, or Indigo Blues, or Sky Blues. If any charge was to be preferred against the Corporation of Leicester, for the mode in which they had conferred the freedom of the Corporation upon non-residents, why was not that 1211 charge preferred before an election committee? The hon. mover had said, that his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney-general would say that this case was a case for a court of equity, and that his hon. and learned friend, the Solicitor-general, would say that it was a case for a court of law. But neither of his hon. and learned friends had said any thing of the kind: And why? Because the case was not a case for any court at all: much less could it be expected that the time of the House could be wasted by entering into an inquiry upon such a trumpery case. The hon. member came down so unprepared with his motion, that the clerk of the House had to write it out at the table; but he must do the hon. member the justice to admit, that he had not come down to the House more unprepared with his motion than with his case. He said to the petitioners "If you complain of any offence, cognizable in a court of law, go to a court of law—if you complain of a matter which is cognizable in a court of equity only, go to a court of equity—if you complain of any violation of the election laws, go before an election committee—but do not ask the House of Commons to institute an inquiry into the different shades of Blue, which distinguish the parties in your Corporation." Some of the allegations in the petition were of the most frivolous description. One of them was, that "Sir C. A. Hastings was carried in procession to the Guildhall." Was it fitting that the House of Commons should institute an inquiry, for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not such was the fact? An inquiry into-such an allegation was beneath the dignity of the House. When the petitioners complained of the conduct of the Corporation, in making outvoters, the House would bear in mind, that eighteen out of the sixty abhorrents of corporation corruption, who had signed this petition, had, after voting at Leicester, left the election unfinished, and actually scampered off to Nottingham, to exercise their right of voting as honorary freemen of that borough. If the petitioners, who had called into question the acts of the Corporation of Leicester, should obtain a select committee, that would establish a precedent for those who complained of the acts of the corporation of Nottingham; and to such an extent would applications of this kind spread, that, in a very short time, the time of the House would be 1212 occupied solely in investigating election squabbles. If the House thought that corporations had made an improper use of their power, in conferring the freedom of the respective boroughs upon non-residents, for election purposes, let such power be limited by law; but let not one corporation be selected, because some of its members were Blues, or Indigo Blues, or that description of Blues, of which the petitioners did not approve. The hon. member had said, that there was no precedent upon their Journals for appointing a select committee in a case of this kind. That there was no such precedent, did not in the least surprise him; but the hon. gentleman, having failed in finding any authority in the Journals, had recourse to the works of Dr. Smollett, and had at last found in Peregrine Pickle, or Roderick Random, [a laugh], a case in point. He took the whole charge of the hon. member to amount to this, and nothing more—that the hon. member did not approve of the politics of those gentlemen who had been returned for Leicester. Considering that some of those petitioners had acted at Nottingham in the manner which they complained of others for having acted at Leicester—considering that if motions of this kind were acceded to, it would prevent parties complaining from appealing to the tribunals constituted by that House in cases of this kind, and constituted because that House thought that such tribunals would be exempt from the influence of large majorities—and, considering, that it was beneath the dignity of that House to interfere with disputes arising out of local politics, he could not avoid expressing his sincere hope that the House would make a stand against such applications, and would, by a large majority, reject the motion for a select committee.
Sir F. Burdett
said, he thought that his hon. friend, the member for Hull, had not been fairly dealt by. When he saw right hon. gentlemen having recourse to gross exaggerations—to palpable misrepresentations—attributing what had never been said, and what never could have been believed to have been said, it was quite evident that it was the last resource of those who felt that there was more in the case than they were able, in any other way, to answer. Every body who heard the right hon. gentleman—nay, the right hon. gentleman himself—well knew that; the hon. member for Hull had never quoted- 1213 Peregrine Pickle, nor Roderick Random. Such trifling might amuse, but it could not satisfy; and he was surprised that the right hon. gentleman, for the sake of so poor a joke, could lay aside the candour for which he had recently obtained credit. A volume of Smollett's History was less cumbersome than a volume of the Journals; and Smollett was an historian in some credit. Therefore, unless the right hon. gentleman could establish, that Smollett had misquoted the Journals, the attempt at ridicule, because the same individual had written certain novels, recoiled upon itself. The right hon. gentleman might excite a laugh among his friends and adherents; but such a specimen of wit could only produce a smile rather of pity than satisfaction among those who were not connected with him in office or expectancy. Both the hon. members for Leicester had boasted of the respectability of their constituents; but surely it was unnecessary that they should vouch the fact; seeing that it would be taken for granted, that those who sent particular members to parliament would be declared by those members to be men of great judgment, and high virtue, both private and political. A right hon. gentleman had said, that the corporation of Leicester had done no more than the electors of Westminster, in paying the legal expenses of the election; but the charge of the hon. mover was, that the corporation had abused and misapplied the corporate funds, by employing them for the purposes of the election. If it had been merely stated, that individual gentlemen had subscribed their own money to forward a particular election, such a charge, so grossly absurd, could not be entertained for a moment. If this were decidedly stated, then there would be an end to the case. But he did not understand the fact to be so. And even if it appeared, on the first view, that the subscriptions were of this nature, still, in his opinion, it ought to be clearly proved before they refused inquiry; because the business might be done in so covert a manner—corruption having arrived at such a pitch in this country, especially in corporations,—as to prevent discovery, unless it were narrowly investigated. The petitioners complained of the excessive number of voters that had been created. "But," said the right hon. gentleman, "the corporation had a right to make them; and if they had not, why did not 1214 the petitioners proceed against them under the Grenville act?" What, however, was the real state of the case? The petitioners complained of the abuse of a legal power; and that could not be the subject of a prosecution under the Grenville act. Here was alleged the positive abuse of a legal' power; and if that abuse had taken place, he contended, that the House was imperiously called on to institute an investigation of all the circumstances, connected with the offence. What did the hon. member for Hull demand? He asked for a committee, in whose power it should be-to call for whatever evidence they might deem necessary. Could any thing be more fair—could any thing be more necessary—where such a statement was made as that contained in the petition? He denied that this proceeding would cast any reflection on the sitting members. The petition contained no allegation against' them. They might be perfectly unconscious of the practices complained of. The hon. baronet had said, that if any improper practices were going on, he must have heard, of them. This, however, he must deny. On the contrary, the hon. baronet would be the last man in the world whom the parties complained of would make acquainted with any practices of this description. The corporation were too much; au fait at this business to let him know any thing about it. The right hon. gentleman had spoken of the honorary or temporary electors for Nottingham, who went in such a hurry from one place to the other to vote. But what answer was that to the statement of his hon. friend? He complained that the same kind of thing had been done at Leicester as appeared to have been done at Nottingham; and he laid before the House a particular case, which had fallen into his hands, and which he wished to have investigated. It was no answer to say to him, that similar proceedings had occurred elsewhere. He, therefore, contended, that his hon. friend had a right to call on the House to interfere in a case, with respect to which redress could not be obtained in a court of law. It was only in that House that the justice of the case could be satisfied; and, therefore, he called upon them not to dismiss it with that levity, which the right hon. gentleman appeared, by his manner, to sanction. If this motion was rejected, the public would consider it as the declaration of a denial of justice in every 1215 case of this kind that might be brought before parliament. It would show, that the House was destitute of that constitutional jealousy which it ought to feel for the purity of its members; and that instead of opening wide its doors to representations of the kind, it was anxious to throw every difficulty in the way of investigation.
Mr. V. Fitzgerald
contended, that his right hon. friend was justified in his allusion to Peregrine Pickle and Roderick Random, by the fact, that in that portion of Smollett's History which had been referred to upon this occasion, the author had shown more of the novel writer and the political pamphleteer, than of the liberal and impartial narrator of events.
§ Lord Milton
said, the question was, whether the act of the Corporation in creating such a number of additional voters, was or was not illegal. No one had said that, under ordinary circumstances, the Corporation of Leicester had not a right to make freemen. But the case became very different, when the proposition for creating additional voters was hawked all over the country. It appeared that 2,000 letters had been issued to various individuals, and that eight hundred persons were in consequence placed in the situation of electors. This being the case, the hon. member for Hull surely had a right to bring the business forward, for the purpose of investigation. But the right hon. gentleman had, with a great deal of solemnity, called on the House to make a stand, and to support the Corporation. He hoped that the House would do no such thing; especially as a complaint which had been recently made against another corporation, for improper practices in the course of an election, had not been thus dismissed, but had been referred to a committee for consideration. With the labours of that committee they had not yet been made acquainted; but he expected that they would be soon laid on their table. The present was, in his opinion, a gross abuse of legal rights, by the members of this Corporation. It was clear that vast numbers of persons having no connection with the town of Leicester had been created freemen; and it was the duty of that House to inquire, whether they were so created for the purpose of influencing the election in a particular way. He contended, that the House had a right to interfere, to prevent, in future, 1216 the recurrence of such a transaction. It was no answer to the petitioners to say, that a similar transaction had taken place at Nottingham. That, on the contrary, ought to operate as an additional reason for rooting out such a system altogether.
§ Mr. Legh-Keck
said, he was himself a freeman of Leicester, and he could safely aver, that a more respectable body of electors could not be found in the kingdom. The funds of that Corporation were strictly applied to the purposes for which they were originally intended. There was not a corporate body in England, who watched over the charitable and other funds placed under their care, with more unremitting attention. As to the formation of additional freemen, it could not have been done for the purpose of influencing the election. That would have been a needless precaution; because the resident freemen would, over and over again, have secured the return of the favourite candidate, without any adventitious aid.
§ Mr. Goulburn
contended, that the present case bore no analogy to that of Northampton, inasmuch as no misapplication of corporate funds was charged against the Corporation of Leicester. As to the remission of fees to the eight hundred freemen, it could not have been made with a view to influence the election, as the freedom was conferred on them in 1822, and the election took place four years after. The absence of any illegality in the mode of taking the poll was proved by the fact, that counsel, who had been consulted on the policy of petitioning against the return, under the Grenville act, declared that there were not sufficient grounds to support such a charge.
said, that as the corporation of Nottingham had been alluded to in the course of the discussion, he was bound to admit that the practice complained of had prevailed there to some extent. He, however, disapproved of it, and would as willingly support a motion for inquiry into the conduct of that corporation, as into that of Leicester.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
supported the motion. He said, that the matter loudly called for the intervention of the House. This infamous system of overpowering the bonâ fide voters, by creation of honorary freemen, had been begun by the corporation of Nottingham; who, he was informed, had made twelve hundred utterly un- 1217 connected with the place; and the example had been followed by that of Leicester, who were said to have made nearly two thousand: and he hoped equal justice would be done to both corporations.
Sir F. Burdett
was about to read a passage from the petition, in order to prove the incorrectness of the statement made on the other side of the House; namely, that the petition did not allege that the Corporation money had been misapplied, when
§ The Speaker
informed him, that it was not competent to him to do so, he having already addressed the House.
§ Lord Howick
, therefore, read the passage, which declared, that the Corporation had borrowed money to carry on the election, and that the lenders were to be indemnified out of the Corporation funds.
§ Mr. C. N. Pallmer
was of opinion that the freemen in question had been made in contemplation of the election, and that their votes were improperly used in it. On that ground he should support the motion.
§ The House divided:—For the motion 68: Against it 92; Majority 24.
|List of the Minority.|
|Althorp, lord||Kennedy, T. K.|
|Baring, F||Lester, B.|
|Baring, J.||Lombe, E.|
|Bringham, J.||Maberly, J.|
|Barrett, S. B.||Maberly, col.|
|Brownlow, C.||Martin, John|
|Burdett, sir F.||Marshall, John|
|Buxton, T. F.||Monck, J. B.|
|Colborne, R.||Milton, lord|
|Clive, E. B.||Morpeth, lord|
|Campbell, W. F.||Nugent, lord|
|Cradock, col.||Ord, W.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Pallmer, C. N.|
|Dundas, sir R.||Pendarvis, E. W.|
|Ebrington, lord||Prothero, E.|
|Easthope, J.||Powlett, hon. W. J.|
|Folkestone, lord||Ponsonby, hon. F.|
|Forbes, sir C.||Price, Robert|
|Forbes, J.||Russell, lord W.|
|Fazakerly, J. N.||Rancliffe, lord|
|Cordon, R.||Robinson, George|
|Graham, sir J.||Rumbold, C.|
|Gurney, Hudson||Sefton, Earl of|
|Guest, J. J.||Stanley, hon. E. G.|
|Heneage, G. F.||Smith, W.|
|Heron, sir R.||Tomes, John|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Thompson, C. P.|
|Howard, H.||Tennyson, C.|
|Howick, lord||Waithman, ald.|
|Hume, J.||Warburton, H.|
|Ingleby, sir W.||White, col.|
|Jermyn, lord||Wood, C.|
|Wrightson, W. B.||Sykes, D.|
|Whitmore, W. W.||Rice, T. S.|