HC Deb 24 March 1828 vol 18 cc1320-9

On the Order of the Day for further considering the Report of the Committee,

Mr. Manning

hoped that, after the House had determined to extend the privilege of East Retford to the adjoining hundred, at least the same course would be followed in the case of Penryn.

Mr. D. Gilbert

said, he had abstained from taking any part in the debates which had passed upon the subject, as he was connected with most of the gentlemen and with the interests of the district concerned. At present, however, he was desirous of doing away with a primâ facie feeling which prevailed in the House, with respect to the representation of the county of Cornwall. He knew that large assemblies acted upon first impressions, and that it was extremely difficult to remove them. He should, however, attempt the task, convinced that, were the House not undeceived in this respect, it would be impossible for it to come to a right decision. He would deny that the interests of Cornwall were better represented, in consequence of its numerous boroughs, than any other county. He was not inclined, if a borough were disfranchised, to give the representation to such a county as York; for the representation of four members for the same district was extremely inconvenient. He disapproved of the proposed plan with respect to the two boroughs; but if it was to be pursued, he was convinced, that in strict justice and consistency, its application ought to be inverted; that the measure intended for the one ought to be applied to the other, and vice versa. He would ask what was the representation of Cornwall? Why was its extent so much complained of, and why should the House wish to diminish it? It had been said the other night, that the borough of East Retford ought not to be disfranchised, because. the county of Nottingham was unequally represented in that House, and that, consequently, the number of members returned for places in the county ought not to be diminished. Now, he would claim the same consideration for the county of Cornwall. Although this latter county might abound in representative towns, few of the members returned were Cornish men, or connected with Cornish interests. The boroughs of Cornwall conceived that they could get better representatives from Scotland, Ireland, and other distant parts, than they could find among the natives. He would read over a list, by which it appeared that out of the forty members sent into that House by Cornwall, only six were Cornish gentlemen. He must, indeed, confess, that the county, and those in it, were immensely benefitted by the power of imparting to Scotch, Irish, and other gentlemen, the privilege of sitting in that House as the representatives of boroughs with which they had no connection, tie, or interest. It had been said, that this brought a great influx of wealth into the county, and poured an unreasonable number of Cornishmen into all government offices and employments; but these were considerations foreign to the immediate question relating to Penryn. The advantages of throwing the representation of this borough into the neighbouring hundreds were great; and they were irresistible, if the principle of the motion before the House were to be pursued. The hundreds in the neighbourhood of Penryn comprised a hundred thousand acres, and from fifteen hundred to two thousand freeholders; with three large towns, of which one alone, Penzance, contained twenty thousand inhabitants. If it were thought best that the franchise either of Penryn or East Retford were to be given to the hundred, there was nothing in the local circumstances of the former to render such a measure inexpedient; whilst, in the case of East Retford, not only was the adjacent district less populous; not only were there no large towns in the neighbourhood; but, if he was rightly informed, there was a predominant interest in the adjoining district, which rendered an extension of the franchise to the hundred not a reform or an improvement in the representation, but a mere transfer of the borough into the hands of an individual. He should certainly give his vote against carrying the franchise of East Retford to the neighbouring hundred.

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, that when he saw a president of the Royal Society rise to read them a memoir or paper, for the purpose of showing that Cornwall was not over-represented, and that Nottingham was, he thought it would puzzle that learned person not a little to accomplish such an object, and the result had justified his anticipation. He thought the measure supported by the right hon. Secretary, of transferring the franchise to a great commercial community, was called for by the: increase of wealth, the progress of civilization, and the march of intellect. When such a number of these great towns had grown up to be so many Londons, it was time they should be represented. Manchester should not be allowed to remain longer without a member in that House. He hoped the right hon. Secretary would persevere in the course which he had indicated it to be his intention to pursue. He rejoiced to see a minister of the Crown not afraid to look a moderate reform in the face.

Mr. C. Pallmer

said, that, having been one of those who last year voted with a right hon. gentleman whose voice, unhappily, the House would never hear again, that the elective franchise of this borough should be thrown into the adjoining hundreds, he could not with any consistency now give a contrary vote. Instead of seeing any thing to induce him to alter, he had had his opinion confirmed by the remarkable fact, that, with respect to East Retford, where the guilt had been more universal, and the population of the adjoining hundreds less numerous, the House; had, but a few evenings ago, resolved upon the same measure of justice. Surely it was not fair to visit the smaller degree of guilt with the greater degree of severity ! With respect to the argument of the different counties in which the places were situated, he never could admit that guilt was more punishable because it was in one county than it should be in another. He professed himself as anxious as the noble lord could be to punish corruption; but he would never agree to reach it through injustice. The corruptors were worse than the corrupted; and though he refused to go with the noble lord, in punishing the many for the guilt of the few, in: the present instance, he assured him, that if he would make his attack upon the cor- ruptors, and introduce a measure to require that every member should solemnly declare that he had in no degree exercised corruption, the noble lord should have his humble but zealous support. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, as an amendment, "that it be an instruction to the Committee on the said bill, that they have power to make provision for preventing Bribery and Corruption in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament for the Borough of Penryn, by extending the right of voting to all forty-shillings Freeholders in the Hundreds of Penwith and Kerrier."

Sir C. Burrell

seconded the amendment, because he was of opinion that the corruption had not been so general as to justify a transfer of the franchise.

Mr. G. Bankes

concurred with the hon. member for Surrey, that it did seem a little hard that Penryn should suffer for the delinquency of another borough; and it further appeared hard, that, according to the proposition which had come from the other side of the House, both boroughs were to be punished more severely than they would otherwise have been, owing to the delinquency of each. With respect to Penryn, he understood the Secretary of State for the Home Department to say, that he declined adopting a different measure of punishment, entirely in consequence of the corruption of another borough, and yet he could not reconcile it with this declaration, nor with his own notions of any principle of justice, that a change should have taken place in the determination avowed by gentleman of that House. With regard to the delinquency of Penryn, the present was not a time to speak of it, but it was a proper opportunity to consider of the measure of punishment; and he was sorry that this measure of punishment should be altered, in consequence of circumstances wholly foreign to the borough and its offence. He thought that a better derision might be come to as to their punishment, by considering separately and severally the two cases; and he, therefore, regretted to hear a proposition which did not appear to him accordant to the principles of justice; namely, that punishment was to be awarded, not in proportion to the demerit of the offending party, but to the guilt of another wholly distinct; not only was Penryn to be more severely punished in consequence of the delinquency of East Retford, but East Retford was to suffer more severely from the guilt of Penryn. It was now, for the first time, recommended that, in extending the franchise to the hundreds, all those who had hitherto enjoyed the privilege of voters should be excluded. He considered the plan for throwing the franchise of a delinquent borough upon the hundreds was not so much with a view to protect the agricultural interest, as to preserve a due proportion between delinquency and punishment, by preserving the privileges of those voters who had not forfeited their franchise by corruption. This he took to be the design of the extension, and not any partial or jealous distinction between the agricultural and commercial interests. He was sorry that on this occasion that principle should be deviated from. The rights of election were by many thought of equal importance to the rights of property. He admitted that there was a distinction; yet the principle upon which they were founded was the same. They were given and preserved by the same laws, and he did not know how they could be separated in the consideration of this question. He confessed that in some cases, individual interests must be sacrificed for public advantage, but that ought to be done only on urgent necessity, nor ought that necessity to be unnecessarily provoked; which he thought would be the case if the resolution already formed by hon. members were abandoned, because it was found convenient to punish the borough for delinquency in another quarter. It appeared to him, on the statement made by the hon. member for Penryn, that this was not a case standing on its own merits. And if so, he could not consent to inflict a heavier punishment than the actual criminality would justify. He should therefore support the amendment.

Mr. Batley

said, he would not vote for the absolute disfranchisement of Penryn. He could not consent to punish the innocent with the guilty, and should, therefore, support the amendment.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that his hon. friend (Mr. G. Bankes) had completely mistaken what had fallen from him on a former evening, when he expressed his wish to postpone the declaration of his sentiments as to the transfer of the franchise of Penryn, until after the question respecting East Retford was disposed of. He then stated, that the transfer of the franchise involved considerations of policy, and that he was desirous not to give an opinion with respect to any particular place, until the House had decided whether they had one or two to deal with. At that moment, however, he had made up his mind that the House was at liberty to deal with Penryn absolutely. The ground on which he had come to this I conclusion was this—that on three several occasions there had been proof of corruption in Penryn. In 1807, the proceedings which took place in that borough were brought under the consideration of the House. Distinct allegations of corrupt practices were referred to a committee, appointed under the Grenville act: they examined witnesses on oath, and the report which they made to the House was conclusive as to the existence, to a certain extent, of corrupt practices. This, then, was a distinct warning to the borough, and those interested in the preservation of the franchise ought to have exerted themselves I to have prevented similar abuses in future, In 1819, again, complaints were repeated, I and the question was again referred to a committee, where it was proved that corrupt practices still continued in the borough, and the House expressed their opinion on the subject by passing a bill, disfranchising the borough. Here were two distinct warnings, and one went to the extent of a practical confiscation, which was a material point affecting the case. These warnings, however, were not sufficient, and at the last election a third complaint was made to the House; and in the course of the session the House, after hearing evidence at the bar—particularly that of Mr. Stanbury—and upon mature deliberation, acting judicially, came; to a resolution, declaring that there prevailed in Penryn that notorious corruption: which placed the franchise of the borough: at the disposal of the House; and that resolution they seconded by a solemn act; namely, the passing of the bill. It was evident that there must be some termination to proceedings of this kind. The House having declared that the borough ought to be disfranchised, could not be made a court of appeal against their own decision. He was not prepared to advise the House to revoke the solemn decision to which they had come by a majority of 114 to 33. He did not think such a course would add to the character of the House. If any person were to state that he could bring forward new evidence to overturn that which had been previously given, that might present new considerations to his mind; but he had heard nothing of the kind stated. At the present moment he trusted the House would deal with the case before them with the most rigid justice. Should the House agree to the original proposal for transferring the franchise to the large town, or great commercial place, the voters not disfranchised, it was obvious, would feel themselves very differently circumstanced, and placed in a very different relation from that in which they formerly stood. In fact they would only bear the numerical proportion of a hundred and fifty to two thousand, such being the disproportion between the number of the disfranchised voters and the number of new electors, or newly enfranchised persons, with whom they were intended to be amalgamated by the bill. He was still unaltered in his opinion, that substantial justice would not be done by extending, in this case, the franchise to the hundred. In the former case of a transfer so often alluded to in the course of the debate, the House had voted, that the forfeited franchise of the borough of Grampound should be transferred to Leeds; their lordships, however, subsequently determined, in the other House, that the franchise should be transferred to the county of York. As to the disfranchised parties, in either case it was almost, if not altogether, a matter of indifference to them who derived the benefit of this transfer of the franchise. The franchise was undoubtedly an enjoyment of a private right. In the case of the borough of Grampound both branches of the legislature, however, felt they could not do justice to the interests of the public, unless the electors were disfranchised. Whatever might be his opinion on other delinquent boroughs, he begged to state, that he never doubted that the House had a clear right to deal with the electors of Penryn from the notoriety of its corruption. The only doubt he had entertained was as to what was to be done with the forfeited franchise in this case, or to whom it was to be transferred. It was for the latter reason that when, during last session, this question was before the House, he, forming then no part of the ministry, had forborne to express his sentiments on this part of the duty of the legislature. As to the propriety of transferring the franchise of Penryn to the hundred— and here he wished to be understood as saying nothing which could be inferred to allude to the case of the borough of East Retford—he had formed his opinion, and made his mind up, from the thousand circumstances—some even minute ones—which were so often found in life to be the substantive grounds on which persons were often compelled to make up their minds on matters of even considerable importance. In the review of those circumstances he could not exclude from his mind the consideration, that the borough of Penryn was a Cornish borough, and that Cornwall had forty-two representatives in that House: and here he would observe, in answer to an appeal which had been made to the House, by the hon. President of the Royal Society, in favour of the representation of Cornwall—let those persons whose interests were likely to be affected provide in future that their interests should be represented in parliament by competent persons. For himself, he should vote for the transfer of the franchise of Penryn to a large commercial community, because he considered it a fair line of conduct to pursue, as the House had now two delinquent boroughs to deal with, and with propriety, therefore, could adopt the principle of alternation in this particular instance.

Lord F. L. Gower

said, that opposed as he had generally been, on the question of reform in parliament, to many who had taken a part in the debate, he still thought that, in the present instance, a case had been made out for disfranchising this particular borough. He felt it his duty to defend his right hon. friend from the charge which had been made against him, by the hon. member for Corfe Castle, who described his right hon. friend as having waited to make up his mind upon the question, until the case of the delinquency of East Retford arose, so as to furnish himself with an argument to aggravate the offence of the former delinquency. Such an inference was unauthorized in fact, and unjust to his right hon. friend. The cases of these delinquent boroughs resembled very strikingly the cases of two persons found guilty of offences, which rendered them liable to the severest penalty the law could inflict. If, pursuant to that sentence, they were doomed to die, it was of little consequence to themselves how that sentence was executed, provided it were speedy, and un- marked by cruelty. But it was of great importance to the public how the sentence of the law was executed; for it might be, and often was, of consequence that such a mode should be adopted as might render the punishment an example to others. If, then, the House should determine in its wisdom, that one of these offending boroughs should be delivered over to be dissected after execution, and order the other to be hung in chains, no one could feel that the House had, in this case, exercised towards the parties an act of injustice.

The House divided: For the original motion 213; Against it 34: Majority 179. The House then went into the committee. The preamble of the bill, transferring the right of electing two members from the borough of Penryn to the town Manchester, was read and agreed to.

Colonel Davies

objected to the clause by which the deposit for defraying the expenses of the hustings, &c. was to be returned to the successful, but not to the unsuccessful candidates.

Lord J. Russell

said, the object of the clause was to prevent vexatious contests. If such a provision were not introduced, a person possessed neither of property, nor a chance of success, might, by setting himself up as a candidate, throw the town into an uproar.

Mr. Wynn

disapproved of the clause in question. Either none of the candidates should be called upon to pay any share of the expenses incident to the election, or they should all defray them in an equal proportion.

Mr. Secretary Peel

thought the fairest provision under the circumstances would be, that no party should be considered qualified as a candidate, unless he was prepared to defray his proportion of the necessary expenses of the election; which he certainly was of opinion ought to be exacted from all the parties, successful as well as unsuccessful.

The clause was agreed to. On the clause limiting the number of days the poll was to be kept open,

Mr. Ross

wished to know why Manchester was only to be allowed three days to poll, when other places were allowed fifteen.

Lord J. Russell

replied, that Manchester was a very populous town, and his object was, by limiting the period, to prevent those riots which frequently took place at elections.

Mr. Huskisson

said, there was scarcely one clause in the bill which could be reconciled with the provisions of the general law regulating elections. In fact, the provisions of some of the clauses were so inconvenient, that it would be impossible to reduce them to practice. He therefore suggested, that it would be advisable to go no further with the bill at present.

Lord J. Russell

observed, that he and those who acted with him were anxious to preserve order at the elections, and it was possible that they might have gone further than was necessary in the pursuit of that object. He could not, however, adopt the suggestion of the right hon. gentleman, as it would be productive of delay.

Mr. Sugden

thought it would be advantageous to postpone that and the remaining clauses, until the other two bills were brought before the House.

Dr. Phillimore

admitted that the suggestion would have been a good one if they could be sure that the other bills would pass; but as they could not be sure of that, it would be wrong to make the present bill depend on a remote contingency.

Mr. G. Lamb

thought the machinery of the bill was altogether too cumbersome. He did not see why, if it should be decided to give the franchise to Manchester, they should not subject the elections in that town to the same general laws which affected other elections.

Lord J. Russell

consented to withdraw the clause, as the sense of the committee appeared to be decidedly against it.

The bill, with the amendments, was then reported to the House.