HC Deb 29 August 1831 vol 6 cc762-6
Lord Stanley

presented a Petition from the Bankers, merchants, and other Inhabitants of Liverpool, praying, that the Speaker might be directed to issue his writ for the election of a Member to serve for that borough. At present they were half disfranchised, as there was only one sitting Member.

Mr. Ewart

supported the prayer of the petition, by the desire of his constituents, but, circumstanced as he was with respect to Liverpool, he felt, that it did not become him to enter further into the subject.

Mr. Benett

said, that at the election which had been brought under the notice of the House, it was proved, that bribery had been practised in the most barefaced manner, and that corruption extended over a great number of electors; but there were criminals higher in station than these persons, he meant those who bribed them. He wished very much to get at these persons, but as that was impossible the only way to prevent their practising the same obnoxious conduct, was, to deprive the electors who received bribes of their franchise. Independent of this consideration, however, he did not know how they could entertain a proposition of this nature, seeing that there was an understanding in the House that the writ should not go down until a motion, of which he had given notice, founded on the late election, had been disposed of.

Mr. Wilks

said, that by thus staying the writ, they were not only punishing the electors of Liverpool, but the whole country, by lessening the number of Representatives, The borough of Liverpool, it should be observed, stood in a very different situation from that in which it would have been placed, if no dissolution of Parliament, and no subsequent election, had occurred. To the proceedings at the late election no objection whatever had been made, and to deprive the second commercial town in the empire of half its Representation, was straining the powers of the House to their uttermost extent. He should support the prayer of the petition most heartily.

Mr. Granville Vernon

thought, that proceeding further in this question would tend to little good. They were throwing an augmentation of duty and responsibility on the sitting Member, which it was very difficult and onerous to bear. He hoped the House had not so far committed itself, as to be pledged to inquire into the alleged corruptions of Liverpool, previous to a writ being issued. Even if that were the case he thought, under all the circumstances, they should so far relax as to permit the writ to issue, which would be no impediment in the way of inquiry hereafter. He could by no means admit, that the House was pledged to keep Liverpool half represented, as it now was. The case of East Retford, which he had the honour to represent, should be a warning to Parliament how it entered into those investigations. After all the expense, delay, and public inconvenience incurred in the East Retford proceeding, no voter was disfranchised; but a number of freeholders belonging to the hundred of Bassetlaw obtained the elective franchise; and this infusion of new blood had the effect of rendering the Representation of that borough pure and free from corruption. The same results might be expected in Liverpool after the passing of the Reform Bill. There were now 4,000 freemen, one-third of whom were non-residents. Under the Reform Bill, however, there would be 17,000 resident electors in Liverpool, and it was impossible that such a constituency could be open to bribery. Under these circumstances he saw no good reason for deferring any longer the issue of the writ.

An Hon. Member

, in supporting the petition, observed, that they had heard the other evening, from the single member for Liverpool who now sat in that House, how exceedingly inconvenient it was for him to sustain on his own shoulders, unassisted, the whole of the parliamentary business connected with Liverpool.

Mr. Wason

said, that he would oppose any proposition to issue a new writ for Liverpool, after the House had already decided, that no writ should issue until the hon. member for Wiltshire had brought his motion forward. It had been proved, that the freemen of Liverpool were, in general, more corrupt than any other place where bribery had been exposed, and he therefore thought they should not go unpunished. The subsequent election to the one complained of, had taken place by the royal prerogative alone at the dissolution, and the House having been no party to it, that could be no bar to further proceedings.

Mr. Evelyn Denison

said, that the issuing of the writ for Liverpool had been suspended indefinitely, and it did appear to him, that it was irregular and unprecedented to take cognizance in the present Parliament of acts done by the late one. It was a most serious consideration, to keep so important a place as Liverpool, only half represented. It was punishing the innocent for the guilty. As the House had most important business to transact, and as the Reform Bill ought not to be delayed by discussions of this nature, he hoped the writ would be allowed to issue forthwith.

Sir George Clerk

said, that however important the Reform Question might be, it should, in his opinion, give way to the discussion of cases of particular bribery and corruption, such as this of Liverpool, which was a much more flagrant case than that of Dublin, where few persons comparatively were bribed, and was beyond comparison worse than that of East Retford; corruption was practised on a much larger scale, the greater part of the voters were bribed, and in that less important, lessguilty case, the writ had been suspended until a great addition of electors had been provided. He was happy to hear from the hon. Member, that the remedy had been so successful. He therefore was of opinion, the same course should be followed in the present case, and the writ be stayed; Whether the Reform Bill passed or not, the House would probably think some remedy necessary, and, by the infusion of a new description of voters, to put some stop to the bribery and corruption of the present electors for Liverpool. Under these circumstances, he felt himself called on to pursue the same course he had before taken, and to move "That this debate be adjourned," if the hon. Member persisted in his intention to move for a new writ.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that very great responsibility would rest upon the hon. member for Wiltshire, if, by agitating this question, he should delay the measure of Reform. They had yet a great deal to do. There was the Irish Reform Bill and the Scotch Reform Bill, which, no doubt, would take precedence of the measure which related to Ireland. He was, however, happy to perceive so much anxiety manifested to correct corruption in Scotland. The Scotch Members had not, upon an average, more than 127 constituents each: that did not lead, in the least degree, to their individual advantage. They did not make their parliamentary interest subservient to their personal gain. They had no pensions, no places, no peerages. He had certainly heard of such things out of doors, but such rumours were not deserving attention. He hoped they would not introduce any unnecessary discussions to delay Members from returning to then families.

Mr. Ewart

thought Liverpool would be purified by the Reform Bill, and that therefore, it was unnecessary to delay issuing the Writ.

Lord Stanley

said, those Gentlemen who were so anxious to prevent corruption appeared to him to take a wrong course by desiring to have the writ suspended which allowed all sorts of opportunities for exercising undue influence during the period of delay, and which there was no law to prevent. He could bear witness that, at the last election, there had been none of those scandalous proceedings which had disgraced Liverpool previously: no riots nor disorders had then taken place. If the House acceded to the prayer of the petition, and caused a new writ to be issued, the hon. member for Wiltshire could still bring forward his Motion, and punish those who had been proved to be guilty of bribery and corruption, as well if that place had two Members, as now when it had only one.

Petition to be printed.