HC Deb 08 July 1831 vol 4 cc968-76
Mr. Evelyn Denison

moved for the issue of a new Writ for the borough of Liverpool. It would be in the recollection of the House, he said, that when he had previously made a similar Motion, the noble Lord opposite suggested the propriety of an adjournment, to which he had consented, in order not to prejudge the question, for he had then stated, no precedent could be found for the delay of the Writ under the circumstances of the case. He had since diligently examined the records of the House, and admitted, that Writs had been often suspended for acts of gross impropriety in different boroughs, and such a suspension had been continued from Session to Session, but no case had occurred of extending that suspension from one to a subsequent Parliament. Since the proceedings against Liverpool had taken place, there had been a dissolution, and could the House, after the Crown had put an end to the last Parliament, be justified in renewing the suspension? The effect of the Reform Bill would be to give greater power to the majority in that Mouse, and therefore it would be highly inexpedient to depart from those settled customs and usages which operated as a defence and protection to the minority. If, in other cases, a suspension had been allowed, it was where there was no chance of rectifying the abuses in the delinquent boroughs, and in that case only was the House justified in a departure from established custom. East Retford was the cause of great delay and expense, and after all no person was disfranchised, but a number of additional electors were added to purify the remainder. The Reform Bill would do the same for the borough of Liverpool, which a particular Bill had done for East Retford, and he hoped, therefore, that the noble Marquis would not oppose the issuing of the Writ, as there could be no necessity for taking other measures to attain what would thus practically be effected. It was to him personally a matter of indifference whether the House renewed its inquiries into what had taken place in the borough of Liverpool or not, but from those inquiries the question of issuing the Writ was perfectly distinct, and he must call upon the House to support the Motion with which he should conclude, as a proper and customary line of proceeding. He begged to move, "That the Speaker do now issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to issue a new Writ for the election of a Burgess to serve for the Borough of Liverpool, in the room of Mr. Evelyn Denison, who had made his election to serve for the County of Nottingham."

Mr. Ewart

seconded the Motion.

The Marquis of Chandos

asked the hon. member for Wiltshire, whether he intended to persist in the Motion of which he had formerly given notice on this subject, as it was then understood this question of granting the new Writ should not take precedence of that.

Mr. Benett

did not think the decision of this question, whether it terminated in issuing the new Writ or not, would at all affect the question he was to bring before the House. He had once moved for the suspension of the Writ, which was agreed to, but a dissolution had taken place since, and a Writ had issued, which he could not prevent. If the Motion to suspend the Writ was brought forward by any other Gentleman he would support it; but at present he did not feel himself called upon to originate such a Motion.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

said, that he should certainly oppose the issuing of this Writ, until the evidence taken before the Election Committee had been brought under the consideration of the House. The whole was necessarily an anomalous proceeding, for there was no exact precedent, and the House was not bound by any rule but its own discretion. The charge against the borough of Liverpool was, that gross and systematic bribery had taken place in that town, during the election for its Representatives in 1830. That was the cause why the Writ was suspended last April, and was a good reason that the suspension should be continued. It had been said, the dissolution put an end to this proceeding; but with this opinion he did not agree. The Crown had no optional power, but must issue Writs to the different Sheriffs, desiring them to issue precepts for each borough within their jurisdiction. He recollected that when his late Majesty George 3rd died, there were four boroughs, against which charges of bribery had been alleged, and were under consideration. On that occasion, the House had passed a bill, declaring that if those charges were not decided before the dissolution of Parliament, no Writ should issue for those boroughs. But before the Bill passed through the other House, the dissolution took place, and new elections were held. He would ask, whether, in a case like that of Grampound, with the evidence before them, any hon. Member would have voted for the issuing of a new Writ while the proceedings were in progress. The best course which the House could follow at present was, either to negative this Motion, or to suspend the issuing of this Writ till Monday or Tuesday next, when the Motion of the hon. member for Wiltshire would be taken into consideration.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

could not agree either in the principle or in the expediency of the proposal of the right hon. member for Montgomeryshire. It was the mere accidental circumstance of an hon. Gentleman having been returned for a county as well as for the borough of Liverpool, that afforded the opportunity of making any demur to the issue of the Writ for that borough. It would, in his opinion, be a violent assumption of power on the part of the House, if it refused a Writ to supply such an accidental vacancy. It was notorious, that corruption and bribery had prevailed at Liverpool to a vast extent during the election last year, and that the hon. Member who was then elected had lost his seat in consequence. If, therefore, there had been delinquency, it had been severely punished. Another election had since taken place, and it was one of the most pure that had ever been known there. If the Writ were issued, the examples already made would have the effect of preventing bribery; if the Writ were suspended, it would increase corruption, and might excite violence, by rousing the bad passions of the great population of the borough. If the Reform Bill was carried, the franchise would be varied, the local evil of voting by tallies would be done away, and with that would disappear the facility of bribery. He therefore thought the Writ ought to be issued.

Mr. Rigby Wason

said, he had taken an active part out of doors in exposing the venality and corruption practised at Liverpool, and he thought it would be better for the House to defer the present Motion until that of the hon. member for Wiltshire had been disposed of, for they would be placed in a most awkward situation if a Writ was sent down, and they afterwards came to a Resolution to deprive the borough of the elective franchise, in consequence of the notorious bribery and corruption that was known to prevail there. He would therefore suggest, that the Motion should be withdrawn. As that, however, did not appear to meet the views of the hon. Member, he must shew, that the present electors of Liverpool ought to be disfranchised, for the bribery practised there far exceeded the bribery of all other boroughs the delinquency of which had been brought before the House. To make a difference between Liverpool and the paltry places of Grampound and East Retford, to deal severely with them, and let the rich and populous town of Liverpool escape, would lay the House open to the suspicion of punishing the weak, and favouring the powerful. To prove the magnitude of the bribery and corruption that had prevailed at previous elections, it was sufficient to remind the House of the evidence already given to it. A gentleman had published a statement, in justice to the memory of the late Mr. Canning, shewing that his election in 1812 cost only 9,000l. Bribery might have prevailed elsewhere, but it was generally practised in secret. At Liverpool they exulted in shewing to what excess it could be carried. It was notoriously and publicly carried on. The electors, after being polled, were taken to the respective pay-rooms to receive the stipulated amount, and the market price of the votes was day by day openly canvassed and publicly settled. As proof of this he would refer the House to the evidence of Mr. Bald, who had polled from 100 to 200 men, whom he afterwards took to the pay-room, where they received from 5l. to 40l. each for their votes. Other witnesses proved they had been in a lobby for a considerable time which opened into another room into which they saw many electors enter and receive money. The dissipation and debauchery which accompanied this bribery were shocking. It was a fact, that ten or twelve persons had died of drunkenness during the election. These statements were sufficient to shew the extent of the bribery and corruption, and the House was never more strongly called upon to exercise its power. They were about to create a numerous class of voters throughout the kingdom by the Reform Bill, of the same description as those who had committed these evil practices, and it was necessary to shew to the new constituency, that if they committed or practised bribery, disfranchisement would inevitably follow the detection of the crime. At the present moment corruption was going on at Liverpool, and public houses were opened there. He made this statement in the presence of hon. Gentlemen who well knew it was correct, and yet they proposed to issue a new Writ, to repeat, among so profligate and demoralized a set, the same brutal excesses and the same guilty corruption. It was capable of proof at the Bar of that House, that the result of the late election was the consequence of the bribery practised in November last, for many freemen voted from a fear that if they refused they would have to refund the money formerly received. It was necessary to disfranchise the present freemen, or they would leave a most corrupt body to dictate to the town, and control all future elections. Any Gentleman foolish enough to bribe the present freemen, would certainly be returned. On every principle of justice the House ought not to issue a new Writ. The parties to whom it must be sent were not fit to be trusted with the elective franchise. They had no reason to believe that the hon. member for Wiltshire would not again bring his Motion forward, because it had necessarily been dropped by the House being counted out. The electors expected the suspension, and had no reason to complain. He would therefore agree to the suggestion that this Debate be adjourned to Monday next, or till after the hon. member for Wiltshire had brought his Motion under the consideration of the House.

Mr. Goulburn

also recommended the postponement of the Writ until the motion of the hon. member for Wiltshire should be discussed, which course appeared to him the more desirable, as that hon. Gentleman had been the Chairman of the Committee. They did not come to the consideration of this question perfectly unfettered. The remembrance of what had occurred on a former occasion, when a Writ was moved for, was still present to them. It appeared on that occasion to be the opinion of the House, that they would first hear the hon. member for Wiltshire, and they required, therefore, strong reasons for departing from the conclusion they had then come to. They ought not to attempt to get rid of this question by a side-wind. According to ordinary usage, the election could not take place until Tuesday, and the present motion was therefore at least premature. In his opinion, Liverpool, under all the circumstances of the case, would have no reason to complain if the hon. Member brought forward his motion on Monday, as the electors would have no right at law to exercise their franchise any sootier.

Lord Althorp

did not undertake to offer more than his Own sentiments as an individual Member, and as such he advised, that the issuing of the Writ should not be postponed, as the Motion of the hon. member for Wiltshire could as fitly be discussed after the Writ had been issued as before. In the case of Grampound, they discussed the question of its disfranchisement with both Members sitting in the House. He thought it rather hard that such a town as Liverpool should be deprived of the services of one of its Representatives longer than was absolutely indispensable. At the same time, if he conceived, that the mere issuing of the Writ would at all interfere with the power of the House to inquire into the alleged corruption of the electors, he would at once Set his face against the proposal.

Sir C. Wetherell

suggested, that it was rather a whimsical mode of treatment for a case like that of Liverpool, to issue a Writ which would give the electors the right to exercise their privilege of voting, and then to inquire whether thousands of them had not been guilty of bribery and corruption, as stated in the report. It would be an odd case for a Writ to be issued, allowing 3,000 men to vote, whom, when the House considered the report actually before them, they might consider unfit to exercise that privilege. In saying this, he did not mean to give any opinion as to the merits of the ultimate question; but although there was no, case, he believed, precisely similar to the present on the Journals, it was undoubtedly quite competent for the House to direct that no Writ should be issued, until a regular inquiry had previously been instituted.

Mr. Littleton

could find no precedent for this case; and was, therefore, apprehensive of the House forming a dangerous one, which he thought it would do, in not agreeing to the Motion of the hon. member for Nottinghamshire. It was said, wholesale bribery was practised in Liverpool, he feared there were few boroughs where similar corruption did not exist. As it was not yet considered necessary to deprive Liverpool of its Members, if the hon. Member divided the House, he should give his vote for the issuing of the Writ, though he looked upon the case as one of difficulty.

Sir C. Forbes

said, that he should give his vote for the issuing of the Writ. The proper way, in his opinion, to guard against bribery and corruption was, to require every Member, on coming into the House, to pledge himself that he had practised none, and knew of none.

Lord Howick

objected to the principle, of the House undertaking to decide questions of bribery; he thought that it would be much better for the House to direct the Attorney General to institute proceedings for bribery in a Court of Justice. A Bill of Pains and Penalties he considered as most unjust, and as having a tendency to impart to that House a spirit and a power it ought not to possess or to exercise. He should, therefore, certainly vote for the issuing of the Writ.

Sir G. Clerk

thought, that the right course to take was not to part with the power they possessed, and that they had therefore better adjourn this debate till Monday, in the hope that by that time the hon. member for Wiltshire would have found an opportunity to bring on his Motion. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving an amendment to this effect.

Lord John Russell

was of opinion that it would not be fair in this case to withhold the issuing of the Writ because there was no accusation of corruption, and the vacancy was not caused by a decision of a Committee of the House, but by the Member who had been elected having taken his scat for another place. He had, on a former occasion, brought in a Bill in the case of Grampound, to suspend the Writs for certain boroughs at general elections; and if that Bill had received the sanction of the other House, the ease would be different. He admitted that the present was a case of difficulty, warranting a difference of opinion; but, on the whole, he thought it would not be fair to suspend the Writ.

Mr. Charles Ross

said, that in the Act relating to Grampound, there was a clause expressly providing what was to be done in the event of a vacancy occasioned by death, and that clause applied precisely to this case. This was an accidental vacancy, and they must proceed as if it had been occasioned by an Election Committee. There was no attempt made to disfranchise Liverpool. The former adjournment was moved to allow the hon. member for Wiltshire to bring his motion forward. The Reform Bill in his opinion did not in the least affect the question, which ought to be decided on its own merits.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

had suggested the adjournment on Wednesday, which was intended to allow the hon. member for Wiltshire to bring on his motion. The House having formerly come to that Resolution, and the member for Wiltshire's Motion having been put down for Thursday, the House was in the same situation as if it had not adjourned over that day. He thought, therefore, in consistency, that it ought to support the amendment.

Mr. Ewart

begged to point out the great quantity of business which fell on him the only Representative of an immense town containing 200,000 inhabitants as a reason why the Writ ought not be suspended. The House had two classes of duties—judicial to punish, and legislative to amend; and he thought it would be more usefully employed at present in exercising its legislative than in exercising its judicial functions. He would vote against the amendment.

Mr. Benett

hoped, that in the opinion of the House, he had used due diligence in the discharge of the duties which had been imposed on him as Chairman of the Committee. He had been at all times ready, when he had given his notice, to bring on the Motion; but the first time when he brought it under the consideration of the House, a debate was got up on a subject which had no relation whatever to his Motion, and that debate was adjourned. The Parliament was prorogued the next day, and immediately afterwards dissolved. In the present Parliament he had brought on the subject as soon as possible, and it was not his fault that the House was counted out last Wednesday, nor that it did not sit yesterday. He was prepared to bring on his Motion, and he would do it before the House rose if he had the opportunity, and if he had not, he would reserve his Motion for Monday. With regard to the question before the House, he could not conceive that the House, having suspended the Writ last Session, should not now do the same. It was placed under the same circumstances now as when it suspended the Writ, and he thought it ought not now to refuse to continue the suspension. If the House rejected his Motion, the Writ would then issue as a matter of course; if it agreed to his Motion, the issue of the Writ would necessarily be suspended till the question was decided. He should vote for the amendment.

The House then divided. For the Amendment 117; Against it 99—Majority 18.—Debate adjourned to Monday.

Lord Althorp

moved, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.