HC Deb 11 July 1831 vol 4 cc1008-14
The Marquis of Chandos

presented a Petition from certain Electors of the borough of Northampton, complaining of the Barrack-master of that place, for allowing the barracks to be occupied by the voters of one party during the late election. The petition was respectably signed, and he could declare, that the allegations contained in it were correct; that the voters and their families were treated in the barracks, that the gates were locked, and no persons admitted but by tickets. If any disturbances had happened, and troops were required, they would have found their barracks occupied by electors in the interest of the Government candidates. He wished to know from Government, what proceedings had taken place in consequence of such illegal conduct.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he was not aware of the circumstance, and consequently was unable to give any answer to the question of the noble Lord. He wished, however, to call the attention of the House to the position in which it would be placed by offering any opinion on this petition, as there was another petition against the return, and as that had been referred to an Election Committee, he thought it was unfair to prejudge the case by receiving the present petition. In his opinion, it should be referred to the Committee, for if there had been any improper or undue influence exercised, that was the proper tribunal to investigate the case. He did not think the course pursued by the noble Marquis was a proper one; he ought to have withdrawn the statement he had made until it had been properly inquired into.

Sir Thomas Fremantle

said, the election petition related to the return of the Member, but the petition to be presented by the noble Lord was against one of his Majesty's officers. He was accused of having exercised undue influence in favour of particular parties at Northampton, during the late election, by giving up the barracks, which were situated some distance from the town, for the accommodation of one party, who were liberally supplied with refreshments. It might, perhaps, be asserted, that the Barrack-master was directed by Government to have the barracks immediately evacuated, but that had not been carried into effect until the election was nearly at an end. A laughable scene of confusion took place on the order being received. Pots and pans and uncooked provisions were hastily carried off and deposited in the road. He had no doubt, if the House was to inquire, a strong case could be made out against the Barrack-master, and it might be deemed expedient to have him reprimanded at the bar. He was sorry to say, that the practice adopted at Northampton had been but too general during the election, and influence of the most extraordinary kind had been practised wherever the Reform candidates had been opposed, but particularly at this place, where the voters were locked up, and not suffered to come out unless they promised to vote for the Government candidates. He thought the charge contained in the petition of a serious nature, and it ought to be strictly investigated.

Mr. Tennyson

said, notice of the peti- tion ought to have been given. He would not deny, in answer to the charge made by the noble Marquis, that some voters had been admitted into the barracks; but it ought also to be known, that a complaint had been preferred against the Barrack-master to the Board of Ordnance, that the friends of a particular party had been suffered to make use of the barracks at the late election; a person had accordingly been sent to inquire into the real facts of the case, and from the report made, that voters had been admitted, they had severely censured and reprimanded the officer, and cautioned him against such a proceeding for the future. Having done this, they did not know what more the noble Marquis required, for it was repugnant to the feelings of Government that any improper influence should be exercised by their own officers. He trusted he had given a sufficient answer to the charge contained in the petition.

Sir H. Hardinge

said, that the conduct of the military Officers was very different from anything that had occurred under former Governments. The House had hitherto been extremely jealous of the interference of the military at elections, and the conduct of preceding Governments was very different from that adopted by the present Government at the late election. Instead of favouring any party, the Secretary at War had regularly given notice to clear the neighbourhood of troops, and allow, in no respect, preference to either party. Now here was an instance of a Barrack-master who received and lodged the friends of a particular party for several nights; but he should not be the only person liable to blame, for he must have had some other reasons than his own good wishes to interfere in this manner in favour of one party. At all events he thought that the noble Marquis had made out a case for inquiry at the bar of that House. He had never known a case of grosser interference.

Mr. Vernon Smith

said, as one more or less interested in the truth of the statement of the petitioners, whose object was to taint his return, the noble Marquis had given him notice of his intention to present this petition; he was, therefore, prepared to meet it; and he took upon himself to say, that so far as he was individually concerned, their statement was. wholly unfounded. It was true the voters in his and Sir. G. Robinson's interests were accommodated in the barracks, but no undue influence was therefore attempted to be exercised, for the barracks had always been so occupied before by the candidates in the interest of Government, when voters were placed there to preserve tranquillity in the town. He had not, perhaps, sufficiently anticipated the consequence of this when the Reform question had carried the influence of party spirit so high. Indeed, it was not until the second day of the election, that the Barrack-master told him, that he had been censured by the Ordnance Board, in consequence of the opposite party having made representations to them that the barracks were in danger from the occupation of his voters. He had immediately desired them to remove, and they were all out before the same evening. In 1818 and 1826, precisely the same accommodation was afforded to the voters of Captain Winter and Sir R. Gunning, and no complaint was made of the accommodation's being-equivalent to an "unconstitutional influence," on the part of the then Government, "in the freedom of election;" nor, indeed, would have been made in the present instance, but to suit the purposes of party. It was not true, that the barracks were used in the manner, nor for the time, stated in the petition. He could take it upon himself to state, that the barracks were not closed for five days. Confident that on no occasion was there less undue influence, on the part of the Government or individuals, used than at the last election for Northampton, he shrunk not from inquiry by a Committee into all the circumstances attending it.

Mr. Charles Ross

, as one well acquainted with Northampton, Could take it upon him to say, that the hon. Gentleman was in error. The facts of the case had been so fairly met by the hon. member for Stamford, that it required no argument to show the barracks had been appropriated for the accommodation of a particular party. To his own knowledge they were for four days occupied by the voters in the hon. Gentleman's interest. He had asserted that the practice was not unusual, for that in 1826 they had been occupied by voters in Sir R. Gunning's interest. This information, from whoever he received it, was absolutely and totally false; they were never so occupied at that time. The electors then were not in the barracks, but in the barrack canteen, which, it was true, was within the barrack-walls. As in other houses of the same description, persons of all kinds might have assembled there, but the electors were not kept there at the expense of the candidate, nor lodged there with his sanction. If, as the hon. Gentleman asserted, it was the habit and practice of Barrack-masters to admit the friends of Government within their barracks, an inquiry should be immediately instituted to correct so great an abuse. The hon. Gentleman had also said, there was no undue influence used, and it was not probable that the hon. Member himself had used any, but his agents, for whose acts he was responsible, had. Every pensioner was told, if he voted against the popular candidate he would lose his pension. He stated this from his own personal knowledge; but none of these charges would affect the seat of the hon. Gentleman. In reply to the hon. member for Stamford, who said, he was taken by surprise, he could inform that hon. Member, that one of the members of the Board of Ordnance had received a proper notice of the intention of his noble friend, and if the members of that Board did not communicate with each other, the fault was their own.

Colonel Evans

deprecated the present discussion, as a prejudging, on ex-parte evidence, the merits of the very important constitutional question involved in the statement of the petition, and he thought it ought to be discontinued.

Mr. O'Connell

begged to call the attention of the House to the terms of the election petition which had been presented against the return of the member for Northampton. One of the allegations was, for furnishing provisions, and the expression that followed "other illegal and improper means," was of so general a nature as might well, if occasion required, take in the interference of the Barrack-master. In fact, they were then discussing an election petition.

The petition brought up.

The Marquis of Chandos

begged leave to say, it had not been his intention, when he stated the prayer of the petition, to prejudice the House against the hon. Member, whose return was about to be considered by a Committee. He must, however, be allowed to state, there was an evident inclination in Government to interfere in the late Northampton election, and for this reason, as he was not satisfied with the answer of the hon. Gentleman opposite, he should move that the petition do lie on the Table, when it would remain with him to decide what course to adopt to follow up the prayer of the petitioners.

Mr. Vernon Smith

assured the noble Lord, he had not attributed to him any desire to prejudice the House; at the same time he thought any discussion on such a petition as he had presented was improper. As to what an hon. Gentleman opposite had said, he had taken especial care to prevent any misconception in the minds of the pensioners at Northampton, as to the consequences of their voting against him and his colleague. He had been asked by a pensioner, whether a report was true, that all pensioners would lose their pensions if they voted against him and his colleague? And his answer was, that so far from that being the case, as he supposed, the Government could not, if they would, deprive him of his pension for voting as he pleased, and would not, if they could, countenance such unconstitutional practices, and so far as he (Mr. Smith) was concerned, his pension was perfectly safe, for with his consent, as a Member of Parliament, it should never be taken from him. He repeated this answer at length to the electors at large on the close of the day's proceedings, so that the assertion of the hon. Gentleman plainly fell to the ground.

Mr. Hunt

said, that the barracks at Northampton had been used for election purposes could not be doubted, and as the noble Marquis had made such heavy complaints against the Barrack-master, he would put his sincerity to the test, by moving, if the noble Marquis would second him, that the Barrack-master be called to the bar, and examined upon the subject. If the barracks had been so used, as described, for several elections, it was time so bad a practice was put an end to. With respect to what had been asserted, as to Government exercising its influence over pensioners, he could readily give credence to it, for he never knew an election where such a practice did not prevail. Men had been turned out and ruined because they would not allow themselves to be influenced by a particular party. He would move that the Barrack-master be called to the Bar.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that his noble friend might take time to consider what course he should pursue. He was not bound at once to take the course now suggested.

The Marquis of Chandos

observed, that the hon. member for Preston might take what steps he chose in the matter, but he did not think right to second the proposition submitted by that hon. Member. He should use his own judgment in any steps he might think proper to take.

The petition to be printed.

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