HC Deb 27 June 1831 vol 4 cc405-6

On the Order of the Day being moved for the second reading of the Corporate Funds Bill,

Mr. Trant

supposed this Bill was the same as that introduced in the last Parliament, and he should oppose it on the same grounds as he then opposed it unless he heard better reasons stated in its support. The Bill, if he understood it rightly, was founded on the principle that it was exceedingly improper for Corporations to appropriate their funds to election purposes. Now this rule might be good if it was general, but we had Parliamentary Candidate societies, and other bodies under different names, appropriating funds for such purposes, and he thought it would be invidious and unfair to restrain Corporations by an express law from applying their funds in the same manner.

Mr. Hume

observed, that he did not know what his hon. friend meant by comparing Corporations to the Parliamentary Candidate Society. In the latter case parties used their own money—Corporations applied the property of others. It did not belong to them but to the public. The distinction was as broad as possible. He did not wish to enter into any discussion at present, but the fallacy on which his hon. friend built his argument was evident.

Mr. Paget

concurred in the propriety of the distinction laid down by the hon. member for Middlesex. The funds applied by Corporations to election purposes were, in almost every instance, strictly and entirely the funds of the towns. In many cases those funds were grossly and shamefully misapplied, and the trusts monstrously abused, grossly infringing on the privileges of that House. He would refer to an instance which occurred not long since, in a borough near his residence, which he did not adopt from hearsay, nor had it merely been whispered about; it was authorised and blazoned abroad by the Corporation. Having had large funds at its disposal, which for a period of 500 or 600 years, had been strictly appropriated to their legitimate purposes, the necessities of the town, the Corporation had taken the money, and in order to supply the deficiency, it imposed a tax on the inhabitants to the extent of 4,000l. or 5,000l. per annum, who were little able to support so great a burthen. The funds, to supply the place of which this heavy taxation was levied, were applied to the corrupt purpose of returning Members to that House. A number of honorary freemen had been made, to smother the elective franchise possessed by the freemen of the town, and in this manner the Corporation sought to establish a political influence in the borough. The members of it bargained with an hon. Baronet residing in the neighbourhood, and another Gentleman who was their candidate, to expend 27,000l. in returning them for the borough of Leicester. Without entering further into detail, he must say, that this was a system which called imperiously for a remedy, and he assured the House, that such an application of public money was felt by the people to be a robbery. The question was, whether they were not bound to prevent the recurrence of such practices; and the decision on it ought not to be delayed. He could not conceive a grosser fraud than such a misapplication of Corporate funds, and it was impossible that Parliament should allow it to continue. If the Bill should be defeated, he hoped the Ministry would take it up, for the country called for it. The taxation imposed by Corporations, and which was not under the scrutiny of the House, ought to be most seriously watched, if for no other reason than that the people themselves had no voice in the imposition, and in all cases the funds intrusted to Corporations should be applied to their destined purposes.

Bill read a second time.