HC Deb 26 September 1831 vol 7 cc599-603

Mr. George Robinson rose, in pursuance of the terms of his notice, to move that the issue of a Writ for the election of a Knight of the Shire for the county of Pembroke, be suspended for one week. He had, on Friday, when an hon. Member moved, at two o'clock in the morning, that this Writ be issued, taken the liberty of opposing the motion; and his reason for that opposition was, the report made by the Pembroke Election Committee. That report acquainted the House, that the Committee had come to the following resolutions—"1st. That the conduct pursued by the High Sheriff, and by those under him, was strongly marked by a culpable neglect on his part, partiality on the part of the Under Sheriff, and some of the Sub-sheriffs, and the inefficient conduct of the Assessor; and 2ndly, that the Committee considered it to be their duty to report in such terms, more especially as they founded their decision that the election was void, on the strong impression of such improper conduct having prevailed." The present was not the time for him to animadvert upon the culpable neglect of the High Sheriff, or upon the partiality of the Under Sheriff, but he thought that the present was the time for him to move that the Writ should not be sent down to the same parties to execute, until, by the printing of the evidence taken before the Committee, the extent of their misconduct was ascertained. He knew that it might be said, that the freeholders of Pembrokeshire ought not to be punished for the misconduct of their High Sheriff; but to that he would reply, that it was for the interest of those freeholders themselves that the Writ should not be placed in the hands of those who might not execute it fairly. He thought that it would be for the interest of all parties, that some explanation should be given by the parties accused of misconduct. For these reasons, he thought it fair to call upon the House to sanction the following resolution:—viz. "That the Writ for the Election of a Knight of the Shire for the County of Pembroke, be not issued before Monday, the 3rd day of October next."

Mr. Jones

said, that it was unprecedented that a Writ should be suspended, either for the neglect of a High Sheriff, or for the partiality of an Under Sheriff. At the same time, as both these parties might have something to offer in their defence, he would not oppose the motion for suspending the issue of a Writ for one week.

Lord Althorp

said, that it would be most extraordinary, if, because the High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire had misconducted himself, the freeholders of that county were to be deprived of their right of Representation. There was no precedent for such a motion, and he was not surprised at it, as it was contrary to every principle of justice. He should certainly oppose the Motion.

Mr. Chichester

felt bound to declare, that the High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire, served the office under very peculiar circumstances, in consequence of the decease of the gentleman previously nominated. At the time of his receiving the appointment, he was seriously unwell, and in a very nervous state; the irregularities at the recent election were a consequence of that indisposition, for he was quite sure he would have been wholly impartial had he been able to superintend the election in person.

Mr. Robert Gordon

thought that, in justice to the freeholders, the Writ ought to be suspended. At the last election, 400 persons, who claimed the right of voting, were refused, and the returning officer would not even examine their cases until the election was over. What security, therefore, was there, if the Writ were sent to the same Sheriff, that the same conduct would not be again pursued?

Mr. Horatio Ross

said, there was not a shadow of imputation against the electors of Pembrokeshire, and he was, therefore, at a loss to know why they should be deprived of a Representative. The conduct of the High Sheriff might have been partial, but injustice should not, therefore, be committed against the electors.

Mr. Hodges

said, he knew, on the authority of a letter from Pembrokeshire, that the High Sheriff was a man of great honour; but, from ill-health, he was unable to attend, and the management of the election wholly devolved on his deputy.

Mr. Hunt

said, that the High Sheriff should be suspended, and not the Writ for a new election.

Mr. Robert Ferguson

, expressed a wish to have the evidence printed, and in the hands of the House, before any further step was taken in a case of this importance; but, after what occurred in the Committee, of which he was a member, he would not vote for the suspension of the Writ.

Mr. Bernal

contended, that as yet the House had no evidence sufficient to justify the suspension of the Writ; because, from all he heard, it was only owing to ill-health that the High Sheriff was not able to attend his duty. The High Sheriff was labouring under a severe fit of the gout, and was obliged to leave the management of the election to his deputies. As to moving the Crown to supersede the Sheriff, he believed there was no good or modern precedent for any such proceeding.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he knew of many instances in Ireland where Sheriffs had been superseded. At all events, it was necessary to have evidence before they decided in a case of this importance.

Mr. Dominick Browne

had also been a member of the Committee, and not one word had been there said relating to the supposed illness of the High Sheriff. He wished that the issue of the Writ should be suspended until the evidence was before the House. If, after that, a motion was made to supersede the Sheriff, he should feel himself called upon to vote for it.

The Attorney General

was not aware of any power existing to supersede the Sheriff, nor by what process it could be effected. A different principle might prevail in Ireland, but, in this country, he was not aware that such a power existed. He did not think the Writ should be suspended, merely for the neglect of the High Sheriff, for he was only accused of neglect. After what had passed in that House, he felt confident that partiality would be avoided at the next election.

Sir Charles Wetherell

was glad to hear the opinions which had fallen from the Attorney General, as they were so opposed to those which were addressed to that House the other evening by the Solicitor General for Ireland. Sheriffs were appointed during the pleasure of the Crown, and certainly liable to be removed, if found guilty of any crime; but no such proofs had been offered in this case; and there was no example of the removal of a Sheriff, since the Revolution. At present, he could not give any distinct opinion, because, as yet, the evidence taken in the Committee was not before the House.

Mr. John Campbell

said, that no grounds had been stated for the suspension of the Writ, and, therefore, he could not support the motion of the hon. Member.

Sir Robert Price

intended, under all the circumstances, to vote against the suspension of the Writ.

Mr. Nowell

believed, it was the general impression in the Committee, that the High Sheriff, although not a man of infirm mind, was incapacitated from attending at the election by illness. Great partiality had been certainly shewn, but he believed that the proceedings of that House on the subject had been such as to ensure impartiality if another election was now to take place; he should, therefore, vote for the issuing of the Writ.

Sir Richard Musgrave

said, he had been also a member of the Committee. He was not aware that any charges of bribery had been made, but there were charges of creating freeholders, and putting vexatious questions, which, along with other conduct of the Under Sheriff and Assessors, led to serious injustice.

Mr. Robinson

made no charge against the High Sheriff, who was admitted to be an honourable man. He made no charge against the electors, but his object was, to secure a free election. He wished to avoid tumult and disorder, which could not take place if a new Sheriff were appointed. Under all the circumstances of the case, he felt it his duty to persevere in his Motion.

The House then divided—Ayes 24; Noes 120—Majority 96.

The Speaker then put the question, "that a new Writ do now issue for the county of Pembroke, in the room of Sir John Owen, whose election had been declared void."—Agreed to.