HC Deb 02 March 1832 vol 10 cc1065-9
Mr. Croker

trusted the noble Lord would allow him, before he moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Reform Bill, to present two Petitions which he had received from the borough of Helston, complaining of that borough having been placed in schedule B, in consequence of credit to the amount of 73l. 1s. 3d. not having been given in the amount of Assessed Taxes for the duty charged for horses in the First Cornwall Yeomanry cavalry, and praying for a new valuation, or that credit might be given for the sum he had stated. The first petition was from the Mayor, Aldermen, freemen, and inhabitants of Helston; and the other, from such inhabitants of Helston as were members of the Yeomanry corps. The former documents set forth that the inhabitants of the town were no way benefitted by the remission of the horse-duty on account of Yeomanry service, and, therefore, expressed their wish to pay the full rate of taxes, which, amounting to 95l., would remove them from the operation of the disfranchising clause. The petition of the Yeomanry was signed by all the members of the corps in the town, when the information of the decision in the House arrived, with the exception of one, and it declared their affliction and surprise that they should have been the unconscious cause of so grievous a punishment as that inflicted on their fellow-citizens. The case appeared to him one of singular hardship and injustice. It seemed that the town contained a population of upwards of 4,000, and yet, because the accidental circumstance occurred of a few individuals having been exempted from the payment of the horse-duty, in consequence of their being engaged on the public service, that, therefore, the inhabitants of the borough were to suffer and be excluded from the Constitution. In December 1830—a period of great disquiet, the Yeomanry corps was called into active service for a short time, and, of course, they were exempted from the payment of the horse-tax for that year, and thus, because they rendered an important service to the public, they, as well as their townsmen, were to be punished. He thought the noble Lord must himself agree that this case of Helston was an extremely hard one, when he took all the circumstances of it into his consideration; on which account he cherished a hope that he should be able to induce the noble Lord, and the House, to reconsider this case, and if the circumstances of the borough were such as he stated—and he was prepared to prove them —that the result would be to remove it from the schedule. He had been informed that the Yeomanry corps of Helston had existed for thirty-four years. It was ordered to be disbanded in 1827, when the other Yeomanry corps were broken up; but the Captain of the troop residing in Helston wrote to his Majesty's Government in 1827, and begged that the troop might not be disbanded, and offered to maintain it in effective service without, pay or allowance. So far, therefore, from the members of this corps being desirous to profit from their being members of it, and to continue members for the purpose of being exempt from the payment of the horse-tax, that they offered to keep up their corps without the public having to pay a shilling. Government accepted the offer, and this Yeomanry corps existed, from 1827 to 1830, without allowance of any sort being made to them. The House would recollect that, in consequence of the excitement which prevailed in the autumn of 1830, and the disturbances which broke out in several parts of the country, the Yeomanry corps were called into active service, and amongst others, this corps of the borough of Helston. The Reform Bill was brought forward in April, 1831; so that the Yeomanry corps being at an occasion of emergency called upon duty for three months, in consequence forfeited the franchise of themselves and their children. He submitted to the noble Lord, whether it was equitable to put such a construction as this upon the Act. The petitioners hoped they would be allowed to pay the duty, and trusted they would not be entrapped into disfranchisement. He was authorized also by these petitioners to state, that they had kept no horses with a view to exemption from the payment of the duty. They declared that all the members of their corps kept horses before the exemption, and that they all continued to keep them, now that the exemption had ceased. This was an extremely hard case, as, from their zeal in his Majesty's service, and with a view to be prepared to preserve the peace in times of excitement, these persons kept themselves embodied at a time when all other Yeomanry corps were disbanded.

Lord Althorp

said, that, after the discussion which had taken place upon this subject a few nights since, he would not go again into the details when it was quite impossible that the matter could be discussed with a view to any result in favour of the petitioners at present. Of course, when the Report of the Committee was brought up, it would be competent for any hon. Gentleman to renew the discussion respecting the borough of Helston.

Mr. John Campbell

said, that, if the facts stated in this petition respecting the borough of Helston were correct, it was an extremely hard case. If it was clear, that these persons did not keep horses because they were exempt from the payment of the duty, he thought they were treated harshly. The borough should be considered in the same situation as if the tax had been really paid to the Government, and repaid to the Yeomanry.

Mr. Briscoe

was desirous to take that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a paragraph which had appeared in a morning paper, respecting the division on the question, that Helston should stand part of schedule B. The paragraph was attached to lists of the majority and minority, and contained these words:— "The following Members voted against Ministers last night, on a suggestion of Sir Charles Burrell and Mr. Briscoe, the member for Surrey, that the omission of the tax on the Yeomanry cavalry, in the amount of assessed taxes, adopted in the calculation of the Commissioners for the borough of Helston was an imputation upon the Yeomanry of England." Now, he begged to state, that the hon. Member who had made this communication was incorrect in assigning the motive of his vote. He had voted in favour of the borough retaining its privileges, not from conceiving that an imputation had been cast upon the Yeomanry, but on the score of the injustice of disfranchisement under the circumstances of the case. He must complain of the practice of sending these communications to the newspapers, as being very inconvenient and unfair, and he must express a hope, that the individual who forwarded the lists would either discontinue the practice, or learn to be accurate. It was perfectly clear the communication must have been made by a Member, as there were no strangers in the House at the time, the Gallery having been previously cleared.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

considered that the paragraph was calculated to convey the impression that Ministers had thrown an imputation upon the Yeomanry of the country, which he did not think had been the case. He had heard no reflection made by them upon the Yeomanry.

Lord John Russell

said, that certainly nothing had fallen from him at all disrespectful to the Yeomanry corps as a body. He had certainly said, that persons occasionally joined such corps to get exemption from the horse-duty.

Mr. Croker

said, the Yeomanry of Helston made no complaint on such grounds. They knew, if there was any foundation for the remark, it did not apply to them. In reference to the petitions with which he had been intrusted, he must say he had no connexion with the place, but he presumed they had been intrusted to him because he had taken an active part, on a former occasion, to prevent the disfranchisement of the borough. He must, however, regret, that they had been consigned to his charge, being an antagonist of the Bill. He could have wished that they had been placed in the hands of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) himself, on whose candour and good sense he would have willingly confided for doing justice to the claims of the borough.

Lord Valletort

said, that all the Yeomanry of England must think that an imputation had been cast upon them, and every man must consider the case of Helston an important one concerning them. For those reasons he would pray the Government to re-consider the question.

Mr. Hunt

said, it might be supposed, from the nature of hon. Members' observations, that Helston was to be disfranchised because it had a corps of Yeomanry, when that question had nothing to do with it further than the abuses that were permitted in keeping horses without paying any tax for them. He it was, and not the noble Lord, or any other hon. Member, who had made use of the expressions that had given offence, but which were, notwithstanding, richly deserved. The yeomanry were, generally speaking, a most useless force, in which all sorts of abuses were practised; he had himself seen a troop of them at Frome driven out of town by a trumpery mob, but that was not to be wondered at, when the persons who acted as substitutes for those who received exemptions were taken into the account.

Mr. Croker,

in moving that the petition should be printed, begged to remind the House that the petitioners offered to pay up the tax, and not to be exempted, if the House should be of opinion that the exemption ought not to be allowed. An hon. Member said, he must protest against the practice which some hon. Members pursued in sending divisions to the newspapers. If they would do so, at least, it behoved them to be correct. He had himself been subjected to a most virulent undeserved attack arising out of the practice, and he, therefore, called upon those who undertook to furnish those lists either, to discontinue the practice, or to take some means of obtaining accurate information of the names of Members who voted.

Petition to be printed.