§ Mr. Benett
presented a petition from upwards of 3,000 inhabitants of Liverpool, complaining of bribery and corruption, both in the election of a chief Magistrate of that city, and in the election of Members of Parliament. The petitioners were persuaded that the provisions of the Reform Act were not sufficient to remedy the abuses complained of. The system of bribery which had prevailed at Liverpool had increased rather than diminished since the alteration which had recently been made respecting the laws of election. In fact, any chance of improvement in the mode of election was despaired of, unless those who bad formerly been in possession of the elective franchise as freemen of Liverpool should be entirely disfranchised. The Reform Bill, in the case of Liverpool, had certainly not remedied the evils, of which complaints had frequently been made. The petitioners were formerly opposed to 1027 the Bill which had been introduced on the subject; but now they were desirous to have it re-introduced, because they had found, by the experience of last election, that as things had hitherto existed, there was not the slightest chance of purity of election. He had proposed the measure which he now brought forward in two preceding Parliaments, but by some fortuitous circumstances it had hitherto been prevented from being taken into consideration. The present petition had been signed by the most respectable inhabitants of Liverpool, and, therefore, it ought to have great weight with that House. He had stated that, from information which he had received, upwards of 3,000 freemen had, during the last election, been bribed in Liverpool. He could prove that fact from undeniable evidence. He had the fact from the parties themselves, and he knew that the books with the names of these parties could be produced. He should, therefore, move for a Select Committee, to take the petition into consideration; and he hoped, that that Committee would make such a report as would induce the House to pass a bill for the abolition of the rights of freemen of Liverpool altogether, and thereby to purify the elections in that borough, both with respect to the chief Magistrate and to Members of Parliament.
§ Lord Sandon
said, that he would not upon this occasion enter into a full discussion of this subject, as a fitter opportunity for so doing would present itself when his hon. friend should move for the Select Committee, the appointment of which he had intimated his intention to move for upon a future day. He could not avoid observing, however, that there were two or three strange peculiarities connected with this charge now preferred against the freemen of Liverpool. In the first place, when, upon the occasion of former elections at Liverpool, similar charges had been preferred against the freemen there, the parties so accusing them, either prosecuted such charges in the courts of justice, or before an election Committee of that House, or preferred them to that House, sitting, not in its judicial, but in its political capacity, when the witnesses that might be examined to the facts alleged could not be examined under the sanction of an oath. But the present accusers of the 1028 freemen of Liverpool had shrunk from the only proper mode of investigating the charges which they preferred against them; and now this party, which had originally, and in vain, attempted to corrupt the freemen of Liverpool, which had hoaxed, and wheedled, and praised them until they found that they would not serve their purposes, had come forward to call for their disfranchisement. He could assure the House, and he did so upon the assertions of men of honour and respectability, that there had been no corruption at the last election for Liverpool. He would further state, that neither the candidate to whom this petition referred, nor that candidate's Committee, had connived at or been privy to any system of bribery or treating at that election. He did not mean to densy that, upon one great and notorious occasion, there had been great and notorious bribery at Liverpool; indeed, it would be impossible for him to deny the fact, as a. Committee of that House had brought in a report substantiating it, and the case was altogether a most notorious one; but he would deny, that since that notorious case there had been any bribery at Liverpool. Three elections had, since that time, taken place, and they had been unimpeached—he would repeat unimpeached—for vague rumours and general accusations were not to be taken as proof in the absence of all satisfactory evidence. If bribery had then taken place, why did not those petitioners come forward to prove it in the proper way? Those petitioners said, that if the Reform Bill had done its work there would have been no necessity for this inquiry: what they meant when they spoke of the Reform Bill "not doing; its work" was, its not succeeding in giving a preponderance to their party in the town of Liverpool. If it had so succeeded, the House would never have heard of this petition. The petitioners shrunk from proceeding in the ordinary manner under the Grenville Act, as they feared that their petition would be voted frivolous and vexatious. At all events, if the petitioners had any cases of bribery or corruption to prove, they should be prosecuted before courts of justice, and not before such a vague and indefinite tribunal as a Select Committee of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Wason
observed, that the noble Lord had commenced his speech by deprecating discussion; yet, during the 1029 time of his addressing the House, he had favoured them with a series of assertions upon the subject, which he had no doubt, that the noble Lord believed to be true; but he (Mr. Wason), on the contrary, believed that they were utterly destitute of all foundation. The Chief Magistrate of Liverpool had, for many years, been elected by bribery and corruption.
§ Mr. Wason
answered, that of late years, the money had been wanting. The noble Lord might cry, "Oh!" but the last contested election for the Chief Magistracy of Liverpool had cost the successful candidate 8,000l. Would the House take the allegations of the noble Lord, in preference to the assertions of 3,000 inhabitants of Liverpool, who stated that their Chief Magistrate was elected by bribery and corruption? In answer to the observation of the noble Lord, that the petitioners had not come forward to prosecute electors for bribery and corruption at the last election, for fear of their Petition being declared frivolous and vexatious under the provisions of the Grenville Act, he must observe, that he did not believe that there were more than four or five cases in which petitions had been declared frivolous and vexatious since the passing of that Act. The petitioners had, from a regard to the interests of the city of Liverpool, neglected to petition against the noble Lord's return; and the noble Lord would probably not have made such a remark, if the fourteen days allowed for the reception of election petitions had not previously expired. He did not consider the noble Lord justified in casting the imputations which he had cast on the respectable men who had signed the Petition. He (Mr. Wason) would state one or two fact respecting the last election. Many drunken men were carried upon the box and carriage of the noble Lord, who was himself inside, and at one of the poll-booths, the Deputy Returning Officer refused to receive the votes of a considerable number of the electors, in consequence of their having presented themselves in a beastly state of intoxication. He should like to know how the noble Lord could account for his ultimate election, when the opposing candidate had a majority on the first day of 600 voters, unless by supposing that his majority of 145 was composed of freemen, who had kept back 1030 until their votes should become of consirderable value. He supported the prayer of the petition, which called only for inquiry. He was sure that no two Gentlemen in the House would be found who would not admit that the case of the last election at Liverpool was one of the most flagrant instances of corruption which had ever taken place.
said, the Reform Bill had not produced at Liverpool the effect which had been anticipated from it. He would venture to say, however, that no corrupt influence had been used either by the noble Lord or by any of his supporters during his last election.
§ Mr. Warburton
observed, that no attempt was made to unseat the noble Lord. Nothing in the petition went to assert that the noble Lord, or any of his supporters at the last election had been guilty of sanctioning any undue practice. The hon. Member who last addressed the House (as he understood him), had made an asseveration, that no undue influence or improper practices had taken place during the late election for Liverpool, either on the part of the noble Lord or of those who supported him.
§ Mr. Warburton
inquired, how it could be possible, in the case of Liverpool, where there was so much opposition among the parties which divided the electors, for any individual to make a positive asseveration that no undue influence had been exerted? He considered that the Petition contained allegations which were fit subjects of inquiry.
Petition to lie on the Table.