HC Deb 06 March 1833 vol 16 cc293-5
Lord Sandon

wished to present a petition upon a subject on which, as it was to come before the House this evening, he should not trouble the House at any length. It was signed by every member of the Committee who did him the honour to conduct his late election, and they complained of the gross misstatements which had been made in a petition presented on a former evening, and upon other occasions—namely, that bribery and corruption had been practised at the late election at Liverpool. They stated that they had been active supporters of him (Lord Sandon), and they were anxious to show, that no one person had been induced to vote by bribery, treating, or any other than constitutional means. They courted inquiry on that subject. The petition afforded a complete proof that no bribery to any extent—that no bribery of which they were cognisant—had been practised to procure his return.

Mr. Benett

had not, on any former occasion, made a charge against the gentlemen who had signed that petition. His charge was generally, that bribery had been practised at the elections at Liverpool, even up to the last election. He was anxious that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the charges that had been made, when it would be seen by whom the system of bribery had been practised.

Mr. Sheil

begged to ask the noble Lord whether he himself had never admitted the existence of corruption with reference to the petitioners?

Lord Sandon

answered, that one or more of the petitioners admitted to him, that he or they had formerly been engaged in bribery. They acknowledged themselves as having formerly been sinners, but they denied that any corruption had been practised during the last election. He had never denied, that bribery had formerly been practised; his denial solely applied to the last election. He should like any hon. Gentleman to lay his hand upon his heart, and say whether, under such circumstances, evidence could be given to the allegations against the freemen of Liverpool. He would take that opportunity of presenting another petition, signed, in fifty-three hours, by above 7,400 persons, comprising most of the wealth and respectability of the place. When the petition from Liverpool, signed by 3,300 persons, which charged the freemen of that place with bribery and corruption, was presented by the hon. member for Wiltshire, the hon. Member took occasion to observe, that it comprised all the respectable and disinterested portion of the inhabitants. He (Lord Sandon) said, at that time, that if he were allowed a few days, he would show that he could produce a petition with nearly double that amount of names in opposition to it. This was the petition he then alluded to, and a moment's inspection would show the truth of what he had then alleged, that all the respectability was not on one side. He had yet to learn that any charge of extraordinary corruption could be alleged against the freemen of Liverpool. If the proposed measure of the hon. member for Wiltshire were carried into effect, the whole amount of disfranchisement would be but between 1,000 and 2,000. It had been the practice in that House for many years, to make allegations affecting a mode—the mode of obtaining signatures to petitions which were numerously signed. That occasional delinquencies would not occur from the intemperate zeal of some parties employed in witnessing the signatures to petitions, he was not prepared to say. He was instructed to say, that to the petition praying for the disfranchisement of the freemen of Liverpool, which had been presented by the hon. member for Wiltshire, some individuals had generally signed five or six names; and passengers landing out of steam-boats from the sister isle were invited to sign, and did sign, that petition, upon an assurance that their not being housekeepers was of no consequence. The petition he now presented to the House, he would take upon him to say, represented the true feeling of the inhabitants of Liverpool.

Mr. Benett

would not impeach all the signatures attached to the petition. No doubt many of those who had signed it were desirous that their conduct should undergo investigation. He believed, however, that many of the signatures deserved little consideration, for he had received a letter from Liverpool, stating, that some persons had signed the petition upwards of twelve times—that several boys belonging to charity schools had signed the petition presented by the noble Lord, and had placed the occupations of their fathers against them. Petitions should be valued according to the weight that could be attached to their signatures.

Mr. Gladstone

stated, that from a letter he had received, he believed the petition to be signed by many respectable individuals, and that it should have his support.

Colonel Williams

said, it was impossible to know what to say upon the petition, unless it were read. If it contained an application for an inquiry, then he should have no more to say on the subject. This he knew, that it contained the names of many individuals who had been for thirty years and upwards known to be habitually guilty of corruption and bribery. The noble Lord who presented the petition had known Liverpool for twenty-eight months; he (Colonel Williams) had known it for thirty years, and he had been a good deal concerned there in election business; and he could assure the House, that for the last thirty years, there had been a greater system of bribery and corruption carried on in Liverpool than had ever disgraced any rotten borough. It was very proper that this system of corruption should be taken notice of before the general Committee now appointed to inquire into the state of Corporations; and when the Corporation of Liverpool came before the Committee, he was confident it would meet with full justice.