HC Deb 07 August 1834 vol 25 cc1035-46
Lord John Russell

said, that it was not his intention to occupy the time of the House respecting the Motion which he had to make. It used to be formerly the custom in that House concerning delinquent boroughs to withhold the issuing of writs to them as a punishment to those boroughs. It was not with that view, however, that he brought forward the present motion. But it was with the view of allowing time to prosecute those inquiries which had been begun so that they might be concluded before the writs should be issued. On that ground he meant to propose that the writs should not be issued till after the next Session of Parliament. The House was aware that Bills had been sent up to the Lords concerning Hertford, Carrickfergus, and Warwick. With respect to one of them—the borough of Warwick—a Bill had passed that House, and had been sent up to the House of Lords, which, after some inquiry, had been thrown out by the other House for the present Session. He did not intend to enter into the grounds upon which that Bill had been thrown out in the Upper House, nor into the nature of the evidence that led to that result. It was sufficient for him to state, that 115 witnesses had been examined, and that their evidence filled several hundred folio pages. He had not attended to the evidence that had been laid before either House; but as an hon. Baronet, one of the members for Nottingham, had informed him that he intended to bring forward next Session a measure respecting the borough of War- wick, he considered that, as the Bill had been thrown out elsewhere, time ought to be given to examine the evidence that led to that result before they finally decided upon the question. He thought it, therefore, but reasonable in the House to consent to what he meant to propose, viz., the suspension of the writ to that borough until next Session. He begged to repeat, that he did not move the suspension of that writ by way of punishment, but for the reasons he already stated. He would alter his Motion as it stood on the notice book in order to render it conformable to precedent. The noble Lord then moved separately for each borough, "that no writs be issued before the 20th of February next for the boroughs of Hertford, Carrickfergus, Stafford, and Warwick."

The Motions respecting the boroughs of Hertford and Carrickfergus were agreed to.

On the Motion, that no writ do issue before the 20th of February next for the borough of Warwick,

Mr. Goulburn

rose and assured the House, that he did not mean to enter largely into the various questions that had been agitated relative to the borough of Warwick. He would confine himself strictly to the question, whether it was or was not fit and proper that a writ should issue for that borough until the time specified in the noble Lord's Motion. He had not one word to say respecting the boroughs of Hertford and Carrickfergus, because they stood on an entirely different footing from the borough of Warwick, and because the House was consequently bound to pursue a very different course as regarded them, and as regarded that latter borough. It was the duty of that House, one which they owed to themselves and to the country, to keep their numbers as complete as possible; and it would be a great evil to the country, as well as to individual electors, that there should be boroughs allowed to remain without returning the usual number of Members they had a right to return. It certainly was the privilege of that House to interfere; but the gravest case alone could justify them in interfering to prevent boroughs from returning Members to serve in Parliament. Did any grave case exist with respect to the borough of Warwick? Did the noble Lord, who brought forward the present motion, state, that any such case did exist? No; the noble Lord made no such statement; he said nothing to induce the House to consent to the Motion he brought forward. If the House sanctioned such a Motion, they would do a great injury to the country: they would show what might be done by a majority of that House when they had certain objects in view. He asked the House, knowing as they did what occurred in the case of Warwick, whether that borough had been disfranchised by a vote of both Houses of the Legislature? It had not; but a vote of that House had passed against it; yet the noble Lord seemed to think that the borough had been disfranchised by the opinion of both Houses of Parliament, for the noble Lord wanted to stop the borough from sending Representatives to Parliament, by making a motion to prevent the issuing of the writ. The Bill passed by them had been sent up to the other House; and no one could impute to their Lordships, that it had not been attentively considered by them. It had been as accurately scrutinized by their Lordships as any measure ever submitted to them. The parties concerned the complaining parties, had been heard by their Lordships with the greatest patience and attention throughout, and money had been allowed them by Government to enable them to carry on the prosecution. Every means had been afforded them to bring forward the best and fullest evidence. Bills had been passed to indemnify witnesses from the penalties they might render themselves liable to by giving evidence on this question. After hearing a number of witnesses, and, mind, all of them on the side of the prosecution—after a long and patient examination, and without hearing evidence in favour of the borough, their Lordships pronounced, in terms as explicit as possible, that the preamble of the Bill was not proved, and that, according to the evidence (the evidence against the borough alone having been adduced), the Bill could not be carried through. No partiality had been made use of on the occasion. Why, even the proposition for rejecting the Bill came from a noble and learned Lord in the other House to whom it was impossible to impute a want of liberality on such occasions, or a wish of not punishing corruption in boroughs when it was found really to exist in them, or to whom it was impossible to impute a desire of defeating any measure sanctioned in any way by the present Government, since the noble and leaned Lord alluded to was a member of that Government. That noble and learned Lord, who sat as a Judge and a Peer in the other House, thought it necessary to declare in both those capacities that there was no ground for passing the Bill alluded to. He would ask the noble Lord, then, whether there were any precedent for denying the right to the borough of Warwick of returning another Member? Was there any ground to deny that right, and could it be proved by referring to the cases of any other boroughs? He could not understand upon what grounds the noble Lord proceeded. The other House said there was no evidence to disfranchise the borough, and acquitted it; but after all this the noble Lord said, the borough had not been acquitted, for that must be meant when the noble Lord proposed that no writ should be issued for it until next Session, in order that another Bill to disfranchise it might be brought in. What was made the rule in 1834 might be made the rule again in 1835, 1836, 1837, 1838; in fine, as long as any hon. Member had any idea of bringing a similar proposition forward respecting the borough of Warwick, and by doing so that borough might be continually deprived of its Representatives. But, suppose that its two Representatives were to be left to the borough, would that render the noble Lord less able next Session to bring forward a measure respecting it? He had heard it stated by hon. Members opposite, that it was good to allow the Representatives of boroughs attacked to remain in that House until the question was decided, in order to give them an opportunity of repelling those attacks, of defending themselves, and of correcting misstatements. He called upon the House to consider the fatal precedent they would establish if they sanctioned the present Motion. Whenever majorities of that House were desirous to get rid of the Representatives of particular places, in order to accomplish particular objects, they would be encouraged by the example set them if this Motion were agreed to. He knew that there had been times when the Crown so interfered in order to get rid of persons that were adverse to its interests, and the time might arrive when there would be parties in that House who had as strong interests as the Crown formerly had to get rid of obnoxious boroughs. Would they by the course pursued that night set an example that might lead to the grossest infringement on the rights of the people—to a great accession of undue power to interested parties? On those grounds, and even though he should stand alone, he would resist the suspension of the writ as moved for by the noble Lord.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

was not surprised at the course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman, nor at his argument; for he was one of those who had opposed the Bill for the extension of the borough franchise. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the borough of Warwick having been acquitted, he spoke of it as confirmatory of the opinion he had formerly held. But, having voted for the Bill, he did not consider that, by the rejection of it in the other House, the borough was acquitted. The borough of Warwick had been convicted in this House; and, though it might have been exculpated by the other House, that did not invalidate the judgment of this House,—it did not follow that the other House was right, and this House wrong. It was necessary to reconsider the question; and, for this purpose, time ought to be given, and an opportunity of examining the evidence, and of considering the grounds of the decision of the House of Lords. If this House were called upon to reverse its decision, let it be after fair and due consideration; and let not the House be required in a hurry to set aside its own deliberate judgment. He put it to the House whether such a course of proceeding was befitting its dignity? The House of Lords, on different evidence from that which had been taken in that House, and of which the Commons knew nothing, had come to a different conclusion from the House of Commons, which could not reverse its judgment without examining and considering that evidence. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that the House would act in an unconstitutional way, and unjustly towards the constituency of the country, by depriving any portions of that constituency of their Representatives. But the proposition was, that no writ should issue for this borough till the next Session of Parliament and what advantage would the constituency lose by having one Member less during the time Parliament was prorogued? Whilst the House was of opinion that the constituency of a certain borough was not in a fit state to return a Member to this House, it was next to a mockery that, with a view to ulterior measures,—for the right hon. Gentleman admitted, that ulterior measures must be had,—a new writ should be sent to a place in this disordered state, in order that it might send a Member to Parliament. He would much rather make up his mind one way or other—either that the borough was in a fit state, or not—than to say, "We will not determine the point: we will have the old Members, and then determine it." He hoped, without prejudging the question, as it would be ridiculous, if the case required consideration, to issue a writ, that the House would consent to the motion of his noble friend, and postpone the issuing of the writ.

Mr. Hume

concurred in opinion with the right hon. Gentleman who had last spoken, and thought that, without seeing the evidence adduced before the House of Lords, they ought not to undo their former decision upon this Bill. He was not a little surprised at the course pursued by the right hon. member for Cambridge; for the right hon. Gentleman was not often in the habit of manifesting any very strong degree of sympathy for the privileges of the people. It would be unfair to say, that the right hon. Gentleman was interested in the matter; and it might be equally unfair if he were to say, that he had seen an address from a Mr. Edward Goulburn (perhaps not a relative of the right hon. Gentleman), who was burning with anxiety to represent the borough of Warwick. He was only supposing a case, in order to show that different people might have different interests. He thought the best course of proceeding would be that of bringing forward a Motion for the production of the evidence taken before the House of Lords, in order to see if any new facts had been elicited to warrant the rejection of the Bill. If on the perusal it should appear, that the evidence taken before the House of Commons was not to be credited, then, of course, the writs would be suffered to issue. Surely justice and even respect to the House of Lords, as well as to themselves, should induce them to postpone the writs until after they should have had an opportunity of reading the evidence. He trusted the House would support its own decision until then.

Mr. Rolfe

did not, of course, see that the decision of that House should be put at all upon comparison with that of the Upper House; the latter House did not sit as a House of Appeal from the House of Commons. Both Houses had sat to form their independent decision; but, if they did not concur in their decisions, it was hardly right to deprive the borough of the right to elect their Representatives.

Mr. Warburton

said, the House was bound to support its own verdict by suspending the writ. It was absurd to suppose that, on the mere authority of the Lords, the Commons would consent to act so absurd, so inconsistent a part, as that required from them by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Shaw

said, that everybody now knew that the borough of Warwick was not disfranchised. A Bill to that effect had been sent up to the Lords, but had been rejected by them. To make the case stronger, their Lordships threw out the Bill without going into any evidence in favour of the borough. Was the noble Lord prepared to support the opinion, that no writ should ever issue for this borough?—for his Motion went that length. Was sending the Bill up to the Lords, and their rejecting of it, to be treated as a mere mockery by that House? They ought to bring forward some special case to justify this Motion. If, indeed, they could show that the Lords had not had sufficient evidence to form their decision, then would they have some ground for not consenting to that decision. But no such special case was assigned. If the House only considered the effect of this Motion, they would see that it would go to disfranchising the borough altogether. It was quite clear that, if the Motion were agreed to, a majority of that House might next Session agree to a Bill similar to the former, which would be sent up to the other House; and which, if rejected, would lead to a repetition of the present proceeding. In this way the borough would be excluded from returning Members, since its writ would be continually suspended.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

thought, that no writ should issue for the borough of Warwick until they saw the evidence upon which the other House had come to the decision. He would vote for the Motion of the noble Lord, because the House was placed in a peculiar situation. Two noble Lords, members of his Majesty's Government, pursued opposite courses on this question. The one, a noble and learned Lord in the other House, said that the Bill ought to be rejected; and the other, the noble Lord who brought forward the present Motion, contended, notwithstanding the decision of his colleague, that no writ should issue for the borough in question. Therefore it was left to the House to decide for themselves; and they ought to do so according to the Report of the Committee. That Report showed, that there was gross bribery practised in Warwick. Nobody could deny that; and he was not aware that anything was proved to prevent the suspension of the writ. He believed that gross bribery prevailed, and he was prepared to support the Report. As reformers, they were bound to carry out their principles, and not allow the writ to be issued until they had secured in the borough of Warwick freedom of election.

Captain Gordon

said, that it was not constitutional, nor had it been the practice of that House, to examine into the reasons the Lords might have for rejecting a measure; and he did not see anything that required their doing so in the present instance. He hoped the noble Lord would not press his Motion to a division.

Mr. Halcombe

contended, that the Motion of the noble Lord was a gross violation of the dearest liberties of Englishmen; and he should be surprised if, when it came before the public, the noble Paymaster of the Forces did not fall off in their opinion as a sound defender of their rights. All the ground which the noble Lord had advanced for the Motion was, that a gallant friend of his intended to bring forward another Bill affecting Warwick early next Session: but, even if the writ issued, any measure they thought proper could be brought forward next Session. He had read through the evidence on which they had passed the Bill; and he defied any man to say, that there were more than four clear cases of bribery established besides the cases of the ten men who voted against the candidate who bribed them; and even the four actually guilty were not 10l. householders. But this question was to be decided, not upon the merits of the case, but constitutional principles; unless, indeed, the House was prepared to act upon the republican principles,—yes, the democratic and republican principles,—into which the arguments of the hon. members for Middlesex and Bridport resolved themselves. He was anxious to hear the opinions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this question, for he had some reliance upon the constitutional principles on which he guided his party in the House; but he had no confidence in the constitutional principles of the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, or in the right hon. member for Manchester (Mr. Poulett Thomson). He hoped the noble Lord would oppose the Motion.

Sir Francis Vincent

did not understand the hon. member for Bridport to contend that they were bound, under all circumstances, to refuse issuing the writ to Warwick; but simply that they should rehear the case ["No, no!"]. It came to the same thing: for the Bill, having been rejected, they had to reconsider it. At any rate, they would reconsider it. If, upon examination of further evidence, their opinion remained unchanged, it would be their duty to abide by their former verdict: but if, upon an examination of the evidence, they found reason to alter their opinion, of course they would not be bound to abide by a measure proved to be bad. He had great respect for the hereditary legislators; but he could not allow them to dictate to him what his opinions should be, and oblige him to change them without even seeing the grounds on which he was to do so.

Mr. Mark Philips

said, that, having conscientiously voted for the Warwick disfranchisement, on what he thought good evidence, he could not at once stultify his former vote, merely because other parties had taken a different view of the case. The House was entitled to have an opportunity of considering the evidence which had induced the Lords to differ with them.

Mr. Tower

thought it was quite impossible, consistently with their own dignity, to vote for the suspension of the writ.

Sir George Murray

entreated the House to consider whether they were not about to establish an exceedingly dangerous precedent. The Motion of the noble Lord might take the popular side of the question, but that was a circumstance which ought to put them more upon their guard against it. The question was, whether they were to adopt the result of the argument of the hon. member for Bridport, viz. that the House of Lords should have nothing to say to these questions at all. A decision against issuing the writ, because the House of Lords had not agreed with the House of Commons, would amount to that. If it were wise to make such an alteration in the mode of disposing of election cases, let a proposition be regularly brought forward with that view; but, let them not change the practice in the manner now proposed.

Mr. Lynch

thought the House had the power of suspending a writ for a time, with a view to examine further evidence.

Mr. Herries

thought the examination of the case was concluded, unless indeed they meant to establish the doctrine, that no such case should be concluded except as they chose. Although not directly advanced by the noble Lord who made the Motion, that doctrine lurked in the argument he advanced. It might have the support of a majority, but it would not stand the test of common sense. Those who supported that Motion should at least have stated what course it was intended to pursue; but all they had heard upon that head was, that the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, had had an intimation from a gallant friend that he intended to bring in a Bill upon the subject next Session. Could this mean more than that there was a resolution, by all possible means, to prevent the issuing of the writ? He could not help calling the attention of the House to a short passage in the judgment, for so he might call it, of the Lord Chancellor upon this case, as it appeared by the short-hand writer's notes to have been delivered. After stating very fully all the reasons which should make him wish, as an individual, to see the Bill pass, his Lordship expressed himself to this effect:—"The writ is suspended for the present, although I hope it will not long be suspended; for the House of Commons ought to issue the writ, in order to make its number complete." He agreed with the learned Chancellor, that they ought to make their number complete; and should therefore vote for the issuing of the writ.

Lord John Russell

said, that, after what had fallen from the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, he felt bound, in it few words, to restate the grounds on which he rested his Motion. He did not rest it upon general but upon peculiar grounds. The House of Lords had been occupied between eighty and ninety days in taking evidence, which filled a large folio volume, and had decided on the 4th of August that there were not sufficient grounds for them to proceed with this Bill. The question, under these circumstances, was, whether they were, three days afterwards, so near the close of the Session, to preclude themselves from all opportunity of examining this evidence with any view to a useful result. They should reserve their decision till they had an opportunity of seeing what that evidence was. He stated, merely in addition, and not, as had been represented, as the main reason of his Motion, that an hon. and gallant friend, whom illness prevented being in his place, had it in contemplation to propose some measure on the subject early next Session. He had stated this, with a view to show the House, that it would come before them early next Session; but whether his hon. and gallant friend did or did not bring forward his Motion, he thought they ought at the commencement of next Session to have an opportunity of deciding whether they should pursue their inquiries into the Warwick case further. The opinion of the Lord Chancellor had been referred to, but his Lordship had no more right to point out what course they should pursue with respect to the writ than they had to direct the Lords what they should do with the Bill. Allusion had been made to the candidates for the representation of Warwick, but they would not be injured by the delay of the writ till the next Session. They would during the vacation have full opportunity of canvassing the electors, and of making them so well acquainted with their sentiments on the concessions to be made to the Dissenters, and other subjects likely to come under discussion, as to prevent, perhaps, any discrepancy appearing between their professions on the hustings, and their votes in Parliament.

Sir Henry Willoughby

denied, that further investigation would be precluded by issuing a new writ for the borough of Warwick, or by the presence of a second Member for that borough in the House. He should certainly vote against the noble Lord's Motion.

The House divided on the original Motion: Ayes 67; Noes 18;—Majority 49.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Maxwell, J.
Althorp, Lord Methuen, P.
Attwood, T. Murray, J. A.
Baring, F. O'Dwyer, A. C.
Barnard, G. O'Ferrall, M.
Barry, S. Oliphant, L.
Bainbridge, E. T. O'Reilly, W.
Berkeley, C. Oswald, J.
Bish, T. Palmerston, Lord
Blake, M. Pelham, Hon C.A.W.
Blamire, W. Pepys, Sir C.
Briggs, R. Perrin, Serjeant
Burton, H. Petre, W.
Byng, Sir J. Philips, Mark
Callaghan, D. Potter, R.
Chichester, J. P. B. Price, Sir R.
Codrington, Sir E. Pryme, G.
Davies, Col. Romilly, J.
Donkin, Sir R. Russell, Lord J.
Duncombe, T. Ruthven, E.
Ewart, W. Stawell, Colonel
Gordon, R. Thomson, Rt. Hon. P.
Hawes, B. Tower, C. T.
Hoskins, K. Troubridge, Sir T.
Howard, P. Tooke, W.
Hume, J. Vincent, Sir F.
Kemp, T. R. Walker, C. A.
Labouchere, H. Walter, J.
Langdale, Hon. C. Warburton, H.
Lennard, T. B. Wedgwood, J.
Lester, B. L. White, Col
Lynch, A. H. Wood, G. W.
Marjoribanks, S. TELLERS.
M'Leod, R. Elliott, Hon. Capt.
Mackenzie, S. Hay, Col. L.
List of the NOES.
Archdall, N. Philips, C. M.
Brudenell, Lord Rolfe, R. M.
Gordon, Hon. Capt. Ross, C.
Halcombe, J. Stormont, Lord
Hayes, Sir E. Tullamore, Lord
Herries, Rt. Hon. C.J. Vyvyan, Sir R.
Hotham, Lord Willoughby, Sir H.
Houldsworth, T. TELLERS.
Irton, S. Goulburn, Rt. Hn. H.
Murray, Sir G. Shaw, Frederick
Perceval, Colonel
Childers, T. W. Ashley, Hon. H.