§ On the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair,
rose, and, amidst much 1178 confusion, said, before the Speaker left the Chair, he would draw the attention of the House to a case of breach of privilege. The complaints he had to make arose out of a passage in the Report of the Committee on the case before the House, in which it was stated, that two petitions had been presented from the borough of Leamington, the one for and the other against the extension of the elective privilege, both very numerously and respectably signed. Now, as to the respectability of the individuals who signed the petition in favour of that proposition, he would only say, that out of 418 who were said to have signed it, no less than 280 were not to be found; not one of them were on the rate-lists of the parish; and, besides these, there were eighty-five who were lodgers, and eighteen who were rated at less than 10l., and were, consequently, not at all interested in the matter. He had made a most diligent inquiry into the history of this petition, and he had discovered that it had been drawn out and set a-going by a person who was the Chairman of the Birmingham Political Union; and he would now ask of the hon. Baronet, the Chairman of this Committee, whether the Report of the Committee had not been drawn up by Mr. Joseph Parkes, the Secretary to the Birmingham Political Union?
said, that the hon. Baronet's reply could only be accounted for by deafness on his part. He had not asked him who had drawn up the petition, but who had drawn up the Report of the Committee of which he was Chairman.
said, it seemed to him to be very extraordinary that the Chairman of a Committee should not know to whom the task of drawing up the Report of their proceedings had been confided. But to return to the two respectable petitions. Whilst the one in favour of the extension of the elective privilege was signed by only 633l. worth of the rental of the town, the counter petition against that measure was supported by freemen to the amount of 47,000l. rental. The hon. Chairman and Mr. Parkes had endeavoured to show that this statement was impossible, because the total rental of the place amounted to only 20,000l. 1179 In this, however, they had fallen into error by calculating the rental at the old rate, which was hardly a third of its actual present value, which would be found to be upwards of 60,000l. The petition praying that the town of Leamington might not be incorporated with Warwick was signed by 757 out of 850 ten-pound rate-payers; thirty-seven of the 850 signed the other petition, thirty-five were absent, and the remainder refused to sign any petition whatever on the subject. He contended that the introduction of a petition such as the other was to that House, bearing fictitious signatures, was a breach of its privileges, and that that called for inquiry. The grossest falsehoods were put forward to the House, calculated to mislead it, and so artfully contrived that they could not be answered immediately, and indeed not until the evil they were designed to work was in some degree effected. He would not say that the statements charging some persons opposed to the extinction of the franchise with not being qualified as rate-payers were untrue with reference to a particular date. They might not have been rate-payers then; but they were the owners of houses who had paid their rates since, and were now qualified. The reasons alleged by the petitioners (and, be it recollected, they were almost all the independent householders of the town) for declining the elective incorporation of the town with Warwick were good and valid ones. They were not such as faction or Birmingham Union schemes would suggest; they were purely practical, and resolvable into the protection of the interests of the inhabitants. The petitioners stated, that the franchise would be destructive of the interests of the town, which had risen from a humble village by a number of co-operating circumstances—its mineral waters, its scenery, and general salubrity—to its present distinction. It was a resort for infirm persons, and those who liked calm enjoyment. During the last election persons flocked to it from the surrounding towns, for there they expected to enjoy undisturbed security; whereas, if it were made the scene of electioneering strife, the general tranquillity of the place would be interrupted, and the town would be probably deprived of the residence of its usual visitors. He would take leave to refer to what had fallen from the Chairman of the Committee. He stated, that that petition 1180 had only asserted that the possession of the franchise would be no advantage to the town. That was not the attenuated statement of the petition; and it was an injustice to the people of Leamington and a fraud on that House to put the case in that way, for the petition stated much more. Then it was said, that there was another petition very numerously signed, praying for the extension of the franchise, thus placing both on an equality, as if one were to counterbalance the other. He was not surprised at the efforts made to smother the prayer of the petition, and at the Report of the Committee, when he recollected the agency that was employed to collect materials for justifying the enfranchisement of Leamington and for drawing up the Report. When he recollected that the individual who conducted all the proceedings was the directing spirit of the Birmingham Political Council, Mr. Joseph Parkes, a man who commanded the ear of a high personage in the Cabinet—["Oh, oh," "Hear, hear, hear," and confusion]—when he considered that that Gentleman was the conductor, if not the author, of the Report, he was not surprised at the attempts made. The hon. Member read the names of the following gentlemen whom he proposed to nominate on a Committee to inquire into a breach of privilege:—The Chairman of the Committee (Sir Ronald Ferguson), Lord Eastnor, Mr. Tancred, Mr. Estcourt, Lord Ebrington, Lord Granville Somerset, Mr. Plumptre, and Mr. Halcombe. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following amendment, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances of an alleged breach of privilege, as regards the signatures and presentation to the House of a Petition purporting to be signed by certain inhabitants of Leamington Spa, praying for the extension of the borough of Warwick to Leamington."
§ Sir Ronald Ferguson
said, the object of the present Motion was, to prevent the House, by a side-wind, from disfranchising the town of Warwick; and every one in the House should see the necessity of not concurring in any thing that would stop the proceedings relative to that town.
§ Mr. Goulburn
recollected similar cases of imputed fraud in petitioners, in which inquiry was instituted. In one case, when the facts were true, the House marked strongly its sense of the conduct 1181 of the parties, and of the outrage offered to its privileges. He hoped the Amendment would not be set aside on the ground of any inconvenience.
§ Lord John Russell
saw nothing in the statement of the hon. member for Dover to induce him to vote for the course proposed by him, in preference to that proposed by his hon. and gallant friend. If the allegations of the hon. Gentleman were well founded, they might be a good reason for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into them; but he saw no reason why the appointment of such a Committee should prevent the House from proceeding with the Bill. He, therefore, without taking into consideration the propriety of appointing a Committee, at a future period, to inquire into the circumstances alleged by the hon. Member, would vote for the Motion of his hon. and gallant friend; and he could but say, that he considered the present course taken by the hon. member for Dover as an unwarrantable and unreasonable interruption.
§ Lord John Russell
said, when the question was regularly brought on, he would not object to inquiry. But the proper business, he thought, should be allowed to go on.
§ The Amendment was negatived; and the House went into a Committee on the Bill for the Disfranchisement of Warwick.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, that if bribery were proved, he would not deny that the House should disfranchise, or incorporate the constituency with some other. But there should be sufficient evidence of the fact. Now, in the present case, there were only twenty-one voters who were proved to be corrupt. Of these, ten voted for one candidate and ten for another; and those bribed voters were non-residents. The proper plan would be, not to visit the sins of a few on all, but to disqualify the corrupt. One hon. Gentleman had stated that he would vote for disfranchisement, not because of the corruption, but of the undue influence of the Earl of Warwick. Now, the conduct of the Earl of Warwick was not before the House, and there was no evidence to prove undue influence. On the contrary, it appeared from the evidence of Colonel Stuart, that the candidate supported at 1182 one of the elections by his Lordship's influence was defeated. If he possessed that influence, it was odd that his friend should be rejected, when Mr. Tomes was returned. Only twenty-one cases of bribery out of a constituency of 1,300 were proved. On such facts he protested against the disfranchisement of the borough. A second Committee was appointed to investigate the whole extent of bribery, and a single case more of bribery they could not prove. Treating was another charge; but it was treating only before the teste of the writ, and that was legal; and was the town to be disfranchised for what was legal? If the law be bad, let it be altered.
§ Sir Ronald Ferguson
said, the right hon. Member imagined there was no crime without direct bribery. But when he found persons receiving presents not only before the teste of the writ, but up to the time of the election, he considered that bribery. It was said that only twenty-four cases of bribery were proved. That was enough for him. Every one knew how difficult it was to prove even one case. With respect to other circumstances, the right, hon. Gentleman had kept in the back ground the illegal manufacture of votes, and the consequence of the barrister going down was, that those voters were struck out of the registration. Further, there had been threats. But the whole of the facts were before the House, and he was disposed to move that the borough be totally disfranchised. If, however, the House thought proper to unite Warwick to another town, and that of Leamington Priors was so adverse to the union, the town of Kenilworth had petitioned to-day that it viewed the corruption in Warwick as so distressing that it would not object to a union beneficial to the country.
§ Sir Grey Skipwith
said, knowing the feeling of the people of Leamington, he wished to rescue them from the injustice they would suffer by being joined to Warwick. The people of Leamington were seriously alarmed at the prospect of the change, from the risk of deterioration to which it would subject their property. He would, therefore, move, "that the words 'the limits of the said borough of Warwick, as far as respects the election of Members to serve in Parliament, shall comprise the parish of Leamington Priors, do not stand part of the Bill."
suggested, that the preamble was before the Committee, and it would be better to defer the Amendment until the enacting clause was under consideration.
Mr. Hughes Hughes
contended, that the private interests of Leamington ought not to outweigh a public good. He should, therefore, support the Bill as it stood; but it was the only Bill of the four disfranchising Bills that he could support.
rose, and was proceeding to address some remarks to the Committee, but was so frequently interrupted by-laughter and ironical cheers, that
§ Mr. Goulburn
rose to order. He put it to every hon. Member of the Committee whether such a mode of treating the statements or arguments brought before it was likely to raise or support its character as a judicial body. If the Committee were too fatigued to pursue the subject further, surely it would be better for it to adjourn than by impatience to prevent hon. Members from being heard.
again rose to speak, and was proceeding to vindicate a petition from Banbury, when he was again interrupted by the cries of "Hear, hear." The hon. Member said, that he rarely paid any attention to personal interruptions; but he would tell the hon. member for Cheshire (Mr. John Stanley), that if he thought proper to persevere in his insolent interference—[Hear]
Mr. John Stanley
said, that he had only expressed his admiration at the conduct of the hon. and learned Member in the way which admiration and approbation were usually expressed in that House, The hon. Member had, that evening, risen five times to defend the parties who were delinquents before the House, and as he had presumed that the hon. Member had risen a sixth time for a similar purpose, he had expressed his admiration at the candour of such conduct.
§ Mr. Goulburn
again rose to order. He was quite sure that, the Committee must see the necessity of avoiding such personal altercations if any subject was to be discussed. The hon. and learned Member behind him (Mr. Halcombe) had naturally felt irritated at the manner in which he had been interrupted, and had perhaps expressed himself in a manner which, in calmer moments, he would not have adopted. He could not, however, but 1184 put it to the Committee to consider the necessity of hearing patiently such arguments as might be adduced before it.
said, he had no doubt the feeling of the Committee was to discuss the subject fully and patiently. Hon. Members, however, would probably feel that they could not be exempt from those signs of impatience which would sometimes occur.
said, that he should make no further allusion to the personal interruption he had experienced. The hon. Member then defended the petition from Banbury, and contended that it did honour to those who had signed it, among whom was the dearest connexion he had upon earth. In rising so often to address the House, he had merely discharged his duty. The hon. Member adverted to the evidence taken before the Committee on the Warwick election, in as far as it referred to fictitious votes, and contended, that it proved that the pink and blue party had made more than 100 fictitious votes just previous to the passing of the Reform Act. He also contended, that it appeared by the evidence of General Master and others, that, where the party implicated by the Report of the Committee had made one fictitious vote, the pink and blue party had made four. He denied that the influence of the Castle was considerable in the borough of Warwick, or that it had been exercised there; but he would ask, what was the predominant influence in the town of Leamington? It was that of the hon. member for Banbury. Mr. Tomes was a great shareholder in the pump-room, and the largest householder, and in those circumstances were to be found the real spring to the present proceedings. With respect to the money which had been expended, the amount was not at all exorbitant, and was easily accounted for.
§ Mr. Langdale
had been a member of the Committee, and denied that any person not a member of the Committee had drawn up the Report, as had been stated by the hon. member for Dover.
§ Mr. Langdale
would say, that to the best of his knowledge it had not. The evidence not only justified the Report, but the Committee had no choice, if they did their duty, but to make it.
§ Sir George Phillips
said, that some of the remarks made by the hon. Member (Mr. Halcombe) were rather singular. He had accused his (Sir George's) hon. friend, the member for Banbury, of seeking the disfranchisement of Warwick, in order that the borough of Leamington, in which he was a large proprietor, might have the elective franchise extended to it. He thought it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should come forward, as be had done, with such a statement. The fact was, that so far from Leamington wishing to have the elective franchise, a large majority of the 10l. voters of that borough had expressly disclaimed any wish to be connected with the borough of Warwick. He however thought, that by joining Leamington and the other borough with Warwick, they might have an independent and respectable constituency; and in order that so great an object might be gained, he (Sir George) would vote for the union of Leamington with Warwick. He was sure it would be doing a great favour to the respectable and honest part of the constituency of Warwick, either to disfranchise the borough entirely, or to unite Leamington to it. In Cornwall and other places, where corrupt boroughs were disfranchised by the Reform Bill, the people were very thankful for it. So, he was satisfied, would be the people of Warwick in a few years. But as he thought that an independent borough might be created by adding Leamington to Warwick, he would vote for such union, rather than that the elective franchise be entirely withdrawn.
§ Lord Eastnor
said, it had been admitted on all hands, that a large proportion of the 10l. voters of Leamington were adverse to the junction of the two places. He therefore thought it worthy the consideration of the House, whether they should disfranchise Warwick in consequence of the few cases of bribery which had been proved.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
said, the question was, not whether Leamington or Kenilworth should be enfranchised, when the franchise was in the possession of the House, but whether a case had been made out which would justify the disfranchisement of Warwick. It was not pretended that the majority of the electors were guilty. Had they been so, it would have been but right that the minority should have been punished along with them. But he con- 1186 tended, that it was altogether unfair that so large a majority should suffer for the offence of a very small minority. Out of 1,277 electors, twenty-one only were proved to have been guilty of bribery. He complained also of the preamble of the Bill. It charged the electors of Warwick with being guilty of gross bribery. The charge was altogether unwarranted. The circumstance of proving one or two, or twenty-one, to have been guilty of the offence, would not justify the charge of gross bribery, as applied to the borough.
§ Mr. Tower
maintained, that a case had been made out to justify the disfranchisement of the borough. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. Baronet, respecting the use of the terms gross bribery, as applied to the electors of Warwick, he (Mr. Tower) contended, that the Committee were perfectly justified in using that language. It was not to be supposed that, because they had only proved twenty-one cases of bribery, no more had occurred. When the Committee made out that number of cases, they thought it quite sufficient for their purpose.
§ The several Clauses of the Bill went through the Committee—the House resumed.