HC Deb 18 March 1834 vol 22 cc425-30
Mr. Halcombe

rose to bring forward his promised Motion for a further inquiry into the proceedings at the general election for the city of Coventry, in 1832. He had been for some time anxious to bring this subject forward at an earlier period of the evening, but he had found it impossible to do so. His notice was of long standing, and he had received the assurance of the right hon. the Secretary-at-War, that he would concur in any measure which would protect the people of Coventry from such riotous proceedings as took place at the elections for that city. In order to bring the matter more immediately under the consideration of the House, it became necessary that he should read a portion of the evidence taken before the Committee on the recent inquiry. He was the more desirous to do this as, upon inquiry, it might turn out, that the Attorney-General should be directed to prosecute the ringleaders in the desperate outrages which took place at the election of 1832. One witness stated, that there was a mob of at least 2,000 persons, who had been hired in the neighbourhood of the city for the express purpose of acting as bullies at the Coventry election, and that they were paid no less a sum than 5s. per day each. The chief leader and director of this band of rioters, was a person named Richard Randall, under whom they committed the most atrocious outrages upon the voters opposed to them; outrages which he trusted, that House would visit with the most exemplary punishment. By this Richard Randall the mob were hired, paid, directed, and led on. On a signal from him, which was usually given by raising or thrusting forward his arms, they rushed or "fell on" indiscriminately upon all opposed to them. And, to use the words of one of the witnesses, they were "to beat the electors soundly and to leave 'em alive, but hardly." So that, in fact, the opponents of Ellice and Bulwer, the predominant candidates, were obliged to keep at home, not daring to present themselves at the hustings to vote. It was right the House ought to know who the individual was who furnished the funds by which these outrages were fomented and encouraged; and if that Gentleman were present, he would state the matter broadly to his face. That Gentleman had, it appeared, derived all the benefit which arose from these acts of violence; and when he found that hon. Member taking an active part in Committees of that House, he cared not whether a Committee were appointed or not, he was determined to do his duty to the aggrieved parties by laying their case fairly before the House. The hon. or rather the right hon. Gentleman to whom he alluded was no other than the Secretary-at-War. He would state it openly to his face, if he were present; but, as he was not, he stated it fairly in the presence of his colleagues. The House need not be under any apprehension that he would overstate the facts, for the facts were themselves of so atrocious a nature, that it would be next to impossible for him to colour them. A witness named Johnson, one of the bullies, stated, that the money he received, was paid by Randall, who led them on and walked first. John Thomas said, that Randall paid them; that they were in bodies of 100 each, and that Randall gave them tickets to eat and drink what they pleased at the sign of the Half-Moon. This witness went on to say, "At the booths we cut them (their opponents) down, and kicked them about like foot-balls; I mean the Light-blues; we all had a punch at them as could. We were told to leave them alive, and hardly. Whenever I saw any on them near the booths, I dragged them by the hair to the booth; we beat them and kicked them as long as we liked, and then the constables came and took them away, they dared not interfere before. A person, named Hammerton, was one of the leaders, and, I believe, that he is now in the Custom-house, filling the office of Tide-waiter, or some such office." Now, he begged the attention of the House to this fact. When it became publicly known, that no further steps were to be taken against the offending parties, the Sheriffs, who were partisans of Messrs. Ellice and Bulwer, made Randall a peace-officer of the town; thus placing this person, who was a publican and a prize-fighter, over the citizens whom he had been hired to ill-use. Was it not an insult to public justice to find that such a person should not only escape punishment, but should be rewarded for his conduct? He had mentioned the right hon. Secretary at War as being connected with these proceedings. It appeared from the evidence of Johnson that he was so. Johnson said, "We met Mr. Ellice in his carriage near the London-road. Mr. Bulwer was with him." Another witness said, "Mr. Ellice made speeches, and we were ganging about, milling all we could find. Young Ellice was there [This, Mr. Halcomb said, was a son of the right hon. Member.] He joined us." One of the Committee asked this witness a few questions:—"When you saw the Light-blues what did you do?"—"Why, we knocked 'em down." "Did you do any thing else to them?"—"Yes, we knocked them about, and ripped them up." "Then you did not consider it any disgrace to knock men about and ill-use them in this way, so you were paid for it?" And here, said the hon. Member, I beg the attention of the House to the answer of the witness:—"They ought to be responsible who employed us to do so." What did hon. Members think of this? It was true they might not attend to his statements, or they might run from the House to witness a boat-race, while he was stating these facts, but still he was determined to his duty. Another witness said, there was a general cry for Mr. Ellice; the cry was, "Ellice, Ellice, you devil!" When a person remonstrated with the Sheriffs against these outrages, the answer of the Sheriffs was, "Oh, you would not mind it if it was on your side;" and Mr. Ellice observed, that it was not worse than the election of 1826, and that such proceedings were usual at all elections. The hon. and learned Member went on to read the evidence of a Lieutenant Perkins, R.N., who sat in a window opposite the polling-booth, and who stated, that it was not safe for any of the adverse party to go to vote; for himself, he said no consideration could induce him to do so. It was usual, when the Light-blues made their appearance, to seize upon them, and, after beating them, to "rip them up," that was, to cut the clothes from their backs, and throw sometimes the persons, and sometimes the clothes, back into the booth. One person was thrown into the booth merely with his shirt on, and his small-clothes hanging over his heels. He had done every thing in his power to bring the guilty parties to justice. He tried to have the Sheriffs called to the Bar of that House, but he failed; and then he gave notice of his present Motion. Some of the complaining parties had written to the hon. Member opposite (whose upright intentions no one presumed to doubt), who was Chairman of the Committee, and received from him an answer, stating, that as the publication of the report of the Committee had preserved the city of Coventry from riot at the last election, and as, in that report, they had stated their opinions of the conduct of the Sheriffs, they did not think any further steps necessary; so that the only result was, that Randall, the ring-leader, was made bailiff of Coventry. The House must, he was sure, feel with him, that it was too bad the guilty should thus be allowed to escape. He would not say one word respecting the hon. Member below him (Mr. Bulwer), were it not that he expected to be answered again as he had been before—"The electors of Coventry have got well threshed, as they deserved." It appeared that in 1802, 1803, 1820, 1827, and 1833, there were reports of Committees setting forth similar abuses at elections in Coventry. He had now fulfilled his pledge, and he would leave it to the House to decide upon it. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving for the appointment of a "Select Committee, to make further Inquiry into the proceedings at the general election for the city of Coventry, in December, 1832, and to consider and report to this House thereon, and upon the best means of providing for the future prevention of Riots, and for preserving the peace and freedom of Election at Coventry, and that such Committee be chosen by Ballot, two Members being appointed by this House."

Sir Oswald Mosley

said, that the reason why no further proceedings had taken place was, that there was no earthly reason for them. It appeared that the riot had arisen from one party taking forcible possession of the booth; and it was natural that the other should resist. The Committee did not think this a sufficient ground for further proceedings. At the last election, booths had been fixed in different parts of the city, and no such scenes had taken place.

Mr. Henry L. Bulwer

said, that if he thought he held his seat in the House by a voluntary participation in such scenes as the hon. and learned Member had described, he should walk out of it without offering a word in his defence. The hon. and learned Member who had vindicated the purity of Stafford, and the tranquillity of Warwick, had, however, read the evidence ex-parte only; the opposite evidence, contradicting what the hon. Member had read in every particular, he had not alluded to. The riot lasted but a short time, and had been caused by the other party taking forcible possession of the booth. One of the candidates (Mr. Thomas) had declared, that he had experienced the fairest and must honourable conduct on the part of his opponents; yet the hon. and learned Member was now doing all he could to keep alive the spirit of violence in Coventry.

Sir George Grey

was surprised that the hon. and learned Member, professing that he was actuated by no party spirit, but solely by a love of pure impartial justice, should call upon the House to form an opinion upon a view of the evidence of one party only. The hon. Member had entirely kept out of sight the evidence on the opposite side. The hon. Member (Sir George Grey) proceeded to refer to other evidence contained in the Report, and also to documentary evidence in the Report, in order to show, that the actual facts were very different from what they had been represented to be by the hon. and learned member for Dover.

Mr. Mark Philips

attached (in accordance with the Report of the Committee) the blame to the Sheriffs, as returning officers, for not taking necessary precautions. He did not see, after the evidence of the peaceable election which had taken place in April, and the precautions established by the Reform Bill, any necessity for special legislation with regard to that borough.

Mr. Wynn

objected to the decision of a Select Committee being re-opened. He regretted that a Report, conveying such strong censure as this, should have been allowed to be on the Table of the House without being taken up, and the returning officers called to the Bar. If the House passed over the gross violence which had taken place at the election for this city, it would be as injurious to the cause of purity of election as if it had passed over instances of gross corruption.

The Motion was negatived.

Mr. Halcombe moved, "that his Majesty's Attorney-General be directed to prosecute Richard Randall for an offence proved against him, as appeared by the Report of the Select Committee on the Coventry Election."

The House divided on the Motion—Ayes 10; Noes 30: Majority 20.

List of the AYES.
Ferguson, G. Sandon, Lord
Gladstone, T. Shaw, F.
Hughes, W. H. Wynn, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Inglis, Sir R. TELLERS.
Miles, W. Halcombe, J.
Pryme, G. Ruthven, E. S.
Ruthven, E.