HC Deb 19 March 1834 vol 22 cc449-52

Sir Thomas Freemantle moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Stafford Disfranchisement Bill.

On the question that the Speaker leave the Chair,

Sir Oswald Mosley

rose for the purpose of moving, that the Question be again referred to a Select Committee. He stated, that his object was not needlessly to delay the Bill, nor did his Motion arise from any hostility to the hon. Baronet. He was only anxious that justice should be done to all parties, and that the innocent should not suffer with the guilty. Such would, undoubtedly, be the case if the borough of Stafford were totally disfranchised; while all which the House wished, all which justice demanded, would be attained by opening the borough, and extending it to the towns of Eccleshall, with ninety-three 10l. houses, and to Stone, with 216 10l. houses. Thus a new, sound, and untainted constitution would be united with Stafford, which might still be allowed to return two Members to Parliament. If this course were not taken, the effect would be, to deprive the northern division of the county of Stafford of two of its Members: it had now only six to a population of 180,000 souls, while the southern division had eight Members to a population of 220,000 souls. The county of Stafford, it ought to be recollected, was a great manufacturing county, and in point of importance, it was second only to Lancashire and Middlesex. As there was no sufficient reason for disfranchising the borough of Stafford, when a sound constituency could be obtained in the immediate vicinity, he would move as an Amendment, "That a Select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the evidence already before the House; and to receive farther evidence if it were thought expedient, with a view of ascertaining whether it was not possible to obtain a sound and competent constituency in the neighbourhood."

Sir Thomas Freemantle

opposed the Motion, which was so nearly similar to one formerly negatived by the House, that they might be considered almost identical. The object of both had been to prevent the total disfranchisement of Stafford, and the question was, whether that borough, having been found guilty of gross bribery and corruption at the last election, the House was not called upon to agree to a measure of severity. Considering the proportion of the Representatives for Staffordshire, to its population, it could well afford to spare two of them, and still be deemed amply represented, notwithstanding the last speaker had, in this respect, pleaded the case, as it were, in forma pauperis. The House had laid down a rule for the disfranchisement of places against which corruption had been established, and in this instance it ought not to be departed from. He should be extremely sorry to do injustice to any set of men, but when a large proportion of the electors of a place were found to be unworthy of the trust reposed in them, it ought to be deprived of the right it had enjoyed, for the sake of example to the rest of the kingdom. It was a singular filet that no petition had been presented from the delinquent borough, praying that a partial measure like that, for which the hon. Baronet had contended should be passed. On the contrary, a petition had been sent up to him (Sir Thomas Freemantle) signed, as he was informed, by 100 unimpeached voters, praying, that if any measure were to be passed, it should be one of total disfranchisement. It was true that petitions had also been presented from Stone and Eccleshall, seeking to participate in the franchise together with the borough of Stafford. He thought that the inquiry had already been ample, and that nothing could be gained, in point of information, by the appointment of another Select Committee.

Sir John Wrottesley

remarked, that if Stafford were disfranchised, it was an important question what should in future be done with the writ. All he claimed was, that the House should deal equally with all these cases—that it should adopt and apply the same rule to each borough where corruption was established. The boroughs of Stafford, Warwick, and Hertford were already before the House, and he saw no reason why one rule should be applied to Warwick and another to Stafford. To Warwick, Leamington had been added, and the constituency of Stafford, ought, on the same principle, to be increased and purified, by communicating the franchise to Stone and Eccleshall. He could bear witness to the purity of the freeholders of Stone and Eccleshall, having for some years represented the county: indeed, he knew of no corruption among the freeholders of any part of Staffordshire, and did not believe, that it existed. Those freeholders who resided in the borough of Stafford, had never given him the slightest intimation of a desire to receive money, or to obtain patronage. The Amendment of his hon. friend was well worthy the attention of the House, for it was impossible to disfranchise the borough of Stafford altogether, without committing great injustice.

Mr. Ord

supported the original Motion. There voted in this borough 318 10l. householders, of whom 194 were proved to have accepted bribes; and out of 731 freemen 638 were bribed. This was too small a remnant of purity; there was not a sufficient number of just men to save a city. He wished to put an end to corruption, and having caught a great offender, he would make an example of him. He did not mean to deny, that there were large districts in the neighbourhood where a respectable constituency might be found, but he objected to them being in the vicinity of a place so corrupt as Stafford, they were likely not to have escaped the contagion.

Mr. Edward Buller

said, if a respectable constituency could not be found in the neighbourhood, they ought to disfranchise the borough. There was no fixed rule to guide them in cases of this kind. If the rule was to disfranchise places in which a majority of the electors were corrupt, why was it not applied in the case of Liverpool? It did not appear, that the respectable inhabitants of Stafford were concerned in bribery. They were told that petitions were presented from some of the inhabitants, praying that the borough should be disfranchised. It seemed unnatural that men should petition to be deprived of a valuable right. If they did present such a petition, they were perhaps in the same situation as the man in the fable who prayed for death, and when he made his appearance would be very glad to see him go away again. In the case of Warwick it appeared to him, from looking at the evidence, that them was more gross corruption and bribery, and a great deal more of treating, than in that of Stafford. Many respectable persons were now willing to come forward and prove, that there was a great deal of exaggeration and misrepresentation on the part of the witnesses before the Committee. The fact was, that all the witnesses in this case turned king's evidence, and gave their evidence from a desire to deprive their opponents of the franchise. He did not think there was an old borough in England that could stand the test of strict inquiry, nor, he feared, even the new one of Marylebone. Before they proceeded to punish by any strict and fixed rule, they should first lay down that rule, and appoint a tribunal to apply it in cases of this kind. He contended that a sound constituency might be had; and, therefore, would oppose the original Motion.

Mr. Halcombe

referred to the fact, that the Report upon which the House was called upon to proceed, was not the Report of an Election Committee; and the evidence, therefore, not being upon oath, it could not be deemed so satisfactory as to establish a ground for disfranchisement. It was openly said in the town of Stafford, that the witnesses gave their evidence without caring much what they said. There was a material difference between the case of Hertford and Stafford, for in the former there was an Election Committee, and the evidence was, of course, upon oath. One of the witnesses was afterwards convicted of perjury. No opportunity of this kind was afforded in the case of Stafford. Why not suspend the proceedings in this case as well as in that of Carrickfergus?

The House divided on the Amendment—Ayes 11; Noes 97: Majority 86.

The House went into a Committee. The several clauses, with verbal Amendments, were agreed to; and the House resumed.