HC Deb 24 March 1835 vol 27 cc204-12
Mr. Hodges

rose, pursuant to his notice, to move that the Petition of certain electors and others of the borough of Chatham, presented on the 19th instant, be referred to a select Committee. The hon. Member said that, as the subject had been discussed already and as he understood that the right hon. Baronet (Sir E. Knatchbull) had to present a counter-petition on the same subject, he thought he should best consult the convenience of the House by not doing more now than moving for the appointment of the Committee, reserving to himself the opportunity of malting any remarks in reply to what might be said on the other side.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

would beg leave to state to the House what the hon. Member had not done upon the case on which he had moved the House. When the hon. Member had introduced the Petition to the notice of the House upon a former occasion he had stated that the petition contained allegations upon the character of a gallant officer which required an investigation, and which was entitled therefore in every respect to the serious consideration of Parliament. He trusted that he (Sir E. Knatchbull) was the last man capable of a wish to suppress any charges brought forward in that House, or to avoid an investigation of that which deserved to be inquired into. He would, however, beg leave to state to the House what were the charges which existed in the present case, and he doubted not that he should be able to convince the House that there existed no necessity for the appointment of a Committee. No public or private good whatever could arise from the proposed inquiry; but he would rest his objection on a distinct denial of the total charge brought forward against the individuals in question, and he would then leave it to the hon. Gentleman himself to say, whether he would wish to appoint a Committee to investigate the case, or otherwise he would appeal to the House, whether it could agree to the hon. Gentleman's Motion? In reference to the petition which the Hon. Member had presented on a former occasion he had stated that certain rules had been established in the dockyards by which certain persons had the monopoly of supplying slops to the seamen and marines who might be at those stations, find that on the occasion to which he alluded a special order had been issued restricting the admission into the yard to three individuals who had been in the interest of Admiral Beresford at the preceding election, whilst admission had been refused to those slopsellers who had voted for Captain Byng. The hon. Member had further gone into a statement of a conversation that had taken place between two of the slopsellers and the gallant Admiral, in which the latter had referred to the votes of the parties, and had connected the favour to be granted with the votes they had given. He (Sir Edward Knatchbull) held in his hand evidence on the part of the officers to prove that the allegation was altogether without foundation. It was perfectly true, that the orders relative to the admission of slopsellers into the dockyard had been relapsed in favour of the three persons in question. But then came the Question, were or were not the three persons in question engaged, and how were they engaged in the election? Two of the persons were named Isaacs and one of them Lucas. Now it so happened that these two men named Isaacs were not voters at all. This had been asserted in the petition of the gallant Admiral, and it was proved by a reference to the poll-books which he then held in his hand. Then with respect to the case of Lucas, it was not absolutely certain whether he had a vote or not. It did certainly appear by the poll-book that there was a voter by the name of Lucas, but that person was described not as a slopscller, but as a gentleman, and whether therefore he were or were not the Lucas alluded to was a matter of doubt. He next came to the allegation that a gallant Officer had expressed himself strongly to the parties in question, that if Admiral Beresford did not succeed, the Government custom would be taken from them. Now the gallant Officer had acknowledged that he had had a conversation at that time with the parties in question, but that he was now unable to remember what that conversation was. It was a general and discursive conversation, which had taken place sometime before the election, and which was not connected with it. There were one or two other circumstances which bore upon the decision of the case. The gallant Officer stated in his opinion that he had given the permission to the two men. Isaacs and to Lucas, without the least reference to party feeling, and that they remained at perfect liberty to be engaged on whichever side they might please. If the House should think fit, he should feel no objection to the appointment of the Committee, but he would rely upon the character of the House that after the statement he had made, it would not deem it necessary to employ the public time upon an inquiry so unavailable to any practical advantage.

Mr. Hodges

contended that the present was a case which called loudly for inquiry. As to the exception to the order for excluding the slopsellers, it could be shown that those who were so excepted, though they were not voters (at least two of them were not), they had declared that if they had had votes they would have given them in favour of Admiral Beresford. There was, he conceived, sufficient evidence to prove the interference of the military authorities on one side. It could be proved that the regimental colours were taken from the flag-staff, and put on other staff's, and borne in the procession of Admiral Beresford. He did not think that the statement of the right hon. Baronet had at all met the allegations of the Petition, and he should, therefore, persevere in his motion.

Sir George Clerk

contended, that the case of the petitioners was not made out. The charge against Colonel Tremenhere was, that he had issued a general order excluding slopsellers and pawnbrokers from the marine barracks, and excepting from that order only three persons who were described as voters for Admiral Beresford. Now, what were the real facts of the case? In January last, there were several ships paid off, and the marines belonging to them were taken into barracks. They had all money coming to them, and knowing the practices of the slopsellers in dealing with the men, and the manner in which the men were plundered, an order was issued to prevent the slopsellers and pawnbrokers from going into the barrack-yard as usual, and on inquiry into the characters of those who were in the habit of visiting the barrack-yard, three only were allowed to be exceptions to the rule, but of these three two were not voters, and one of these two had acted as an agent for Captain Byng. But as a proof that the order was intended to apply only to the particular circumstances of the paying-off of the ships, he need only mention that the order was rescinded on the 14th of February. On these grounds he roust say, that the gravemen of the charge had failed, and there was no case made out for an investigation by a Committee. At the same time, he would say, that as far as the character of the gallant Officer whose name had been mentioned was concerned, be could not object to the Committee, for he was sure the more his conduct was investigated, the more free his character would come out from any imputation; but his great objection to the Motion was, that it was unnecessarily taking up the time of a Committee.

Mr. Warburton

thought that the House ought to consider both the Petition presented by the hon. Member for Kent and the statement made by the hon. Baronet opposite as ex parte, and, therefore, an inquiry ought to be instituted, in order to ascertain on which side the truth lay. He saw no reason why that inquiry ought not to be instituted, and the more particularly as he understood from the right hon. Baronet, the gallant Officer, Colonel Tremenhere, whose conduct was impugned, was actually desirous of an investigation. He S could not regard lightly the conversation which had been spoken of as having taken place before the election, as it manifested that the gallant Colonel held political opinions so strong as to desire that the sins of the electors should be visited on their own heads if they should not vote for the Government candidate. [Sir E. Knatchbull: Colonel Tremenhere formerly voted for Captain Byng.] He did so, but he had shown himself a friend to the Government, whatever that Government might be, as at the last election he voted for another candidate. He must say, that intimidation at elections now took so many different forms, that where an individual holding an official station, and from that station acquiring a control over a body of electors, was found making such declarations as were in this instance attributed, such a case was, in his judgment, a fit one for inquiry. He begged to ask whether or not it was a fact, that after it had been ascertained that this petition was preparing in Chatham for presentation to the House, Colonel Tremenhere had sent round an orderly to the different shops to announce the recall of the orders of which the petitioners complained? If that had been the case, that fact alone proved that those orders were not originally necessary for military order and discipline in the garrison. On the whole, regarding as he did both the statements now before the House to be ex parte, he for one was desirous the Committee should be appointed.

Mr. Freshfield

said, that, as a personal friend of the gallant Officer whose conduct was the subject of the present Question, he felt himself bound to bear his testimony to the high personal character and honour of that gallant individual. He was satisfied that there was not the slightest foundation for the imputation that the orders in question were made in reference at all to the election, but on the contrary, were issued on a special occasion, to which the right hon. Baronet had alluded, and having answered the purpose for which they had specially been issued, they were abrogated on the 14th of February; but such was the condition of the barracks, consequent upon the indiscriminate admission of the traders, that the field officer had been obliged to interfere. This manifested their necessity. With respect to the conversation attributed to Colonel Tremenhere, it was a mere passing comment in the street, and could not avail against him, inasmuch as he had no control over the electors, being there merely in his military capacity. He had yet to learn that because a man filled the station either of a naval or military officer he had no right to entertain political opinions, or that he might not say that he should feel himself ungrateful to the Government if he did not make some return for some of the favours received from it. He strongly objected to the proposed Committee of inquiry, not because he entertained any other conviction than that the character of the individual would come out of it with honour and credit, but because he thought such an inquiry was unworthy of the House, and was not justified by the facts.

Mr. William Ord

said that, if Colonel Tremenhere had exercised his military powers for military purposes, he would of course come out of the proposed inquiry without a stain upon his character, and if it should turn out that he had abused the powers with which he was invested, for the purpose of carrying into effect a system of intimidation he would suffer, the inquiry would be fully justified in either case. He (Mr. Ord) had been informed that such orders where wholly unprecedented in the barracks at Chatham, and that no such in, terference had ever before been known. He had also understood that the individual Lucas, who had been described as a draper, was a slopseller, and did actually vote for Admiral Sir John Beresford, and that such would, on inquiry, be proved to be the fact. The orders were not cancelled until it was ascertained that this petition was in course of preparation, and these facts, coupled with the third point, that of the conversation in which so much partisanship had been exhibited, fully called for an investigation as to whether or not the intention of Colonel Tremenhere had been to influence the decision of the election.

Sir John Hanmer

contended that the appointment of a Committee of inquiry upon such a trivial matter was beneath the credit, honour, and dignity of the House. The charge with respect to the slopsellers, had in his judgment been fully disproved, and surely the House would not attend to the suggestion as to an expression of a few hasty words spoken in the streets during the excitement of a contested election, and deal with such expressions as if deliberately made. He protested against such a course, not because he felt any personal interest in the matter, but because he conceived it beneath the dignity of the House.

Sir Ronald Fergusson

would not have risen but in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Penryn (Mr. Freshfield). He thanked the hon. Member for his concession, that officers in the army and navy had an undoubted right to express their political sentiments, but he must, at the same time, protest against the principle laid down that they were bound to vote with the Government from whom they had received their honours. Naval and military men had as good a right to vote according to their own particular principles as any other class. The present Government had been in power too short a time to do any good for Colonel Tremenhere, and he hoped their career would be too short to enable them to benefit him.

Mr. Freshfield,

in explanation, said, the hon. and gallant Member had totally misunderstood his observations; so far from having said any thing like that attributed to him by the hon. and gallant Member, his argument was, that naval and military men were still citizens, and as such had the right to the free exercise of their particular political principles.

Mr. Maclean

said, he perfectly well remembered the words used by the hon. Member for Penryn, and he had certainly not understood him to say any thing to the effect that it was the duty of military and naval men to hold opinions with the Government, whatever that Government might be. When last this subject was before the House, the hon. Baronet, the Member for Devonport (Sir G, Grey) had stated, that in his own experience with the borough which he represented, he had known certain naval and military officers there occasionally outrun their discretion at contested elections; but the hon. Baronet had not favoured the House by stating, if they had outrun their discretion on the former election in the same direction as the last. He must vote against the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry.

Sir E. Knatchbull

said, that he thought he could put an end to the present debate. The House would remember, that in the course of his former observations he had intimated, that if he should not succeed in satisfying the House with the explanations he was about to give, it was not his intention to object to the Motion for the appointment of a Committee. Upon his explanation he regretted to find so great a difference of opinion prevailed, but since the debate had proceeded, he had communicated with Colonel Tremenhere, and that gallant officer confirmed what he had before stated. The anxious desire of Colonel Tremenhere was, that his conduct should undergo every investigation. Therefore he had no objection to the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he should consent to the appointment of such a Committee as that proposed with very great reluctance. He could well understand, that, under such a charge, the personal wishes of the gallant individual would be, that his conduct should (if the explanations of his friends proved insufficient to satisfy the House) be submitted to any examination that the House might require, but he could not think that the personal wishes of any gallant officer ought to be conclusive upon the point. He was not present when the subject was before discussed, and he had not heard of the case until to-night, nor did he know the charges before. He understood that some reference was made in the petition to certain expressions alleged to have been made by the gallant officer to another individual on the subject of the election, and that also there was a charge that he had perverted the authority with which he was invested for the purpose of influencing the election; Now the latter charge, he thought, stood on very different grounds to the former. A charge against an individual of abusing authority with which he was clothed was one upon which the House of Commons might properly proceed, but to the appointment of a committee to inquire into lan- guage which a voter had used at the time of an election, he for one would not consent. The Reform Bill had not deprived the gallant gentleman in question of his franchise, and he had a full right to speak freely his sentiments upon the subject of the contest, and if even in the course of conversation with a private individual, he had spoken strongly, he (Sir R. Peel) would never countenance a Committee of Inquiry into such a subject. Such a committee would amount to the inquisition, but, on the other hand, the charge of abuse of authority stood on very different grounds, and he should therefore move an amendment, to the effect that the inquiry of the Committee to be appointed be limited to the official conduct of Colonel Tremenhere, as the officer in command at Chatham.

Sir George Grey

agreed with the right hon. Baronet in thinking, that there was a distinction to be drawn between the two charges, but he thought the right hon. Baronet could not have read the petition, or he would not have moved the amendment just proposed, an amendment which would in effect make the inquiry perfectly nugatory. The petition expressed a confidence that the House would not permit persons holding official situations or military commands to interfere unduly or vexatiously with the right of election. This expression was made after a statement of facts, some of which were denied, and which he hoped the gallant individual might be able to prove to be untrue. The conduct imputed to Colonel Tremenhere was, that in his military capacity he had promulgated, a few days after the election, a vexatious order, of which the petitioners would not have complained, if it had been acted upon with fairness and impartiality, but that inasmuch as two or three slopsellers who supported one interest were admitted into the barracks, whilst others who had supported the adverse candidate were excluded, they regarded the order as intended to interfere with the free exercise of the elective franchise. In this opinion the petitioners felt themselves fortified in consequence of a conversation having occurred previous to the election, in which Colonel Tremenhere was alleged to have said, that "if Chatham did not return Admiral Beresford, he hoped the Government would take such measures as might have the effect of shutting up half the shops in the town." It was impossible, therefore, to shut out from the inquiry this evidence of the animus in which the orders in question were issued. The animus was the only question in the case, for no man doubted (as the right hon. Baronet would have known, if he had been present on the former discussion) the perfect right of the gallant officer, in his military capacity, to issue such orders. In reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Oxford, he begged to say, that at his own election he had witnessed a very indiscreet exercise of zeal by many military and naval men, but nothing which could taint their characters as men of honour.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

suggested, that all objects ought to be answered by the granting of a motion of inquiry into the circumstances under which an order had been issued at the termination of the last election for that borough, by which it was ordered, that pawnbrokers and slop-sellers should be prohibited from entering the barracks without a special order from the commandant.

The House divided on the original Motion.—Ayes 161; Noes 130:—Majority 31.

The Committee was appointed.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Dundas, Hon. J. C.
Aglionby, H. A. Dundas, Hon. T.
Alston, R. Ebrington, Viscount
Barnard, E. G. Evans, G.
Baines, E. Ewart, W.
Baring, F. Fergusson, C.
Bernal, R. Ferguson, Sir R.
Berkeley, Hon. C. Ferguson, Rt. Hon. C.
Bish, T Fielden, J.
Blamire, W. Fergus, J.
Bowring, Dr. Finn, W. F.
Bowes, T. Fitzsimon, C.
Brotherton, J. Gaskell, D.
Brady, D. C. Gisborne, T.
Bridgman, H. Gillon, W. D.
Burton, H. Gordon, R.
Burdon, W. W. Grattan, J.
Brocklehurst, J. Grote, G.
Buckingham, J. S. Gully, J.
Campbell, Sir J. Hawes, B.
Cayley, E. T. Harvey, D. W.
Cavendish, G. H. Hay, Colonel L.
Carter, B. Heron, Sir R.
Chalmers, S. Heathcoat, J.
Clements, Viscount Heathcote, R.
Clay, W. Hooper, T. L.
Clive, E. B. Hobhouse, Sir J. C.
Codrington, Sir E. Hallyburton, Hn. D. G.
Crawford, J. Hoskins, K.
Collier, J. Hutt, W.
Dalmeny, Lord Hindley, C.
Dennistoun, A. Howard, Hon. E. G.
Divett, E. Johnston, A.
Duncombe, T. S. Kemp, T. R.
Kerry, Earl of Pusey, P.
King, Bolton Ramsden, J. C.
Labouchere, H. Rice, Rt. hon. T. S.
Lennox, Lord J. G. Rolfe, R. M.
Lennard, T. B. Roche, W.
Littleton, Rt. Hon. E. J. Robinson, G. R.
Leader, J. T. Rooper, J. B.
Lennox, Lord A. Russell, Lord J.
Lefevre, C. S. Rundle, J.
Lushington, C. Ruthven, E. S.
Maule, C. F. Ruthven, E.
Maxwell, J. Scholefield, J.
Muliins, F. W. Sheil, R. L.
Mangles, J. Stanley, Hon. H.
Musgrave, Sir R. Stanley, E. J.
Murray, J. Stewart, P. M.
Macleod, R. Stuart, Lord J.
Marsland, H. Strickland, Sir G.
Morpeth, Viscount Sturt, H. C. S.
Marjoribanks, S. Spiers, A. G.
M'Taggart, J. Thomson, Rt. Hon. P.
M'Cance, J. Thornely, T.
Mackenzie, J. A. S. Tracey, C. H.
Milton, Viscount Trelawncy, Sir W. L. S.
O'Brien, C. Tulk, C. A.
O'Conor, Don. Tynte, C. J. K.
O'Conuell, J. Villiers, C. P.
O'Connell, M. Wyse, C.
O'Connell, M. Williams, Sir J.
Oliphant, J. Warburton, H.
O'Loghlen, Sergeant Wakley, T.
Oswald, J. Wcmyss, Captain
Oswald, R. A, Wigney, I. N.
Parrott, J. Williams, W. A.
Pattison, J. Whalley, Sir S.
Paget, Captain F. Wilbraham, G.
Parnell, Sir H. Williams, W.
Pease, J. White, G.
Perrin, L. Wallace, R.
Phillips, G. R Wilks, J.
Potter, R. Walker, C. A.
Poyutz, W. S. Wood, Alderman
Power, P. TELLERS.
Price, Sir R. Grey, Sir George
Pryme, G. Steuart, R.
Colonel Scale Mr. Richards
Mr. Speirs Sir F. Goodricke.