HC Deb 18 December 1837 vol 39 cc1220-6
Mr. Aglionby

rose to call the attention of the House to the petition of Mr. James Coppock, relative to the recognizances in the Pontefract Election Petition. He had been asked by the petitioner to present it to the House, though, if the hon. Member for Buckingham had been present, it would have been better for him to have done so, as he was more acquainted with the circumstances of the case. It was, however, immaterial, as either way it would, he was sure, receive the same consideration. In presenting this petition to rescind the order of the House made on Friday night, he did not intend to impugn the decision of the House on that order, nor say that it was made without a proper inquiry into the case. He would now give, as he was bound both in justice to the petitioner and to himself for having taken up this matter to do, a short statement of the circumstances which had led to the present motion. A petition was presented to the House on Friday last, signed by Henry Gompertz, praying for an extension of the time to enter into the recognizances on his former petition, in consequence of one of the proposed sureties having been wrongly described, and therefore rejected by the examiners. The only witness who was called was Mr. Richard Moss, not Mr. Procter who had been rejected, and who was most cognizant of the circumstances of the case; nor Mr. Florance, who had been Parliamentary agent, nor Mr. Gompertz, the petitioner himself, but Mr. Moss alone, and on his evidence the House decided, saying they had heard enough, and thought, under the circumstances, the required relief ought to be given. He would ask the House, however, whether they did not agree with him, that it was doubtful whether Moss was Parliamentary agent to Mr. Gompertz, and if so, whether sole agent or in conjunction with Mr. Florance; and also, whether he acted for Mr. Gompertz only, or for some other person besides, who might hereafter be his client? Moss having said, he was the Parliamentary agent in this case, had weighed much with him. The present petitioner, however, had made inquiry on the subject, and had found that Moss was not a Parliamentary agent, and never had been; and that in putting in the names of the sureties in this case, it was done, not by Moss, but by Mr. Florance. At the last general election for Pontefract, there were several candidates, one of whom was Mr. Henry Gompertz, who was unsuccessful, and who had petitioned against the return of one of the sitting Members. Now the question was, whether that candidate was fairly entitled to complain of the proceedings of that election, and whether he stood rectus in cicriâ to claim the indulgence of the House, Mr. Gompertz was a prisoner in the Queen's Bench Prison for the sum of 16,000l.; he never was at Pontefract, and yet he now petitioned the House as a candidate for that borough. According to the newspapers, it appeared that Mr. Gompertz was proposed by a non-elector, and seconded by a non-elector. He did not know how the evidence would turn out, but he had understood that Mr. Gompertzdid not hold one vote—thathe had certainly never polled more than one vote. There was another important fact connected with the case, which was, that the non-elector who had proposed Mr. Gompertz was Moss, the witness who was called before the House on Friday last. After the parties who had been proposed as sureties had appeared before the examiners, and were rejected, Mr. Coppock, who acted as agent to Mr. Stanley, the sitting Member for Pontefract, found that in the office of recognizances, the names, viz., Bevan and Procter, had been entered by Mr. James Florance, of 9, Charingcross, and not by Mr. Moss. Mr. Coppock then wrote to Mr. Florance, saying, "Your name appears in the office of recognizances as agent to the petitioner, Mr. Gompertz. You have acted as such, and yet Mr. Moss has stated himself to be the agent. It has been said that Mr. Moss is in partnership with you. Will you, therefore, inform me what Mr. Moss has to do with the matter?" Mr. Coppock received a note in answer, signed by James Florance, 9, Charing-cross, saying, "that he had no hesitation in stating that he became agent in this business at the request of Mr. Moss, who was unable to be agent himself in consequence, as he understood, of his having been a candidate at the election; that he (Mr. Coppock) was in error as to Moss's being in partnership with him; that he was sole agent, and as such had signed the notice of sureties to the petition." He would ask the House one question—whether the parties who had decided that Procter was not a proper security could not have said, "The surety is invalid from an error in the description, but we think the parties are in proper circumstances; and, although wrong as sureties, yet they are in circumstances to claim the indulgence of the House?" But for such a case, the petitioner must be a bonâ fide candidate—not one picked up from the Bench or from the streets. He thought this was a fraudulent state of proceeding, and one which the House would not protect. Who was the Parliamentary agent in this case? Mr. Moss did not state that he was sole agent, but said that he acted in conjunction with Mr. Florance. Yet, from what he had stated to the House on Friday, the House might have come to the conclusion that Moss was not known to him. If Moss was the Parliamentary agent in this matter, he could not account for his conduct at the bar of the House on Friday. If he were there to-night, he would be able to answer for himself. But why should he have refused to give up the names of all the persons who had employed him? He wished also to make an observation as to the description of the proposed sureties. In one petition he had been described as a shoemaker, in another as a gentleman. He thought it rather odd that the petitions should vary. The hon. Member then begged that Mr. Coppock might be called in; and, on being examined by him.

Mr. Coppock

stated that he was a solicitor, residing in Cleveland-row, Westminster; that he had acted as agent for Mr. Stanley, the sitting Member for Pontefract, since the petition had been presented against his return; that there was only one petition, which was from Henry Gompertz, who stated himself to have been a candidate; that on Saturday morning last, having heard that the time for entering into the recognizances had been enlarged, he went to the usual office, and saw that Mr. James Florance was the agent of Mr. Gompertz; that the notice of sureties was signed by him; that he then wrote to Mr. Florance on the subject, requesting to know whether Mr. Moss was concerned in the business, and received an answer from him, stating that he (Mr. Florance) was the sole agent, and had become agent at the request of Mr. Moss. Procter, when offering himself as surety for the Canterbury election petition, had described himself as a bootmaker, whereas in the Pontefract case he described himself as a gentleman.

The witness, (Mr. Coppock) withdrew.

Mr. Moss

called to the bar. He stated, that he was agent for the Pontefract election petition, but that he had allowed James Florance to put in his name as agent, because Florance had superintended a portion of his business, and he (the witness) did not wish his own name to appear as agent, because he had taken a prominent part at the Pontefract election. Witness added, that Florance had no interest in the matter pro or con.

Mr. Aglionby

(to the witness).—You, then, are the sole agent, and Florance is only the apparent agent?—Yes. Do you not consider that a fraud?—No; I was present when the sureties were put in.— Did you not state on Friday that you yourself put in the sureties?—I was present when the sureties were put in.

The letter written by Mr. Coppock to Mr. Florance, and the latter's reply, were here read; and the witness, on being again asked whether Mr. Florance had properly described himself as the agent for the Pontefract petition, answered that he (witness) was the agent: and that Mr. Florance had put in his name because he happened to transact a portion of witness's business.

Mr. Aglionby

(to the witness).—When did you apply to Mr. Gompertz?—About a week before the Pontefract election.— Where did you apply to him?—Where he now is. Were you aware that Mr. Gompertz was in confinement for debts amounting to 16,000l.?—No. He never had been a candidate at the Pontefract election, though individuals had canvassed for him before he went down. He was not an elector of Pontefract, but he nominated Mr. Gompertz. Procter was one of the sureties. He had sent up his clerk to Southbank to make inquiries in regard to Procter. Was informed by his clerk that he lived at No. 9. Was not aware that Procter was one of the sureties to any other petition. Was not aware that in another petition Procter was designated a bootmaker. Had no intention of concealment in entering Procter as a gentleman.

Witness withdrew.

Sir R. Peel

said, in one case Procter was stated to be a bootmaker, and in the other as a gentleman residing in a villa in the Regent's-park. In either case there did not appear to be anything improper; and there certainly was not a primâ facie case of fraud in designating Mr. Procter as a bootmaker in the Strand, where he carried on his business, and a gentleman, when he was mentioned as residing at his villa in the Regent's park. That, however, was the simple question to be decided by the House; and they had nothing whatever to do with the question whether Mr. Gompertz at the time he was a candidate was a prisoner in the Queen's Bench or not; nor had they anything to do with the questions whether or not Mr. Moss was an elector, and had a right to nominate Mr. Gompertz. The real questions to be decided were these—Was the addition a proper addition, and was the surety a proper surety? Now, he was convinced that the right hon. Gentleman in the chair would take care that the sureties were proper, and that there was no fraud prac- tised. The House on Friday night had granted the parties an indulgence, and they were now, on a motion for rescinding the former order, called on to investigate the whole circumstances connected with the election. That in his opinion was a most dangerous course of proceeding, and he hoped the further examination would be confined solely to the question which was really under their consideration.

Mr. Aglionby

said, if the question simply was in regard to Mr. Procter being designated as a bootmaker in the one case and a gentleman in the other, he would allow that the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) was right. But that was not the whole question, and unless he was allowed to enter into other circumstances connected with the proceedings he should be unable to show whether there was any fraud intended or not. It appeared to him important to ascertain whether Mr. Gompertz, being a prisoner in the Queen's Bench, could really be a bond fide candidate or not, as he considered it highly improper that persons who could not in reality be candidates should give vexatious opposition to those who were bonâ fide candidates. He thought that this case was tainted with fraud, and if they were not to inquire whether fraud had been practised, then there was no question before the House to inquire about. The House had granted a certain indulgence, and it was certainly no injustice to require the parties to show that no fraud had been practised.

Mr. C. Buller

said, when he went to dinner he had left the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) arguing in favour of a strict application of the rule laid down by the House in regard to sureties, and now that he had come back from dinner he found the same right hon. Gentleman arguing for a lenient application of the rule. He did not understand this change, and the only difference he could see was, that the question the former case related to Dudley, and the present had reference to Pontefract, and the right hon. Baronet might be more inclined to favour a Tory candidate than another. In his opinion there did appear sufficient grounds for believing this to be the case of wilful mistake for the purpose of deceiving parties, and investigation ought therefore to take place.

Sir R. Peel

would first state in explanation, that he thought the judgment of Philip sober better than that of Philip after dinner. What he had formerly stated was, that the examination ought to be limited to the question, whether Mr. Procter's designation was stated in two different ways with a fraudulent intention. But while he had stated that, he had also stated that he did not think it was fair or proper to inquire whether Gompertz had been and was in the Queen's Bench, or whether Mr. Moss was or was not an elector of Pontefract, and had a right to nominate one of the candidates.

Lord J. Russell

thought it right not to enter into questions relating to the character of, and the proceedings at, the election. These were not proper questions for the House to entertain. If, however, it could be proved that in the two designations there was any intention to mislead, he thought there would be a fair case for rescinding the order which had formerly been made.

Mr. Aglionby

said, that it had been his intention to show circumstances of fraud, but he had been prevented from doing so by constant interruptions. If it was the wish of the House, he would give the matter up for a night; and as such seemed to be the desire of those in his vicinity, he would beg leave to move that the debate be adjourned till to-morrow, in order that Benbow and Procter might be brought before the House.

Question adjourned.