HC Deb 13 February 1838 vol 40 cc1030-3
Mr. Ward

had to present a petition from Sir Culling Smith, who stated that he was a candidate at the last election for the borough of Pontefract, and that it had long been the practice with the candidates for that borough to give to the voters, after the election had been decided, 3l. each, which was commonly known by the name of head-money. Sir Culling Smith then went on to state, that, at the election in 1830, he had complied with that custom; but that, from the year 1835 down to the last election, he had resisted it, being determined, if returned at all, to be returned upon a purer system. The result was what his friends told him it would be— his defeat. Sir Culling Smith regarded this as a personal grievance, having had to maintain an unequal contest with those who were less scrupulous. He determined, therefore, to bring it under the consideration of the House. With that view he had prepared the present petition, which prayed that the House would be pleased to appoint a Select Committee, before which he (Sir Culling Smith) might be allowed to enter into an investigation of the practices which prevailed at the elections for Pontefract, with the view of introducing into that borough household suffrage and the vote by ballot, as the only remedy for the abuses which at present existed. Having thus stated the substance of the petition, he (Mr. Ward) had now only to move that it be laid on the Table, be printed in the votes, and be taken into consideration that day fortnight.

Mr. Milnes

said, that if he were anxious to bring forward reasons why this petition should not be presented at all—if he were anxious to prevent such a petition from appearing upon the journals of the House, he believed it would be no difficult task; but he proposed acquiescing in the prayer of the petition, at the same time asking permission of the House to offer a very few remarks upon its character and nature. He, for one, could have no objection to the fullest inquiry upon the subject, remaining secure and satisfied upon the simple fact that he individually had not given any head-money. He begged the House to remark, that this petition came forward under two aspects; in one point of view it was to be regarded as bringing large and wholesale allegations against the constituency which he had the honour to represent, and in the other, it was to be viewed as one of those petitions against the Reform Bill which emanated so very freely from the Ministerial side of the House. The House was perfectly aware that the Reform Act reserved a life interest to the scotland lot voters. The voters of that class in the borough of Pontefract had been reduced since the passing of the Reform Act from 800 to less than 400; and it was upon that point that the petition just presented was so insidiously and unjustly silent. Any body who heard the allegations of that petition not knowing the fact, would suppose, that the whole of the constituency of Pontefract had received head-money. One of the allegations advanced by the petitioner was, that he had lost his election in consequence of refusing to give head-money.

The Speaker

reminded the hon. Member that the present could not be regarded as a convenient time upon which to enter into the merits of the question, especially as a day had been appointed, by the hon. Member by whom the petition was presented for taking it into consideration.

Mr. Milnes

felt very much the inconvenience of troubling the House at that moment; but, at the same time, he did not like that a petition of that kind should go abroad upon the journals of the House without some means being afforded to the public of coming to a right understanding of its character and nature. As the best apology he could offer for trespassing upon the patience of the House at all, he would endeavour to confine his remarks to within the narrowest possible limits. Sir Culling Smith declared that his election failed because he did not give head-money; but he could tell the House why and how it was that Sir Culling Smith failed. Sir Culling Smith first went down to Pontefract under Conservative banners and professing Conservative principles, and he was then elected. In 1835 he attempted the same thing under Radical banners and professing Radical principles, and, therefore, as was very natural, was not elected. Whatever course might be taken, whether head-money were given or not, it was impossible that any two persons, professing Radical principles could ever become the representatives of the borough of Pontefract. He would reserve himself, however, until the day appointed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, when the question would be brought forward in a regular and formal manner.

Petition laid on the Table, ordered to be printed, and to be taken into further consideration on the 27th of February.

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