HC Deb 13 May 1842 vol 63 cc476-80
Mr. C. Buller

said, he rose, according to notice, to present the petition of his Friend, Mr. Henry Warburton, detailing the circumstances of the late Election for the Borough of Bridport, together with the causes of the compromise then entered into, and the consequent resignation of his seat. He had given notice to the two sitting Members, on Wednesday, that he intended to present the petition yesterday, and that, on this day, he should discuss that petition, and that he should then request the hon. Member for Bath to include Bridport in his committee of inquiry. There being no House yesterday, it was impossible for him to present the petition, and he could, therefore, now only present the petition, without taking a vote upon it, as it was impossible to take a vote upon a petition of which the House had no knowledge, but he should do so the first opportunity after Whitsuntide. He should, with that view, conclude by moving, that the petition of Mr. Warburton be printed for the use of hon. Members, and circulated during the holidays. On the present occasion, he would only detain the House by a short statement of the facts detailed in the petition. Before he did that, he would, however, remark, that the petitioner complained that the resignation of the seat by him, had been the subject of comments very prejudicial and injurious to his character, and more particularly so in the course of a speech delivered by one of her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State (Sir J. Graham) at a public dinner given at a town in the same county as that from whence this peti- tion emanated Mr. Warburton stated, that in 1826, when he stood for the borough of Bridport, it was the custom for the successful candidate to pay, twelve months after the. election, 10l. to each voter, under the denomination of head-money: no previous promises were made, but it was understood, that the successful candidate was bound to pay this money; the petitioner states, that 2,000l. were paid in this way, after his first election. That there was the same understanding at every subsequent election. That after the passing of the Reform Bill, it was resolved in the borough, that head-money should not thereafter continue to be paid, two persons only dissenting from that arrangement; but that, if it should appear, that some of the poorer electors had still been guilty of bribery in this way, the petitioner hoped, that they would not be judged of too severely on that account, but that their general conduct, in other respects, would be considered. He stated, that the usual expenses of the election, were from 1,500l. to 1,700l., of which, 100l. consisted of the cost of dinners after the election, and 490l. for the expenses of the processions. That he was assured by his agents, that the expenses paid were only the usual expenses, and that large sums were paid for breakfasts at the election. That Mr. Mitchell became a candidate at the last election; and that from some correspondence which the petitioner saw, he understood the friends of Mr. Mitchell expressed their determination to carry that election by bribery, if other means failed; and that if open inquiry be granted, this fact could be proved. The petitioner states further, that Mr. Mitchell stood, and was returned; that bribery did take place, not with the congnizance of the petitioner, but under the direction of Mr. Mitchell or his agents; that Mr. Hutchinson was one of Mr. Mitchell's agents, to whom the petitioner's agent paid certain sums of money; and the petitioner admits, that without any interference of his own, he was mixed up in the transaction in a way which compromised his seat? but, he urges, that as the bribery was conducted by Mr. Mitchell and his agents, it was that Gentleman who ought, in justice, to have resigned his seat, and not the petitioner; but that after the petition was presented against the return, the petitioners, not finding that Mr. Mitchell was inclined to resign, intimated to Mr. Cochrane, the petitioner and the unsuccessful candidate at the election, that he, the petitioner (Mr. Warburton), would resign, if Mr. Mitchell did not, before the expiration of the fourteen days allowed for presenting election petitions. The petitioner accordingly accepted the Chiltern Hundreds on the 8th of September, and on the 17th, Mr. Cochrane was elected without opposition. After the election, a letter was sent to the petitioner, from Mr. Cochrane's agent, acknowledging the highly honourable manner in which he (the petitioner) had acted, in reference to the compact which had been so entered into. The petitioner then went into a minute history of the transactions respecting the election, and subsequently stated, that Mr. Warburton's expenses at the last election had amounted to 2,150l., Mr. Mitchell's to 3,200l., and Mr. Cochrane's to a considerable sum, the exact amount of which was unknown to the petitioner. The petitioner concluded by praying, that his petition might be referred to the select committee about to be appointed to investigate similar compromises which bad taken place in reference to other elections, before which committee the petitioner would be willing to attend, to give every information in his power. It was his intention to move that this petition be printed with the votes.

Mr. Cochrane

would not then enter into the particulars of what had occurred at the last Bridport election; but having yesterday received from the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard a note, stating it was his intention to present the petition that evening, he had not anticipated that the hon. Member would have taken that opportunity of reading out certain parts of the petition affecting the conduct of the sitting Members, without bringing any motion before the House, in accordance with the prayer of the petition. His hon. Colleague was not present, and could not have anticipated, that the matter would have been so adverted to. He would not then enter into any explanation with reference to what had passed at Bridport at the last election; but he felt great satisfaction, that as regarded the questions between himself and Mr. Warburton, he should have an opportunity next week of laying a statement fully before the House. After that statement should have been made, he felt satisfied that not even the shadow of an imputation could rest on him, and that not even the breath of slander could tarnish his character. If he had acted at all erroneously, his error had arisen from over-sensitiveness and over-regard for the interests of Mr. Warburton. If he had acted as many others would have acted under similar circumstances—if he had acted with a feeling of selfishnesss, he should not have been subjected to the great anxiety from which he had suffered, since he had become the representative of that borough. He should avail himself of an opportunity on Friday next, of laying before that House a full and entire answer to the petition which had just been presented; in the mean time, he would express his conviction, that that answer would add to his own character as a Gentleman and man of honour, while he felt assured, that it would reflect no credit upon the hon. Gentleman who had signed the petition.

Mr. Mitchell

said, that he had not been aware that it was the intention of the hon. Member for Liskeard to read any portion of the petition, and be had not on that account taken care to be present during its presentation. He had thought that the petition would have been presented in the usual manner, and that it would have been printed with the votes, in order that every hon. Member might have had an opportunity of examining its contents. He had entered the House only three minutes before the hon. and learned Member had concluded, and was therefore ignorant of the allegations it contained; but, without undertaking to answer the various allegations of the petition on that occasion, he would take that opportunity of giving his direct and positive denial of the few words which he had heard, at the end of the extracts read by the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, to the effect that a gentleman of the name of Hutchinson had acted as his agent in spending his money at the election. To this assertion he gave an explicit denial; and he could not help expressing his surprise that Mr. Warburton should have condescended to make that statement without first ascertaining whether it was true or false. With regard to the other allegations of the petition, which he had not heard, he should be prepared, when he was made acquainted with them, to give every explanation in his power.

Mr. C. Buller

had thought that a petition of this nature would have been read by the Clerk at the Table. At all events the hon. Gentleman could not complain of the course he had taken, as he had given him an opportunity of denying a statement which he had declared to be untrue. He would now move that the petition be printed and circulated with the votes for the use of Members only, as was usually the course when Members of that House were implicated, and he would give notice that on that day week he should call the attention of the House to the subject of the petition, and move that it be referred to the committee which had been appointed on the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath.

Petition to be printed.

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