HC Deb 08 February 1844 vol 72 cc458-66
Mr. Divett

rose to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, for an Address to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to dismiss F. Robert Bonham, Esq., from the office of Storekeeper of Her Majesty's Ordnance. He always addressed the House with considerable reluctance, and more especially when the matter in some measure concerned himself; but he felt that he had a public duty to perform on this occasion. He considered then, that he had very great reason to complain of the conduct of Mr. Bonham, with reference to certain proceedings in the city of London election; but he should not have felt it necessary to call the attention of the House to Mr. Bonham's conduct merely on that account, did not that hon. Gentleman fill a public position. It was well known, that the hon. Gentleman was the confidential election agent of the Conservative party. [Laughter] Gentlemen might laugh, but the fact was notorious in all political circles, and which ought to be made notorious to the country, because, in his capacity as the great Conservative election agent, he often did things for which those who employed him ought to be made responsible. The hon. Gentleman had been the election agent of the party before they last came into power, and his services had been so efficient, that the Premier, on his accession to office, offered him, as a reward for them, the important and ornamental office of Sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman, not thinking this office suited for his peculiar talents, declined it, and then, he had received the Storekeepership of Her Majesty's Ordnance, which suited him better. What were the duties which had been performed by the hon. Gentleman as election agent? When an election was about to take place, and a gentleman came to town about the matter, he was introduced to Mr. Bonham. When gentlemen came from the country on the subject of Motions, they proceeded at once to Mr. Bonham: he was the golden image to which they paid their devotions. At Bridport, where such proceedings had been disclosed as digusted the House only a short time ago, Mr. Bonham was the individual sent down to treat with the parties. Matters of a confidential character, which were not thought to fall within the duties of the Secretary to the Treasury, devolved naturally into the hands of Mr. Bonham. At the last London election, Mr. Bonham had, perhaps, rendered more important services than on any previous occasion. Committees were formed, at which various Members of the Government, particularly the Attorney-general, took an active part. He should not have introduced the name of that right hon. Gentleman, if, on a former night he had not held out a sort of threat to him when he, the hon Gentleman said, that such a notice as lie had put on the books, was almost indecent. He did not at all understand such expressions from the first Law Officer of the Crown, since it was the duty of Parliament to take cognizance of such conduct. It was essential that the House should look with great jealousy at proceedings of the kind, and if any thing were disclosed inconsistent with honour and propriety, to investigate it strictly. The great activity of Mr. Bonham during the last London election had been remarkable: he had vibrated between the Carlton Club and the Treasury, the Treasury and the City, and the City and Spring-gardens. On the Monday previous to the election, Sir Gregory Lewin, the Recorder of Doncaster expressed his extreme reluctance to remain in town to vote; and after some consideration, he had agreed to pair with Sir Gregory, so that neither should go to the poll. Sir G. Lewin had informed him on Wednesday, that his friend Mr. Bonham, to whom he had communicated the fact, had written to say that his pair was perfectly satisfactory. On Thursday he returned to his house, and produced a note from Mr. Bonham, as nearly as he (Mr. Divett) could recollect, in these terms:—"You must come to town to vote. After the most patient search, Divett's name cannot be found in the register." He could not vouch for the exact words, as he had not the original, but the note concluded by a request, that Sir G. Lewin would write to him to inform him of the fact. On reading the note, he had observed to Sir G. Lewin, that was most extraordinary, and that the fact was not as Mr. Bonham represented it, for he had seen his name in the register himself. However, to leave Sir G. Lewin perfectly unshackled, he agreed, unless Sir G. Lewin heard something to the contrary, that they should both go to the poll. Nothing more having been heard from Mr. Bonham, they determined to go to the poll next morning early. They were not detained at the booth two minutes, and they proceeded to Devonshire the same evening. He should not have made any complaint against Mr. Bonham, but should have assumed that he had proceeded on a mistake, if he had heard anything more from him GO the subject; but from that time to this, he had not heard a single syllable. It seemed possible that Mr. Bonham should have been called upon by some of his own friends to explain the matter: nothing of the sort. Mr. Bonham had given no explanation; but from Sir Gregory Lewin he had the next day received a letter to the following effect:— My dear Divett—Although you have had your revenge in the defeat of Mr. Baring, I have thought it right to send the following to Bonham for you:— Divett is full of indignation; he considers that he has been insulted by the Conservative party, and has expressed his determination to write even to Sir Robert Peel, to know if such a mode of carrying on elections is sanctioned by him. Ills name was as plainly on the registry as mine, and it needed no search to discover it; he voted for his friend, Mr. Pattison, and returned by the same train with me. I am very much discomposed by the affair, and not the less because you are mixed up with it. The party who made you the medium of a statement which was not true, in fact, ought to give you an explanation of their conduct; at present it looks wilful, and if so, disgraceful; if it arose from negligence, it is discreditable. Your's truly, GREGORY LEWIN. In mere fairness when Mr. Bonham found out his error he ought at once to have said so. Mr. Bonham, on the ipse dixit of somebody had assumed that he (Mr. Divett) had been so base as to assert that his name was upon the register, when in fact, it was not to be found there. This he considered a very gross insult. He had heard it said within a very short time, that Mr. Bonham had stated to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that he was in no way responsible for the mistake—that the statement had been made to him, and that he believed it; be could only observe upon that, that if he had not had an honourable man to deal with, Sir Gregory Lewin, on the foundation of Mr. Bonham's assurance, might have felt justified, without notice, in coming to town from the country and voting at the election, in spite of the agreement to pair. It was a most curious fact, which ought not to be omitted, that at the very moment when it was asserted that his (Mr. Divett's) name was not on the register he was in possession of several letters from one of Mr. Baring's committee canvassing him for his vote. It was the nicety of feeling on matters of this kind that gave our nation such advantages over other countries. He hoped that this scrupulousness on matters of honour would still be maintained, and he was sure that no man felt the value of it more than the Prime Minister. That right hon. Gentleman was always ready in proper cases to stand forward in defence of his subordinates; but no man was more anxious that there should be no failure among his friends in the smallest minutiœ of honourable deportment. It was of great importance to preserve a high tone of feeling: it enabled Great Britain to take a loftier position than other nations, and he might refer particularly to the democratic country of America, where practices prevailed, in relation to elections, which made approaches to the character of swindling. He hoped that Mr. Bonham would avail himself of this opportunity of exculpating himself from the charge. That gentleman had certainly taken a- course which no man in the situation of the confidential agent to a party ought to have pursued. Without troubling the House further, and thanking it for its indulgence, he should conclude with the motion of which he had given notice. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving a resolution that the conduct of J. R. Bonham, Esq, while holding a highly important office, was inconsistent with the duty of a servant of the Crown, and praying Her Majesty to dismiss him from his office. The motion found no seconder.

Sir R. Peel

rose, not to second the motion, but to move that the House should adjourn. Although the hon. Gentleman had not been fortunate enough to find a single Member to second his motion, yet as that motion implied a reflection upon the conduct of a gentleman whom he (Sir R. Peel) was proud to call his personal friend—and he did not believe that a man of higher integrity, or a purer sense of honour, existed than Mr. Bonham—although, he said, the hon. Gentleman had not found a seconder, yet, as he had succeeded in throwing his imputation, although he could not carry his motion, he felt it necessary to say a few words in vindication of the conduct of his friend. He was ashamed to trouble the House on this subject, for it would be observed that the hon. Gentleman had not acted from a sense of public virtue, or from a proper resentment of the interference of Mr. Bonham at elections—nor was the notice which he had given on the first day of the Session prompted by his desire to protect the purity of electoral privileges, for it was avowed by him to-night, that if Mr. Bonham had written him a letter of apology, the House would never have heard a word of this motion. He would give to the House Sir Gregory Lewin's account of the transaction. That gentleman stated that on the approach of the City of London election, it was, after some conversation, agreed between him and Mr. Divett, that they should pair together; and he (Sir G. Lewin), wrote to Mr. Bonham, who stated, in reply, that the pair was perfectly satisfactory—that subsequently, however, a communication to that effect being made to the central committee, an investigation was made by them, and Mr. Divett's name did not appear on the list of electors. That on this being made known to Mr. Divett he appeared annoyed, and set it down as a trick, declaring that his name was on the list, and that the result was that both gentlemen came to town and voted. Mr. Bonham never charged Mr. Divett with having preferred an unfounded claim to vote. He had merely transmitted the intelligence communicated to him by the central committee. The chairman of that committee was Mr. Russell Ellice, whose high character would be appreciated by every gentleman who was acquainted with his name, and he had in his possession a letter written by that gentleman to Mr. Bonham. [Mr. Divett inquired what was the date of that letter?] It was after the hon. Gentleman's notice. The letter stated that a mistake had occurred with regard to Mr. Divett's name not being on the register—that no person could regret that mistake more than the writer, and that he believed it had arisen from the committee not knowing to what livery Mr. Divett belonged. Mr. Ellice added, that the only apology he could make to Mr. Divett and Sir G. Lewin was founded upon the extreme bustle and confusion which prevailed upon such occasions. Mr. Bonham, upon receiving this letter, wrote to Sir Gregory Lewin to express his regret for the mistake which had occurred. There was no imputation upon the hon. Member for Exeter, and the only complaint he had to make was, that Mr. Bonham had not made to him a formal apology; but Mr. Bonham had expressed his regret to Sir G. Lewin, taking it for granted, that that gentleman, as the intimate friend of the hon. Gentleman would communicate it to him. These were the facts of the case, and upon these facts the hon. Gentleman thought it consistent with his duty, making no communication to Mr. Bonham—on the first day of the Session to place a motion on the book, which must lead to the inference that Mr. Bonham had been guilty of some gross public misconduct which called for his dismissal, not one explanatory word having accompanied his notice. The whole grievance of the case was, that Mr. Bonham had not made an apology to the hon. Member. Notice was given of an Address to the Crown to dismiss a public officer, and there was nothing but this trumpery proceeding with which to follow it up. However, as the hon. Gentleman had not a seconder, he thought Mr. Bonham had a complete compensation, and that there was nothing either in the motion or the speech which would in the slightest degree disparage Mr. Bonham, either in his public or private capacity.

Mr. Divett

said, what he complained of was, not the want of an apology, but that Mr. Bonham had left him in entire ignorance of the mistake that had occurred.

The Attorney-General

Sir, I have an apology and a statement to offer, which will not occupy the House a moment. It is true that I did (in substance) say to the hon. Gentleman, I thought it not decent to obtrude such a trifling affair on the House. I certainly did add, that I thought it would be much the same thing as if one should propose to move the hon. Gentleman's expulsion, in order merely to get an opportunity of making a speech. But I beg to apologise to the hon. Member for having mistaken (as it appears I have) the terms on which I was with him; for I certainly uttered those expressions in that tone of easy confidence and frank familiarity which the interchange of courtesies rather more than common had seemed to warrant, and which, as we all know, is far from unusual among Members of opposite politics. I intended no offence to the hon. Member. In perfect good humour I stated what appeared to me to be the character of the motion the hon. Member was about to make. I thought, that in doing so, I was performing the office of a friend. It appears to me, that the hon. Member is scarcely a fit judge of those matters which ought to be made subjects of debate in this House.

Mr. Leader

having heard Mr. Bonham described as the dispenser of the secret service money of the Conservative Club, must be permitted to say, that he did not think Mr. Bonham was a man likely to do any thing repugnant to honour, or to take any step which any gentleman would hesitate to take in favour of his cause. He had known that gentleman for years, and he must give that testimony to his character; and he thought it rather too bad, that this gentleman should be exposed, on account of a mere mistake, to those surmises which must arise out of the notice of motion which was given by the hon. Member.

Mr. Cochrane

must say with respect to Mr. Bonham going down to Bridport as was said to arrange those actions which had been brought against him (Mr. Cochrane), that the hon. Member was entirely incorrect. Mr. Bonham neither went down nor sent down to Bridport, and had nothing to do with the matter.

House adjourned at a few minutes before two o'clock.