MR. PAGE WOOD rose, pursuant to notice, to move that—
A Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the allegations contained in the Petition of certain Electors and Inhabitants of the borough of Stamford, which was presented upon the 14th day of March last, complaining of the interference of the Marquess of Exeter, a Peer of the Realm, and Lord Lieutenant of the county of Northampton, at the late and former Elections of Members to serve for the said Borough.
He regretted that the subject which he was about to introduce to the House necessarily involved charges against an absent person; and he hoped that the House would bear in mind that the case he should endeavour to make out was one for inquiry, and for inquiry only. He was bound in justice to the petitioners and to himself to state, that when he was requested to take charge of the petition, he made it his first duty to state to the petitioners, that in his opinion theirs was a petition which ought not to be presented or proceeded with, unless they were prepared to assure him that they were confident of being able to establish the facts they alleged by the most unquestionable evidence. That assurance, however, he received in such a manner as to induce him now to assure the House, that the petitioners were most earnest in alleging their grievances, and were most confident of their ability to prove the facts which their petition set forth. That petition proceeded from more than one-third of the whole constituency, and was also signed by 193 non-electors. It complained of grievances of long date, stating as it did that the interferences complained of had taken place in Stamford at various periods, from the year 1830. The position of the borough was a somewhat singular one. In 1830
a severe contest for the representation took place, at which time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lambeth (Mr. C. T. D'Eyncourt) was an unsuccessful candidate; but in 1831 that right hon. Gentleman was returned against the influence of the Marquess of Exeter. At the time of that election Stamford was a scot and lot borough. It possessed 810 electors; but when the Reform Bill was passed, it had been thought expedient by this House, that a parish which originally formed no part of the borough of Stamford, and which was in fact situated in another county, should for all electoral purposes be added to the borough. That was the parish of St. Martin, situated on what he might call the Burleigh side of the river. The electors remonstrated against this arrangement, representing to the House that they were a scot and lot borough—that they had hitherto secured the return of representatives, notwithstanding the amount of family influence brought to bear on them; but that if the parish of St. Martin were to be added to the borough, and the 10l. franchise introduced, that the inevitable consequence would be the sinking of the borough under the domination of the noble Lord, of whose interference they now complained; and they therefore prayed, that if this parish should be added to the constituency, the elective franchise should be transferred from them to some other borough. Well, the evils which in that petition had been predicted were now fulfilled, and the prayer of the petitioners was, either that the grievances of which they complained might be redressed, or that their borough might be disfranchised. In 1832, after the addition of the parish of St. Martin, the constituency amounted to 850. The present constituency on the register amounted only to 575, although the borough now included the additional parish. Thus the number of voters was reduced, while the influence complained of increased. Of the 575 who were at present on the register, upwards of 190—that was to say, about one-third—were tenants of the Marquess of Exeter, while upwards of 194 signed the original petition, and seventeen had since signed a similar supplementary petition, making in all 211 electors, out of the whole number of 575, who alleged the facts which he should detail to the House. This was not, he might observe, a party petition, or one got up for party purposes. The last candidate for Stamford would, had he succeeded,
have taken his place on the other (the Opposition) side of the House. Neither was it on the ground of breach of privilege that the petitioners brought forward their case, but on the grounds of elective interference, and in order, if the borough were to be represented, to make that representation a real and bonâ fide one, and not a delusion and a snare. The petition commenced by stating that the freedom of election was obstructed by the interference of the Marquess of Exeter, who was the owner of much property in the borough. It went on to set forth—
That the said Marquess further interferes in the said elections by authorising and sanctioning promises in his name to many of the electors, that they shall occupy, as tenants, property belonging to him in eligible situations in or near the said borough, provided they will vote for the candidates nominated and selected by him, and by b authorising and sanctioning threats in his name to many of the electors who are his tenants, that they shall be discharged from such tenancy if they do not vote for the candidates nominated and selected by him. That the said Marquess further interferes in the said elections by fulfilling the promises and threats so made in his name, and by giving the tenancy of premises to electors who have voted in accordance with his declared views and wishes, and discharging from their tenancy many of the electors, being his tenants, who vote in opposition to such his views and wishes. That the said Marquess, being such Peer of Parliament as aforesaid, has so interfered at all the recent elections for Members to serve for the said borough in Parliament, and in particular he did so interfere at the last of such elections. That the said Marquess, by such his interference, influences votes, and procures them to be given contrary to the intentions and opinions of voters sufficient in number to control and decide the election, so that in fact the Members returned to represent the said borough are the representatives of the Marquess, and not the representatives of the majority of the electors of the said borough. That such the interference of the said Marquess, as your petitioners submit, without reference to his Lordship's position as a Peer of Parliament, is a violation of the undoubted right of the electors of the said borough freely to elect Members to serve for them in Parliament, and amounts to the systematic bribery and intimidation of the electors of the said borough by him, within the meaning and intent of the laws in force against bribery and intimidation. That the said Marquess, being a Peer of Parliament, has, by so interfering and concerning himself in the said elections, also contravened the resolution of your honourable House on that subject, and has thereby infringed the liberties of the Commons of the United Kingdom. That, in verification of the foregoing statement, your petitioners rely on the following facts, which they pledge themselves to prove, if your honourable House shall deem an inquiry into the case advisable or necessary. At the general election which took place in July and August, 1830, it was notorious, in the said borough, that two of the candidates, namely, Lord Thomas Cecil and Lieutenant-Colonel Chaplin,
were approved by the said Marquess; and such his approbation of them, and also his opposition to Mr. Tennyson, the other candidate, were openly and constantly communicated by the persons canvassing for the said Lord Thomas Cecil and Colonel Chaplin, and by the agents of the said Marquess, to such of the voters as were likely to be influenced by such communications; and at the same time promises and threats, to the effect hereinbefore mentioned, in reference to the tenancy of the property of the said Marquess, were openly and constantly made by such persons to the said voters; and immediately after the election such promises and threats were carried into execution; and, in particular, upwards of thirty tenants of the said Marquess, who had in any way promoted the election of the said Mr. Tennyson, or who had abstained from promoting the election of the said Lord Thomas Cecil and Colonel Chaplin, were, immediately after the said election, discharged from their tenancy, while none of the electors who had forwarded the declared wishes and views of the said Marquess were so discharged. Precisely similar proceedings were adopted by and in the name of the said Marquess at the election of Members to serve in Parliament for the said borough, which took place in the month of December, 1832, when Colonel Thomas Chaplin, and George Finch, Esq., were the candidates approved by the said Marquess, and Mr. Gregory was the candidate in opposition to his views and wishes. At the recent election, which took place in the month of July, 1847, there were three candidates, namely, the Marquess of Granby, the right hon. J. C. Herries, and Mr. Rolt. The first announcement of the Marquess of Granby and Mr. Herries as candidates was made to some of the principal inhabitants of the town, by letter from Mr. Walford, the London solicitor of the Marquess of Exeter. Mr. Walford has no connexion with Stamford except as such solicitor for the said Marquess, and is in frequent communication with the authorities of the said borough, and with the inhabitants, on the Marquess's affairs, and not on any other business. During the election statements were constantly and openly made by persons canvassing on behalf of the Marquess of Granby and Mr. Herries, and by the agents of the said Marquess, to the effect that the Marquess of Exeter approved of them as candidates, and was opposed to Mr. Rolt; and promises and threats, to the effect hereinbefore-mentioned, in reference to the tenancy of property of the said Marquess, were constantly and openly made by the persons so canvassing, and by the said agents, to such of the voters as were likely to be influenced thereby. Reference was frequently and openly made at public meetings, as well on the hustings as elsewhere, and in public journals and other publications, to the facts, that the voters were threatened with the Marquess's displeasure if they, in any way, promoted Mr. Rolt's election; and that the voters believed, and were acting under the belief; that they would be discharged by the Marquess from their premises if they promoted his election; and the facts so referred to were never controverted by any one except by the candidates themselves averring that they were not the nominees of any one; and, on the contrary, the understanding which openly and notoriously, and with just reason, prevailed amongst the tenantry, that they would be discharged from their premises if they
did not promote the election of the candidates approved by the Marquess, was, in every way, encouraged by many of the persons who canvassed for the said candidates, and by the agents of the said Marquess. At the election twenty-seven of the tenants of the said Marquess of Exeter, and the son of another tenant, promoted the election of Mr. Rolt, either by voting for him alone, or for him and also for one of the other candidates, or by abstaining from voting at all. Since the election, and previous to the following quarter-day, discharges or notices to quit had been served, by the authority of the said Marquess, on twenty-two of the said twenty-seven tenants; while no other general change had been made in the tenancy of the said Marquess's property. After such notices to quit had been served, one of the said twenty-two tenants waited personally on the said Marquess, and explained, consistently, as your petitioners believe, with the fact, that he had voted for Mr. Rolt by mistake, and in consequence of the confusion he was in at the polling booth; and the said Marquess replied to him, that he did not believe in the mistake, and that he should consequently not allow the notice to be withdrawn.
The hon. Gentleman continued: Were these facts to be proved, a clear and distinct case would be made out, with which he considered that the House was bound to interfere. The House would observe that the petitioners alleged that promises were made and threats held out by the agents of the Marquess to induce parties holding under him to vote for or abstain from voting against certain candidates; that the Marquess sanctioned and ratified the acts of his agents by causing notices to quit to be given with reference to the election; and when one of the parties thus served requested for a withdrawal of the notice, on the ground that he had voted for a certain candidate by mistake, the Marquess would not consent, on the plea of his not believing the excuse urged, thus showing that the notice had been served because the party bad voted against the wishes of the Marquess. The petition then went on to allege certain other matters. The petitioners stated—
That local questions requiring the assistance of Parliament sometimes arise in which the interests of the Marquess of Exeter and of the inhabitants of the said borough are opposed to each other; and in particular a question of that nature arose in the last Session of Parliament in reference to a Bill prosecuted in Parliament for a railway to Stamford, which Bill was unanimously supported by the inhabitants of the said borough, but was successfully opposed by the said Marquess, after he had failed in obtaining from the railway company a large price demanded by him for land required for the said railway; and your petitioners and the inhabitants of the said borough believed, and still believe, that the effect of the influence successfully exercised by the said Marquess in the return of the Members serving for the said boroughs, was to place them the inhabit-
ants in a worse position in Parliament than they would have been in if there had not been any Members serving in Parliament for the said borough; and your petitioners submit that the existence of such Parliamentary questions, in which the said Marquess and the said borough have or may have adverse interests, is an additional reason for preventing the said Marquess from controlling the return of Members for the said borough, or for disfranchising the said borough altogether.
With respect to the complaint of the petitioners as to their local interests, he would only say that they did not shrink from the proof of that part of the case; the consequence of the opposition of the noble Marquess to the Railway Bill therein referred to was to leave Stamford without a railway nearer than four miles; and the petitioners had declared to him that it only arose because the noble Marquess was not satisfied with the terms offered by the company for his land, although the railway company had offered him eighty years' purchase. With respect to the higher and more important complaint which they made, he should have thought that the mere statement of the case would have been sufficient to induce the House to assent to an inquiry. He did not ask that the truth of the statement should be admitted; but it was obvious that the representations of either side could not decide the question; and the more directly the statements were at variance the greater the reason for inquiry. As, however, he understood that his Motion was to be opposed, he supposed that some other grounds would be stated independently of the truth of the allegations. He could scarcely conceive that, at the present day, it could be said, that, if the statement of the petitioners were proved, it was not a grievance. It was true that in 1830 a similar Motion had been made with respect to Newark, and rejected; but that was a much weaker case, and then it was urged that there was no distinct allegation that the ejectment of the voters was connected with the elections; that case also occurred two years before the Reform Act, and he could understand that in those days it might be conceived that this was one of the rights of property; but that at the present day there should be found any one in that House who could justify this course of proceeding, or uphold the famous saying in the Newark case, that "a man may do what he will with his own," was to him inconceivable. Sic utere tuo, alienum ne lædas, was a general maxim of the law; and he submitted that no person had a right to accumulate voters of this description in
any borough, any more than to create any other nuisance. Suppose that a landlord inserted a condition in his leases, that they should determine upon the tenant not voting according to the directions of the landlord, would it be said for a moment that such leases would not be contrary to law, and void? It might be said that he ought to have applied for a reference of the matter to the Committee of Privileges, or that the subject ought to have been submitted to an Election Committee. But with respect to the Committee of Privileges, it would be found, on a reference to former cases, that the intervention of such a tribunal would afford no relief to the petitioners. The only instance of any relief in respect of breach of privilege was, the removal of a bishop of Worcester from the post of Lord High Almoner to Queen Anne. The real principle which those petitioners desired to establish was, that of freedom of election. It was only on the principle that the House should interfere to secure freedom of election, that they, at various times, proposed resolutions against any persons meddling with elections whether they were connected with the other House of Parliament, or might be supposed to be under the influence of the Crown from any other cause. In 1784 they passed resolutions against the interference of any custom-house or excise officer, and prohibiting any other person holding a situation under the Crown from exercising any authority in the election of Members of Parliament. It was evident that where a Peer of the realm interfered, it was a great, aggravation of the offence, inasmuch as he had a distinct and powerful influence, independently of that which he thus unconstitutionally exercised. In 1641, the Commons' House of Parliament asserted their rights by passing strong resolutions respecting the conduct of Peers who had written letters in reference to the election of Members, which they asserted to be a high breach of privilege. The reason for considering the interference of a Peer to be more objectionable than that of a person in a humbler station was, that the Peer possessed influence in the House of Parliament wherein he sat by right. His voice was given not in the election of a representative, but as of itself countervailing in Parliament the voice of the representative of such boroughs as Liverpool or Manchester; and it was essential for that branch of the Legislature which did not depend for existence on the mass of the people,
to be maintained in as respectable a position as possible, and for that end to confine itself within the limits of its own proper privileges. He felt that when a Peer of the realm stepped out of his proper sphere, and, not contented with exercising his rights and influence in his own House of Parliament, interfered with the election of Members of the other House, the Commons of England had a right to interfere also, and to tell that Peer they would not allow such unconstitutional and illegal conduct; that he should confine himself to his own House—
illâ se jactet in aulâ,
Non illi imperium pelagi.
By the Declaration of Rights, and by the 2nd William and Mary, the House had defined and secured their privileges. The latter Act was passed in order to restrain the nomination of Members for the Cinque Ports by the Lord Warden, and forbade that officer to interfere in future with such elections. The present case, therefore, was not a mere matter of privilege—it was in effect a question whether the election of Members of the House of Commons should or should not be free. If the House did not step in and vindicate their rights—if this course were pursued in future—it would be impossible, as it would be impolitic, to give this borough the right to return Members to Parliament. The question of presenting an election petition on this question had been mooted, and it would no doubt be contended that such would have been the proper course to pursue. But who was to present it? The grievance complained of did not affect the successful candidate; it might not much affect him who was unsuccessful. He might not wish to incur the expense and vexation of a petition to the House. Was he (Mr. Wood) to be told, then, that the rights and privileges of the electors were to be outraged and set at nought, and that when they complained of the invasion upon them, they were not to be listened to unless they could fight under the shield of some person who thought the conflict was calculated to promote his own interests? A doctrine of so monstrous a character could never, he was sure, be sanctioned by the House of Commons. But there were precedents in support of the views he entertained on this subject. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government had repeatedly, previously to the Reform Bill, and more par-
ticularly in the years 1829 and 1830, endeavoured to carry some strong resolutions in the House with regard to general bribery at elections—independently of any particular acts of bribery in the case of any individual borough; but the noble Lord was not
successful. In the fifth and sixth years of Her present Majesty, however, a Bill was passed, by which a power was given to investigate cases of general corruption by Election Committees of that House. In the year 1835, however, before the Act he referred to was passed, petitions were presented from the city of York and the borough of Great Yarmouth, complaining of general and universal bribery and corruption. A Select Committee was moved for to inquire into these allegations. The argument used against the Motion on that occasion, and which he supposed would be used now, was, that you should not send those cases to a Select but to an Election Committee; but that argument did not avail. The noble Lord contended that there were no other adequate means for investigating the allegations but by referring the petitions to a Select Committee. The Committee was accordingly appointed, and that Committee reported to the House. This he conceived was a case directly in point. In the present case, to which he was calling the attention of the House, the allegation of the petitioners was, that general intimidation had been exercised over the voters in the borough of Stamford. Now, according to the present law, charges of general intimidation could not be inquired into before an Election Committee, any more than charges of general bribery and corruption could be inquired into before such a Committee previously to the passing of the Act of 5 and 6 Victoria. When, in 1839, the present Secretary of the Home Department moved for an inquiry into the state of the law with reference to bribery and intimidation, with a view to put a stop to intimidation as well as bribery, the right hon. Gentleman observed that it was the duty of the House to inquire whether it would not be beneficial to enable Election Committees to deal with cases of intimidation as well as with bribery and corruption. But no Act had yet been passed empowering Election Committees to inquire into that branch of the evil. He would contend, therefore, that the two precedents to which he had referred, namely, the case of the' city of York and that of Great Yarmouth, were exactly applicable to the present case. At present
there existed no legislative power to refer cases of general intimidation to an Election Committee; in 1835 no such power existed to refer cases of general bribery and corruption to an Election Committee; but as in 1835 cases of general bribery and corruption were referred to a Select Committee, so now, in 1848, might a case of general intimidation be also referred to a Select Committee. He might be asked what remedy he would suggest for an evil like the one of which these petitioners complained? He might, if he pleased, suggest the ballot. But if that were not adopted, and if no other means could be devised to protect the parties from intimidation, why, then, they might be disfranchised. Ay, these petitioners had a right to be disfranchised—strange as the words might sound. True, at the present moment, the franchise was becoming too highly appreciated to be lightly diminished; but if, under the name of a highly important political right, it really proved to be nothing less than "a mockery, a delusion, and a snare" to those who possessed it, then he would contend that the parties so grievously affected had a right to be delivered from that mockery, and rescued from the degradation to which they were subjected. He believed that these persons were desirous of retaining their rights, but not on such conditions as made it impossible for them to exercise those rights in a free and independent manner, and in a way which could alone make the franchise valuable to them. The House, then, having already adopted resolutions in respect of bribery which bore most strongly and distinctly upon the very point in question, and there being no power to refer cases of intimidation to any but a Select Committee for inquiry, it would be most inconsistent for them now to take a step in a contrary and retrograde direction. Even very lately the House had, in regard to the influence on tenants to whom holdings were promised, passed resolutions on a case similar to the present, so that they would be very inconsistent indeed if they now turned round and went in a totally different direction. He referred to the report of the case on the Lyme Regis election, in which it was stated that a gentleman had lent money to persons on the condition that they should vote as he wished; and the noble Lord (Lord Ashley), who was chairman, reported in their name that they desired to impress on the House the necessity of putting an immediate
check to such transactions, which would totally destroy all freedom of election. Would any one point out to him the difference which existed between giving money to persons to vote as the giver wished, and putting them as tenants into houses on a similar condition? The cases were entirely parallel. Every one of the tenants who voted against the wishes of the noble Lord had been dispossessed, and others put in their place, with the single exception of the individual who had held the extraordinary conversation alluded to in the petition. If the House refused to interfere in such a case at once, the country would think there was some special cause for their refusal to investigate; and what the cause was he could not imagine, unless it were that the offender was a Marquess. These complaints against the noble Lord were not new; for years he had been complained of as taking the same course with respect to this borough. Mr. Parkes, a parliamentary agent, who was examined before a Committee of the House some years ago, declared that the borough of Stamford was a most striking and singular instance of intimidation; and the inhabitants had constantly complained of the manner in which the noble Marquess had interfered with the freedom of election. In bringing this question before the House, he was actuated by no party spirit—he begged entirely to disclaim all political partisanship. Many of the persons who signed the petition held totally different opinions; and the very first name on the list was that of a gentleman to whose views he (Mr. Wood) was entirely opposed. The present was a most favourable moment for entering into this inquiry, because there was an absence of those more acrimonious party feelings that sometimes existed in the House; but it was not a favourable moment to refuse it. Was that a time to shut the door against inquiry, when questions were raised respecting the purity of the returns of Members to the Legislature? Was it not desirable that the people of this country should have the most complete respect and confidence in those who represented them? It was equally of extreme importance to Members of the other House, and to the noble Marquess himself, that this charge should be answered, for they could not afford to treat with disrepect the Members of the House of Peers, nor to shake the good feeling which the people entertained for them. If the principle which led to the destruction
of decayed boroughs was to be abandoned—if the principle of the Reform Bill was not to be carried out bonâ fide—if the House were to make a retrograde step, and shield from injury a borough as corrupt as any which existed under the old system, the House would take a most dangerous course. He did not desire to see any change of a serious or sudden character effected from without, or through any other instrumentality than that of the Legislature itself. On the contrary, be thought all our improvements should be connected with the past state of our constitutional Government, and be carried out by constitutional means. Everything of a legislative change which was not connected with the past, would, as he believed, have a very brief future. He should be sorry, indeed, to see any departure from the method by which the country had carried the Reform Bill, namely, by the established channels of our Legislature; and it had been an object of rejoicing with him, as with others, that they had succeeded in carrying that Bill so long ago; for if the storm which had burst upon Europe last February had come over this country at a time when that great measure had been refused, who could tell what would have been the consequences? Many who opposed the Reform Bill in that day were now most delighted that it had been successful, and that the tempest which spread over Europe had not found this country in a state of political agitation and in a struggle for political rights. It was satisfactory to find that the old channels in which the streams of the constitution were wont to run, had not become so obstructed by age and corruption but that they were able to bear the mighty throbbings of the nation's heart, and to convey to all its members the wholesome currents of strength and nutriment, by means of which this country had been enabled to hold her ground during the present formidable career of revolution. No one could say what would be the state of the country, or what would be the effect on the minds of the people, if, by refusing this inquiry, the House evinced a tendency to a retrograde policy. The House signed their death-warrant the instant they showed, by one single act, that they ceased to possess that principle of vitality which alone should animate them—the principle of progress. Then, indeed, they would enter on a period of decay, the end of which must be dissolution. On the
grounds of public benefit, in a strictly Conservative view in the strongest sense of the term, he came forward to call their attention to this subject; and, in conclusion, he would say that, by remedying the evils he had pointed out, they would secure the continued felicity and prosperity of the empire. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.
§ MR. T. D'EYNCOURT rose to second the Motion, which, in a speech as convincing and eloquent as it was refreshing, from its true constitutional spirit, his hon. and learned Friend had made to the House. He agreed in every sentiment of that speech, and in every opinion the hon. and learned Gentleman had uttered. The course the House must take was plain. Who could suggest any other course than that proposed to them? How was the case to be met? In no possible way but by the denial of the facts alleged in the petition. No one could defend the course taken by the noble Marquess, if these facts were true. Did the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Granby) mean to assert that the Marquess of Exeter had done nothing condemned by law, and had only exercised his rights as a landlord? Would he attempt to say the noble Marquess had a right by law to turn out his tenants because they did not vote according to his views? His hon. and learned Friend had brought forward a great constitutional question, and as such the House should deal with it. If they refused to grant this Motion, they would become parties to the deeds of the noble Marquess, and mix themselves up in the blame attributable to his conduct. Thus they would give their assent to one of the grossest violations of the constitution ever brought under the notice of the House; and the people would look upon it in the same light, and estimate them accordingly. He had suffered in 1830 and in 1831 from similar acts on the part of the noble Marquess, who gave notice to quit to those tenants who voted for him (Mr. D'Eyncourt). In 1830 and 1831, a question arose as to whether the district of St. Martin's, nineteeen twentieths of which belonged to the Marquess of Exeter, should be included in the borough of Stamford. It was decided that it should be, although that district was in another county, and on the other side of the river; and at that time he (Mr. D'Eyncourt) predicted that the time would soon arrive when there 945 would be plenty of food for another Schedule A, as this system of adding large tracts of land to boroughs would have the effect of swamping the town constituencies, and placing the representation in the hands of the landholders. There could be no doubt of one fact connected with the present case, that public opinion loudly condemned all those proceedings. The House would not do well in rejecting that Motion. His hon. Friend near him (Mr. Hume) suggested to him that if they did, it would afford great help to him on the Motion which he intended bringing forward for the general improvement of the representative system of this country, on the 24th of the present month. He contended that they had no right to inflict on the people of any borough a franchise, the exercise of which would be in opposition to their conscientious feelings; and the petitioners from Stamford called upon the House to relieve them from such a condition of slavery as that to which they were at present subjected. It would be better for the Parliament at once to say, Let Lord A or Lord B return Members for such and such places, than make human beings slaves as they were under the present system. It was a system which gave a show of representation to a constituency, but which in reality placed the power in the hands of a few individuals. He thanked the House for thus allowing him to state his reasons for thus seconding the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend.
The MARQUESS of GRANBY was anxious to take as early an opportunity as he could to answer the speeches of the hon. Members opposite, as well as the allegation, contained in the petition to which they had referred, in order that the House might come to a fair and proper conclusion on the subject which had been brought before it. He acknowledged he had no reason to complain of the speeches of the hon. Members who had introduced and seconded the Motion; but at the same time he should have felt more obliged if they had taken a little more pains to separate the wheat from the chaff, in referring to the charges contained in the rather lengthy document which was presented to them. He confessed it seemed rather difficult to divide the important matter from that which was not so. He did not like to trouble the House by again reading the petition, which had already been referred to at so mud length; but he could hardly answer the allegations of that petition without reading
them. The petition commenced by saying, that—
Freedom of election in the said borough is obstructed and prevented by the interference of the most hon. Brownlow, Marquess of Exeter, a Peer of Parliament, Lord Lieutenant of the county of Northampton, in which county part of the said borough of Stamford is situate, and also Lord Lieutenant of the county of Rutland; that the said Marquess is the owner of large property in the said borough, and that a considerable portion of such property is occupied by persons who are, by virtue of their tenancy thereof, or otherwise, electors of the said borough; that the said Marquess interferes in the said elections, by nominating and selecting candidates to be submitted to the electors; and that after such candidates have been so nominated and selected by him, the fact of such nomination and selection by him is made public in the said borough.
Now, with regard to the imputation that the Marquess of Exeter had interfered with elections in the borough of Stamford, he believed that the hon. and learned Member had himself stated that it was not upon that ground that he was going to move for a Select Committee, though that was certainly an aggravation of the charge. He thought that the hon. and learned Member had taken a correct course; for, although there was a resolution of the House of Commons in existence that no Peer of Parliament should interfere in elections, still that resolution was never put in force, and could not be enforced until it became the law of the land. But he would rest the defence of the Marquess of Exeter on different grounds. He should be able, he trusted, to prove to the House that that noble Lord had neither violated a resolution of that House nor a principle of the constitution. It was quite true, as alleged in the petition, that Lord Exeter had a large property in the borough of Stamford; it was true that that property gave him that constitutional influence in the place to which he had an undoubted right. But the noble Lord had another influence derived from a nobler, a higher, and more exalted source than that which his rank, station, and titles gave him—the influence of his virtues. As to the nomination of candidates, he denied that Lord Exeter did nominate candidates. The next allegation in the petition was as follows:—
That the said Marquess further interfered in the said elections by authorising and sanctioning promises in his name to many of the electors, that they shall occupy as tenants property belonging to him in eligible situations, in or near the said borough, provided they will vote for the candidates nominated and selected by him; and by authorising and sanctioning threats in his name to many of the electors who are his tenants that they
shall be discharged from such tenancy if they do not vote for the candidates nominated and selected by him.
Now, in reply to that allegation, he had to state most positively, that on no occasion had any agreement been entered into with the tenants as to the manner in which they should vote; and that no promises had ever been made, and that no threats had ever been held out, to tenants, with regard to any votes they might give. The petition went on to allege that—
Such interference of the said Marquess is, as your petitioners submit, without reference to his Lordship's position as a Peer of Parliament, a violation of the undoubted right of the electors of the said borough by him within the meaning and intent of the laws in force against bribery and intimidation.
The hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought the subject under the notice of the House, had anticipated the objection which he was about to make to that allegation. It was this—that if any interference of Lord Exeter had amounted to systematic bribery and intimidation of electors, the proper, the constitutional, and the straightforward course for those who complained of such interference would have been to have presented a petition against the return of the sitting Members. But, no doubt, wise and prudent considerations had prevented those gentlemen from adopting that course. No doubt they had directed their attention to the recognisances into which they should have entered. No doubt the words "frivolous and vexatious" had risen up before their frightened minds. No doubt the memory of certain agreeable evenings during which their minds had been feasted on hope, and their bodies on more substantial fare, had pleaded eloquently against the adoption of the course in question. It might be said that Mr. Rolt was poor, and was unwilling to present a petition against the return of his opponents. But it should be remembered, that a Bill introduced by the noble Lord opposite in the year 1842, gave to electors the power of petitioning Parliament against a return which they might have reason to believe had been effected by bribery and intimidation. That was, he maintained, the natural and proper course for the parties who had signed the petition before the House to have pursued. The hon. and learned Gentleman had compared that case to the recent case of Mr. Attwood. But there was a material difference between the two cases, inasmuch as no agreement with respect to their votes had ever been
entered into with Lord Exeter's tenants at the period of their taking their holdings. He would not then enter into any discussion of the proceedings which it was alleged in the petition had taken place in the year 1830; that was to say, seven years before he had had the honour of a seat in Parliament. It seemed to him that it would be a mere waste of the time of the House to go back to the transactions of so distant a period. He would, therefore, proceed at once to what he conceived to be the principal charge made against the Marquess of Exeter. That charge was—
That twenty-seven tenants of the said Marquess of Exeter, and the son of another tenant, had promoted the election of Mr. Rolt, either by voting for him alone, or for him and for one of the other candidates, or by abstaining from voting at all; and that notices to quit had been served on twenty-two of the said twenty-seven tenants, while no other general change had been made on the said Marquess's property.
Now he would, in the first place, suppose that that allegation was strictly and entirely correct; and he would then ask the House whether it could interfere in such a case, if he could show, as he believed he could show very clearly, that there had been no previous intimidation of the electors, and that there was no connecting link between the notices to quit and any threats or promises held out to the voters before the election? The House could only interfere in that case, as far as he could see, in one of two ways. They should either lay down a broad, distinct, and universal rule that a tenant who might have voted against the opinions, or the supposed opinions, of his landlord—and in these days it was not always easy to know what were the opinions of any man—could not afterwards be ejected from his holding without a violation of the freedom of election; or that that House should become a sort of general agent for the property of the kingdom, and determine what were the motives which might have influenced landlords in their dealing with their tenants. Those were the only two ways in which the House could interfere in such a case as that; and he believed it would at once be admitted that each of them would be inexpedient and impracticable. There was a passage in the petition which showed that the petitioners themselves did not wish for the adoption of any such course. He alluded to that passage in which they stated that—
None of them desired in any way to interfere with the rights of a landlord over his tenants, or
to disturb what the said Marquess had thought fit to do with his tenants.
He submitted that from those words of the petition itself it would be impossible for the House to interfere in the matter. He had been arguing as if the allegations had all been strictly true, whereas they were in reality gross exaggerations. The petition stated that there were 28 persons who either voted for Mr. Rolt, or had abstained from voting all. Now, instead of 28, the number was 29. The petition went on to allege that out of the 28 no less than 22 had received notices to quit. The fact was, however, that instead of 22 the number was only 14. [Laughter.] Why, that was a reduction of one-third. He had further to state, that two tenants who had voted for his hon. Colleague and himself had received notices to quit, and that notices to quit had been served on tenants who had no votes, while 13 tenants who had voted for Mr. Rolt had received no notices whatever. The hon. and learned Gentleman had talked of the grossly unfair means by which the Marquess of Exeter had influenced the elections for the borough. Now, in reply to that charge, he (the Marquess of Granby) had to observe that no less than 27 females occupied houses above the yearly value of 10l., on the property of the Marquess of Exeter in Stamford. Surely if the object of the Marquess of Exeter was solely to get the borough under his control, he would have given the houses of those females to persons who would have a right to vote. But there was a special case, which was said to be one of great hardship. He alluded to the case of an elector who, it was alleged, had gone to the Marquess of Exeter and stated that he had voted for Mr. Rolt by mistake, whereupon the Marquess said he did not believe it was a mistake, and that he should consequently not allow the notice to be withdrawn. Now he had to declare that at the time of the alleged interview no notice had been served on the tenant in question. That tenant had, during many years, been employed as an artificer by the noble Marquess at wages of 5s. a day, and had received from him innumerable favours. When Lord Burghley had come of age, that tenant had, in common with all the other artificers employed by the family, received a sum of 25l. Now, he did not think it very extraordinary that so long as human nature should continue what it was, the Marquess of Exeter should feel the ingratitude of that man. He did not think that the Marquess of Exeter would
have acted a harsh or unfeeling part, even though he should have deprived that tenant of his house. But the fact was, that he had not deprived him of his house; he had merely raised his rent from 30s. to 40s. a year. He confessed he somewhat regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have mixed himself up with that petition, knowing as he did the constitutional views which the hon. and learned Member entertained. He regretted it, because he believed that the object of many of the petitioners was not to present a petition against an improper interference at the late election for Stamford, but to prevent property having that influence to which it was justly entitled, and to prevent virtue receiving its reward. He believed the hon. and learned Member had taken that foundling petition under his charge, in order to hang a ballot-box around its neck. He admitted that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not expatiated much on the question of the ballot. For his part he would make but one remark upon the advantages or disadvantages of that mode of voting; and it was this—that he believed the great majority of the people of this country, from habit and from feeling, whether they wished to vote for their landlords or against them, would prefer doing so in the face of day. He was afraid that if the system of voting by ballot were adopted, much evil would arise from the fact that a large class of persons could no longer be guided in their votes by those on whom they were disposed to look as examples. He was afraid it would destroy many of the best feelings, and would prevent open and honest hearts from expressing their admiration and their gratitude to those from whom they had received favours and indulgence. Let him remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the weapon he had then taken up had two edges, neither of which, however, was very sharp. In the first place, if the facts detailed in that petition afforded a good argument in favour of the ballot, they would also afford a good argument against an extension of the suffrage, because if intimidation and corruption prevailed under the present franchise, it was evident that it would prevail to a greater extent under a lower franchise. In the next place, he would remark that the petitioners had expressed a wish to be relieved from the franchise, which they stated to be a real burden. But he should object to the House of Commons acting in that case as a special con-
stable, and enabling the petitioners to commit a kind of political murder on their townsmen. He should object to allowing those deluded men to cut their own throats. If it were true that the petitioners had no real grievance to complain of, he might be asked why it was that they had presented the petition? Now, he thought he could give a sufficient reason for their having taken that course. He must inform the House that the last election for the borough of Stamford had been attended with a severe contest, and that the self-styled oppressed minority had obtained within 48 votes of the number by which his right hon. Friend had been returned. It was not for him to state by what means—whether fair or foul—that result had been ensured; but the fact was as he had stated. The petitioners stated that—
Local questions sometimes arose in which the interests of the Marquess of Exeter and of the borough were opposed to each other, and in particular, a question of that nature arose in the last Session of Parliament in reference to a Bill presented in Parliament for a railway to Stamford, which Bill was unanimously supported by the inhabitants of the said borough, but was successfully opposed by the said Marquess, after he had failed in obtaining from the railway company a large price demanded by him for land required for the said railway.
Now the facts of the case relative to the railway were these:—In 1845 two lines were proposed, one called the Direct Northern, and the other the London and York. The Direct Northern was thrown out on Standing Orders. The Marquess of Exeter said he would oppose the London and York line, unless they made a branch to Stamford. They consented, and a negotiation was entered into. In the following year another line of railway was proposed between Peterborough and Syston. The inhabitants of Stamford then changed their opinion, and said they would prefer the Syston and Peterborough to the London and York, whereupon the Marquess of Exeter entered into a negotiation with the former company, which was carried out. The line was made, and was opened the whole way on the first of the present month. Last year an amalgamation took place between the London and York and the Direct Northern, and a deviation was proposed to Stamford. The Marquess of Exeter said the ground was occupied, and the necessity for the line superseded by the Peterborough and Syston Railway, and that he should oppose it. The line was referred to a Committee of that House, who
decided, not only in consequence of the opposition of landowners, but also upon public grounds, that they could not grant the deviation. The benefits conferred by the Marquess of Exeter upon the borough of Stamford were acknowledged by a great majority. That some discontented individuals might be found there he did not deny; and although the attacks of such persons, when made against the Marquess, might fall harmless, he must be allowed to remind the House that, if they gave their sanction and encouragement to the presentation of such petitions, petitions might be presented against individuals whose honour might be as untarnished, though their position might be less exalted, than that of the Marquess of Exeter, and whose virtues, though as real, might be less generally known. Such accusations as these, he repeated, although false and unfounded, might be difficult of immediate refutation, and might inflict wounds in the breasts of such individuals which a life might scarcely suffice to efface.
§ MR. COCKBURN said, that, the House owed it to itself to entertain this petition, and the more especially as the statements of the noble Lord who had just sat down appeared to him to confirm, in the main, the allegations of these petitioners; for the noble Lord had gone so far as to admit that, if not twenty-two, at all events fourteen, of the voters referred to had been turned out of their houses. But the petition went on to state—"That the said Marquess further interferes in the elections for the borough of Stamford, by authorising and sanctioning promises in his name to the electors." And the answer to that was the statement that the agents of the Marquess did not insist in the agreements with the tenants on a condition to vote for his nominees. Of course not; because any such agreement would be unlawful, and would; besides, invalidate every vote given in respect to which such an agreement existed. But he would ask, if the course taken by the Marquess at former elections had impressed upon the farmers of that neighbourhood the belief that if they wished for beneficial leases they must vote for their landlord's nominees, the effect would not be the same as if a direct agreement had been made? He submitted that they ought to take the allegations as true until they were inquired into, for the petitioners did not seek to take steps upon them as facts; but they said, "Give us the opportunity, and we pledge ourselves to prove 953 them." The House must not, then, be led away by statements made on behalf of the party accused. If the House were anxious to put a stop to what he must at present call a system of gross corruption, it must take measures for the establishment or non-establishment of the facts alleged. But it was said, this was not the proper course of proceeding—that the parties should have had recourse to an Election Committee. He would join issue on that point, and he asserted that it was not possible to prefer an election petition which would meet the circumstances of the case. An election petition could only be preferred with respect to matters affecting the return, and it was very doubtful whether the charges alleged against the Marquess of Exeter amounted to bribery. It could not hold unless the systematic corruption of lame bodies of voters were involved, and of that there was no proof. It would, in fact, be perfectly idle to attempt to unseat the present Members, for the simple reason that the Marquess of Exeter could not be proved to be their agent. But then it might be said, why not proceed under the 5th & 6th of Victoria?—and on that point the same objection held good. The allegation in the petition, in a moral sense, amounted to bribery and corruption; but it was doubtful whether to a degree which would nullify the election under the 5th and 6th of Victoria. The noble Lord the Member for Stamford refused to go into what had taken place in 1830 as irrelevant; but when it was alleged that thirty tenants were then discharged in consequence of their votes, he thought it was material to inquire into that election, as proving the general interference at the elections alleged. In 1847, it was alleged that twenty-seven or twenty-eight persons received notice who voted against the sitting Members; and the noble Lord (the Marquess of Granby) acknowledged that fourteen had so received notice, and that twelve of the notices had been acted upon. One of these cases was a remarkable one. A man who had received one of these notices went to the Marquess to deprecate his resentment, and excused his vote by saying that it had been given in mistake. He happened to see the Marquess of Exeter in person; but that noble Lord refused to receive his excuses, and would not allow time notice to be withdrawn. What was that but the admission on the part of the Marquess of Exeter of the truth of the allegations, though it seemed that the notice was 954 not enforced? [An Hon. MEMBER: It was never given.] Well, be it so; that was not at all material. [Ironical cheers.] Well, it certainly could not be material, because that was not put forward as a case of particular hardship, but as a proof of the means taken to get rid of those tenants who did not acquiesce in the election of the Marquess's nominee. Then the noble Lord (the Marquess of Granby) had mentioned that as a case of gross and extraordinary delinquency on the part of the voter. The man was, it seemed, an artificer at Burghley House; and shortly before, on the eldest son of the Marquess coming of age, he had received, in common with other persons employed, a donation of 25l., and yet the man had ventured to vote as he liked. This was the base ingratitude which the noble Lord the Member for Stamford had denounced so eloquently. He (Mr. Cockburn) took a different view of the franchise. He did not think it was held for the exclusive advantage of the voter, or that it could be given to confer a gratification upon any other person, or to follow up sentiments of gratitude, favour, or affection. It was, on the contrary, entrusted to the holder for the benefit of the country, and he was bound to exercise it from a sense of duty only. It was, therefore, a monstrous and untenable position to say that because a man received a gift of 25l. he was the bondsman for ever of the donor. Well, were these allegations to be inquired into or not? How stood the law? Was there a principle more clearly established than that interference in the elections by the Peerage was a violation of the rights and privileges of the House? If the facts alleged by the petition were true, there had been a gross violation, in repeated instances, not only of the privileges of that House, but of the rights and privileges of the Commons of England. It was, therefore, the bounden duty of the House to institute a searching inquiry into the facts. What the remedy would be, they ought not then to stop and inquire. The law of England said that there was no wrong without a remedy. The House of Commons would not, he was sure, suffer such a wrong to exist without seeking and finding a remedy; and as the admissions of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford proved the case of his hon. Friend, the House was bound to prosecute this inquiry.
MR. HERRIES thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last had not only distorted the meaning of his noble
Friend (the Marquess of Granby), but the facts of the case. The hon. and learned Member had also travelled very much out of the record; and he therefore must be allowed to recall atention to the contents of the petition itself, and he would show that the House could not, if it preserved consistency between its own acts, agree to the Motion now made. He would first discuss the position in which the petitioners presented themselves, and show that they were not in a position to ask the House to inquire into the allegations by a Special Committee. He would then prove to the House—but not as a reason for objecting to the inquiry, but in vindication of the Nobleman so unjustly assailed—that the allegations, in all material particulars, were decidedly and distinctly false. He would also show that the House could not pursue a course less suited to the honour and dignity of the institutions of the country, than the one proposed by the present Motion. He begged to state, in the first place, that the petition, by a most distinct and logical argument, led to a positive conclusion. He should assume for a moment, for the sake of the argument, that all the allegations were true; for it must be on that ground alone that the petitioners had any right to claim that their charges should be entered into. They alleged that the Marquess of Exeter interfered at the late election; and, to make it more plain, he would distinguish the late election from those which were antecedent, for the latter were only brought in to make the charges cumulative. How could they now inquire into matters which took place in 1830 and 1832? To apply himself to these would only be detaining the House unnecessarily, and withdrawing its attention from the real point at issue. But the allegations of the petition were explicit and distinct, and led most logically to a distinct conclusion respecting the election of 1847. They alleged that the Marquess of Exeter does, and did on the late occasion, interfere, by authorising and sanctioning promises, threats, and engagements, and—
That the said Marquess further interferes by fulfilling the promises and threats so made in his name, and by giving the tenancy of premises to electors who have voted in accordance with his declared views and wishes, and discharging from their tenancy many of the electors, being his tenants, who voted in opposition to such his views and wishes. That the said Marquess has so interfered at all recent elections, and, in particular, he did so at the last of such elections.
Nothing could be more clear and distinct;
and to show that the petitioners knew all the consequences, and that they thoroughly understood what it necessarily led to, and how far the conduct they complained of was within the law and what were the laws offended against, he need only quote another passage, in which they stated—
That such the interference of the said Marquess is, as your petitioners submit, without reference to his Lordship's position as a Peer of Parliament, a violation of the undoubted right of the electors of the said borough freely to elect Members to serve for them in Parliament, and amounts to systematic bribery and intimidation of the electors of the said borough by him, within the meaning and intent of the laws now in force against bribery and intimidation.
Now, it was perfectly clear from this, as his noble Friend had already said, that if the allegations were honestly and truly made—if the petitioners knew that they could substantiate these charges—the course for them to adopt was perfectly open, and the conclusion naturally arrived at was, that they had the power to bring them before a Committee of the House of Commons, under the laws now in force for that purpose, and which had been recently made, in order to open the door as wide as possible to all cases such as this. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Cockburn) had said that it was a case which could not be made subject to an Election Committee; but he dissented from that opinion entirely. He believed that if any set of men could prove distinct acts of bribery and intimidation such as those alleged in the petition, and that the electors were induced to vote by such corruption, that they would succeed in setting aside the election at which such practices had taken place. But the noble Lord at the head of the Government had thought it his duty, in 1842, to bring in an Act specifically to provide for cases in which the electors might have difficulty in presenting their petition before it was too late by the rules of the House. That Act expressly provided for cases of this description. The noble Lord, by it, opened the door to parties bringing in petitions of this nature; but in order that all interests might be fairly dealt with, the power of doing so was restricted within a fixed and reasonable time. The noble Lord thereby provided that the Committee to be appointed for this special purpose, should have power to investigate such allegations upon oath; but in order that parties might not make with impunity frivolous, unjust, and unfounded accusations, they were to be bound by recog-
nisances to be duly entered into, by which they became responsible for the expenses of the petition if not well founded: and the witnesses were subject to the pains and penalties of perjury. Those plain conditions were not very hard upon honest accusers; and if the present petitioners were such, they had the door wide open to them. But it might be said that it was possible that in this case the petition could not be got ready by the time Parliament met. On that point he held proof in his hand that, long before the meeting of Parliament, the petition was prepared and engrossed, and ready for presentation. The principal petitioner, indeed he might say, virtually, the only petitioner, the person whose name was signed at the head of the list (Richard Newcomb), was a person of property, and the proprietor of a newspaper at Stamford. In that newspaper he published, on the 10th of November, eight days before the meeting of Parliament, the following paragraph:—
The petition to Parliament complaining of the unconstitutional interference of the Marquess of Exeter, at the last election, has been engrossed and submitted to the inhabitants. The allegations of that petition are of such a nature that it will not be possible for the new Parliament to refuse to take cognisance of them.
Why, then, was it not brought before the new Parliament? Why were not those allegations at once brought to trial in the way the law provided? Why did they shrink from this tribunal? They knew the law well; they show in the very words of their petition how well they were acquainted with it—for they distinctly declare that the acts of which they complain came "within the meaning and intent of the laws now in force against bribery and intimidation. "They had therefore no excuse on the score of ignorance to allege. But because they knew what the law required, and what conditions it imposed—because they knew that it rendered false accusations punishable as perjuries, and frivolous petitions subject to certain pains and penalties—they determined to have nothing to do with the tribunal provided by Parliament, and to evade the responsibility of making unfounded accusations, by making their application to this House out of time and rule, when no other investigation could be made into their complaints, except by a Select Committee. Now, the noble Lord must stand by his own Act, if he valued his consistency. The course prescribed by the law was
open to the petitioners; and that law having been framed with the view of preventing such debates as the present, no policy could be worse than to reintroduce such discussions in the body of the House, because upon all questions connected with elections, it was impossible for the House, however disposed to do justice, to avoid being influenced by party feeling. But what was the defence of the hon. and learned Member for the petitioners not having taken this course? The hon. and learned Member had not stated any reason why there should be a Special Committee instead of a lawful Committee. The fact was, they dared not adopt that course; and the House was bound to consider whether it would be honest, fair, or just to those who were accused, to allow so unusual a proceeding. He hoped the House would stand by its own law, its own consistency, and its own character. It could not do better for the maintenance of its own character than pay respect to the character of others. He trusted, therefore, they would stand by the principle laid down by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) in his own Act, and by the spirit of the constitution and laws of England. Gratitude to the majority by which he had been elected compelled him to take up this question; for the whole body of his constituents was more or less implicated in these charges. There must necessarily be two parties in all such corrupt engagements as were alleged to exist at Stamford. If the Marquess of Exeter, or his agents, entered into unlawful and unworthy engagements with the electors, they were no less guilty than himself in coming under corrupt obligations towards him. He (Mr. Herries) had the most full conviction that the accusation was equally unfounded with respect to either party. He was confident that the whole of these unsustainable accusations and aspersions had no other origin than in the vexation and disappointment of a small portion of the defeated minority at the last election; for the larger portion, even of them, would disdain to have recourse to them. In what he was about to state, in order to show how false and unfounded were the main allegations contained in the petition, he begged to be clearly understood by the House as not intending to make his denial and disproof of those allegations a ground for the rejection of the petition, or of the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He had already urged the higher
grounds upon which that petition should be rejected; and he was well aware that the facts which he was about to state, and the letters to which he should refer, ought only to be received as counter assertions and declarations to those contained in the petition. It was necessary, however, for the vindication of those whom he was bound by every consideration of honour and justice to defend, that he should state the real facts of the case; and he trusted that the House would do him the justice of believing that he would state nothing but what he believed conscientiously to be true. The first and most prominent part of the case of the petitioners was, that the Marquess of Exeter habitually made engagements with his tenants, in which their holdings were made subject to the condition that they should vote according to his wishes. He (Mr. Herries) declared there was not one word of truth in that. He repudiated any subterfuge, such as that alluded to by the hon. and learned Member, that the engagement did not appear in the leases. He denied entirely that there was any such condition, or even any such understanding; and denied it on the authority of all the persons he had access to, who were most capable of giving exact information on the subject. The Marquess of Exeter had somewhere about 600 tenants in and near Stamford, and, of course, amongst so large a number, there must be constantly many changes. The agent employed by the Marquess of Exeter in the letting, &c. of all this property, had—unsolicited by him (Mr. Herries), but hearing of this petition, and the allegations it contained—taken the trouble of writing to him a letter, the contents of which he would state to the House. The letter bore date the 7th of March, and the writer stated, that in consequence of the allegations contained in the petition presented to Parliament relative to the late Stamford election, he felt it incumbent upon him to affirm, that neither he, nor any person under his direction, had at any time asked any tenant of the Marquess of Exeter to vote for Lord Granby and himself at the late election for the borough of Stamford. This gentleman also stated that he had been previously desired by the London solicitor of the Marquess not to ask any tenant to vote for the Marquess of Granby or himself; and he added that, on the very day of the election, he was earnestly entreated by the father of a voter to influence his son, who was considered to be
wavering, and he refused to comply with the request. The same gentleman said, with regard to the charge of intimidation, that he never heard of a threat being held out to any voter, and that he did not believe any such threat had been made; and he stated further, that all the property of the Marquess of Exeter in Stamford was let through his hands, and that on no occasion had any condition been required from any person previously to his becoming a tenant of the Marquess, that he should vote for any particular candidate to be nominated at any future election. He considered, therefore, that the allegation of the petition that the Marquess of Exeter had authorised many of the electors to occupy, as tenants, property belonging to him in eligible situations in the borough, provided they would vote for the candidates selected by him, was satisfactorily answered. The petition also alleged that the Marquess of Exeter put forward his nominees as candidates for the borough of Stamford, and that the first intimation that the Marquess of Granby and himself (Mr. Herries) were candidates for that borough at the late election was by letter from Mr. Walford, the London solicitor to the Marquess of Exeter, to some of the principal inhabitants of the town. Now, what were the facts? Mr. Walford was a very old friend of his; and being well known by the solicitor of the Marquess of Exeter, it was most natural that he (Mr. Herries) should avail himself of Mr. Walford's services, when he entertained the idea of presenting himself as a candidate to the electors of Stamford. But Mr. Walford wrote only two private letters, and those under the immediate direction, and in the presence of himself (Mr. Herries), announcing his intention. The Marquess of Exeter had no more to do with the matter than any Gentleman in that House. Mr. Walford wrote one of these letters to the mayor of Stamford, simply mentioning that he intended to become a condidate for the borough; and at the same time Mr. Walford also wrote a confidential communication to the gentleman whose services, on account of his high character and station in the borough, he (Mr. Herries) was anxious to secure as the chairman of his committee. The first of these letters was formal and complimentary only, being addressed to the mayor on account of the office which he held, although he was well known to be hostile to the principles which he (Mr.
Herries) professed. The other was private and confidential. It so happened that those letters were transposed in the envelopes, and the confidential letter, addressed to the chairman of the committee, fell into the hands of the mayor; while the letter intended for the mayor was delivered to the gentleman who was requested to be the chairman of the committee. Now, he thought the House would admit that this would have been a very unfortunate circumstance if the letter intended for the chairman had contained any language which could have been twisted into a support of the allegations embodied in this petition. It contained nothing of the kind, and was, with some slight variations, only a mere repetition of the letter addressed to the mayor. Those variations related only to himself and to the peculiar grounds on which he hoped for the services of the gentleman applied to. So much for that part of the petition which sought to attach undue importance, and to give a false character to those communications from Mr. Walford. But he now came to an important charge which was made against the Marquess of Exeter by the petitioners; that which related to the dismissal of his tenants after the election. When he had seen the petition, he at once inquired whether the notices to quit, served by the agents of the Marquess of Exeter upon some of his tenants, subsequently to the election, were such as to afford just grounds for the allegations in the petition. He applied to the person most competent to afford him full and accurate information on the subject; and from that person, upon whom he could place the most entire reliance for the accuracy and fidelity of his statement, he received the following communication:—
I think it right to put you in possession of the true facts of the ease. There were in all 29 notices to quit given to tenants, for various reasons. Of these there were, of electors who had voted for Mr. Rolt, 12; for Lord Granby and Mr. Herries, 2; who had not voted at all, 2; and of persons not being in any way electors, 13.
Of the 29, then, there were 17 who could not be supposed to have received their discharges on account of the way in which they had voted; and he contended that the House had no right to infer that the remaining 12 had been discharged on that ground. It had been asserted, that this was not a party petition; but he would venture to say, that a more completely party petition had never been presented to that House. It was the production of the
Radical party, of whom there was a good sprinkling, some of them very respectable people, in Stamford, and who bore, as was the case in other places, very considerable animosity to the Conservative party. The petition was drawn up with great skill—he would rather say craft—and there was great unfairness in its representations. In order that the personal interference of the Marquess of Exeter might be inferred, it was stated that an old servant of the Marquess, who had been his tenant, and who had been served with a notice to quit, waited upon the Marquess, and stated that he had voted for Mr. Rolt by mistake, and that the Marquess replied that he did not believe in the mistake, and should not allow the notice to be withdrawn. Now, the fact was, that this person, who had been employed in the artificers' yard belonging to the Marquess, had been discharged from thence. He called upon the noble Lord, in all appearance artfully prepared on that subject, and thrust himself upon his notice to make his complaint, stating that he had voted for Mr. Rolt by mistake; in reply to which the Marquess merely said to him—"You are perfectly at liberty to vote as you please; but when you say you did not know which way you were voting, I cannot believe you." He would not for a moment suppose that the House would attach the slightest importance to such a trumpery attempt as this to convert a very natural, and in all probability perfectly true, expression as this into a confirmation of the charges made against the noble Lord: although there was no want of cunning in the mode in which it was introduced. But the House would be still more disposed to treat it with the contempt which it deserved, when he informed them that at the time when the interview in question took place no notice to quit had been given to this man; and, moreover, that he was at this very time still a tenant of Lord Exeter. Having thus disposed of all that was really material in the charges against Lord Exeter, in the petition, he would come to one of the statements which it contained, which was beyond all question strictly true—that Lord Exeter possessed great property in Stamford and its neighbourhood, and that by reason of that propertyhe also possessed great influence in the borough. There could indeed, be no doubt that those who presented themselves as candidates for that borough, would feel that his support, and countenance, and influence, must greatly assist
them in their chance of obtaining the seat. The Marquess and his family had been closely connected with the borough for more than 300 years; and the great possessions which he was there master of, as well as the high rank and station which he filled, had descended to him through a long line of ancestry, from one of the most remarkable and most honoured statesmen in the history of this kingdom. What an imputation would it not be upon the character of a nobleman so descended and so endowed if it could be truly said of him, that in the immediate neighbourhood of his own princely abode, he possessed no influence? Nothing less than the absence of those public and private virtues, which in this case no man who knew the noble Lord would assert to be wanting, could deprive him of such influence. That such influence was truly legitimate and entirely consistent with the constitution of this country, he could not better show than in the words of the noble Lord now at the head of Her Majesty's Government. He well remembered to have heard those words delivered upon a most memorable occasion, and when he listened to them with great satisfaction, as some compensation at least for the distaste occasioned to him and those who thought as he did, by the proposal then made to Parliament by the noble Lord—he meant the announcement of the Reform Bill. On that great occasion the noble Lord said—
It may be said, that one great and injurious effect of the measure which I propose will be to destroy the power and privileges of the aristocracy. This I deny. I utterly deny that this plan can have any such effect. Where the aristocracy reside, receiving large incomes, performing important duties, relieving the poor by charity, and evincing private worth and public virtue, it is not in human nature that they should not possess a great influence upon public opinion, and have an equal weight in electing persons to serve their country in Parliament. Though such persons may not have the direct nomination of Members under this Bill, I contend that they will have as much influence as they ought to have.
Such, and such only, was the influence which Lord Exeter possessed, and legitimately exercised. But there was another great authority in that House, who addressed it in 1846, when Mr. Collett brought an accusation of interference at elections against certain Peers and great landed proprietors; and the object of which, like that of the present petition, was to attack the influence, not only of the aristocracy, but of the proprietary of the country. The right hon. Baronet the
Member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel) then said—
Now, to deny that Peers do exercise an influence upon elections would be perfectly absurd; and I hope the day may never conic when the legitimate influence which they may exercise may be extinguished. But extinguish it, in fact, you cannot. Pass what laws you will, while the constitution of England continues, and while the feeling of Englishmen remains what it is, you never can extinguish that legitimate influence of which I speak. Take the case, for instance, of a Peer of great property"—
and here he (Mr. Herries) might be permitted to observe, that it might be almost imagined that his right hon. Friend had in his eye, while drawing this picture, the very nobleman now charged with such unworthy practices by these petitioners—
—"the Lord Lieutenant of his county, having devoted his life to the performance of local duties—having been kind to his tenantry—having set an example of improvement in his neighbourhood—being at the head of the local society of his county, not by rules, but by character and station—to tell me that you can extinguish that legitimate influence to which I allude—why it is out of the question! And God forbid that the day should ever arrive, when the virtues of a Peer should not have their proper influence upon society!
Such was the influence of the Marquess of Exeter; such was the wealth, and station, and conduct, and character, upon which that legitimate influence reposed, and which no attacks such as those which the petitioners directed against him could deprive him of. He would detain the House no longer, but upon these grounds call upon it to reject the Motion. The greater part of the petition was unworthy of notice, was mere trash. With respect to that part of it which was of a more serious character, he must again repeat, that if the petitioners really believed that they could prove the facts which they brought forward—if they were truly honest in that belief—they had a remedy by the law of the land which they ought to have availed themselves of.
§ MR. HUME admitted that the right hon. Gentleman had made the best apology that could be offered by bring forward matters which had nothing to do with the subject. He had stated the Marquess of Exeter was a nobleman of great possessions, and of high character, benevolent, and respected by his tenants. The hon. and learned Member by whom the Motion was introduced had not used any expressions at all derogatory to the Marquess's character; on the contrary, he admitted that it was deserving of respect. No one on that 965 side of the House would deny to property and character their legitimate influence; it was not against legitimate, but against illegitimate influence, that their efforts were directed. He had never heard a case more ably made out than that brought forward in support of the allegations in that long petition; and if the allegations of the petition were not proved, they at least demanded inquiry. The character of the House was impugned by such statements; and if the House did not attend to reports of that kind, made time after time, its character would not be safe, nor could the principles of the constitution with regard to elections be preserved. The right hon. Gentleman had produced two letters from Mr. Higgs; but he had not admitted what the House had a right to conclude, that there were many doubts about the previous conduct of the Marquess of Exeter. He had forgotten former instances in which the Marquess had not confined himself to interfering in the election. There was a right hon. Gentleman sitting near him (Sir G. Clerk) who could tell him that the Marquess had not only interfered in the nomination, but had afterwards used intimidation, because a vote had been given in Parliament in opposition to his own views. He considered the case for the petition to have been made out; but he cautioned hon. Gentlemen opposite against entertaining the idea that individual Members on that side of the House, who were in favour of changes in the representation, would ever refuse to property its just weight, or deny to noblemen and men of superior merit that just influence which they ought to possess, and which he hoped they always would possess.
§ MR. GRANTLEY BERKELEY had expected that before the House went to a division, some Member of Her Majesty's Government would rise and say a few words, in order to justify the vote which he believed they were prepared to give, to reconcile it with their exertions to shield a great Lord Lieutenant on a recent occasion. He should be unfit to represent a free constituency if he shrunk from his duty, and he certainly felt it to be his duty to call attention to what had been done by a Peer in a county before they proceeded to a vote in reference to what had been done by a Peer in a borough. Two petitions had been presented to the Crown, complaining of the conduct of a Lord Lieutenant; and on all occasions when such petitions had been presented, an inquiry 966 had usually taken place under the direction of the Secretary of State. In the instance to which he referred, no notice was taken of the petitions. If any magistrate had been guilty of the same conduct as the Lord Lieutenant had been in the case to which he alluded, he would have been removed from the commission of the peace, and an officer in the Army would have lost his commission. The voters of the county which he represented, now felt that they had no chance of obtaining redress at the hands of the Government.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS said, the House was not then called upon to decide upon the merits of Earl Fitzhardinge, or to pronounce an opinion with respect to any contested election. The question was one of a very different character; and he should regret to find any hon. Member voting in favour of the petition if he had not heard the admirable speech of his right hon. Friend. He appealed to any man who had heard that speech, whether the principal allegation in the petition, namely, that as to bargaining by promises and threats, and the allegation as to enforcing the threats, after adverse votes had been given, had been sustained?
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL said: Sir, I think it right to state, as shortly as I can, the reasons which will govern my vote on this occasion. I wish to say also, that I have made up my mind upon this question with very considerable doubt; that I shall give my vote personally, after hearing the whole of the debate, upon my opinion; and I do not wish in any manner to influence the opinion of any other Member of the House who may have come to a different conclusion upon this, which, though a constitutional, is, at the same time, in a great degree, a personal question. Sir, this case has been brought forward in a petition very artfully drawn, going into minute details and into a number of circumstances, stating that the petitioners do not wish to interfere with the legitimate influence of property, and, with great moderation, asking for some remedy against the grievances under which the petitioners declare they suffer. This petition, thus drawn up, has been very ably enforced by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, in a speech likewise very temperate in its tone, very clear in its statements, and very powerful in its arguments. The question is, whether we shall make any further inquiry on this occasion? Now, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Herries) met, in a most 967 powerful manner, the allegations of the petition and the question before us. He based his opposition, first, on the ground of the remedy sought for not being a right remedy, supposing the facts to be grounded in truth; and, secondly, he denied altogether the main part of those facts. Now, with regard to the principal allegation, I own that my impression, from any recollection which I have of precedents in this House, and from what I have read in books concerning elections, and confirmed by so good an authority as the hon. and learned Member for Southampton (Mr. Cockburn), my impression is, I say, that supposing certain tenants of the Marquess of Exeter to have been told that they must give their votes according to the Marquess of Exeter's wishes—supposing them likewise to have been ejected from their tenancies in consequence of the votes they had given—yet, if those acts did not clearly affect the majority of votes at the election, the petitioners would not have had a remedy before an Election Committee. That is certainly my impression with regard to the state of facts, supposing those facts to be proved. Now, Sir, with regard to the matter upon which we arc asked to inquire, there is, in the first place, a statement that it has been a practice to let houses to tenants, in suitable and advantageous situations, with a promise that they should keep them if they voted according to the wishes of the Marquess of Exeter; and a statement that they would be deprived of them if they did not. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has read a letter from an agent of the Marquess of Exeter entirely denying that such is the case. Now, if I am to give my own personal conviction, I must say that it agrees with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that such a declaration would have been made by the agent, who must have been cognisant of all the facts, if it were not founded in truth; and I cannot therefore believe that any such condition has been imposed on the tenants. At the same time, there is an allegation brought forward in this petition, signed by very respectable persons, as they are admitted to be, I think by the right hon. Gentleman himself—whether they belong to the Radical party or to any other party, they are respectable in their station and character. This is their allegation; and although unless there were some further statements in the petition, it might not be worth while to have an inquiry, yet I do think it would 968 be an advantage that there should be an inquiry as to the facts, and that the public mind should not rest upon such allegations if they can be disproved. But, Sir, there is a further allegation to which the contradiction is far less satisfactory—I mean with regard to the allegation, that certain tenants of the Marquess of Exeter, having given their votes in favour of another candidate than the one whom he favoured, had received notice to quit. The statement of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford with regard to that allegation—and I must say that with regard to that part of the case my mind is not satisfied—is, that the occupation of these tenants was not put an end to in consequence of their votes at the election. With regard to that part of the case, too, the right hon. Gentleman opposite says, that for some years previously there had been a number of removals—in some cases exceeding, and in others falling short of those which occurred in the year 1847. That, I say again, is a matter in which an examination should be made. The persons making those allegations having failed to prove that there was an evident political cause for those removals, and that there was a greater number of tenants removed after the election than had been on ordinary occasions, the substance of their allegations would be likewise removed. Now, Sir, with respect to a matter in regard to which there are allegations which may be proved, or of which the proof may fall short, with regard to the interference—I will not say of a Peer, but of a great landed proprietor, in the election of Members to serve in this House, is it worth while for us to-night to resolve that this House should institute a special Committeee of Inquiry? I should say that in voting that Committee of Inquiry, if the resolution of the House appointing that Committee were to be considered as in any way a condemnation of the conduct of the Marquess of Exeter, I should not concur in that vote; because, after hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot but think that it is extremely probable—indeed most probable—that the allegation will be disproved, and that the Marquess of Exeter will be shown to have acted as the right hon. Gentleman has stated, which is, that the Marquess of Exeter, having considerable influence—legitimate influence—from his possession and property, that that influence was used in favour of those who agree with him in that political 969 conduct which has never been concealed by him, and which is well known to the public from his votes in the other House of Parliament. If that influence, which may be fairly and legitimately exercised, be all that can be shown to have been used, and if those charges should prove to have been brought forward without being sustained, the public will be satisfied. And if, on the other hand, the allegations should receive any further corroboration, then, certainly, we should feel satisfied at the original institution of the inquiry. I certainly come to the conclusion, that those allegations having been thus made and thus supported, it is far better that there should be some inquiry, than that by our vote tonight we should agree that no further inquiry should take place; and I cannot leave entirely out of the question, any more than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford the peculiar time at which this has occurred. If more is proved against the Marquess of Exeter than I believe is capable of proof, I believe there will be more advantage to the public by having the whole of the circumstances examined by a Committee, than by any one having it to say that there was a strong case brought before the House—that the allegations were not disproved—but that the House of Commons were ready, on the mere statements of the opposite side, partially to give their verdict without any further evidence. These, Sir, are the convictions in my mind—not arrived at without great doubt; and, admitting the great power and ability of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, I shall give my vote in favour of the institution of the inquiry.
§ MR. BANKES said, he had heard with the deepest regret the speech of the noble Lord. He regretted to find that the noble Lord was at this moment not only admitting the failure of the Reform Bill, which was to have set at rest all questions of bribery with regard to the constituencies, and charges of undue influence with regard to the aristocracy, but that he was shrinking from the principle he announced in introducing that Bill respecting the just and legitimate rights of the aristocracy. The noble Lord said he had come to the determination to vote for inquiry, after much doubt, difficulty, and hesitation, and that it was not his desire to influence the vote of any hon. Member in the House; but the noble Lord knew very well that his speech would determine the judgment of the 970 House. And what was the tribunal to which this inquiry was to be referred? A tribunal which would conduct the inquiry without the sanction of an oath. The noble Lord must admit that the case was entirely without precedent, and if an inquiry were granted no one could say what would be the end of it. Supposing the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) turned out to be correct, and that the tenants of Lord Exeter who were displaced did not vote at all, where would the noble Lord be then? He (Mr. Bankes) could not but feel that the situation in which the noble Lord placed his party in the House was a most unfortunate one. The grievance complained of was that of an election petition combined with a railway petition. This Mr. Newcomb, the petitioner, was obviously a great authority in Stamford. He was standing forward against the person whom he chose to consider the village tyrant of Stamford, and having failed on his election and railway petitions separately, he said, "We will bide our time—we will combine those several grievances, and hereafter we shall, when the proper time arrives, bring them before the House of Commons in another shape." He now brought them forward, when the noble Lord said it was difficult to resist them on account of the political affairs of Europe; but was it right for the head of the Government of Great Britain to take such a course in reference to a matter which he admitted to be so doubtful? He was surprised to find a statesman of the noble Lord's experience and standing take such a course.
SIR R. PEEL: I concur with the noble Lord at the head of the Government in thinking that the decision of this question involves judicial as well as political considerations. In discussing it I shall attempt to exclude from my mind any bias which might improperly interfere with judicial determination; and, although I am not blind to the force of the arguments which the noble Lord has drawn from passing events and the temper of the public mind, I think that in a matter, if not exclusively judicial, partaking largely of the judicial character, it is, on the whole, the wisest and safest course not to permit ourselves to be influenced by temporary and extrinsic considerations, but, on the contrary, to adhere to principles applicable to all times and all circumstances. It is of the utmost importance that the House should not lightly depart from the pre-
scribed mode by which the right of persons to sit in this House is determined. We have ample experience in past history of the abuses, I may say the corruption, which arises from permitting these matters to be decided by majorities. It is little more than 100 years since the termination of the Administration of Sir Robert Walpole; and every one who has paid the slightest attention to the history of that time is aware that Walpole's fall was preceded by constant conflicts as to the right to seats in Parliament, and that the decisions of the House were given not upon the merits of the particular case, but as the results of regular party conflicts, the contending parties invariably voting on opposite sides according as party feeling or party interest determined them. The very vote which determined the fall of that great Minister was one connected with the right to sit for some small borough—Chippenham, I believe. The House was at length so satisfied of the danger of permitting these questions to be determined by party rather than by judicial considerations, that some twenty or thirty years after that period Mr. Grenville introduced a Bill which attempted to put a check to the abuse. Since the introduction of the Grenville Act, constant attempts have been made still further to remedy the abuse—I mean the abuse of permitting the judgment of the House in such matters to be influenced by party and purely political considerations; and no one has laboured more than the noble Lord to elevate the character of Parliament, and to insure that the decisions of the House should be founded upon judicial considerations. The question then arises, shall we now supersede the tribunal which is appointed by law for the decision of these questions—a tribunal which has great powers adapted for the special purpose, conferred by Act of Parliament, one of them being the power of examining witnesses upon oath. As the law stands we have provided not only the means to decide judicially on contested claims to seats in Parliament, but also to check the practice of bringing frivolous and unfounded charges of bribery or other malpractices, by taking the precaution of compelling those who prefer such charges to enter into recognisances as a guarantee for their sincerity? Nothing can be more important than that a Member of Parliament should be able to exercise his functions independently, without molestation from parties preferring frivolous complaints. And if
there be any party to whom it is of importance that the guarantees against such complaints should be maintained inviolate, it is the party which is in the minority. There would be the greatest danger to the free exercise of our functions in this House if a powerful majority could harass a minority, weak as far as numbers are concerned, by dispensing with the securities which the law has wisely provided against frivolous complaints of undue election. At the same time I am willing to admit that if any special case of gross abuse is brought forward, we are not to be prevented by a rigid adherence to existing forms from exercising those functions with which this House, as the great inquisitorial tribunal of the country, is invested. Does this petition allege gross abuses, the investigation of which is not provided for by law? It alleges distinct acts of bribery. I do not form that opinion from mere inference. In express terms the petitioners declare that—
The interference of the Marquess of Exeter, without reference to his position as a Peer of Parliament, is a violation of the undoubted right of the electors of the said borough freely to elect Members of the said borough to serve for them in Parliament, and amounts to systematic bribery and intimidation of the electors of the said borough by him within the meaning and intent of the laws in force against bribery and intimidation.
And that is not a mere general allegation, for the petition continues:—
That the said Marquess further interferes in the said elections by authorising and sanctioning promises in his name to many of the electors, that they shall occupy, as tenants, property belonging to him in eligible situations in or near the said borough, provided they will vote for the candidates nominated and selected by him, and by authorising and sanctioning threats in his name to many of the electors who are his tenants, that they shall be discharged from such tenancy if they do not vote for the candidates nominated and selected by him.
There is a distinct allegation in the petition, that the Marquess of Exeter said to many of the electors, "You shall occupy houses at reduced rents in a favourable part of the borough, provided you give a vote for the candidates of my choice." Who can doubt that that is an act of bribery? The petitioners assert that they do not complain of an isolated case, but that there has been a systematic course of bribery. I ask, then, why did they not observe the law and usage of Parliament, and present a petition at the time and according to the forms presented by that law and usage? They did not do that; and is
there no danger, that if you permit persons to whom a tribunal is open—to whom you have given a power of appeal, provided they will only give a guarantee as to their sincerity—is there no danger, I ask, that, if you permit them to escape from that guarantee, and exempt them from the ordinary conditions of inquiry, this series of Acts, beginning with Mr. Grenville's Act, and terminating with the Act of the noble Lord, will be virtually superseded? Is there no danger that, instead of resorting to a judicial tribunal, you will have again appeals to this House, with the same results—decisions on mere party grounds, and grievous injury to the character of the House of Commons? But you say that the petitioners are poor—that the Marquess of Exeter is very powerful—and that these persons, groaning under oppression, have at length approached Parliament with a petition. But you have provided for that case of poverty on the part of petitioners. The noble Lord, in 1842, foresaw that the Committee might neglect its duty—that there might be collusion—that the petition might not be proceeded with—that the party petitioning against the return, fearing exposure, might withdraw from the petition—and that the party returned might also, from fear of exposure, relinquish his seat. The noble Lord provided for these contingencies, and in that Act of 1842 which greatly widened the opportunities for parties to complain of bribery, inserted a provision that when a petition, alleging general bribery, is presented within, not a fortnight, but within three months after the commission of an act of bribery, the House may consent to entertain it, and appoint a Committee, with all the powers of an ordinary Election Committee. In this case, therefore, if these petitioners, alleging systematic bribery, within three months after the commission of any act of bribery, had presented a petition in the ordinary way, this House was empowered to appoint a tribunal for the purpose of inquiring into it. But does the case stop there? Suppose the parties are so poor that it is impossible for them successfully to prosecute the complaint, the noble Lord has provided—
That if the Committee shall report that there was reasonable and probable ground for the allegations of the petition, the said Committee shall have power to order that the costs of the petitioners shall be borne as in the case of a Committee on any public matter ordered by the House of Commons.
Now, has not the House, while it has taken precautions against frivolous and vexatious complaints, given every fair opportunity to aggrieved parties to be heard? I do not tie you down to the presentation of a petition within a fortnight of the meeting of Parliament, but I ask you why the petitioners, who allege systematic bribery, did not take advantage of that clause in the Act which provides for the case, and ask for a Committee? And if they were so distressed in their circumstances, that it was necessary for them to apply to Parliament in formâ pauperis, why did they not take advantage of that other clause in the same Act which enables the Committee to give them their expenses? In considering this question I have endeavoured to exclude every other consideration than those of a judicial nature; and I feel satisfied there is danger of great public inconvenience if we depart from that course to which we have hitherto adhered, and teach petitioners that they are at liberty to exempt themselves from the conditions we have thought fit to apply to the investigation of complaints of improper practices at elections. If such complaints are to be decided on by this House, not in a judicial but a political capacity, not by a Select Committee of seven Members, but according to the discretion of some 400 or 500 Gentlemen influenced by the natural bias, from which, whatever may be their attempt to purify their minds from party considerations and political feelings, they cannot entirely relieve themselves—all that we have hitherto done to ensure just decisions will have been done in vain. Upon these grounds I shall give my vote against the House setting an example which I think will be fraught with such evil consequences.
§ MR. W. P. WOOD said, the right hon. Baronet had spoken of the danger they would incur in bringing back to that House the consideration of election petitions, and the right of Members to sit in that House; but he begged to remind the House that they were not discussing the right of any Member to sit in that House. The petition was in no sense directed against any Member, but the question was, whether the Marquess of Exeter—assuming the petition to be true—or the inhabitants of Stamford, should return two Members for that borough. Then the right hon. Baronet said, the petitioners might have redress under an election petition; but that could not be, for supposing the petitioners were correct, and 975 there was systematic bribery, still it was by the noble Marquess, and not by a candidate or his agent. Then, said the right hon. Baronet, the 5th and 6th of Victoria had provided for this special grievance; but if the petition were correct, the bribery was in placing persons in houses under the condition of voting for particular candidates; and, as the persons must have held their houses a year to enable them to vote, the bribery must be inferred to have taken place a year at least before the election; and the Act only provided that a petition should be presented within three months of the time the bribery was committed. Again, that Act applied in no sense to any case of intimidation, and yet that was nearly the whole case which the petition made out. And now he would ask any hon. Member in that House to point out any relief under any Act which these petitioners had? But were they to be wholly without a remedy; and if there were no statutory remedy, were the statements in this petition to remain a dead letter, and grievances of this kind not to be inquired into? If the question had rested on the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) and the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Granby), he would have divided without any reply, because they had been compelled in substance to admit the whole case; but when he heard the powerful speech of the right hon. Baronet, and knew the impression it would produce, as everything that fell from him always must, he felt it was incumbent upon him to reply, and to restate the legal position of the case. He was sorry the right hon. Baronet had not been in the House when the state of the law had been so clearly and ably stated by his hon. Friend the Member for Southampton. It had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) that the announcement of his being a candidate was made to the principal inhabitants of Stamford by Mr. Walford, the London agent of the Marquess of Exeter, thus so far bearing out the statement of the petitioners in this respect. It was true the right hon. Gentleman stated that Mr. Walford was a friend of his own; but, considering that Mr. Walford had no connexion with the borough of Stamford, except as the solicitor for the Marquess of Exeter, it was a natural enough assumption on the part of the petitioners that the announcement was made to the inhabitants solely as the accredited agent of the Marquess. 976 How, of all his friends, the right hon. Gentleman had thought of selecting Mr. Walford to announce his appearance as a candidate, he (Mr. Wood) did not know; but it had been admitted that he had done so, and the statement of the petitioners had thus been so far confirmed. It had been further admitted, that fourteen persons who voted in favour of Mr. Rolt had been ejected. Having, then, the broad fact before them, that a number of persons had been ejected from premises belonging to the Marquess of Exeter because they had voted against the candidates approved by him, and having this further fact, that the Statute 5 and 6 Victoria provided no tribunal for cases of this description, he thought he had made out a clear case for the inquiry which he now sought.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 178; Noes 177: Majority 1.
|List of the AYES.|
|Abdy, T. N.||Dundas, Adm.|
|Adair, H. E.||Dunne, F. P.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Ebrington, Visct.|
|Alcock, T.||Ellice, E.|
|Baines, M. T.||Elliott, hon. J. E.|
|Baring, rt. hon. Sir F.T.||Evans, Sir De L.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Evans, W.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Ewart, W.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Ferguson, Col.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||Fordyce, A. D.|
|Berkeley, hon. G. F.||Forster, M.|
|Birch, Sir T. B.||Fortescue, C.|
|Blake, M. J.||Fox, R. M.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Fox, W. J.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||Freestun, Col.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Gardner, R.|
|Boyle, hon. Col.||Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.|
|Bright, J.||Glyn, G. C.|
|Brockman, E. D.||Granger, T. C.|
|Brotherton, J.||Greene, J.|
|Brown, H.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Brown, W.||Grosvenor, Lord R.|
|Bunbury, E. H.||Hall, Sir B.|
|Buxton, Sir E. N.||Hardcastle, J.A.|
|Carter, J. B.||Hastie, A.|
|Caulfeild, J. M.||Hawes, B.|
|Clay, J.||Hay, Lord J.|
|Clay, Sir W.||Hayter, W. G.|
|Clements, hon. C. S.||Headlam, T. E.|
|Clifford, H. M.||Heathcoat, J.|
|Cobden, R.||Henry, A.|
|Cockburn, A. J. E.||Heywood, J.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Hill, Lord M.|
|Cowan, C.||Hindley, C.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Craig, W. G.||Horsman, E.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Howard, hon. C. W. G.|
|Dalrymple, Capt.||Howard, hon. E. G. G.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||Howard, P. H.|
|Devereux, J. T.||Hume, J.|
|Drumlanrig, Visct.||Hutt, W.|
|Duff, G. S.||Jackson, W.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Jervis, Sir J.|
|Duncan, G.||Keppel, hon. G. T.|
|Kershaw, J.||Rich, H.|
|King, hon. P. J. L.||Robartes, T. J. A.|
|Langston, J. H.||Romilly, J.|
|Lennard, T. B.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Lewis, G. C.||Rusell, F. C. H.|
|Locke, J.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Lushington, C.||Salwey, Col.|
|M'Cullagh, W. T.||Scholefield, W.|
|M'Gregor, J.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Meagher, T.||Simeon, J.|
|Maitland, T.||Smith, rt. hon. R. V.|
|Mangles, R. D.||Smith, J. A.|
|Marshall, J. G.||Smith, J. B.|
|Marshall, W.||Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Martin, S.||Stansfield W. R. C.|
|Matheson, Col.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Maule, rt. hon. F.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Melgund, Visct.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Mitchell, T. A.||Sullivan, M.|
|Monsell, W.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Morpeth, Visct.||Talfourd, Serj.|
|Morison, Gen.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Morris, D.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.||Thompson, Col.|
|Mowatt, F.||Thompson, G.|
|Muntz, G. F.||Thornely, T.|
|Norreys, Sir D. J.||Towneley, J.|
|O'Connell, M. J.||Townshend, Capt.|
|Ogle, S. C. H.||Tufnell, H.|
|Palmer, R.||Tynte, Col.|
|Palmerston, Visct.||Villiers. hon. C.|
|Parker, J.||Vivian, J. H.|
|Pearson, C.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Pechell, Capt.||Ward, H. G.|
|Pendarves, E. W. W.||Watkins, Col.|
|Perfect, R.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Peto, S. M.||Westhead, J. P.|
|Pigott, F.||Wilcox, B. M.|
|Pilkington, J.||Williams, J.|
|Pinney, W.||Williamson, Sir H.|
|Pusey, P.||Wilson, M.|
|Raphael, A.||Wood, rt hon. Sir C.|
|Rawdon, Col.||Wyvill, M.|
|Ricardo, J. L.||TELLERS.|
|Ricardo, O.||Wood, W. P.|
|Rice, E. R.||D' Eyncourt, rt. hn. C.T.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Adare, Visct.||Bramston, T. W.|
|Alford, Visct.||Bremridge, R.|
|Arkwright, G.||Broadley, H.|
|Bailey, J.||Brooke, Lord|
|Bailey, J., jun.||Buck, L. W.|
|Baldock, E. H.||Buller, Sir J. Y.|
|Bankes, G.||Burghley, Lord|
|Barkly, H.||Burrell, Sir C. M.|
|Baring, H. B.||Carew, W. H. P.|
|Baring, T.||Chaplin, W. J.|
|Beckett, W.||Chichester, Lord J. L.|
|Benbow, J.||Christopher, R. A.|
|Bennet, P.||Christy, S.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Bentinck, Lord H.||Cochrane, A. D. R. W.B.|
|Beresford, W.||Cocks, T. S.|
|Bernard, Visct.||Codrington, Sir W.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Coles, H. B.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Conolly, Col.|
|Bolling, W.||Corry, rt. hon. H. L.|
|Bourke, R. S.||Currie, H.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Davies, D. A. S.|
|Brackley, Visct.||Deedes, W.|
|Dick, Q.||Manners, Lord C. S.|
|Disraeli, B.||Manners, Lord G.|
|Dod, J. W.||March, Earl of|
|Dodd, G.||Maunsell, T. P.|
|Drax, J. S. W. S. E.||Maxwell, hon. J. P.|
|Drummond, H.||Moore, G. H.|
|Duncombe, hon. A.||Morgan, 0.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||Napier, J.|
|Dundas, G.||Neeld, J.|
|Du Pre, C. N.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Newport, Visct.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Newry & Morne, Visct.|
|Emlyn, Visct.||O'Brien, Sir L.|
|Estcourt, J. B. B.||Ossulston, Lord|
|Farnham, E. B.||Paget, Lord G.|
|Farrer, J.||Palmer, R.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Forbes, W.||Peel, Col.|
|Forester, hon. G. C. W.||Pennant, hon. Col.|
|Fox, S. W. L.||Pigot, Sir R.|
|Frewen, C. H.||Plowden, W. H. C.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Power, N.|
|Galway, Visct.||Powlett, Lord W.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Prime, R.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W.E.||Pugh, D.|
|Goddard, A. L.||Reid, Col.|
|Godson, R.||Renton, J. C.|
|Gooch, E. S.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Gordon, Adm.||Richards, R.|
|Gore, W. R. O.||Rushout, Capt.|
|Goring, C.||Sandars, G.|
|Greene, T.||Seymour, Sir H.|
|Gwyn, H.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Hale, R. B.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Halford, Sir H.||Smith, M. T.|
|Hall, Col.||Smyth, J. G.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||Somerset, Capt.|
|Harris, hon. Capt.||Somerton, Visct.|
|Hencage, G. H. W.||Spooner, R.|
|Henley, J. W.||Stafford, A.|
|Herbert, H. A.||Stanley, E.|
|Hildyard, R. C.||Stuart, H.|
|Hildyard, T. B. T.||Stuart, J.|
|Hodgson, W. N.||Sturt, H. G.|
|Hood, Sir A.||Taylor, T. E.|
|Hope, Sir J.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Hope, H. T.||Thornhill, G.|
|Hornby, J.||Tollemache, J.|
|Hudson, G.||Townley, R. G.|
|Ingestre, Visct.||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Turner, G. J.|
|Jocelyn, Visct.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Johnstone, Sir J.||Villiers, hon. F. W. C.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||Vyse, R. H. R. H.|
|Jones, Sir W.||Waddington, D.|
|Kerrison, Sir E.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Knightley, Sir C.||Wall, C. B.|
|Law, hon. C. E.||Walpole, S. H.|
|Lewis, rt. hon. Sir T. F.||Walsh, Sir J. B.|
|Lindsay, hon. Col.||Welby, G. E.|
|Lowther, hon. Col.||Wellesley, Lord C.|
|Lowther, H.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Lygon, hon. Gen.||Worcester, Marq. of|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Young, Sir J.|
|Macnaghten, Sir E.||TELLERS.|
|Mahon, Visct.||Herries, rt. hon. J. C.|
|Mandeville, Visct.||Granby, Marq. of|
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.