HC Deb 17 July 1851 vol 118 cc910-4

moved that it be an instruction to the general Committee of elections to select a Chairman and six other Members to be the Select Committee to inquire into the allegations of a petition relative to the last election for the borough of Harwich. He had stated originally his intention of moving to suspend the writ for Harwich till the Minutes of evidence taken before the Committee were laid before the House; but he understood that those Minutes only related to the time of closing the poll. He should, therefore, not move the suspension of the writ.

Motion made, and Question put— That it be an Instruction to the General Committee of Elections, to select a Chairman and six other Members to be the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the allegations of a Petition relative to the last Election for the Borough of Harwich; and that the Members so selected do constitute the said Committee, with power to send for persons, papers, and records, and that Five be the quorum.


did not intend to oppose the Motion which the hon. Gentleman had made, because it was for an inquiry into the conduct of the Government; and as they had acceded to it, it would he unbecoming in him to interfere. This Committee, however, would make the fourth which had sat upon this borough during the present Parliament; and, in fact, since 1837, there had been no election for it, that had not been followed by one or more Committees. The character of Harwich was well known; for it stood pre-eminent for corruption in every possible form. Now he had taken some pains to investigate the character of the borough, and he wished before a new writ was issued to lay before the House the evidence contained in their blue books upon the subject. He did not wish to go into the matter then, but he wished to stipulate that forty-eight hours notice should be given before the writ was moved for; because it was his intention to take the sense of the House upon the question, and he had not the slightest doubt that it would be unanimous not to issue a new writ for Harwich.


said, the House ought to be satisfied that there was a primâ facie case for inquiry, before they appointed a Committee. The hon. Mover of the Instruction (Mr. Bankes) had laid no grounds for a Committee; he did not say he even believed in the allegations of the petition. The petition was one of the loosest he had ever seen; it merely stated that the Whigs did this, and the Conservatives did that. He did not object to the inquiry, but he thought it would be a waste of time unless some definite ground was laid. Harwich was a place that ought to be disfranchised without inquiry; nothing was more notorious than the corruption that had been going on there; and the House might very well legislate on public notoriety in such cases as those of Harwich and St. Albans. They had disfranchised Sudbury; it was only due to its memory that those places should follow. They were to have a new Reform Bill next year; he hoped it would contain as large a Schedule A as the former one.


protested against the doctrine asserted by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe), that the electors of Harwich ought to be disfranchised without any inquiry, and without being put upon their trial. This would deprive the electors of their property. It appeared that the franchise of the electors of Finsbury was to be held sacred and indefeasible, but that of the electors of Harwich was detestable, and might be taken from them in any manner, however arbitrary and despotic. The electors of Harwich lived under a system of equal laws; but the hon. Gentleman advocated a mode of confiscating their rights worthy of the days of the French Directory.


protested against the electors of Finsbury being likened in any manner to the electors of such a place as Harwich. If the electors for Finsbury had been over and over again convicted by that House of inveterate bribery and corruption, the hon. and learned Member for Newark (Mr. Stuart) would have had some grounds for his remarks; but as the electors of Finsbury were a constituency who were not in the habit of being bought, the hon. and learned Gentleman had no right to make so invidious a comparison.


said, the charges in the petition were not charges of bribery.


said, the borough of Harwich had become a disgrace to the country. What the hon. and learn- ed Gentleman (Mr. Stuart) called the property of the electors, was precisely what ought to he taken away from them. Newark was as complete a nomination borough as Harwich, and both ought to be put in Schedule A. The hon. and learned Gentleman had, on a previous occasion, defended Newark, on the ground that such places afforded seats for gentlemen of his profession. He thought there were too many lawyers in the House already, and wished they were out of it. Could any one get up and contend that Harwich was a place which ought to return two Members? Whenever the writ was moved for, he would assuredly move as an Amendment that the writ do not


thought the question as to Harwich was rather the paucity of its constituency than its corruption, but still that was not the subject involved in the hon. Member for Dorsetshire's (Mr. Bankes') Motion, which asked for a Select Committee to consider a petition against the conduct of a Government officer. It might be all very well for the Government, from a delicate sense of honour, to hastily consent, as they had done, to the inquiry; but he thought the House ought to interpose to see that its own time and the public money should not be thrown away on such light grounds; and before the inquiry was acceded to, the hon. Gentleman ought to make himself responsible for the proof of some of the allegations of the petitioners.


had never known a Committee appointed to inquire without some substantial evidence being laid before the House. Such was the case when he moved that Mr. Attwood should be prosecuted. If ever there was a case requiring summary proceedings, it was that of Harwich. Yet the House ought to know who was the responsible party in this inquiry, and at whose expense it was to take place. It was a perfect mockery to have disfranchised Sudbury, if Harwich was allowed to send Members to Parliament.


said, that if Government had thought fit to accede to this Motion—and of course they had not acceded to it without due consideration—it was not proper for the House to stand forward and prevent an inquiry into a subject which concerned the privileges of that House. The real point before them was—would they consent to an inquiry into the conduct of a Government officer charged with im- proper interference at a public election? And it was manifestly irrelevant to that question whether the electors of Finsbury or of Harwich were most deserving of disfranchisement, because no one could surely contend, because the borough of Harwich was corrupt, that a Government officer might exercise undue interference at the election. He hoped the House therefore would not allew itself to be distracted from the real question before it; and he might remind the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that he had formerly advocated an inquiry into the election for Stamford, although there was no information and no document before the House; and the hon. Gentleman then spoke and acted only on the ground of the petition presented to the House. The hon. Member for Marylebone had made an unfair attack on the hon. and learned Member for Newark (Mr. J. Stuart), and talked of having no lawyers in the House; but he might have remembered that there was once a Parliament without lawyers, and that earned for itself the title of the Parliamentum Indoctum. He (Mr. Disraeli) thought that the presence of lawyers added much to the weight of the debates. It was rather imprudent to lay down rules for distinguishing classes of Members. Suppose one hon. Member would say there were too many baronets in the House. It might be as possible to make out a case against the baronets as against the barristers; but he should be sorry to see that ancient and respectable order excluded from this House. The Motion before the House was for an inquiry into a certain account of an alleged improper conduct of the Government officers at the last election for Harwich, to which inquiry the Government had assented; he, therefore, thought the House should not throw any obstacles in the way of the inquiry.


said, one important question was—who was to act upon this Committee? The General Committee on Elections had no power in such an inquiry to compel the attendance of Members on the proposed Committee. He therefore objected very strongly to throwing the task of selecting the Members to serve in this investigation upon the shoulders of the General Election Committee, and thought it would be much more in accordance with the usage of the House to undertake the nomination of the Committee itself.


said, that, in the way in which he proposed to constitute this Committee, he had only followed the precedent laid down by the noble Lord at the head of the Government in the case of the Stamford Election Committee. He entirely left the House to decide whether it would agree to or reject his Motion; it was a matter of perfect indifference to him personally what the issue might be. He had merely presented the petition, because it had been entrusted to him to do so by several respectable electors of Harwich, and because it referred to the privileges of that House; but he could not undertake in any manner to bind himself to substantiate the allegations.

The House divided:—Ayes 82; Noes 80: Majority 2.

Motion agreed to.

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