HC Deb 05 April 1853 vol 125 cc642-6

said, he would now move, "That a new Writ be issued for a Member for the Borough of Lancaster, in the room of Robert Baynes Armstrong, Esq., unseated on Petition." He believed the case of this borough differed in character from that of many other places which had been subjected to investigation, and he hoped, therefore, that the House would not refuse their assent to his Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Burgess to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Lancaster, in the room of Robert Baynes Armstrong, Esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void.


said, he thought it very undesirable to issue writs in cases in which bribery and treating had been proved to exist. It was true that in the case of Lancaster the Committee had not made any Special Report, but they reported that the late Member was, by his agents, guilty of bribery, and mentioned cases in which 5l., 2l., and 1l., were received. The course taken by Election Committees during the present Session had received the strong approbation of the public, and by granting new writs immediately they would only give encouragement to corrupt electors. Nothing would suit a corrupt party in a borough better than to have an election once a month. He would submit that in cases like the present, a writ ought not be issued without further inquiry; and so strong was his opinion on the subject, that he would move, as an Amendment, that no writ be issued until one month from that day.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'no new Writ be issued for the Borough of Lancaster, before Tuesday, the 3d day of May next,' instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he rose for the purpose of asking why they were to deprive one place of the privilege of returning a Member, and give it to another whose situation was precisely similar? He looked round in vain for the noble Lord the leader of the House, who, he understood, intended to propose some general measure. He would like to know whether the present proposal had the noble Lord's sanction. If they had so far secured the approbation of the country, why were they to stop short? He was sorry that neither the Chairman, nor any Member of the Committee, was present to express an opinion.


said, the House was in a very unsatisfactory position with regard to the issuing of new writs. It seemed to be guided by no principle, not even by the evidence, but acted upon the caprice of the moment, the decision upon a Motion for a new writ possibly depending upon whether it were introduced before dinner or after. Having himself to undergo the same ordeal as many other hon. Members, it would not become him to say much about purity; but he would ask any hon. Member who had read the evidence given before the Lancaster Committee, whether in any case, decided adversely to the Member, there had been less proof of corruption. He took it granted, that if any Member of the Committee wished to oppose the Motion, he would have been present.


said, he was very much disposed to agree in the view which had been taken of that subject by the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. He believed that in a matter of that kind, which, if not of a judicial character, rather approximated to that character, it was extremely desirable that they should act in conformity with some certain rule, and not under the influence of mere accident or caprice. It was far better that hon. Members should abate something of their particular wishes in those questions, than that they should perplex the public mind by deciding one way with respect to them today, and another way to-morrow. They ought, if possible, to follow some settled rule; and it appeared to him that such a rule existed in the present case. It was not to be supposed that the adoption of the Motion of the hon. Member for South Lancaster (Mr. W. Brown) would preclude the House from instituting an inquiry hereafter into corrupt practices in that borough if they should think it desirable that such a course should be adopted. In the cases of the Blackburn and the Bridgenorth elections the Reports of the Committees had been quite as strong as in the present instance, and yet the writs had been ordered to be issued for those two boroughs, after the House had maturely considered, on the one hand, the wrong that might be inflicted on an entire constituency by punishing it for the crime of a few individuals; and after they had considered, on the other hand, the duty imposed upon them of checking, by every fair means at their disposal those corrupt practices which it had been proved had taken place at many elections. The rule—the wise rule they had adopted—was, that no writ should be issued in those cases except after a notice of seven days had been given upon the subject. The meaning of that rule was, that after the lapse of the seven days the writ should be issued if no new facts should be brought before them to call for its postponement. Now, in the present case, the required notice had been given; and, in the meantime, neither the inhabitants of the town, nor the Members of the Committee who had tried the petition, had taken any step which could induce the House to adopt any measure of special severity in the matter. Under these circumstances, he believed it would neither be generous nor just to deprive the inhabitants of the borough of the opportunity of exercising their constitutional privilege; and he hoped that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Thornely) would not press his Amendment. He would again remind the hon. Member that the adoption of the original Motion need not prevent the House from instituting hereafter an inquiry into the state of the borough of Lancaster.


said, he felt much surprised that the House, notwithstanding their sincere desire to put an end to corrupt practices at elections, should have taken what he considered to be such inadequate means for effecting that object. He held very strong opinions upon that subject, but he should not then press them on their attention. He understood the noble Lord the Member for London to have promised to bring forward a proposal for dealing on some definite and comprehensive principle with those questions; and he confessed that he waited with much interest for the fulfilment of that promise. He perceived that in almost all those cases they had punished the innocent Members, and had let off the guilty agents. That seemed to him a very extraordinary mode of proceeding, for those attorneys had been at the root of all that system of corruption. They were the persons who played with the Members, as at a game of chess. They got up petitions at the Members' expense, and carried on these matters to their own profit merely. These things required to be looked into, and to be dealt with by some general system. He trusted the noble Lord or some other person would deal with this matter. In the present case he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he did not see how, after they had laid down a rule, they could then refuse to act upon it.


agreed that the manner in which they were in the habit of dealing with these cases was extremely unsatisfactory. He had once had some connexion with Lancaster: and he felt bound to state his belief, from what he then knew of the borough, that corruption did prevail there extensively, and especially among the freemen. But at the same time it was absolutely necessary to act on some fixed rule; and he understood the rule on which the House had decided after full consideration, to be this—that they would not suspend a writ, or originate further inquiry, except where either such inquiry was recommended by the Committee, or where it was petitioned for by the inhabitants. Now in this instance there was no recommendation by the Committee, and no petition from the inhabitants. If therefore a division were come to, he must vote against the Amendment; but he was very glad to hear it stated that the issuing of the writ did not preclude further inquiry, since from all he knew of Lancaster, he believed such inquiry to be exceedingly necessary.


said, he entertained a strong opinion with regard to the state of the borough of Lancaster, and he was glad to find that that opinion was confirmed by the high authority of the noble Lord who had just addressed the House. He did not, however, think it advisable to press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn; Main Question put, and agreed to.