HC Deb 19 April 1853 vol 126 cc122-4

moved an ad-dress to the Crown, to issue a Commission to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in the borough of Maldon. He would put the question of treating in this case entirely aside; but he might say that the Committee had not able to extort evidence from adverse witnessess, who gave their testimony in a very unsatisfactory manner; and he only expressed the opinion of the Committee when he said that a great amount of perjury had been committed. It was, however, shown that the agent for the sitting Member was a gentleman, named Parker, and that when he arrived in the borough, he went to the house of a man who was familiarly known as the "King of the Island," and offered him 150l. down for his interest, which was supposed to extend to some twenty or twenty-five votes. This offer was made so openly that the agent of the opposite party, who had been sent as a spy to the enemy's camp, was present at the time. He (Lord R. Grosvenor) had no doubt that an advance was made by the opposite party upon the offer made on behalf of the sitting Member, for the "King of the Island," and all his liege subjects, voted for the unsuccessful candidate. It was proved before the Committee that at the previous election a highly respectable merchant, Mr. Miller, was requested by a standing committee in Maldon to go down and canvass the borough. Mr. Miller inquired what the expenses would be. "Oh," said the agent, "we should be much obliged if, as a preliminary, you would have the goodness to pay 4,000l, which is the amount due to the electors for the last election." Mr. Miller took the opinion of counsel on the point, and he was told by his adviser—the late Mr. Talbot—that if he complied with the request of the Committee he would vitiate his election. He (Lord R. Grosvenor) hoped that, under these circumstances, the House would assent to his Motion.

Motion made, and Question put, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty"[which was read].


said, he must express his regret that a Motion of so much importance should be brought forward at so late an hour, because he thought no Motion for a Commission ought to be agreed to without full discussion. He had been a member of the Maldon Election Committee, and he must say he thought that bribery had been in no degree proved. He was not acquainted with any case in which he was more confident that no agency was proved that could justify the verdict of the Committee. He (Mr. Bankes) was not satisfied that, legally, power was granted by the Act of Parliament to institute inquiries on the ground of treating only, and he did not think the House was justified in voting for Commissions with reference to former occurrences at elections, unless there was some present case upon which they could found their decision. He supposed, however, that what seemed to be the spirit of the times was not to be resisted, and if the case of Clitheroe was to be taken as a precedent, he thought the case of Maldon could scarcely be distinguished from it.


said that, as a Member of the Committee, the impression produced upon his mind by the evidence, was that the state of the borough of Maldon was very corrupt; he should, therefore, support the Motion for the address.


said, he considered that this was a proper case in which a Commission should issue. The noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor) seemed to intimate that he (Mr. Walpole) was looking with a scrutinising eye, as if he wished to stop these inquiries. He only thought that, as they had been entrusted with extraordinary powers, they ought to be careful in applying them. He still thought that treating was not included within the Act of Parlia- ment; but here there was a case of bribery, and, therefore, he should concur in the address which had been moved.


said, he must divide the House against the Motion. He had looked carefully over the evidence, and could only find one case of bribery.


said, he thought it very astounding that, if Maldon was so corrupt a place, the Members had not paid a farthing for their election. If the boroughs were corrupt, it was the Reform Bill made them so, and he advised hon. Gentlemen opposite to take example from the counties. If such evidence as existed in the present case was taken as ground for issuing a Commission, it would be impossible to say how many borough Members would be left in the House.


said, he must protest against the principle of questioning the decisions of the Select Committees. They should be taken by the House as just and fair.

The House divided:—Ayes 69; Noes 48: Majority 21.

Resolved— That the said Address be communicated to The Lords, at a Conference, and their concurrence desired thereto.

Ordered— That a Conference be desired with The Lords upon the subject matter of an Address to be presented to Her Majesty under the provisions of the Act of the 15th and 16th of Her present Majesty, cap. 51.

Ordered— That Lord Robert Grosvenor do go to The Lords, and desire the said Conference.

The House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock.