HC Deb 09 May 1853 vol 126 cc1318-22

said, he would beg to move that a new writ be issued for the election of a Member for the borough of Harwich, in the room of Mr. G. M. W. Peacocke.

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 Harwich, in the room of George Montagu Warren Peacocke, esquire, whose election has been determined to be void.


said, he had understood that there was an order of the House which provided that no Motion should be made for the issue of a New Writ without seven days' notice, and he hoped the hon. Baronet would consent to postpone his Motion. He (Sir De L. Evans) intended to move an Address to the Crown for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the corrupt practices which were alleged to have taken place in the borough of Harwich.


said, he thought it was desirable to ascertain whether the case of Harwich came within the Order of the House. That Order provided, he believed, that when a Member or Members had been unseated for bribery, seven days' notice should be given previously to the Motion for a New Writ. He would therefore move that the Order of the House and the Report of the Committee be read by the Clerk.

[The Clerk at the table then read the Order of the House, which provided that when the seat of any Member had been declared void on the ground of bribery and corruption, no Motion for the issue of a New Writ should be made without seven days' previous notice being given. The Clerk also read the Report of the Harwich Election Committee, who reported that it was not proved to their satisfaction that the acts of bribery which they specified were committed by the Members or their legal agents.]


said, that in this case Mr. Peacocke had been unseated under a special statute, which enacted that any candidate entering into a contract with any person whatever for the purpose of procuring the influence or interest at an election of the person with whom such contract was made, should be incapacitated from holding a seat, and should be subject to legal penalties. He believed that the word "bribery" did not occur in the Statute to which he referred, and a question might arise as to whether the offence reported upon by the Harwich Committee came within the legal limits of the word "bribery." He had had no intention himself of opposing the issue of a writ for Harwich, but he thought it was a question whether it might not be better that the Motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Tyrell) should be postponed, that the House might have an opportunity of considering the subject. He might add that it was his intention to move that the evidence taken before the Committee be laid upon the table.


said, that the law of elections was so obscure and uncertain, that the House was nightly in a state of disorder. The Chairman of the Harwich Election Committee had not laid down the law, though the hon. Gentleman was one of that class who entered the House without any particular or obvious motives. The fact was, that all sorts of suggestions were made, and every possible kind of suspicion excited; they went beating about the bush in quest of what they could not find. It was curious that no county was under any suspicion as to its election except Middlesex, and that even the City of London itself was not quite free from doubt.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Head-lam) was mistaken in supposing that bribery was not mentioned in the Statute to which he had referred. He (Sir F. Kelly) had no objection to delaying the issue of the writ until the whole of the evidence was printed. Mr. Peacocke desired nothing so much as that the whole of the evidence relating to the last election should be printed.


said, it did not appear to him that the Resolution of the House read by the Clerk at the table had, strictly speaking, anything to do with the present case. As the Report of the Harwich Election Committee was a very unusual one, it was in his opinion desirable that the writ should not issue until the evidence was printed.


said, he thought the difficulty in which the House was placed on these questions, arose mainly from the fact, that the Election Committees did not comply with the provisions of the Controverted Elections Act, which required them to report their opinion as to whether new writs should be issued. Not more than one or two Election Committees had, he believed, reported upon that point, but if the Committees did report whether they considered writs should be issued or not, the House would be relieved from considerable difficulty. With regard to this old offender, Harwich, he was little disposed to allow the borough ever to have another writ. He thought the Motion the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir D. L. Evans) had intimated his intention of bringing forward for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the occurrences which had taken place in Harwich, was alone a sufficient reason for suspending the writ. It was evident that at the present moment Harwich was a complete nomination borough, with regard to one seat if not both, in the hands of Mr. Attwood, and he thought the writ ought therefore not to be issued.


said, he believed his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury was totally mistaken in his interpretation of the Act to which he had referred. He (Mr. Aglionby) believed there was no clause in the Statute to which that hon. Gentleman had referred, obliging the Committee to report whether a writ ought to issue or not. He thought the case of Harwich did not fall within the rule of the House as to the notice to be given before moving for a writ; but as it was a case as bad, if not worse, than others which had been brought before the House, he hoped they would not come to any decision as to the issue of a writ before the evidence was printed. He begged to move that the debate be now adjourned.


said, he thought that they would be led into very great embarrassment in those cases if they were not guided as much as possible by general rules. He thought it would be rash upon their parts to decide that the writ should not be issued for another fortnight; and he should, therefore, propose that the debate should be adjourned till Friday next.


said, he would suggest to the hon. Member for North Essex (Sir J. Tyrell) that it would be better that the Motion should be withdrawn for the present, and that they should take no step in the matter until the evidence should have been printed.


said, he wished to state, in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), that he believed he had correctly interpreted the clause in the Act to which he had referred. It was the eighth clause, and it provided that the majority of voices in a Committee should decide, not only whether a sitting Member had been duly elected, or whether an election had been void, but also whether a new writ ought to be issued.


said, he thought that none of the reasons which usually induced that House to suspend writs applied to this case. It had been admitted that this was a case which did not come within the regulation relating to the seven days' notice. It was not a case of bribery; but the Member had been unseated because he had transgressed a particular Statute by entering into a certain agreement with Mr. Attwood.


said, he thought that when a Committee reported that a corrupt contract had been made between a sitting Member, when a candidate, and another person, the result of which was that sixty or seventy votes were transferred to the candidate, there could be no doubt whatever that, although this might not be legal bribery, it was a corrupt prac- tice of the worst description. The object of the notice was to enable the House to determine whether inquiry should be made before a writ was issued, and he thought there was very strong reason for such inquiry in this case.


said, he thought the House knew quite enough of the case to divide now as well as on Friday next, or that day fortnight, or any other day. There would be no advantage that he could see resulting from postponement. He did not believe the vote of a single Member would be influenced by the printed evidence, whatever it was. The rules of the House would not be infringed upon by the issue of the writ. If those rules were inefficient, or childish, or foolish, let them be abolished. They were threatened with a new Reform Bill, which was to sweep all the Tories into the dust, and a Bill of indictment was in course of preparation for the present House of Commons. But, whilst they lasted, let them at least observe their own rules, and not deprive a constituency of its privileges upon light grounds.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided: —Ayes 177; Noes 116: Majority 61.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be adjourned till this day fortnight."

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "this day fortnight," in order to insert the words "Friday next," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words 'this day fortnight' stand part of the Question."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Debate adjourned till this day fortnight.