HC Deb 03 February 1854 vol 130 cc219-23

said, he now rose to present a petition from William Vergette and John Miller, electors of the Borough of Peterborough, praying to be allowed to present a petition against the return of Mr. Thomson Hankey, the sitting Member. The circumstances under which this application was made were the following. It appeared that Mr. Hankey was seated by the Resolution of a Committee of that House only five days before the prorogation of Parliament, and consequently these parties had not, in accordance with the usual rule, an opportunity of presenting a petition within fourteen days after his return. He thought that this circumstance alone furnished sufficient ground for assenting to the prayer of the petitioners; although, if any further reasons were required, there were circumstances set forth in the petition which he thought should have great weight in leading the House to the same conclusion. He should therefore move that these parties have leave to present a petition against the sitting Member within nine days from the opening of the present Session of Parliament.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Petitioners have leave to present a Petition against the return of Thomson Hankey, esquire, within nine days from the commencement of the present Session.


said, he thought it highly desirable that the House should be put in possession of all the circumstances connected with this matter, in order that they might fully understand the nature of the step which the right hon. Gentleman proposed that they should take. It would be in the recollection of the House that last Session a petition, which was presented against Mr. Whalley, the then sitting Member, was referred to a Select Committee, which declared that he was not duly elected, and that Mr. Hankey ought to have been so. Consequently that Gentleman was substituted for Mr. Whalley. Mr. Whalley appeared by counsel before that Committee, Mr. Coppock being his Parliamentary agent. When the case against Mr. Whalley was proved, the counsel for that gentleman applied for an adjournment; upon which the counsel for the petitioner, Mr. Hankey, asked if it was intended to impugn the validity of Mr. Hankey's return should the Committee come to the decision of declaring him duly elected, in the absence of any opposition? Mr. Cook, the counsel for Mr. Whalley, replied in the affirmative; but subsequently, when the Committee met again after the adjournment, he declared that it was not intended to go on with the recriminatory case, as he understood that it would be competent to the electors to present a petition against Mr. Hankey in the ensuing Session. Accordingly, on the meeting of the House, certain electors presented such a petition. When, however, it came before the examiner of recognisances, he declined to receive it upon the ground that it had not, in conformity with the rules of the House, been presented within fourteen days after Mr. Hankey's return. Upon that the present petitioners, who were proposed as the sureties for the petition so rejected, came before the House to complain that the examiner of recongnisances had acted wrongly in refusing to receive the petition. He thought the House could not be of opinion that the examiner of recognisances was wrong in this, and he (the Attorney General) thought he had acted in strict accordance with the letter of the law. Every opportunity had been afforded to parties to go into the case of recrimination before the Select Committee, but they had declined to do so. The House would see from the Minutes of the Select Committee that the allegations of the present petition were untrue. It proceeded on the allegation that Mr. Coppock was fully instructed to go into the case of recrimination; yet, notwithstanding such instructions, the petitioners were informed that Mr. Coppock had peremptorily refused to go on with it. The Minutes showed that there was no foundation for such a statement; it was not the act of Mr. Coppock, but of the counsel who represented Mr. Whalley. The question then came to this, as the petitioners had not availed themselves of opportunities afforded them to go into their case before the Select Committee, were they now to be allowed to do so? As far as he was aware, there was no precedent for such permission, unless the Committee had made a Special Report for it to be allowed. In the present case the Committee had made no such Report, and although he must say that the House ought to afford every facility for inquiring into the manner in which Members had been returned, still he thought that something was due to the Members themselves, and where parties had abandoned their opportunities of coming before the Select Committee to make out their case, a Member ought not to be harassed by repeated petitions. All were fully aware, in considering the incidents of any particular election, either on one side or the other, of the advantage of the whole of the matter being committed to one and the same tribunal, and as, in this case, the parties had intrusted their interest to Mr. Coppock and counsel, who declined to go on with it, he did not think that the subject ought again to be reopened.


, who had been members of the Committee, made statements of the proceedings before them, confirming the facts as stated by the ATTORNEY GENERAL.


said, he did not agree with the opinion of the hon. and learned Attorney General. In this case the petition could not have been presented within fourteen days. In this instance no new return had been made, but the old one merely altered—which enabled the Member, under a technical objection, to escape from any inquiry being made into his conduct. The present petition was not the petition of Mr. Whalley, but of electors, who charged—though the House could not now judge whether truly or falsely—Mr. Hankey with bribery. They had had no opportunity of doing so, and he thought the House ought to afford them it. Another point raised by the hon. and learned Attorney General was that the allegations were not true; but there was one distinct allegation that had been confirmed in part by what the House had heard from one of the Committee, that the recriminatory charge had been withdrawn in direct opposition to the wishes of those most interested in the petition. It did appear to him that they were either bound to allow the parties to substantiate their allegations, or to receive the petition; he therefore begged leave to move as an Amendment, that the petitioners be heard at the bar of the House in support of their allegation.


said, that no good could arise from the course that had been proposed by the hon. and learned Member who had moved the Amendment. It seemed to him that many of the arguments that had been advanced had placed the matter on false grounds. It appeared to him not to depend on the question as to the fourteen days; that had nothing at all to do with it, for, supposing that it had been presented in the middle of last Session, the petition would have been as bad on the first day after the decision of the Committee as at any time after the lapse of the fourteen days. He thought that the House ought not to receive the petition; for a competent jurisdiction, appointed under Act of Parliament for the purpose of investigating the whole question, and allowing ample opportunity to all who chose to come forward, had declared that Mr. Hankey was duly elected, and ought to have been returned. There was no precedent for allowing, after such a finding, that the House should again reopen the question; aud, to appoint a Committee to inquire whether the decision of a former Committee were true or false, would be contrary to the spirit and letter of the Act of Parliament under which the Committee was appointed, as well as establish a precedent dangerous to every Member who sat in that House. In the case before them, the petitioners on behalf of Mr. Hankey had not only contested the right to the seat, but claimed it for him. It was therefore idle now to say that the present gentlemen were not parties to the former petition, and that no opportunity had been afforded them of bringing forward their case. Every person in Peterborough knew—for it was as patent as the light of day—that when the petition was before the Committee, then or never was their opportunity to inquire whether Mr. Whalley or another had been duly elected. Every opportunity had been afforded to parties, and, as they did not think fit to avail themselves of it, they ought not now, on every principle of law and common sense, to be allowed to bring forward a petition.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and negatived.

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