HL Deb 12 August 1834 vol 25 cc1230-2

On the question that the House should resolve itself into a Committee on the Beer Act Amendment Bill,

The Earl of Warwick

begged leave to enter into a vindication of his conduct from the imputations cast upon him for his alleged interference in the election for the borough of Warwick. He begged to state, that immediately on receiving a communication from the Secretary of State of the Home Department, respecting the charges alleged against him in another place, he wrote to his Lordship, and gave, he trusted, a satisfactory explanation. During the last Session of Parliament he attended in his seat, ready and anxious to meet any accusation that might be brought against him. And though he had been subjected to the grossest aspersions in the public newspapers, as unmanly as they were untrue, and as malignant as they were false, yet he allowed them to pass by with the utmost indifference, conscious that his conduct on the occasion alluded to, would bear the test of the strictest inquiry, an inquiry which he was at all times more desirous to court than to shrink from. Since he had known the borough of Warwick it had been perfectly open and independent. He was first returned for that borough on coming of age, without any solicitations on his part. He continued to represent the borough in every successive Parliament till his accession to the Peerage in 1816, and was, on each occasion, returned by a great majority of the electors, without any electioneering agency whatever, there not being so much as a poll-book used. When the vacancy occurred in the representation of the borough, consequent on taking his seat in that House, the town spontaneously elected his brother, Sir Charles Greville, as his successor, free of expense, and invited him to a public dinner, at which the parties who prosecuted the Warwick Borough Bill, attended. As for the Bill itself, their Lordships had already come to a decision on it. For himself, he could say, he took no part in the proceedings at the late election; and he knew no more of them than he had learnt from the evidence. One charge which their Lordships had not thought it necessary to investigate affecting him, was that of making fictitious votes. He would, therefore, call upon the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to bear witness that he did, in his seat in that House, take the only proper mode in which it became him to offer any interference—namely, that during the passage of the Reform Bill, he proposed an Amendment in the 33rd clause to prevent scot-and-lot voters, not then on the returns, being put on, to the end of July, 1831. This the noble and learned Lord at the time highly approved of, and named it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Amendment was not however made, and had it been, all chance even of fictitious votes, would have been done away with on both sides. As to his property, generally, in Warwick, having been laid out for political purposes, or put under any system of arrangement for such objects, every one connected with the borough knew it to be not so, and none were more accurately acquainted with that fact than his accusers themselves.

The Lord Chancellor

, in consequence of what had fallen from the noble Earl, felt it necessary to say, that it was criminal for any member of the House of Lords to be concerned in bribing, treating, or any other acknowledged illegal act; but he did not hold it to be contrary to law for any Peer to interfere in elections in the same manner in which a commoner could legally interfere. He spoke as a lawyer, and constitutionally. He was aware that such interference on the part of Peers was contrary to a resolution of the House of Commons, but their Lordships had never admitted (whether rightly or wrongly their Lordships were the best judges) that they were concluded by a resolution of the other House of Parliament. It was, perhaps, a thing to be avoided, but it was not illegal—it was not contrary to the character of a constitutional man, a good subject, or a man of honour. The predecessor of the present Earl Marshal, who was a very constitutional man, attempted not only to interfere in, but to vote at elections—that was to say, he offered to vote, but his vote was of course rejected. He held, that a Peer was entitled by law to canvass, though it was declared improper for him to do so by the Resolution of the House of Commons. The respect which he had for the Resolution of the House of Commons would prevent him individually from interfering in elections, but, he should hold any Peer who did so, not guilty of any dishonourable act, or of anything which could affix a stain upon his character.

The House resolved itself into the Committee on the Bill; the clauses were agreed to, and the House resumed.