Mr. Whitbread moved for discharging the order for taking the petition into consideration on the 27th instant, for the purpose of moving its consideration on a future day. The grounds 303 that he stated for this motion were, that there was a number of persons who voted that were supposed to have no legal right to vote, and that therefore it was adviseable to try the legality of their votes in the usual manner, by moving a quo warranto in the Court of King's Bench. There had not hitherto been sufficient time for trying the validity of those votes in that manner, as the election was on the 4th of November, and the last term ended on the 26th. The object of his motion was, therefore, such a delay as would allow time for the question to be determined by a court of law. He should therefore afterwards move, that the consideration of the petition be postponed until the 12th of February.
§ Mr. Mingay
declared, that he rose under considerable trepidation and alarm. If he were to say that it was diffidence, at presenting himself to a public assembly, such a declaration from a man of his years, and of his former professional habits, would draw down ridicule; but he felt seriously distressed, when he considered that he was so personally and pointedly attacked. Until yesterday he had not the slightest idea that any member of that house would bring forward such a motion. Although it was true, that the election of Thetford was on the 4th of November, yet the fact Was, that the point now at issue had been settled five years ago, and had been ever since acquiesced in. It was not one term alone that the petitioners had had to try the law of the question, but every term since the year 1801 they might have brought it forward, if they had thought proper. The question went to nothing less than tearing to pieces the corporate rights of that borough, and dissolving the corporation. This was a petition that the house would not shew peculiar favour to; and he hoped they would not let it hang for ever over his head, as he believed the real object of the petitioners was to keep him as long in hot water as possible. It was the death of an old alderman (his brother) that occasioned this petition. There were complaints now of what a man, who was alderman, and afterwards mayor of the town, had done in 1801, 2, 3. A great part of the voters that had been made during that time were now sought to be disfranchised. There was however, no objection made to the votes made by that alderman in 1801, and yet, after so many years, the petitioners wished to disfranchise, on 304 a supposed irregularity, such a number of voters, as would in fact change the corporation itself. After distinguishing this case from the cases of Harwich and East Retford, he hoped the house would not now establish such a precedent for attacking corporate bodies.
§ Mr. Whitbread
was not conscious of having said any thing which the hon. gent. was justified in considering as a personal attack on himself. The question was merely a legal question, whether a certain description of persons had or had not the right of voting. If they had, the hon. gent. was secure of his seat; if they had not, he would of course be removed from his seat. He could not suppose the object of the petition was by any means to harass him, or keep him, as he had expressed it, in hot water. Although it was possible that for the last 5 years, illegal votes might have been received, yet, if the flaw was not discovered until the last election, the petitioners were in sufficient time.
§ Mr. Mingay
again stated, that it was not one term only that they had lain by, but it was five years and one term. He was, therefore, against the motion for discharging the order.
Mr. Bragge Bathurst
considered that the house had hardly sufficient materials to decide on, having only two contradictory statements. He thought, however, that as to this flaw, which had been only discovered the other day, the courts of law would be as slow to lend themselves to the overturning corporate rights as the committees of the house of commons.
had no objection to the delay of a fortnight, which was all that was asked for in the first instance, but he could not see why the petitioners suffered all the last term to pass over without moving for a writ of quo warranto. This was all they could do in the course of the next term, and that would be very far from deciding the question.
§ Mr. Whitbread
observed, that the delay of a fortnight was all he asked in the first instance, and if, at the end of that period, he could not lay sufficient grounds for postponing it further, the house of course would not consent to put it off longer.
considered that it was likely, that postponing it upon the grounds that were stated, would make it necessary that it should be postponed so long, that it could not be determined in the course of the present session.
observed, that it would be extremely inconvenient that the house should that night divide upon the question: he therefore proposed the debate should be adjourned until to-morrow. This proposition was accordingly agreed to.