HC Deb 31 January 1828 vol 18 cc83-6
Mr. Tennyson

rose for the purpose of re-introducing a bill which the House had adopted, and read a second time, at the close of the last session, for disfranchising the borough of East Retford, and giving representation to Birmingham. He was aware that some gentlemen thought evidence should be produced at the bar, in addition to that taken before the Retford Election committee, on which the House had proceeded last year. He knew also, that other gentlemen entertained different views from himself, as to the destination of the franchise, if it should be removed from East Retford. He had thought the proper course was, td resume the subject in that shape, substantially, in which it had been left in the last session: he had, however, added to the bill provisions calculated to obviate the tumult, delay, and expense, Which formed the chief objections to the representation of large towns. As to the production of further evidence, he was fully prepared with it, if the House should desire to have additional satisfaction with regard to the corrupt state of East Retford; but as the committee upon the bill would be the proper stage for that evidence, if required, as well as for any discussion with regard to the place td which the privilege of returning members td parliament should be eventually transferred, he would not how detain the House by any further observations, but simply move for leave to bring in a bill, "to exclude the borough of East Retford from electing burgesses to serve in parliament, and to enable the town of Birmingham to return two representatives to parliament in lieu thereof."

Mr. George Bankes

said, that the circumstances of this case were of a very peculiar nature. The committee which sat to consider the merits of the election for East Retford commenced their labours in the month of May last, and terminated them at the end of that month; and, by virtue of the power of suspending the writ, which the House possessed, that borough had since remained unrepresented. It was acknowledged that the Writ was suspended; that the gentlemen who had set up for the borough were unseated, writ for bribery, but for treating; which was a very inferior offence. Now, if that were, the only offence against those who seated them, and, if no charge of bribery were substantiated against those gentlemen, it was clear that there could have been no suspension of the writ. But the committee made a special report with respect to bribery having been committed on former occasions, and also with reference to its having been expected on this, by those who concurred in electing the then members. No bribery was either brought home to the members or to the electors. The members were, however, unseated by the suspension of the writ, and the consequence was, that there was no person in the House connected with the borough, or interested in investigating the business. He knew how inefficient an advocate he should prove, if he offered to take up the cause of this party; but, having been nominee on the election committee, and, therefore, better acquainted with the circumstances of the case than the members generally, he considered it his duty to call the attention of the House, from time to time, to the circumstances, for the purpose of defending the interests of those who would otherwise stand alone. He had no connexion with the borough; no knowledge of the parties; and no acquaintance with the gentlemen for whom he acted as nominee: he only wished that justice should be done, and especially if the offence were fully proved, of the commission of which there was certainly full and pregnant suspicion. He conceived that the House would act with injustice, if it proceeded on the present evidence. What was the conclusion to which the committee had come? The result clearly proved, that they did not believe the evidence; for, if they had believed it, it was impossible that they should not have come to the conclusion, that bribery had been committed. It was decided by a large majority of the committee, that the members were not guilty of bribery; and, when the evidence was thus, in a great measure, discredited by those who had the best means of judging of it; when it did not bring home the charge of bribery; were they prepared to say, that, because it was bad and inefficient for one purpose, it was good for another? It was, therefore, impossible to say that the present evidence formed a fit ground for disfranchising this borough, and depriving individuals of their rights. Persons, be their situation high or low, found guilty of this offence, ought to be punished; but the House ought to be slow in coming to any hasty conclusion. His learned friend himself would not, he was sure, press that evidence on the House, as the groundwork of condemnation. He did not speak of all the evidence. The witnesses were of different descriptions; but those who spoke of acts of violence were very much, if not wholly, discredited. The charge, in this case, was certainly of a grave nature. It was, that a strong suspicion existed that bribes were expected on this occasion; as, on several former occasions, bribes had been expected, and were received. Now, the evidence that applied to former transactions ought to be received with great caution; because those who had been accused on former occasions had no counsel to defend them. Under these circumstances, he thought they ought to pause, and hear all the evidence again, before they acted upon it. He entreated his learned friend to proceed with as little delay as possible; because, as they were taught that persons accused were presumed to be innocent until they were found guilty, it was evident that this case of the burgesses of East Retford was rather a hard one.

Mr. Batley

agreed, generally, with what had fallen from the hon. gentleman who had spoken last; but he would go a point further, and would say, that he did not see the justice of disfranchising a borough, merely because it could be proved that some forty or fifty of the voters had given their votes with an expectation of being-bribed for so doing. The members who had been returned had been acquitted of bribery, and that was a material point.

Mr. Tennyson

replied. He assured his hon. friend (Mr. G. Bankes) of his anxiety to bring the subject under consideration to an early conclusion; not only on account of the important interests involved, but of the desire which he felt, in common with every gentleman who had the conduct of a public bill, to be speedily relieved from his labours. He would not then enter upon any reply to the numerous observations of his hon. friend, as a more fit opportunity would occur for the discussions to which they would lead, but, in consequence of what had fallen from both the hon. members who had spoken, he felt it right to remind the House, that the ground on which the House allowed him to proceed with this bill in the last session was—not any specific bribery at the last election for East Retford—but the systematic corruption which had prevailed there for a series of elections past, and as far back as the memory of man extended, which rendered the electors totally unfit to be further trusted with the franchise. Of this corruption he repeated, that, if the House was not satisfied already, he was prepared with proofs so ample and conclusive, that he expected its unanimous concurrence with regard to the disfranchisement of East Retford.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.