§ Mr. Halcomb
rose to make a Motion respecting the use of Government influence at the late elections for Dover. He expressed his sincere hope that the circumstances which he was about to state might be satisfactorily explained. It was well known that there had been two severe elections for Dover. There could be no doubt, in his opinion, that at those elections undue influence had been resorted to for the purpose of procuring the return of the Government candidate. He did not inculpate any one, but it was manifest that some person behind the curtain had interfered most irregulary, illegally, and unconstitutionally. The hon. Member adverted to several cases in proof of his assertion; particularly that of Mr. Rigden, the clerk of the Ordnance Works. Mr. Rigden, in the first of the two recent elections, had favoured the Opposition candidates. Immediately after the election and without any cause assigned, Mr. Rigden was suspended, and a Mr. O'Shea was sent for from Ireland to fill his situation. After the second election, however, Mr. O'Shea was sent back to Ireland, and Mr. Rigden was restored to his office. He (Mr. Halcomb) had no doubt that the suspension of Mr. Rigden was made use of by his opponent, Captain Stanhope, for the purpose of deterring other persons in the service of Government from voting against the Government candidates. These circumstances ought, in his opinion, to induce the House to determine to see the correspondence on the subject. He believed it to be a fact, that the Captains of the Post Office Packets had been written to, that if they did not vote for Captain Stanhope, they should be deprived of their situations. He had not himself seen the letters in which that was said, but the Captains of those vessels had previously stated to him that they were most anxious for his success; and he would ask the House if, when they heard that those Captains afterwards voted for his opponent, they could doubt that there had been Government interference? He had good authority, likewise, for saying that Colonel Arnold, the presiding officer of the Ordnance Department at Dover, had received letters from the Ordnance, requiring him to interfere in favour of the Government candidate; and he had reason to think, that the right hon. Gentleman who had formerly been his opponent, had procured 896 that interference on the part of the Ordnance. He would further state, that he had received a letter that morning from a person who had been formerly employed in the Government service in Dover, who said, that he and five others had been discharged, because they had given their votes in his (Mr. Halcombe's) favour; and he understood, that another letter had come from a Gentleman there, in which it was said that sixteen more were to be discharged on the same account. The hon. Gentleman then stated, that in consequence of persons in the employment of Government having refused to support him, unless he produced authority from some member of the Government for them to vote as they pleased, he had written a letter to the right hon. Secretary to the Treasury, stating the scruples of the voters, and requesting the required authority. In the answer which he received, the right hon. Gentleman stated, that he could not think it probable that the interference mentioned in his letter had taken place, or that threats of any kind had been used as coming from the Government; that no person had been authorized by the Government to interfere, and that "no person would be deprived of his situation for voting as he should think it his duty to do." The House might think that a very fair answer, and he was at first inclined to be of the same opinion; but still the voters were not satisfied, because, the word "duty" occurred in two places in the course of the letter, which they considered as an indirect way of telling them that it was their duty to vote for the Government candidate. He accordingly wrote a second time to the right hon. Gentleman, stating the new difficulty, and requesting an answer couched in language which would satisfy the voters. He would beg attention to the answer, as it was a very short one. The right hon. Gentleman merely said, that "he had received his letter, and was surprised that his former letter on the same subject had not given satisfaction, and that he had only to add—that no person would be deprived of his situation for giving such a vote as be should think it his duty to give." The right hon. Gentleman did not write that they might vote as they pleased, but that they might vote as they considered it their duty to do; and he could tell the House, though hon. Members might think that the terms were synonymous, that at 897 Dover there was a very perceptible distinction between them. He, therefore, wrote again to the right hon. Secretary to the Treasury, that he (Mr. Halcomb) should think it his duty to bring the matter before the House of Commons, unless he received the support at the poll of every voter in the service of the Government. As a further proof that Government had interfered against him, he might mention that a hand-bill had been distributed in Dover, which set forth "that the Committee of the right hon. Charles Poulett Thomson were authorised to state, that the right hon. Charles Grant was to offer himself as a candidate for their suffrages." That showed that all had been done which was possible to throw him out. The hon. Member then read a passage from the Journals of the House, in which it is declared a great crime for any Minister of the Crown to interfere in the election of a Member of Parliament, and concluded by moving "that a Committee be appointed to investigate the interference by or in name of the Government, particularly in the Post Office and Ordnance Departments, at the two last elections at Dover."
§ Colonel Perceval seconded the Motion.
Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, he would not take up the time of the House by renewing those topics he had formerly discussed on the hustings with the hon. member for Dover. He was astonished, after the flourish of trumpets with which the hon. Member had introduced his name, that not a single fact had been brought forward to connect him with the second election at Dover. He only had stated something about having heard that a gentleman of Dover had sent the names of sixteen individuals belonging to the Ordnance, who had given their votes for the hon. Member. Now, he would ask if there was anything in that to justify the hon. Member in bringing such a charge against him? As far as regarded his connection with Dover, he could state (as he had the poll books before him) that more of those in the employment of the Government had voted in favour of his opponent than in his favour. That showed what the nature of the Government interference in Dover was. Indeed, so far from the Government candidate (as he was called) receiving support, he had considered himself as rather badly used in not receiving more support. He had that morning taken the trouble to refer to the various poll-books, when he 898 found that, at the time he sat on the Opposition Benches, he actually received more support, and was returned by greater majorities, than when he was backed by the Government influence. But he would not pursue the subject further; he would leave it at once to the judgment of every one who had heard him, and to the decision of the House. All he would say was, that a more cock-and-bull story he never heard in his life, and he felt pretty sure the House had had quite enough of it.
§ Sir James Graham
confessed, that he almost felt ashamed at having a word to say on such a question as this; but, as the character of a noble friend had been as undeservedly as unwisely attacked, he was compelled to say a word or two in justification of him. The noble Duke alluded to had, in every transaction since he came into office, acted with those under him in the most fair, manly, and straightforward manner; and he defied anyone to bring an instance where he had turned the power of office to party purpose. In no instance had he used his authority in an unworthy manner; but even if he had done so—if there had been any malversation of his power, was this the proper place in which to get redress? Had not the hon. Member access to the Courts of Law, in the practice of which he could boast so much experience—where he was accustomed to argue cases with the same ability which distinguished him in that House? The hon. Member, with his legal acquirements, must know, that any such offence as he had been attempting to prove was, under the statute of Anne, visited with special penalties, and that the Postmaster-general, if convicted, would be rendered incapable of ever holding office again. But the noble Duke, though utterly regardless of any attempt to injure his character—well knowing how signally that attempt would fail—was still anxious to clear himself in the eyes of that House, and showing to it that he had in no wise departed from that respect which was ever due to it—that he had not forgotten what was due to his own high station, or violated the trust reposed in him by his office. As an instance, he would just mention that the Post-master at Cardigan having unduly interfered, by the influence of his official situation, in the election at that town, his Grace, on being satisfied of the fact, instantly and for ever dismissed him 899 from his Majesty's service. Further he must state, that previous to the last election, his Grace had forwarded a circular to all the Post-masters in the kingdom, pointing out the penalties they would be subject to by any attempt in their official character to promote the success of the different candidates. But lest, as had luckily been foreseen, any thing might hereafter arise, which, by the malevolence of some, or from the disappointment of others, might be turned into a means of attack upon the Government, a letter, which he should read, had been forwarded in November last by Sir Francis Freeling, to Mr. Hart, the agent for the Dover packets, warning him that any interference whatever by him or those under him with the fullest freedom of election, "would not fail to be viewed and treated in the most serious manner, and that he must not fail to take an early opportunity of acquainting all under him with the notice thou sent." [Sir James here read the letter, and also one from Mr. Hart, stating "that the captains of all the vessels had at the time of the election allowed those under them who had votes to remain on shore, and had not by word or deed influenced their votes, and, indeed, knew not, till all was over, which party they had supported."] The hon. Member opposite had appealed to the House, and he would follow the hon. Member's example. He would ask them whether they could not form a correct idea of the whole of the hon. Member's charges from that which he had just refuted, and which he believed might be considered as the touchstone of the whole. He thought the House, however, had had too much of the subject already, and he should not call down expressions of impatience by pursuing it. The House would rot condescend to interfere in what were, in fact, only party squabbles—disputes between Tory and Radical—between blue and Yellow, or whatever colour might be assumed—they would no longer bear with a subject which had such infinite varieties, that no one could tell what it really was, or to what good end it really tended. One principle the Government had never departed from. They never wished, and never sought to turn their official influence to the support of their own power as a Ministry, but they certainly did expect that it should not, on any occasion, be unduly exercised against them.
§ Motion Negatived.