§ Mr. Aglionby
hoped that, at that late hour of the night, (it was a quarter to two o'clock) he should be spared the necessity of stating the circumstances which induced him to move that the petitions of the inhabitants of York, complaining of bribery and treating at the last elections for Members of that city, be referred to a select Committee. As the petitions had been printed, he should take it for granted that every Member was acquainted with their contents. The principle on which it was proposed to refer such petitions to the consideration of a select Committee was so well known, that he would not venture to say a word upon it. With regard to the first petition; which was presented from the inhabitants of the City of York, he would only observe that he considered, that in presenting it he was performing a duty unpleasant in itself, but still necessary, as it had been put into his hands. He was sure that the House would excuse him from going into the details of the petitions, as there was nothing in either of 599 them which could take them out of the rule just laid down in the Yarmouth case. He was sure that his hon. Friend, the Member for York, would offer no objection to this motion, for the petitions contained no allegations against him, though they did contain allegations that the most gross and corrupt practices had taken place among his constituents. He (Mr. Aglionby) was most desirous that the circumstances of every election since 1831 for the City of York should be fully examined into by the Committee. The hon. Member for Buckingham had told the House, that in such an investigation he would not rely upon testimony merely oral. Now, if the House would allow these petitions to go to a Committee, he would undertake to say, that the hon. Member for Buckingham should have something beyond mere oral testimony. He was given to understand that sovereigns had been enclosed in papers to more than 800 persons in the City of York, and these papers would be presented to the Committee in great numbers. He had made inquiry into the subject matter of these petitions, and he believed that the allegations which they contained would be fully substantiated. If he had not entertained such a belief, he for one would not have required that this question should be investigated. He should, therefore, beg leave to move that the two petitions from the inhabitants of York presented, one on the 30th of June, and the other on the 13th of July, complaining of bribery at the two last elections for that City, and that the allegations contained in those two petitions respecting the contested elections for that City, be referred to a select Committee. He hoped that that Committee would be impartially selected, and that no party feeling would be visible in its appointment. He likewise hoped, that every Member appointed a Member of it would attend its sittings, as in the Ipswich case, every day, whilst the investigation was going on.
called the attention of the House to this fact, that the first of the petitions presented against his constituents was signed by not more than forty-five, and the second by not more than sixty-three, persons. There was, therefore, a great difference between this case and that of Yarmouth, where the petition had been numerously signed. The House would also be surprised to hear, that many of the individuals who had signed these petitions had since shrunk from avowing their sig- 600 natures. He stated this upon the authority of one of the leading Whig journals of York.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
said, that as not more than one individual in forty of the electors of York had signed these petitions, he was anxious to learn what number of signatures would be hereafter deemed sufficient to induce the House to follow the example which it had now set, of referring petitions containing general allegations of bribery exercised among the constituency to the consideration of a select Committee. Out of a constituency of 400 persons, such for instance as existed at Tavistock, if ten persons were to send a petition to the House complaining of the general corruption of the electors, would the noble Lord opposite deem that number sufficient to induce him to grant a Committee to inquire into the allegations of their misconduct? As to the case of York, the proportion was one to forty; was it intended that elsewhere the same proportion should be the criterion of the numbers necessary to obtain an inquiry into allegations of corruption? If that were to be the criterion, perhaps hon. Members on the other side of the House would soon find a greater number of petitions presented against the disinterested purity of their constituents than they might find agreeable.
§ Mr. Rundle
. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member had better take his criterion from Launceston than from Tavistock, especially as a petition was presented in the last session of Parliament from the former borough against his return, on the ground of the corrupt charges which he had appeared to patronize.
§ Lord John Russell
, in reply to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Officer on the other side of the House, observed, that it was difficult to lay down any precise rule in such a case as that which had been proposed to his consideration. Still, in cases like the present, where a petition was presented, alleging as a fact that sums of money had been sent in letters to the voters as a consideration for their votes, he thought that the House was bound to institute an inquiry. But, in cases where a small number of electors did nothing more than make general allegations of bribery against their brother electors, he thought that doubts might fairly be entertained whether the House was bound to interfere at all.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
contended, that when a new precedent like the present was established, it was fitting that the House 601 should know the basis on which it was established. He confessed that he was at a loss to imagine what it was that the hon. Member for Tavistock had alluded to. He had formerly represented in Parliament the City of Durham, which contained a numerous constituency of 1,500 Freemen. He could solemnly declare, that as the Representative of that Town, he had never been guilty, directly or indirectly, of an act of bribery; and he would further say, upon his honour as an Officer and a Gentleman, that he had never been guilty of any corrupt practice at Launceston. It was in the power of any set of persons, if the principle now contended for were established, to bring the most unfounded charges against any constituency. If five signatures were as good as ten, or as good as fifty, to such petitions, you would soon be able to shake from its privileges every constituency in the British Empire.
§ Mr. Cayley
admitted that the petition which he had presented from the inhabitants of York was not numerously signed; it was, however, signed most respectably, for it had the signatures of five or six aldermen, of the town-clerk, of three or four clergymen, of two or three bankers, and of several most respectable merchants and tradesmen. They were parties who held themselves aloof from the violent partisans on both sides of the question, and being such persons, the prayer of their petition ought, in his opinion, to be attended to immediately.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
again repeated, that as the rule was now established, it was desirable that the House should know what number of signatures it was necessary to attach to a petition to obtain a Committee of this kind.
said, that it was not his intention to cast any imputation upon the petitioners. He admitted that, in their individual capacity, they were all highly respectable persons. He did not know whether all of them stood aloof from party contests; but this he did know, that all, or at any rate the great majority of those who signed the petitions, had voted in the late elections against himself. He agreed with his noble Friend, the Member for Liverpool, that hon. Members were too much in the habit of crying out, "Spoke,spoke," when they heard arguments advanced which told too strongly against themselves. The charges contained in these petitions did not at all affect him, but they affected his constituents, the Freemen of York, who were 602 as respectable and independent a body of electors as any that they could find in the kingdom. So far was it from being correct, that he had authorized his agents to adopt corrupt practices to secure his election, that he had absolutely given them directions to discountenance such practices to the utmost.
§ Mr. Rundle
would say, that his constituents at Tavistock courted the strictest investigation into the manner in which the election of Members was conducted in their borough. He was surprised that the hon. and gallant Officer should have alluded to the Borough of Tavistock, when he had a case at hand much more apposite—he meant the Borough of Launceston, of which the inhabitants had last year presented a petition against the right hon. and gallant Officer's return.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
said, that his only reason for alluding to Tavistock, was because he then saw the noble Member for Stroud standing right opposite to him. He was sure that the noble Lord would agree with him, that under the Reform Bill, Tavistock had been a place of particular favour. He was convinced that the last election at Launceston had been conducted with as much purity as any election in the country, and he repudiated all insinuations to the contrary.
§ Lord Ebrington
said, that if the right hon. and gallant Officer had felt himself justified in casting imputations upon the electors of Tavistock, merely because he sat opposite to his noble Friend the Member for Stroud, surely the hon. Member for Tavistock had a right to feel himself justified to glance at the constituents of the right hon. and gallant Officer, especially as he sat opposite to the right hon. and gallant Officer, and knew that a petition had been presented from Launceston against his return. In giving his vote in favour of referring these two petitions to a select Committee, he must observe that he did not give it so much in the hope of amending the representation of these two places, York and Yarmouth, as in the hope that it would produce the effect with which the right hon. and gallant Officer had threatened his side of the House—namely, that in all cases in which bribery had been committed, and in which the parties who could have proved it, were deterred by the ex-pence of disputing the return from coming to prove it before the House, they would now come forward to prove the bribery before a Committee of the description which 603 the House was then on the point of appointing.
§ The motion agreed to.