HC Deb 10 May 1842 vol 63 cc334-42
Mr. P. Howard

said, that in rising, pursuant to notice, to move that a new writ should issue for the election of a Member to serve in Parliament for the town of Nottingham, in the room of Sir George de Hochepied Larpent, who had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds since his election, he felt it necessary to state that he had no connection with that town or its constituency, nor did he believe he had any personal acquaintance with any of them. He confessed he saw with great alarm that a large and populous manufacturing town in this country was about to be deprived of the benefit of a full and adequate representation in Parliament, as it must be should the writ for a new election continue to be suspended. The people of Nottingham were, it appeared to him, about to be degraded by the deprivation of their rights, without any proof having been offered of the delinquency of the voters to the House. This was the result of the report of a committee of the House upon a petition relating to the last election for Nottingham,— after a very superficial examination, and disclosures which had since been made with reference to that election. It was, however, a result which he felt it his duty to attempt to avert; and as no delinquency had been proved against those whom it was intended to disfranchise to a certain extent, he now moved, with a view to restore them to the full exercise of their rights, that the Speaker should issue a writ for the election of a Member to serve in Parliament for the borough of Nottingham.


was very unwilling to interfere between the hon. Mover and the constituency of Nottingham. The hon. Member had said there was no report from, the committee upon the Nottingham election petition case substantiating the delin- quency of the voters. He thought this was enough to be accounted for from the circumstances which he had explained upon a former occasion—namely, that the question of the corrupt practices which had prevailed at the election had been withdrawn from the consideration of the committee. It had appeared, therefore, advisable to the House that the writ should be suspended until some legislative measure might be applied to remedy the corruption that prevailed in the borough. He certainly thought the House would be of opinion that if there was a case which loudly called for the suspension of a writ it was the present. There was a charge brought against the town, against one of the Members who had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds, and also against the Tight hon. Gentleman who still retained his seat. The House was about to inquire into these transactions— foul as he asserted them to be; and he asked the House to consider, and consider gravely, and he asked those who led the opinions of the majority of that House to consider gravely, whether, under the circumstances, any harm could arise from the suspension of the writ until the result of that inquiry, and whether, on the other hand, much good might not follow the adoption of that course. It was said it was an abuse of the liberties of the people, if because they had a majority in that House they—not took away —but suspended the issuing of a new writ in any case where a vacancy in the representation occurred. He admitted that; but if the House represented the people, in whom could the jurisdiction in such cases rest better than in the House of Commons, and if they were not the representatives of the people, he thought the sooner they became so the better; but certainly they were not likely to become so by issuing a writ to a town already disgraced by its own proceedings. He hoped the House would not, pending the inquiry, consent to the issuing of the writ.

Mr. Godson

having on the former evening stated, that, he thought no delay ought to take place in the issuing of the writ, would now state, in a few words, why he still held that opinion. The charge made by the hon. and learned Member for Bath was, so far as he understood it, not against the electors, but against the sitting Members—that they had made some corrupt bargain with some third person. Was that an offence committed by the electors of Nottingham? and were they to be punished because a corrupt bargain might be proved to have been made by their representatives? He thought the hon. and learned Member would best assist his own object by moving the immediate issue of the writ, for by the conduct of the parties charged at the new election they would be enabled to judge whether any such corrupt bargain had been entered into; but by opposing the issuing of the writ the hon. and learned Member was himself furnishing an answer to his statements. Let them issue the writ, and in the election that would take place they would have the best possible test as to whether the alleged bargain had been entered into or not. With regard to the sitting Member, to the Gentleman who had ceased to be so, and the third party with whom the bargain was said to have been made, the issuing of the writ would decide the matter, as it would enable the constituency of Nottingham, by returning some other party, to show that the charge was incorrect and was founded upon mere rumour. The question of the validity of the election had been referred to the election committee, and had been reported upon by that tribunal, and it was not for the House, sitting there as a body, to inquire whether the election that had been so questioned and decided upon was valid or not, or whether the Members who had been declared by the committee duly elected had been properly elected or not. At all events they ought not to punish the constituency of Nottingham for offences that had been committed by parties in London supposing that the facts stated by the hon. and learned Member were correct.

Mr. Ward

said, the hon. and learned Member for Kidderminster was perfectly consistent in the course he was now taking, for it would be difficult to satisfy the hon. and learned Member of the existence of bribery in any case; but looking at the circumstances and the time at which the hon. and learned Member had moved, on a former evening, the issuing of this writ, he was convinced that the hon. and learned Member felt that he had not quite so good a case as in the Southampton one, or he would not have made the motion at one o'clock in the morning. His: hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle had taken the more manly course of making the motion openly in the face of day, although he must say, that he did not approve of the course which his hon. Friend had taken. He regretted that this motion had come from those (the Opposition) benches; for if the House of Commons were to try to do that which should be most inconsistent with its character, and to take that course which was best calculated to stultify itself with the country, it could not do so more effectually than by adopting the recommendation of his hon. Friend. That was, that after determining one day that there were grounds, not for an inquiry into the existence of certain compromises, as was said by the hon. and learned Member for Kidderminster, but for an inquiry whether the gross bribery alleged to have been committed at the last Nottingham election, in which the constituency was said to be implicated, had taken place, the House were now to decide that a new writ should issue. The committee which was to be appointed might be instructed to proceed with the Nottingham case first. The facts might be speedily ascertained, for he quite agreed that the writ, if it was to be again issued, ought to be suspended as short a time as possible. But if the facts could be proved, as he thought they could be, no new writ for the borough of Nottingham ought ever again to issue. Until the inquiry had taken place he should give a direct negative to the motion.

Sir R. Peel

said, that having been asked a question last night with regard to the issuing of the writ for the town of Nottingham, he had ventured to advise that it would be better for some one to give notice of his intention to move it, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle had taken the course he had thus ventured to recommend. If they had adopted no proceedings in the case, there could, he thought, be no sufficient justification for the refusal of the writ. But proceedings having taken place—extraordinary and unusual, he admitted—the case was, he thought, altered. The House had decided that an inquiry should be made into certain allegations, and that inquiry, so far as Nottingham was concerned, might be said to be founded upon the fact that after the return of the hon. Baronet had been declared valid by the committee appointed to try the petition, that hon. Member, on the following day, had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds. That fact had been cited as a strong proof of the necessity for inquiry; and the House having determined to institute the inquiry, he thought the issue of the new writ in the first instance would be inconsistent with that determination. At the same time, the suspension of a writ was a matter of grave importance, and they were bound to interpose as short an interval as possible between the retirement of the Member and their decision whether the writ should issue again or not. Upon the whole, however, he was of opinion, although he would admit the subject was not free from doubt, that it would be the least inconsistent course they could adopt to suspend the issuing of the writ for the present, and therefore he should vote for the issuing of the writ being for the present suspended.

Sir R. Inglis

was one of those who thought that that House or its committees could not much longer continue with that security to decide on questions of election law which public confidence alone could give. He would not attempt to do that indirectly which he had failed the other evening in doing directly. He would not oppose the existing law by consenting to the suspension of the writ. He defied the hon. and learned Member to produce a single precedent in which without the report of an election committee a writ had been suspended. He ventured to assert that there was no instance of the issue of a writ having been suspended, unless upon the report of a committee. In all the instances in which the issue of a writ had been suspended a committee had reported the existence of bribery in the borough, and in these instances large bodies of the electors, and frequently the Members themselves, had been reported to have been implicated. In the present instance, the allegations rested solely on the authority of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, who had assumed and anticipated, perhaps correctly, what would be the result of the inquiry about to be instituted. But the hon. and learned Member had also assumed that the great body of the electors of Nottingham had degraded and disgraced themselves. He did not deny it. Surely it was a different thing not to deny an allegation, and to assume in the absence of all proof that it was the fact. He called upon the hon. and learned Member for Bath, therefore, before he asked the House to oppose the issuing of the writ, to give them something more to go upon than his own. unsupported allegation—either a precedent in the parliamentary history of England, or the report of a committee; for, without meaning anything disrespectful to the hon. and learned Member he must say that low as he considered the authority of an election committee, he still considered the report of such a committee as better than the unsupported testimony of any hon. Member. Unless the hon. Member could produce such a precedent of a writ having been suspended on the allegation of an hon. Member, not on the report of a committee, he would not consent to be a party in this way to the bringing of all election petitions under the direct jurisdiction of that House, removing them from that of the tribunal which the law had assigned for them. He would not enter into further discussion on the subject, but content himself with stating his determination to oppose the motion of the hon. Member for Bath.

Mr. Williams Wynn

felt considerable hesitation and doubt on this subject. He remembered that in a similar case, that of the borough of Stafford, when a right hon. Gentleman stated, that he would move for an inquiry which should show the impropriety of issuing a new writ for that borough (which motion was objected to by him, Mr. Wynn), the House determined to suspend the writ. In the present case the House had admitted that sufficient grounds for an inquiry existed, for they had determined to appoint the committee; it did, therefore, appear to him that they could not consistently with that determination proceed to issue a writ for a new election at the very time they were about to enter into inquiry, the result of which might show that the town in question was not in a fit state to be entrusted with the elective franchise. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) that the House should act with great circumspection and jealousy when the question was the suspension of a writ, and if the suspension was necessary it should be for the shortest possible period. He thought, therefore, that the House, in order to mark its sense of the necessity of re-issuing the writ at the earliest possible moment, should, as soon as the committee should have been nominated, give them an instruction to proceed in the first instance with the investigation of the Nottingham case—and that the committee should have power to report from time to time, and to report upon that case be- fore they entered into the consideration of any other. This would show on the part of the House their jealousy of exerting a power which it was necessary they should possess, but which should be exercised as seldom as possible—viz., that of suspending the. issue of a writ to any place to which the constitution had given representatives.

Mr. C. Wood

said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had expressed the very sentiments on this subject which he felt, and in a manner so much better than he could have done, that it was unnecessary for him to say more upon it. He thought that the objection taken by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. H. Inglis) was taken a day after the fair. It was true that the motion agreed to last evening was without precedent, but when, under extraordinary circumstances, this extraordinary proceeding had been adopted, the question of issuing or suspending the writ had assumed a character totally different from that which it bore previous to that motion for the committee being agreed to. The hon. Gentleman would find it impossible to discover a case in which, after a committee had been appointed to inquire into the existence of bribery in any borough, the House had not refused to issue a new writ until the inquiry so directed to be instituted had terminated. He apprehended, therefore, that according to all former precedent, and certainly according to reason and common sense, it would be preposterous and absurd to issue a writ to a place which was under an accusation of bribery, that accusation being so far sanctioned by the House that a committee had been appointed to inquire into its truth.

Colonel Sibthorp

supported the motion, and hoped the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University would take the sense of the House upon the opinion he had so well laid down. It was a most dangerous and unprecedented course thus to disfranchise a borough on the unsupported allegation of an hon. Member. If there were an inquiry into bribery and corruption, it ought to embrace every case that was known to have occurred. The charges in this case of Nottingham were founded upon rumours. He had heard rumours too. It had been said, he could not say with what truth, that the noble Lord the Member for the city of London —he did not knowfor how many places besides—had been returned by nine dead men. He had heard a great deal too on the subject of bribery at St. Alban's and other places. He hoped the hon. Member for Carlisle would divide upon his motion.

Mr. James

hoped, that his hon. Friend (Mr. P. Howard) would not press his motion to a division. It would be more satisfactory to suspend the writ while the inquiry as to bribery was still pending.

Mr. P. Howard

deprecated the refusal to issue the writ for a large commercial town like Nottingham, upon the eve of discussing a question of great commercial importance—namely, the tariff. He would not, however, persevere against what he considered the feeling of the majority of the House; but he was anxious to enter his solemn protest against suspending the liberties of the people without the clearest proof of delinquency. He thought the House might, without stultifying itself, adopt the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montgomery, that the committee should be instructed to inquire and report upon the Nottingham case before proceeding with the others.

Mr. F. French

believed, that the right hon. Baronet had acted upon an erroneous supposition in refusing to agree to the issuing of the writ. He understood the pledge to have been not to issue the writ until the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath should have been decided. The accusation was made against parties who were not electors of Nottingham; it would be unjust, therefore, to punish the electors by suspending the writ. He had been informed, and he believed it was true, that the hon. Baronet, the late Member, had retired on account of ill-health. He thought it would be most unjust, unconstitutional, and dangerous in the extreme to suspend the writ under the circumstances of the case.

Sir R. Peel

said, he did not know what reports the hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. French) might have heard, but all he had said on Friday was, that he could not consent to the issuing of a writ until the sense of the House had been taken as to the appointment of a committee. He had also suggested the propriety of giving notice. He knew nothing of the circumstances, and condemned neither the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. C Hobhouse), nor the hon. Baronet (Sir G, Larpent), who had retired.

Mr. F. French

The right hon. Baronet said on Friday that he would resist the issuing of the writ. At all events, the right hon. Baronet must know that, from the position which he occupied, his declaration was tantamount to a pledge.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that the hon. Gentleman seemed to suppose that some agreement had taken place between him and the right hon. Baronet and himself on Friday. He denied, however, that such was the case.

Mr. P. Howard

would withdraw his motion, reserving to himself the power of renewing it on a future opportunity.

Motion withdrawn.

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