§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
presented a petition from Viscount Ebrington complaining of the manner of trying Election Petitions, and praying that they may be treated in a more public manner. The petitioner stated that he was a candidate for the borough of Barnstaple at the last election, and was defeated by sixty-one votes, in consequence of abstaining from bribery and treating, both which means of securing their return were adopted by his opponents, Sir Wm. Fraser and Mr. Bremridge; that he undertook to carry on a petition against the return, but did not pray for the seat, because, as was shown by the 1043 expense of the proceedings before the Election Committee, it would have been ruinous to have attempted, and impracticable to have effected, the disqualification of sufficient voters by scrutiny. That just before the sittings of the Committee commenced an overture was made to him that one of the sitting Members should withdraw in his favour if the petition was abandoned; but as this would have prevented an inquiry under the new Act, the petitioner peremptorily refused to listen to the proposal, and proceeded with the petition at a heavy expense; that the Committee unanimously found the sitting Members guilty of bribery and treating, and that Mr. Brembridge was guilty of the cognisance and ratification of one offer of money to a voter; that at the recommendation of the Committee the issue of the writ was suspended, and a Commission of Inquiry was sent down to Barnstaple, before whom it was proved that more than 250 of the sitting Members' voters were corrupt, and that neither of them had polled 150 pure votes, while the petitioner had more than 320. That the petitioner, therefore, thought it hard that he should continue to be excluded from the honour of a seat in Parliament because he had refused to obtain it either by bribery, or afterwards by a compromise, while seats were at this moment notoriously enjoyed in consequence of compromises come to by their occupants, who had been previously guilty of bribery and treating. That he also thought it hard upon the 450 pure electors of Barnstaple that they should remain two years unrepresented because they and the petitioner acted up to the spirit and the letter of the law. In conclusion, the petitioner prayed that some remedy might be applied to the present fundamentally erroneous mode of dealing with election petitions; for that so long as they were dealt with by private individuals, and were left to be carried on or dropped as it suited their interests, instead of being considered as public matters deeply affecting the honour of Parliament, so long the petitioner feared would the ends of justice continue to be defeated by private compromises and arrangements; the responsibility for which, in fairness, attached rather to the Legislature, who neglected their obvious duty, than to individuals, who only exercised what was at present their undoubted legal rights.
considered the petition which had just been presented of the greatest importance. He regretted that 1044 his noble Friend who had presented it had not entered a little more at large into the subject, for it was much easier to ask for a remedy than to grant one, as, before doing so, they must discover a remedy that would be effectual in preventing a mischief, the existence of which could not be doubted, nor its extent possibly be exaggerated. Until the other House would consent—he would not say to part with its right to investigate the claims of Members and their defences—but until it would consent to modify its proceedings in election matters, so as to obtain a more properly constituted tribunal of justice, and judges duly qualified to dispose of legal questions as well as questions of fact—until some exception was made to that strict rule by which all interference with the other House had, since the passing of the Grenville Act in 1770, been prevented, he much feared the evils complained of would remain.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
said, that his noble Friend suggested the appointment of a public prosecutor as a remedy for some of the evils of which be complained.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
expressed his satisfaction that this petition had been presented, because it put the evils of the law, as it now stood, in a very striking point of view. For what was the case set forth in the petition presented by the noble Earl? It was, that under the existing law all those parties whose conduct had been in conformity with the intention and spirit of the law had been losers, while all those whose conduct had been against the spirit of the law had been gainers by it. The petitioner refused to bribe, and had lost his seat in consequence; the other party bribed, and had obtained that seat. An opportunity was offered to procure the seat by compromise, by a mode other than by election:—again, the petitioner conceived it his duty to conform to the spirit of the law, and did so in such a manner that he was again deprived of that seat to which he was entitled. On the other hand, the voters who had received bribes deprived, not only the candidate who should have been elected, but the honest unbribed voters, of the free exercise of that suffrage to which they were entitled by law. Could they have a stronger cast to show the necessity of putting the law in such a state as should obtain for it the respect, obedience, and conformity, of candidates and voters, and should not make it equally the interest of both to set it at defiance?
§ Petition to lie on the Table.
§ House adjourned to Thursday next.