HC Deb 17 July 1807 vol 9 cc839-43

On the motion of Mr. Jeffery, the house proceeded to the further consideration of the enquiry into the causes of the detention of the writ for holding the late election at Poole.—Mr. Jonathan Brundrett being in attendance, pursuant to an order of the house, was called in and examined. He stated that he was a solicitor, acting as clerk to Mr. Lowten: that immediately after he had taken out the writ from the crown-office, he had handed it over to a gentleman who he expected would have forwarded it with, all possible expedition. He professed the most respectful deference for the authority and privileges of the house, and declared, that if he had offended against either, it was altogether without intention. On being questioned more than once from whom he had received the writ, he answered, from Mr. Stainforth of the crown office. On being questioned as to the person by whom he had been employed to take out the writ, he pleaded his honourable feelings as a bar to his answering, and entreated the indulgence of the house for his silence. On this, Mr. Brundrett was ordered to withdraw.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that when the situation, education, and character in life, of the witness were considered, his hesitation to answer the question put to him could not be imputed to mere ignorance. But as it did not become the house to take any rigorous step without explanation, he proposed that Mr. Brundrett be again called in, and that the Speaker should explain to him, that the house could not allow the ground he had laid down for refusing to answer the question put by its anthority.—Brundrett being again called in,

The Speaker

informed him, that the house did not admit the excuse he had offered, and repeated the question to him two or three times, by whom he had been employed to take out the writ? Mr. Brundrett persisted in declining to answer the question, and threw himself upon the indulgence of the house.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

saw no option for the house in the contumacy of the witness, but to commit him to the custody of the serjeant at arms.

The Speaker

suggested, that the first question to be put was, that Jonathan Brundrett, having refused to answer the question put to him by the authority of the house, was guilty of a high breach of privilege.—A resolution to this effect having been put, was agreed to, nem. con.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that as the house had so unanimously declared its sense of the offence committed against its authority, by the refusal of the witness to answer, it remained for him only to follow up the unanimous resolution of the house by the usual motion in such cases. He therefore moved, that Jonathan Brundrett be, for his said offence, committed to his majesty's gaol of Newgate.

Mr. Barham

suggested, that it might he a sense a professional duty towards the person who had employed him, that had caused the silence of tie witness: the courts of law allowed great latitude in this respect, and though the witness might have erroneously applied the principle here, some consideration was due to the habitual force of a professional obligation. It was besides a fact well known to most of the members in the house, that great exertions were in almost every case of contested election made to obtain the writ, with a view to fix the day of the election as it might suit the convenience of the party possessing it. It was a species of hypocrisy that he could not join in, to know and avow out of doors, that such a practice universally prevailed, and to cry, oh horrible! and oh monstrous! as if it was a most outrageous calumny, when such things were mentioned within doors. If the practice was felt to be in itself an abuse, or to be liable to abuse, it would be more becoming the wisdom of the house to apply a general remedy, than to punish any individual trespass with extreme severity. He thought it would be sufficient punishment to commit Mr. Brundrett to the custody of the serjeant at arms.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

contended for the right of the house to investigate all the proceedings with respect to the writ. If the witness persisted in his refusal to answer, he might, in so doing, be ambitious to raise his professional character; but that ambition was no reason why the house should restrain itself in the investigation which its constitution and character prescribed, nor in the exercise of the means it possessed of rendering that investigation effectual. The question was perfectly legal, and the excuse offered was totally insufficient.

Lord Howick

observed upon the generality of the practice of taking out writs with a view to the convenience of the parties taking them out, in giving them a discretion to fix the time of the election. Some general remedy ought to be applied. Three parliaments ago the writ for Northumberland had been offered to him, with a view that he should consult his convenience in the use of it. He declined the offer, desiring that it should be transmitted to the returning officer, and intimating that if any improper delay occurred he would complain to the house of it. He would ask the secretary of the treasury (Mr. Huskisson), if there were not other instances also of his favour in issuing the writs. When the sheriff of Westmoreland sent for the writ for the borough of Appleby, for the election, by which he now held his seat, he found it was issued to another person, who used it according to his own convenience: the abuse ought to be removed by a general remedy, and not by ineffectual severity in a particular instance: Mr. Brundrett stood rather in the light of a person questioned as to his being implicated in a criminal act, than as a mere witness. If he were not a party, but questioned merely as to the crime of his employers, the professional principle ought to protect him.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the witness had already acquitted himself by immediately handing over the writ. An attorney was not protected from answering, where he himself was a party.

Mr. Bathurst and Mr. Yorke ,

on a review of all the circumstances, voted for the motion.

Mr. Huskisson

defended the treasury from the imputation of interfering with the issuing of the writs.

Lord Ossulston

alluded to a case, where he knew of an order being sent from the treasury not to deliver out the writ to any person in opposition to ministers, and this too at a time previous to its being known that the place was actually vacant.

Lord Howick

imagined the hon. secretary of the treasury would better understand the hint he had thrown about, if he enquired what had been done in the case of the writ for the university of Cambridge.

Mr. Sharpe ,

from his confidence in the veracity of the hon. member (Mr. Jeffery), and from the contumacy of the witness, felt himself bound to vote for the motion of committal.—Mr. Montague spoke to the same effect.

Mr. W. Smith

candidly confessed, as he believed most members conversant with contested elections might do if they would, that he had himself made an arrangement to get out a writ early for the advantage of a friend of his; but, upon application, he found that the opposite party had been still more active and successful. He hoped a general remedy would be provided by an obligation to issue the writ only to the returning officer. He deprecated the severe punishment of an individual case in the present general practice. He thought a committal ought now to take place; but the, excuses that had been offered would be irresistible grounds of liberation as soon as a motion to that elect could be made.

Dr. Laurence

hoped this discussion would lead to a general remedy of the evil complained of, and that not only a fair issue of writs would be the consequence, but also a fair and impartial intimation of intended dissolutions, instead of a partial communication to a favoured set after the departure of the post on a Saturday, allowing that set the advantage of a priority of two days on the canvass.

Mr. Dent

said a few words in vindication of the messenger of the great seal, the officer concerned in issuing the writs.

Mr. Smith ,

in explanation said, he did not mean to say any thing to the disadvantage of that officer; but merely to state the impropriety of the general usage in these matters as it stood at present.—The question being put, it was ordered that Mr. Brundrett be committed to Newgate.

Mr. Jeffery

then moved, that Mr. Lowten be called in, having first stated, that on hearing at the crown office, that the writ had been taken out by Mr. Lowten's clerk, he bad gone to Mr. Lowten's chambers, who refused to tell him to whom it had been sent, but said very rudely, that it had been delivered three hours before to a person in the city, who had sent it to Poole; he would not tell to whom, but added, "if it is any satisfaction to you to know, it is gone in opposition to you."

Mr. Lowten

was then called in, and in the course of a long examination, stated, that he neither directed Brundrett to take out the writ, nor knew who did. On being asked whether, having stated to Mr. Jeffery that the writ had been sent to Poole three hours before, he had himself sent, or was privy to its being sent, by any other person? Mr. Lowten begged to know, what the hon. member meant by the word privy? On being informed that it was meant to enquire whether he had any knowledge, direct, or indirect, he said he had not; that he had merely ordered Brundrett to give it to the persons in the city who had employed him to take it out. He could not answer precisely what he had said to the hon. member; he had, he believed, said, that the writ had been sent into the city three hours before. He had not said it had been sent to Poole, at least he knew nothing of the fact of is having been so sent. The hon. member was very pertinacious, and would not take the answer thus given him, but Mr. Lowten told him he would give no other. He did not say the writ was gone, in opposition to the hon. member, his connections, or his opponents. On this difference between the statement of Mr. Jeffery and Mr. Lowten, as to what passed at this interview, some questions arose as to who were present. After some remonstrances on the part of Mr. Lowten, as to the impropriety of examining who was with him upon private business, he stated, that it was Mr. Bryant, attorney, and that Mr. Jeffery was accompanied by Mr. Graves, of the same profession. Mr. Bryant was no clerk nor assistant of his. When he ordered Brundrett to give the writ to the persons who employed him in the city, he referred to Messrs. Ambrose and James Weston, attorneys. He knew no reason for their employing Brundrett to take out the writ, except that he was nearer to the crown office than they, and that he was employed to take out writs for him. When so many enquiries were afterwards made about the writ at his chambers, he thought it right to send Brundrett in person to enquire after it at Poole; Brundrett was his confidential clerk, and he was anxious to have his character set clear in the business. Mr. Lowten was then ordered to withdraw, and the farther consideration of the business was adjourned to Monday,when Mr. W. Bryant, Mr. W. Graves, Messrs. Ambrose and James Weston, were ordered to attend on the motion of Mr. Jeffery.

Mr. Barham

moved, that the messenger of the great seal be also ordered to attend, in order to explain the circumstances relating to the issue of the writs.

Mr. Huskisson

seconded the motion. He was anxious to shew, that no influence was exercised by the treasury.—The messenger was accordingly ordered to attend on Monday.