HC Deb 06 June 1809 vol 14 cc899-905

The house resolved itself into a committee on the Sents in Parliament Sale Bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to move an amendment in the clause respecting the giving of money or offices for the procuring of seats in parliament. As to the first part, which related to money being given for seats, he had no objection to the wording of the clause which mentioned "any contract or agreement, express or implied, to pay money." He did not object to that, because it was a thing which was not difficult to be ascertained. He objected, however, to the words "express or implied," as relating to the grant of offices; and the reason he objected to it was, the great difficulty of ascertaining what should be considered an implied agreement. As to the offices, they must necessarily be granted to somebody or other, or the business of the state could not go on. If, then, any of those offices were given to a person who had been useful, or who might hereafter be useful at an election, a jury would be puzzled when to pronounce that it was an implied agreement, or that it was not. It appeared to him that it was a very strong ground of difference, that offices must be given to somebody, and therefore might honestly and properly be given to persons who were electors, whereas money given, or promised to be given, from the pocket of the candidate, could hardly be conceived to be given with any other idea than that of obtaining a corrupt influence. He had objected, at first, to that part which not only vacated the seat of a member, but exposed him to a trial for a misdemeanor; as he conceived, that if the misdemeanor proved before a court or a jury, the verdict would, in fact, determine the seat. He had waved, however, his objections on this head; but when it was considered what very severe punishments attached by this bill to every person convicted of giving or receiving those improper considerations, (the member elected was immediately to vacate his seat, and be subject to a penalty) he thought in a law so penal, the offence, at least, should be perfectly defined. He thought that as to giving money, that could be so easily brought to proof, that he had no objection to the clause as it originally stood; but as far as respected offices, for the reasons he had already given, he could not agree to it. He concluded by moving an amendment, which was in substance, that the words "or implied" should be left out in that part which related to giving offices.

Mr. Tierney

could not perceive the necessity of the distinction between the giving money and the giving an office for the same object. If the clause were to be amended in the manner proposed by the right hon. gent. the public would suppose that the house was much more anxious to protect the power of giving offices for seats in parliament, than of giving money. At present the house were only sitting in committee to make the bill as unobjectionable as possible, and it was well understood that after it had gone through the committee, there would be a serious opposition to it upon the report. Now he, for his part, although very anxious that the bill should pass, would really not know how to defend it when it came under discussion, if this most important clause were altered in the manner proposed by the right hon. gent. It would seem as if the influence of the Treasury were to be protected at all events. He thought that the words used in another act of parliament, "for his own profit, benefit, promotion, or preferment," would do well enough in the present, instance. He did not think the words "expressed or implied" were so necessary as they appeared to some gentlemen He should rather have them left out in both cases than applied to one, and not to the other.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he, on the contrary, would rather that they should be applied to both cases, and that the original clause should stand, than that those words should be entirely left out. He again called the attention of the committee to the very heavy punishments which this bill inflicted on the givers and receivers of money or offices; and for the reasons he had before given, had no objection to the penalties attaching where it could be proved that there was any specific agreement to give an office for the purpose of obtaining a seat; but he thought it too much that a very severe penalty should attach on merely an implied contract. It was hard to say what slight circumstances might induce a jury to believe that a contract was implied, whenever an office was given to any person who was an elector. The giving money to an elector was, however, a very different thing; and the motive could not be so easily misunderstood.

Mr. Tierney

expressed his astonishment that the right hon. gent. could suppose that a jury could imply any corrupt motive, where none existed, when it was so well known to be the duty of a jury to ascertain, by evidence, what was right and what was wrong. He was still satisfied there was no necessity for separating the provisions as to money from those as to offices.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that, the only person to be turned out of parliament was the person who had purchased the seat; he who had given it was liable to a penalty of 500l.

Mr. Ponsonby

objected to the right hon. gent.'s proposition upon another principle; he objetced to the distinction which it went to draw between an express and an implied contract, the effect of which would be to render the provisions of the bill a mere delusion. The right hon. gent.'s proposition denied any jurisdiction to a committee or a court of law, unless an actual express corrupt agreement could be proved; so that let the inference of such corruption be ever so strongly established, and the minds of the judge and jury ever so completely satisfied of the offence, it could not be punished. This he thought highly objectionable. With respect to the penalty of 4 or 500l. he did not think that the house would do its duty if it did not make the offence a misdemeanour.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the observation just made shewed him the necessity of the clause. It bad been stated, that in consequence of his proposition, a jury would be obliged to acquit, unless evidence of an express contract or agreement could he adduced. This, he was of opinion, ought to be the case. It was actually necessary to make such a provision, unless they wished to prevent the giving of offices to relations or friends. Somebody should be appointed to office it is true, but then it would be inquired why was A. preferred to B? and it would be difficult to explain that, unless by following up the qualification that led to the preference. It was to guard against charges of this nature that he had suggested his amendment.

Mr. Tierney

said, that if they determined that an express agreement should be proved, no Treasury would be absurd enough to come to an express agreement; so that the evil would not be remedied. It was calculated to screen the Treasury. The right. hon. gentleman was willing to adopt the words, as applied to money; but he (Mr. T.) was desirous to extend them to offices also, as he did not see any reason for the exception.

Lord H. Petty

said, that if one course was to be forbidden, and another permitted, they might depend upon it the course permitted would be the one adopted. Everyone of the corrupt transactions that had been performed were without any express agreement, and they would still continue to be transacted in the same way. If a jury was not competent to decide upon a question of implication, what would become of the administration of law in the country? An implied agreement, he contended, was as capable of proof as an express one.

Mr. C. Wynn

said, it was well known that many voters, though they received nothing for their actual votes, obtained five guineas for shaving the member, or some such act. He objected that there was no provision made for the punishment of a person who purchased a seat for another, without any emolument to himself.

Mr. Davies Giddy

did not disapprove of the honourable and legitimate application of money to procure seats; but corruption he disapproved of as much as any man. If that species of influence was excluded, another would be substituted in its place, perhaps not more advantageous to the country. They who promised to take off taxes; they who resorted to large professions, and the arts of popular eloquence, would succeed, if the influence of property were destroyed. He had no hesitation in stating, in his place, that if the government was what many gentlemen contended for, in theory, it would be the most impracticable form that ever was attempted. If mankind were so formed as to be adapted to it, they would require no government at all. Without a system of influence, no government could exist. There was a distinction between public and private questions, which rendered a jury far more competent to decide in the latter than in the former case. Their passions and prejudices were not called into action to the same degree. He concluded with inculcating the necessity of distinguishing between corruption and influence.

Sir Thomas Turton

did not understand the meaning of an honourable and legitimate application of money to procure seats in parliament. With respect to the immediate question, he saw no inconvenience that could result from committing the question of implication to a jury. He thought there were too many words about the bill, and wished to see it include every description of undue influence.

Mr. Adam

thought the bill in its original state better than at that moment. They ought to leave the operation of the law on the word "agreement," which was perfectly understood, whether tried by a Committee of that house or by a jury.

Mr. Curwen

said, he would wish to leave out both the words "express" and "implied."

Sir J. Anstruther

thought this clause was meeting an evil in the way in which it did not exist. If they added to the penalty by making it heavier, or by making it a forfeiture of the office, he thought it would do.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that leaving out the words "express," or "implied," might relieve the debate on that clause; but he must insist on the word "express" being in the other clause respecting offices.

Mr. Curwen

moved as an amendment, That the member proved guilty of corruptly procuring his election, should not only be disqualified from sitting in parliament for the particular place where the act was committed, but that he should be excluded from the whole of that parliament.

After a discussion of considerable length, in which the amendment was supported by Messrs. Tierney, Wynne, Whitbread, Lord Porchester, Mr. Lyttleton, Mr. Adam, Mr. W. Smith, and Lord H. Petty, and opposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Hawkins Browne, the Solicitor General, and Mr. Abbot, a division took place. For the amendment 60; Against it 81; Majority 21.

On the clause respecting the Oath,

Mr. Tierney

expressed his opinion that some oath was necessary, but objected to the original oath in the bill us being too ab- stract, and not going into detail. He then, proposed an amendment, an oath, specifying more particularly the abjurations.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

contended that all the objections to which the former oath was liable, weighed equally against the one now proposed.

Mr. Tierney

denied that this oath would be conscientiously taken by any one who had contracted for his seat.

Mr. Ponsonby

defended the amended oath, and remarked that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though he blamed all other oaths, proposed none of his own.

Mr. Curwen

argued in favour of some oath, but still thought, even if the oath was left out, that by this measure a seed was sown, whose beneficial fruits would be extensive.

Mr. Wilberforce

contended for the necessity of an oath, but did not wish one to be included in the bill, unless the penalties of perjury were attached to it.

Mr. Tierney

had no objection that the penalties of perjury should be attached to the oath. The only reason why he did not introduce them was, that, in examining the statute book, he could not observe them included in any oath which went into detail.

Lord Milton

supported the necessity of an oath, and the propriety of attaching penalties to it. He thought the amended oath proposed much less applicable than the original one.

Mr. Secretary Canning

contended for the original oath; he denied that the amended oath could be taken by any member, because it made a man swear that he had not been returned by the expenditure of any sum of money; this was impossible, because legal expences might be included under it. He did not think the penalties of perjury should now, for the first time, be introduced into an oath of detail.

Mr. Rose

asked what situation a member would be in, who, after he had taken the oath, should be declared to have been guilty of bribery by a committee of the house? Would not this go a great way to convict him of perjury?

Sir T. Turton

said, that the people of England would think the person who could not take this oath guilty of bribery; and that the legal expenses between which and bribery the right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) could not distinguish, were such as a man might be arrested for if he did not pay.

Mr. Rose

said, that if the hon. baronet were to open all the houses in the Borough, he might be arrested for the reckonings.

Sir T. Turton

said he had never done so, and should not, although the right hon. gent. had set him the example (Hear, hear!).

The Speaker

said, he had stated, when he was indulged with the hearing of the Committee on a former occasion, his wish for a proper oath, and his coincidence in the opinion of sir William Blackstone; but he, at the same time, stated, that the oath was not indispensable, and, if there was much diversity of opinion on the subject, it would be better not to insist upon it. It was of so much importance to obtain the recognition of the house to a bill with the principles of the present, that he should be sorry to lay this, or any other difficulty in the way that might endanger its passage through the house.

Mr. H. Thornton

thought, that if the words "contrary to the meaning of this act," were inserted, and the penalties of perjury forborn, the objections to the oath would be removed.

Sir T. Turton

begged to state an amendment he should propose when the present was disposed of, to the effect that the member had not, nor had any person for him purchased his seat.

Lord Porchester

objected to any oath referential to an act of parliament.

The house was then cleared for a division; but no division took place, and the Committee reported progress, and asked leave to sit again the next day.

Adjourned at four o'clock on Wednesday morning.