HC Deb 11 May 1819 vol 40 cc309-12
Lord John Russell

said, he felt very much encouraged to bring forward the motion he was about to submit to the House, by the spirit shown in the House last night. He should be sorry, indeed, if there prevailed any disposition in the House to encourage or to protect such disgraceful corruption as that to which he was about to call their attention. By the general spirit shown last night, it was evident there was no such disposition in the House; on the contrary, he was convinced that the House entertained a strong desire to free its character, and the character of the country, from the stain which unchecked corruption would attach to it. He did not mean to throw the least slight on the judgment of the election committee which tried this case, nor was it his wish to question the decision of that committee. But convictions in courts of law were grounds for proceeding on in that House, as well as the decisions of election committees. It was well known that convictions in courts of law often induced the House to expel its members, and to institute other proceedings, as well as the decisions of election committees. The noble lord then proceeded to state to the House the proceedings at, and previous, to the late elections for Grampound and Barnstaple, and of the convictions of sir Manasseh Lopez and several electors of those boroughs, at the assizes for Devon and Cornwall. No practice was more to be reprobated than that of men who employed their property like sir M. Lopez, in going from borough to borough, for the purpose of purchasing the voters, and afterwards disposing of their influence. It was no doubt easier for a member to acquire consequence in that House by supplying an administration, pressed with difficulties, with five or six votes, than by distinguishing himself by studying the laws and institutions of his country. It would appear that this individual had been long engaged in the purchasing of boroughs in the counties of Devon and Cornwall; he was every where carrying on a vast and extended campaign against the English constitution. It appeared that sir M. Lopez, and the voters convicted along with him, were not yet brought up for judgment. It was competent to the House to direct the attorney-general to take steps that these persons be brought up for judgment, and then they might proceed on the convictions to order an investigation into the state of the borough of Grampound. He wished that the question should be taken up in some shape or other, and he brought the subject now before them, in order that they might determine as to the most advisable course of proceeding. The country would be justly indignant if a subject of this nature were passed over without notice. If they did not endeavour to wipe away every such blot on the constitution, they would assist the efforts of those obscure and miserable men who were endeavouring to destroy our constitution. The noble lord concluded with moving for the production of the records of the conviction of sir Manasseh Lopez for bribery at the late assizes for Devon and Cornwall, and of the conviction for bribery of a number of individuals concerned in the elections for Barnstaple and Grampound.

Mr. S. Bourne

said, the records of the convictions would be voluminous documents, and suggested, that it might be adviseable to obtain the necessary information respecting them in a more convenient shape for the House.

Mr. Scarlett

suggested that it might be sufficient if the clerk of the assizes or of the Crown sent extracts of the material parts of the proceedings.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that it was competent for the House at once to enter into an inquiry into this subject, without being delayed by the proceedings of courts of raw.

Mr. W. Williams

said, that he happened to know that at present the record had been taken out of the hands of the associate by the attornies for the party, Messrs. Lamb and Hawke, by whom it should have been lodged in the Crown office. They had, however, not done this, and he feared the motion of the noble lord would thus not be productive of the end proposed. He suggested the calling to the bar the associate.

Lord Castlereagh

said, the order of the House would of course be imperative on any public officer.

Mr. W. Williams

said, the misfortune was, that the record of the conviction was not in the hand of any public officer.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that if the record had been delivered by the public officer to any private person as a receipt, the House must still consider the document to be legally in the custody of the officer. There would of necessity be some officer whose duty it was to preserve it.

Mr. W. Williams

observed, that the associate was obliged to deliver the record to the attorney, who had to return it to the Crown office.

Mr. Scarlett

said, the original must have been kept in the Crown office. A copy called the nisi prius record was sent down to the assizes, which was lodged with the associate to be returned with the postea. Copies of the material part of the original might therefore be obtained at the Crown office, and the fact of the conviction, if not obtainable from the nisi prius record, might be ascertained by examination of witnesses.

Mr. Denman

thought the House could only receive information of the conviction regularly through the nisi prius record.

Mr. Wynn

considered, that it would be enough for the House to issue its order to be served on the proper officer. If that officer made a return, that he had delivered the record to another, the House could take steps to obtain it. It was not their business to anticipate a difficulty.

Lord John Russell consented to withdraw his motion, and shortly after moved for extracts of the material parts of the several indictments, whereon sir M. Lopez, and several other persons, were tried and found guilty of bribery, at the late assizes for Devon and Cornwall; which motions were agreed to.