HC Deb 12 July 1820 vol 2 cc397-400

Dr. Phillimore moved, that the report of the resolution of the Grantham Election Committee be read. The same having been accordingly read, the learned gentleman rose to move that the House should adopt the above resolution. In so doing he was only proposing what it was suggested to him was a usual course of proceeding when reports of this nature were presented. In the absence of the chairman of the committee he had therefore undertaken to bring the question forward. He must apprize the House, that he had no view to any ulterior measure; but it having appeared to the committee that the late member had fallen a victim to an inveterate practice, which some even were of opinion was not illegal, he thought it proper that the House should lay down some declaratory resolution, founded on antecedent acts of parliament and general principles of law, in order to prevent similar delusion in future. Beneficial as was the general tendency of popular elections, and much as the country owed to them, they were nevertheless productive of considerable inconvenience, and, with a view of meeting this inconvenience, the act of the 7th and 8th of William 3rd had been passed. By that act it was forbidden to give money directly or indirectly to any elector during the period which elapsed between the teste of the writ and the return. It was, however, still left equivocal whether the giving money for loss of time was to be considered as bribery, or only as fair compensation. In his own opinion it cer- tainly was contrary to the statute, and he believed it had been so adjudged in the courts of law. Upon these grounds he should now move, "That the practice of paying money to out-voters, at the elections for members of this House, under colour of indemnifying them for loss of time, is highly illegal, subversive of the freedom of election, and tending to the most dangerous corruption."

Mr. Abercromby

would not pronounce any decisive opinion upon this resolution, beyond saying, that as the case stood, he thought it clear it ought not to be put without serious consideration. If the law as it now stood was decisive on the point, the resolution was unnecessary. If the law were doubtful, surely they did not mean to set it right by a mere declaratory resolution.

Dr. Phittimore

observed, he had not said the law was doubtful, for it was quite clear money could not be legally given in the manner it had been given at this election.

Mr. Wynn

said, he could see nothing doubtful in the proposition. The bill, which was before the House some time ago, did not relate to loss of time, but to travelling expenses. Even the payment of those expenses was, in his opinion, illegal. The giving meat or drink upon the road was evidently an offence against the Treating act, and ought to render the election void. The only question here was, whether the pains of bribery were incurred, or whether it was a minor offence? If, as there was reason to believe, a mistake was prevalent on this subject, it ought to beset right by a declaration of the House—a course which had been repeatedly followed on similar occasions. If the practice of giving money for loss of time were tolerated, it would be much better to repeal at once all the statutes against bribery at elections.

Mr. Wrottesley

thought the present course objectionable. It was not so clear to him that remuneration for loss of time in going to vote was so decidedly against the law as the hon. gentleman thought. At all events, he had strong objections to this mode of settling the law by a declaratory resolution.

Mr. W. Smith

said, the case was so clear that he had at first thought the resolution unnecessary, but the doubts which he had heard raised convinced him of the necessity of it.

Mr. Lockhart

thought the resolution was clearly unnecessary. He was surprised that the distinction between the statutes of bribery and treating should have been overlooked. The one forbad all acts of treating; but the other applied only to the giving of money, which it declared illegal, whatever was the pretence. When the House was asked to come to a declaratory resolution, they ought to consider a little what would be its effect. Would the judges in the courts of law feel themselves bound by it on the trial of actions brought upon the statute? Certainly not; they acted under their oaths, and would put their own construction upon the law. Let them reflect, then, into how awkward a situation they might be brought. The question might be carried by writ of error before the highest tribunal, and a decision given directly contrary to the exposition of that House. All that the House could do was to bind its own committees; and be greatly doubted whether a committee sitting judicially, and obliged to decide on legal arguments, would feel justified in laying aside its own conviction, out of respect for a general declaration of the House.

Mr. Warren

agreed with the views taken by the hon. member who spoke last. The House ought to take care that every resolution which it passed should be binding on its committees. By a declared opinion, such as that which they were invited to come to, they would appear as if attempting to make law, and to control the effects of an act of parliament. He thought the proposition, to say the least of it, crude and ill-digested.

Mr. Wynn

explained. He had said, that every payment of money to an elector for loss of time was distinctly illegal. It was not only an offence against the statute, but against the law of parliament, as frequently laid down in the resolutions of that House, and which he would maintain it was the duty of the House to lay down, without waiting for the concurrence of any other authority.

Dr. Phillimore

said, he had brought forward the resolution as the organ of the committee in the absence of the chairman. An inveterate practice had been proved to subsist in the borough of Grantham, of giving 7l. or 8l. to each out-voter as an indemnity for loss of time. Of this practice, which, in the opinion of the committee, was illegal, the late sitting member had become a victim. He thought it but fair that future candidates should be put upon their guard, and that for this purpose it was expedient to transfer the resolution from the committee to the House The resolution was clearly founded both on principles of the common law, and on the express words of the statute. If rejected, he much feared that the House would open a door through which corruption would soon make alarming inroads, and he believed that the gentlemen of landed property in that House would be the greatest sufferers.

The House divided; Ayes, 66; Noes, 60: Majority for the Resolution, 6.