§ On the motion of lord Althorp, the order of the day was read for resuming the adjourned debate on the motion made on the 13th instant—"That a Select Committee be appointed, to whom all Petitions which shall be presented to this House, after the expiration of the time allowed for presenting Petitions against the validity of the Return of any Member of this House, by any person or persons affirming that general Bribery or Corruption has been practised in any Borough, Cinque Port, or place, for the purpose of procuring the Election or Return of any Member or Members to serve in Parliament for such Borough, Cinque Port, or place, shall be referred, and that they report their opinion thereon to the House,"
§ Lord Althorp
said, that it now became his duty to state to the House his views on the subject. If he had addressed the House upon the day on which he originally moved this resolution, he should not have thought himself called upon to enter into any discussion to show the necessity of establishing some measure like that which he had proposed. But what had since occurred had convinced him of the expediency of detailing the grounds of his proposition. It was a notorious fact, that in many boroughs in this kingdom, there was a general practice of bribery at the election of members to serve in that House. It was a notorious fact, that in some of those boroughs, the voters received five, ten, twenty, thirty, or fifty pounds a head for their votes. It could not be denied, that the prevalence of this practice was a disgrace to the House of Commons and to the country; and he felt, 655 that if the House of Commons valued their own credit and honour, they would use their utmost endeavours to put it down. He knew that at present numerous laws were in existence against bribery. But, notwithstanding the heavy penalties which those laws denounced against bribery, bribery still continued; and he really believed had not been at all diminished by the laws in question. The conclusion to which he necessarily came was, that the existing laws were inefficient. From some cause or other, it appeared that they did not operate as they were intended to operate. In some few instances, however, another course had been pursued; and the offending Borough had been either thrown open to the Hundred, or the right of election had been transferred to some other place. This latter course had proved as efficient as the laws had proved inefficient. No one believed that the members for Shoreham, or Aylesbury, or Yorkshire, had given head-money to their voters. Though plenty of money might have been spent, there could be no suspicion that it had been spent in bribery. He was perfectly ready to admit, that wherever this shameful practice had been discovered, the House of Commons had shown itself ready to apply a remedy. But these discoveries had hitherto been rare and accidental. The object of his motion was to render them more frequent and certain. The Resolutions on this subject, which had been proposed in the last session of the last parliament by his noble friend (lord John Russell), had been passed by the casting vote of the right hon. gentleman in the chair of that House. At his noble friend's request, he had brought the subject under the consideration of the House at an early period of the present session. It appearing, however, to be the general wish on all sides, that he should withdraw the motion which he made on that occasion, he had done so; and had substituted the Resolution at present under discussion, as one that might be adopted with less difficulty. The principle on which he proceeded was, that a standing committee of twenty-one members should be appointed at the beginning of every session, to whom petitions complaining of bribery should be referred, and which committee should determine whether or not such a case was made out as deserved the consideration of the House. The functions of such a committee would be exactly analogous to the 656 functions of a grand jury. The parties accused would be put to no examination in the first instance. Only the evidence of the complainants would be heard. There would be no occasion for the parties to enter into recognizances; as, if the committee should determine that the complaints were frivolous, the complainants would not be allowed their expenses. He thought that the best mode of appointing such a committee would be the usual mode of appointing standing committees. He had no fear of partiality in their conduct. In the present state of the House of Commons, there were no questions which excited greater partiality than questions connected with private bills; yet the whole conduct of the standing committee, which had been appointed on that subject, had been as impartial as it was possible to be. It had been suggested to him that, instead of appointing a committee for inquiring into the merits of petitions complaining of general bribery, it would be better to refer such petitions to a committee of privileges. But what was the constitution of the committee of privileges? It was constructed of a certain number of members, by name; to whom were added all the lawyers and all the merchants, &c.; in fact, all who came had voices. To refer these petitions to a committee so constituted, would naturally lead to great evils. In the resolution which he had proposed, there was no limitation with respect to the time beyond which no petitions complaining of general bribery, should be received. It was not a general principle of our law, that the time during which offences might be cognizable was limited. He was aware that there were some exceptions to that general principle; but he was at a loss to understand, why the offence of bribery at elections was to be one of them. He had therefore not proposed any limitation of time. If, however, any particular wish existed on the subject, he had no objection whatever to introduce a limitation. There was another evil which it might be necessary to avoid; namely, the danger of persons who might present election petitions within the time prescribed by law, deferring the presentation unnecessarily. For, although it was not intended that the decision of the committee should affect seats, yet if such general bribery were proved, disfranchisement might occur, if not the expulsion of the member. There were many cases, 657 however, of bribery which would not call for the disfranchisement of the borough. For this reason he had proposed the instruction which had been printed with the resolution. He was aware that, by that instruction, the proposed committee would be rendered less efficient than it would otherwise be; but, on a balance of inconveniences, he had chosen what seemed to him to be the lightest of the two. The committee were directed, by this instruction, in the first instance to inquire if the petitioners might not have presented their petition in time to go before a regular election committee. If wilful neglect were established, that would be fatal to the complaint. But there were cases in which wilful neglect might not have occurred. The bribery might not have been discovered in time, or until after the prescribed period; or other causes, beyond the control of the petitioners, might have prevented them from presenting their petition until after the time at which it could be referred to an election committee. In that case it would be a fit subject for the standing committee which his motion went to appoint. He did not think it necessary to enter into any further explanation of his object. It was allowed on all hands to be desirable that some plan should be adopted to prevent the disgrace which was incurred by the existing practices. He thought he had shown that no inconvenience would result from the appointment of such a committee as he had proposed. The report of such a committee would not preclude the House from pronouncing any judgment which to them might seem meet, on any question brought under their consideration. But the great advantage would be, that no question would be submitted to them, in which there was not a prima facie case, requiring parliamentary interference.
§ Mr. Leslie Foster
said, there could not be any doubt as to the importance of the subject, or the necessity of preventing a practice so disgraceful and unconstitutional, as that of which the noble lord complained. Respecting the means by which the end was to be accomplished, there might be a great difference of opinion. He must say, after hearing the proposition of the noble lord, that never since he had known any thing of parliament, had he heard a measure which should be received with greater caution than that before the House; because, out of regard to the 658 excellence of its object, the House might be induced to adopt that which, in its result, might be attended with great inconvenience. In the first place it proposed a great change, and it was therefore the duty of every prudent man to ascertain, before he agreed to it, whether the law as it stood was not sufficient. Now, if there existed any ground of complaint on the subject of bribery at elections, he wished to ask what it was that prevented the existing rules from being enforced, or an investigation from being entered upon? The only fear was, that it might, perhaps, be entered upon with greater zeal than was necessary by one portion of the House; but he was sure that, in no part of the House, would be discovered any want of inclination to examine into the matter thoroughly. When had it happened that such a complaint had been preferred and had not been encouraged? In the case of Grampound, the other day, although a long time had elapsed, and although the matter had been already investigated in a court of justice, where the offenders had been punished, the House interfered as soon as the subject was brought before it. Did the House, upon that occasion, show any thing like a disposition to shield the guilty parties? What could be more satisfactory than the course which had been adopted on that occasion; or what more consistent with the justice of the case? Did not this, then, bring the matter to the question—whether the House should keep in its own hands the power it had exercised so usefully and so satisfactorily, or delegate it, as was recommended by this resolution to a committee? He was inclined to prefer the existing system, to that which was proposed, for many reasons. By the Grenville act, the parties interested did not know who were to be the judges until the very moment of trial; but, by the proposed resolution, the judges were to be known, and not to be changed after being once appointed. The difficulty of providing such a committee was not one of the least objections to the measure. A more invidious distinction, or a more odious task, than was to be imposed on this committee, could not be imagined. If any could be imagined which was more adapted to admit party views than another, it was the very tribunal now proposed. Who were to be the members of the committee? He doubted very much if many gentlemen 659 could be found, who would like to serve on such a committee; and of such as would be willing, the greater part would probably be such as the House might think the most unfit for the office. It would not be the least embarrassing part of their business to object to such members as were thought to be unfit; because there might be the best possible reasons for those objections, and yet it might not be desirable to give utterance to them. The principle, too, was decidedly a bad one; and the plan of choosing judges by chance, at the beginning of every session, must have the effect of sometimes sending before such a committee, cases which they were altogether unfit to try. The noble lord had justified his proposition by an analogy which had surprised him more than any thing else that he had heard. The noble lord said, it resembled a proceeding before a grand jury. Now there was only one point in which it could be said to have any such resemblance—that it was an ex parte proceeding. But, was it possible that the noble lord could have overlooked this material distinction—a distinction corrective of the injurious consequences which might otherwise arise from the ex parte examinations of a grand jury—namely, that the proceedings of a grand jury were private, and that they immediately preceded the investigation and determination of the subject by a petty jury? But would that be the case with the noble lord's committee? Would their proceedings be private? If not; if what passed in the committee would go to the country (and who could doubt it), did any man suppose that such an impression would not be made on the public mind, such a re-echo of all that had taken place in the committee, as to render any thing like a just and fair decision on the part of the House hopeless? He intreated the House, therefore, to pause before they agreed to such a proposition. The object which the noble lord had in view was an excellent one, but there were better courses for obtaining it. He had not heard any reasons for disbelieving that, if the identical petitions which, according to the noble lord's proposition, were to be referred to the investigation of the committee of twenty-one, were laid on the table of the House, the House would hesitate for a moment to refer it to a committee who would inquire into their foundation and merits. The noble lord had supposed, 660 that there was some vague analogy between the proposed committee and the Committee of Privileges. It was directly the reverse. The Committee of Privileges, from being so numerous, so vague in its constitution, all who came having voices, were exempt from those particular objections which would attach to the noble lord's committee. The members of this committee of twenty-one would be placed above their fellows. There were two views in which such a committee might be contemplated. First, as a permanent judicial authority. Was there any thing in that analogous to the Committee of Privileges? But that was not all. They would be placed above all the other members of the House of Commons. They would be empowered to pronounce on the seats of all. They would share all the odium and suspicion naturally attaching to such privileges. They would be held up to public reprobation, and exposed to the most degrading imputations—imputations which as yet, thank God! attached to no man in that House. The noble lord said, that the committee would be the guardians of the House. The guardians! But who were to be the guardians of those guardians? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? He would admit them to be men of the strictest honour and most upright principle; but still they would not be above suspicion. Because such a proposition was unfair to the members of whom the proposed committee was to be formed; because it was unfair to the House at large; because it was altogether unnecessary, and there was not a shadow of ground for its adoption, he should feel it his duty, to give it a decided negative.
Lord John Russell
said, that as far as he was able, he would endeavour to give an answer to the objections which had been urged by the hon. gentleman to his noble friend's proposition. The hon. gentleman had expressed his surprise at that proposition, and had declared it to be his opinion, that no further proceeding on the subject was necessary, seeing that the existing remedies against bribery and corruption were amply sufficient. In contradiction to that opinion, he would only beg the House to observe what passed at every general election. Was it not a notorious fact, that in numerous places the returns were regulated exclusively by the greater or less amount of money which the candidates bestowed on the electors? At one of the most recent 661 elections, it was stated in the newspapers, that the voters held up for exhibition, and stuck in their hats, the bank notes which they had received as the wages which had been paid them for their iniquitous conduct. Could the hon. gentleman, could the House hear this and say, that the present restraints were satisfactory, and that it was not incumbent on parliament to apply a more efficacious remedy to the evil? But the hon. member proceeded to state a specific objection to his noble friend's proposition; namely, that whereas the merit of the Grenville act was, that the persons appointed by it to consider election petitions, were not previously known, by his noble friend's proposition, the persons appointed would be previously known to the whole country. But the hon. gentleman had committed a great error. The committee appointed by the Grenville act was a judicial committee; the committee which his noble friend proposed to appoint was only a committee of inquiry and investigation. He was surprised, therefore, to hear the hon. member lay such stress on his objection to the appointment of a committee of inquiry; seeing, that if there was any proceeding more conformable to the general usages of the House than another, it was that of appointing committees of inquiry for various purposes. Such committees were excellent courts of inquiry, but they were very indifferent courts of justice. He hoped his noble friend's motion would not be got rid of by a machinery which enabled the opposing parties to strike out thirty-six, out of forty-nine persons, and thus strip the committee of those who were the best able to guide its decision. But, whether election committees were good or bad, whether they were machines well or ill calculated to perform their ends were questions which had no reference to the proposition before the House. The object of the motion before the House was, that the committee to be appointed should inquire, and only report the result of their inquiry to the House. Could any thing be more different than such a committee, and a committee to decide upon the validity of the return of a particular member? This observation, he thought, got rid of the next objection of the hon. gentleman; namely, that such a committee would have the dreadful power to proceed even to expulsion itself. Every gentleman who heard him, and was disposed 662 to bring an impartial, an unbiassed, an honest apprehension of what was said, very well knew that such was not the intention of the committee proposed to be appointed. No such arrangement had ever been attempted. It certainly was possible that committees, such as that which was proposed, might have to report upon cases of gross corruption—they might have to report upon instances of the most guilty bribery, of such bribery as might even directly inculpate the borough, or the agent of some particular candidate; but in no wise affecting the acts of that candidate himself. The committee might proceed to point out a practice of such delinquency as to disfranchise the borough, without inculpating the member. In the case of Gram pound, the borough was convicted of the most corrupt bribery, and it was therefore disfranchised; but the members were not punished. His noble friend might allow that a case of bribery might be so brought home to a member of the House, that the committee would be absolutely obliged to express their opinion against the practice of that member, and the House might be compelled to yield to the evidence before them, and resort to no other remedy but expulsion. But this course would be due to the character of the House; and the instances would be very rare indeed in which that remedy would be necessary to be applied.—He would shortly refer to what the hon. gentleman had said in the former part of his speech, with reference to the readiness of the House to enter into investigations of this kind. In the case of Grampound, half of the electors had been convicted of the most shameful bribery by a court of law. Such a case might not happen again in the course of fifty years. Although the House had entered into that case satisfactorily, it was very far from evident, or even probable, that any case in point would soon occur to compel the House to pursue a similar course. The hon. gentleman seemed to recommend, that upon the occurrence of such a cause of inquiry, upon the presenting of such a petition, the members of the committee should then be appointed. Such a course would be far more invidious than the course recommended by his noble friend. His noble friend proposed, that certain members should be named who possessed the respect of the House, and who should continue to sit during the whole session. No member of 663 such a description, on either side of the House, would, he was convinced, hesitate to take upon himself such an office. In any particular case of complaint, it was more difficult for the members to take upon themselves the office. Whence did they form the Grenville committee but out of the members of the House? If hon. gentlemen made a general challenge against the members of the House, and proclaimed that they were unfit to constitute a permanent committee, the Grenville act ought to be changed, and the judicature upon the subject should be lodged somewhere else than in the walls of that House.—He fully approved of the proposition of his noble friend, and he was sorry that the House wished to add to it the instruction. It would at least be much better, in all cases which concerned the public, that committees of this description should be appointed, than that petitioners should be obliged to go before an election committee. However good an election committee might be to protect individual interests in that House, it was by no means equally good, where the interests of the public were to be provided for. Although it was worth the while of great borough proprietors to spend four, five, or six thousand pounds to secure their property in a borough, the consideration of any expense of that kind would alone be sufficient to deter petitioners, whose only object was, to prove corruption at which they were disgusted, and by proving it to effect a public service. He well knew, from experience, the difficulty which any member on his side of the House had to encounter, in bringing forward such a measure. The opposition which this motion had met with led him to observe upon the different fate which was encountered by propositions for the improvement of the laws. If a minister, in the benevolence of his heart and the sagacity of his judgment, proposed an alteration of the criminal laws, he might, after having duly matured and meditated upon it, come down to the House and ensure the co-operation of those very men who some few years before had denounced upon such minister as Jacobins any one who should venture to propose any alteration in the cruel laws of the last century. Perhaps, even to crown his good fortune, some generous adversary might ransack the vocabulary of eulogy to express his admiration and gratitude. Far different 664 was the reception of any similar proposition, originating from the opposition side of the House! The member who proposed it, must, in the first place, submit to the cutting and trimming of one minister of the Crown; and then perhaps another might take objections to that which the former had approved of. Then the discussion was put off from time to time; other business superseded it; and thus it was transferred, from one week to another, through a great part of the session. At last when he was able to bring the measure forward—when he thought it was so much reduced that it could offend the prejudices of no one—at that very time, the members of the other side, strong in the consciousness that they belonged to the majority, and interested in the protection of every abuse, contrived to throw so many obstacles in the way, that the unfortunate proposer, awed by the technical difficulties of the subject, tired of the vain pursuit, and worn out by the baffling opposition which he encountered at every step, was forced to give up the measure which a strong desire to reform and purify the best parts of the constitution had induced him to bring forward.
§ Mr. R. Palmer
said, that in the county which he had the honour to represent, there was an instance afforded of the total inefficacy of the law, as it now stood, to check the most flagrant bribery and corruption, with all their train of perjury and demoralizing effects upon the people. He had received a letter, which fully detailed the manner in which the bribery was carried on, in a certain borough of that county. As soon as the time had expired, during which the existing law against such corrupt practices was in efficacy, an individual, well known by the name of "the Miller," went round to each elector, and left him a certain token of the sound judgment and propriety with which he had given his vote. The Miller gave the honest elector a token of 20l. for past services. The majority of these electors received this sum, and it was notorious that the present state of the law enabled them to do so. No elector of this borough made any secret of his receiving the favour of the Miller. In spite of this, they did not hesitate to take the bribery oath; and they raised no other question about the candidate than whether he was able to support the future visit of the Miller. The voters were, many of them, day-la- 665 bourers or paupers; and, previously to the election, they had solicited to be permitted to pay their parochial rates, in order to preserve or exercise their valuable privilege and birth-right—the elective franchise. Whether he was correct or not in what he stated, the hon. member who represented the borough in question could inform the House. Was not this one of the very numerous cases which it was desirable to bring before the House? He would not take upon himself to decide whether the constitution of the proposed committee would be the most proper or eligible that could be devised; but it was most desirable that some committee should be appointed to check such a system of abuse. No essential objection had been made against the committee proposed by the noble lord, and it appeared to him that it might check, if it did not totally prevent, the corruption complained of.
§ Mr. Wynn
said, that if the evil existed, it was no proof that the existing law was insufficient to check the abuse. He was convinced, that the defect was not in the law, but in the want of persons to carry the law properly into execution. The penalties already established were, he thought, sufficiently heavy. If they were not, they ought to be increased. If a penalty of 500l. was not an adequate one, it might be raised to 1,000l. But the real evil was, not that the existing penalty was insufficient, but that there was not a proper disposition in persons to come forward as informers against those who committed the offence of bribery. For his part, he wished the law were more frequently called into operation. There was already a tribunal established for trying controverted elections. There were certainly cases which could not be brought before it—cases, in which men waited the fourteen days provided by the resolutions of the House, and then distributed their bribes. This evil, however, might be remedied much more easily than by the committee at present proposed; and the House might still have the benefit of the tribunal which they had already established. He, for one, saw not the least objection—indeed, he thought it would be an improvement, if persons were allowed to question the return of a member, within a given period after the payment of any sum of money, in pursuance of a statement of bribery and corruption. If such a case as that which had been stated by the hon. 666 gentleman who spoke last, could be proved, the member who had practised it might be unseated. If the hon. member, or any other member, would prove the case at the bar of the House, he was confident that it was a case which the House would take into consideration. Unless such a practice extended to the majority of boroughs, or to a considerable number, there was no need of the remedy proposed. The cases of Grampound and Aylesbury elections fully showed, that the House was ready to apply the remedy to the disease. He had heard no reason which could induce him to think that the establishment of a standing committee ought to be resorted to at present. Nothing had been brought forward to prove that this House was an unfit tribunal, or that it had shown any backwardness in taking up a case, when a fair suspicion had been established, and where a report had been made that would justify the House in investigating it. There were, besides, various reasons which might render members unfit to sit upon such a committee. They might be connected with one or other of the candidates: they might have particular ideas on the subject: they might in conversations raise suspicions. Suspicions, it was true, were not grounds for deciding, but still they might produce dissatisfaction, with one or other of the parties. On these grounds he thought it much better that the law, as it now stood, should be continued, and that witnesses should be examined at the bar of that House, as was done in the case of Grampound, or the question be referred to a committee. The objection made to committees on private bills could not apply to this. Members, it was said, often did not attend until the evidence had been gone through, and this often for good reasons; for many of them were well acquainted with the merits of the case, and required no evidence to enable them to form a judgment. In the other case, members would find it necessary to attend to the evidence; as without that they might remain in perfect ignorance of the facts. He would not say that a committee should be appointed with powers which went to supersede those of the House, but it was clear that evidence could be taken in these committees much better than at the bar of the House, and that the report of the committee put the House in entire possession of the facts. His great objection, however, to a stand- 667 ing committee was, that it would interfere with the powers which must necessarily be vested in the House. In the time of Charles 2nd, a standing committee of privileges and elections was appointed; but the inconvenience was so great, and the attention and zealous co-operation of members could so little be trusted to, that it was found necessary to discontinue it. The hon. member who spoke last, had read an extract from a letter respecting a certain borough. He did not know to what borough he alluded; but, if the allegations were true, he would say investigate them fully. If there was a probability of proving such allegations as those adduced by the hon. member, he would consent that witnesses should be examined either at the bar of the House, or in a committee. The right hon. gentleman concluded by expressing his disapprobation of the proposed measure.
§ Sir John Newport
said, he considered some alteration absolutely necessary, to put an end to a system, which it was idle to say did not exist to a very alarming extent, notwithstanding the provisions of the Grenville act. Fourteen years ago he had himself unsuccessfully brought, forward a plan, in which he proposed that, in addition to the oath which members were obliged to take at the table of the House, an oath should be administered, by which they declared that neither they, nor any person on their behalf, had given any money, or promise of money, place, pension, or emolument, to any person or persons who had been instrumental in returning the said members to parliament. If the House were really in earnest, they would follow up that measure. It was idle to talk of other remedies, while the one to which he referred was neglected. Where was the utility of calling upon poor electors to take the oath against bribery, unless the elected were put to a similar test? The bill which he introduced, however, had been cut up by hon. and right hon. members, until at last it became a perfect nonentity. If the proposition of his noble friend should be rejected, he himself would bring in a bill founded on similar principles.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that the right hon. baronet had certainly brought forward no very powerful argument in support of the resolution of his noble friend, because, though he decided upon giving it his aid, he had also declared that he 668 knew of a better remedy, and promised to bring forward a bill for its enactment. Upon every principle, therefore, whether of supporting the present constitutional system of inquiry, or of waiting for the more efficient remedy of the right hon. baronet, he was bound to resist the proposition of the noble lord. Before he went into the merits of the question before the House, he would take the liberty of making a few observations upon the remarks of the noble lord opposite. That noble lord had observed, that the measures which had been brought forward for ameliorating the criminal law, had met with the cordial assistance and support of the members on the opposition side of the House, and that they were as anxious in forwarding any improvements, as if those improvements had emanated from themselves. For the conduct of hon. gentlemen on the other side of the House, in that respect, he certainly felt the highest respect, and he most cordially joined in approbation of that oblivion of party principles and political differences which had been manifested by them, as well as of the assistance which they had rendered him in his humble endeavours to improve the institutions of the country. But, although he was quite disposed to concur with the noble lord in his approbation of those who acted with the noble lord, he could not admit of the justice of the censure passed upon those whose views coincided with his own. He could not concede that there was a disposition on the ministerial side of the House to resist whatever propositions proceeded from those hon. members whose general politics were of an opposite character. The noble lord had referred, in the course of his observations, to two individuals, to whom he (Mr. Peel) could also refer as instances of the absence of the feeling imputed to him and his colleagues; namely, the noble lord, the originator of the present measure, and the hon. member for Westminster. When the hon. member for Westminster suggested the inexpediency of officers of the Crown interfering in the appointment of special juries, so far was he (Mr. Peel) from resisting the measure because it proceeded from the other side of the House, that he actually brought in a bill to prevent any such interference being exercised. And when the noble mover of the present proposition brought in a bill to facilitate the recovery of small debts, which met 669 with a good deal of opposition, he, instead of rejecting the measure from the motives assigned, supported it; and the noble lord having complained of the difficulties he encountered from the want of official information and official aid, and requested him to undertake the measure, he gave no proof of a desire to oppose it, on the ground of its having emanated from the opposition side of the House; for his answer was, that, although unwilling to deprive the noble lord of the credit of the bill, he was quite ready to afford him any assistance in his power for its advancement. Therefore he could not join in the censure conveyed by the noble lord upon those who co-operated with him. But while he contended that it was most unfair and unjust to attribute to him and those whose sentiments he shared, a repugnance against measures brought forward with a view to the reformation of abuses, on account of their having been brought forward by hon. members sitting on the opposition side of the House, it would be equal folly and equal weakness to suppose, that they were bound to admit detailed propositions of which they did not approve, merely because they proceeded from the other side. Although he might agree with the hon. gentlemen opposite as to general principles, he had a right to reserve to himself the liberty of judging whether the means proposed for checking an abuse, or instituting a beneficial alteration were efficacious or proper. So, although no man could be bold enough to stand forward in vindication of bribery or corruption at elections, yet it was but fair that he should be allowed the privilege of examining whether the proposed mode of suppressing it were a proper mode. For his own part, he was convinced that any alteration would be much better carried into effect by means of a specific bill, to regulate the proceedings, than by a resolution to refer such matters to a committee. He considered it would be painful to affirm or to reject any charge of such a nature, against any member of the House, by such a committee; and he would leave the House to judge of that, even upon the statement made by the noble lord (J. Russell), that they were to perform only the office of a grand jury in receiving evidence. But the resolution of the noble mover concluded by saying, "and that the committee do report their opinion thereon to the House." He 670 would then ask, whether the House could come to an unprejudiced decision, when the noble lord proposed that the committee should consist of those members of the House who were most remarkable for "their probity, sagacity, and integrity?" And he would also ask, whether the naming of any number of persons, as thus distinguished above their equals, would not be an insult both to the constituents of every member not on the committee, and to the elected themselves. Every man in that House, no matter what were the numbers or the power of his constituents, possessed equal rights, and there could be no reason why any particular persons should be presumed to possess a mental superiority. It would be, in fact, to put a particular mark for sagacity and integrity, on certain individuals. He would not submit to have such a mark placed on, or such a power intrusted to, any twenty-one men. But, supposing that such a thing were done, and a selection, the purest that could be made, were resorted to—what would be the consequence? The more pure the selection, the more binding would be their decision; and that decision, made upon what, too? Why, upon ex-parte evidence. But, what kind of sagacity would be exhibited in deputing any number of men for an unlimited time (as was proposed by this resolution), to pronounce opinions and give decisions upon the conduct of all those who were as competent and as fully entitled as themselves, to pronounce upon the conduct of others? He would not so far outrage the grounds of his opinions, as to proceed further upon this point; but, as a comparison of this committee to a grand jury had been made, let the House see how they could be compared. A grand jury no more resembled such a committee than the juries of the court of King's-bench, or of any other court, did. A grand jury was chosen from the people for a short and limited period, and merged almost at once back again amongst them. No one knew, before-hand, who was to be on it. It had no permanent jurisdiction to inquire; and whatever came before it, had been before verified upon oath before the magistrates. But what was to be the limitation of the jurisdiction of the proposed committee? Was every complaint, from every individual, relating to every town, to be received and examined by it? According to the resolution, every case of 671 alleged bribery or corruption was to be submitted to the committee, and without any qualification or restriction. No provision was made with respect to security. Again, he was desirous to know whether it was proposed that the proceedings before this committee should be carried on at the expense of the public or of the party: for this point, too, was left unsettled. Nor was any period of liability specified. What! was every member to be exposed, for five years to come, if parliament should last so long, to the accusations of any man who might choose to prefer charges without incurring any responsibility, or subjecting himself to any penalty? There were no recognizances to be entered into by any party who might thus come forward; nor was it stated whether the inquiry was to be made at the public expense. If such a measure was to be adopted, a bill would be the course to be pursued; for, in its progress, all those proper and necessary restrictions would be introduced, and he would, therefore prefer waiting for the bill of the right hon. baronet. He could most sincerely declare that he knew not on which side of the House the hon. members for the borough alluded to by the hon. member for Berkshire sat; but if that hon. member would tell him that there was a borough in which, six months after an election, a man went about the town with 20l. notes, to pay electors for their votes, imagining that because the fourteen days prescribed by law had not expired, they could practise these arts with impunity—if that hon. member would cite the mayor and corporation of such borough, he would take upon himself to assert the privileges of the House, and, if a prima facie case of corruption should be made out, he would consent that the Miller himself should be brought to the bar of the House, and would institute as rigid an inquiry as was sought for by this resolution, against which he now expressed his determination to vote.
§ Mr. R. Martin
said:—In conformity with the vote I gave when the conduct of the borough of Grampound was under consideration, and in consequence of the pledge I then gave, I feel myself bound to give the proposition of the noble lord some degree of support. If I have no other alternative, I will vote for the noble lord's resolution, not because I hold it free from objection, but because it is the 672 only mode of expressing my opinion by my vote upon this subject. At the same time, I hope that some amendment will be brought forward; that some counter resolution will be offered to the House by a member of the king's government, in order that I may give it my support. Under the expectation that some middle course may be adopted, the noble lord will, perhaps, allow me to recommend him to withdraw his proposition, at least for the present. But I wish, before I sit down, to ask the noble lord why he does not extend his resolution to counties as well as to boroughs? For I contend that more corrupt practices actually exist in counties than are ever discovered in boroughs. I assert, that there is more flagrant, more abominable, more stinking corruption in counties, than was ever yet exposed to the disgust of all honest men, in any borough either of England or Ireland. I know a county (and give me leave to say that the administration and the country have suffered a discredit, if I am not contradicted) into which a Secretary of State, or rather an under Secretary of State, went three days before the election took place, and opened a bank to defray the entire expenses—of whom? Of his nominee, I repeat his nominee, and I repeat it, because he called him "his man." So help me God, I am able to bring positive proof of what I state. I can prove that the under Secretary, out of his own money, paid the whole expenses of his candidate—that he promised places—that he gave bribes: nay more, I will prove that he actually promised a peerage [much laughter.] And there had been no check to these practices, because the press, from one end to the other, is full of the most notorious corruption. With reference to the risibility of the House I am not surprised at it. Such conduct, however, ought rather to excite disgust and indignation. If such practices had been used against even Mr. Cobbett, the affair would soon have got wind. The under Secretary, of whom I complain, did actually apply for places for some of his friends and supporters, during the election; and I appeal to the House whether such a state of things ought to be allowed to exist?—And, as they do, undoubtedly, exist, I ask whether the motion of the noble lord ought not to be extended to counties? The person whom I have alluded to is the marquis of 673 Clanricarde, under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Yes. I denounce him as the man, and I ought to have denounced him earlier. Within twenty days I shall establish all I have advanced before a committee, and I shall apply for a special report against that individual. I shall be able to prove that the noble marquis has been guilty of abominable practices. The members of the government, in concert with whom I have acted for forty years, have, I conceive, been guilty of as objectionable conduct as the individual of whom I complain. It is immaterial to me, whether one man, or a hundred men, are corrupted or intimidated; it is quite clear that the existing law does not reach particular cases; and, therefore, it is proper that some new resolution should be entered into.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said:—If the hon. member for Galway is entitled to accuse ministers of ingratitude after a service of forty years, I do not think the noble mover has much reason to be thankful for the sort of support which his proposition has just received. I apprehend he will be inclined to reject a vote given upon such grounds, and under such circumstances. Regarding the transactions during the election for Galway, I know nothing: but I hope the House will do the noble marquis, who is the object of attack, the justice to suspend its judgment. When I mention that the hon. gentleman who has stated his own case against the noble marquis is himself petitioned against by the very individual with regard to whom this corruption is alleged to have taken place, the House will perceive, that it would be most unfair to arrive at any premature decision. Let it be recollected, too, that that petition charges the hon. member for Galway with almost every offence of which it is possible for a candidate to be guilty.
§ Lord Milton
said, that the object of his noble friend's motion, so far from being prejudicial to any party, fairly engaged in an election struggle, would have a very different effect. The object appeared to him to be that of putting the committee in possession of certain information; and it would then be for them to decide whether that information was or was not of sufficient importance to call for the interposition of the House. So far the committee, with reference to the House, were placed precisely in the situation of a grand jury, 674 and yet he had heard it asserted, that there was no resemblance between the two bodies. When a petition of such a nature as that which the resolution contemplated was presented, it was wonderful why it should not be investigated. In cases of this peculiar description, the President of the Board of Control would rather have an examination at the bar of the House than the adjudication of a committee. But the fact was, that, if they adopted the former course, they would encourage all those evils which the Grenville act was framed to get rid of. A fair and impartial committee, chosen as his noble friend wished, would answer the purposes of justice much better than if a committee were appointed on the moment, the members of which knew the respective parties, and might in consequence feel a certain degree of bias on one side or the other.
§ Mr. W. Wynn
said, he did not approve of the form of the resolution then before the House, and he had therefore drawn up another, which, perhaps, he should be allowed to read. In making the present proposition, he was sure the noble lord would feel that he was not actuated by any wish to stifle an effort which had for its object the prevention of corrupt practices; but he feared, if the proposition then before the House was agreed to, that it would give rise to a great many vexatious complaints. He therefore thought that a resolution to the following effect would meet the object of the noble lord, and would steer clear of the difficulties with which the noble lord's proposition was connected:—"That all persons who will question any future return of members to serve in parliament, upon any allegation of bribery or corruption, and who shall in their petition specifically allege any payment of money, or other reward, to have been made by any member, or on his account, or with his privity, since the time of such return, in pursuance or in furtherance of such bribery or corruption, may question the same at any time within twenty-eight days after the date of such payment, or if this House be not sitting at the expiration of the said twenty-eight days, then, within fourteen days after the day when the House shall next meet."
§ Lord Milton
said, that the proposition of the right hon. gentleman did not go the length of his noble friend's resolution. But, while he admitted that he did not like the resolution of the right hon. gen- 675 tleman so well as he did that of his noble friend, he was ready to confess that the former would be a very considerable improvement of the law as it at present stood.
Lord J. Russell
urged the propriety of passing a general resolution, declaratory of the determination of the House to put an end to bribery and corruption.
§ Lord Milton
asked whether, under the resolution of the right hon. gentleman, general corruption might be proved in a borough, or whether it would only go to vacate the seat of a particular member?
§ Mr. W. Wynn
said, the only question was, whether the cases referred to by the noble lord's resolution, did, or did not, come within the scope of the present law. If they did not, then, he contended, that his resolution fully supplied the deficiency.
§ Mr. Abercromby
approved of the suggestion of the President of the Board of Control, but contended, that the difference between the two sides of the House really amounted to nothing. All gentlemen seemed unanimous in favour of the proposition of his noble friend. No man disputed, that the case stated by the hon. member for Berkshire ought to be investigated at any period of a parliament. Now, under the Grenville act, it could not be done after the lapse of a certain time; so that the House had only two modes of proceeding—either the appointment of a committee, to which the particular complaint might be referred, or the examination of witnesses at the bar. All knew that the latter course was most inconvenient, by delaying the public business of the session. The whole difference, therefore, was simply this—would the House, on an early day of the session, appoint a committee for the investigation of matters of this kind, or would it wait until the particular case occurred requiring investigation? If the former course were taken, no favour could be shewn. If the latter, it was liable to the imputation of partiality.
thought, that the proposition of the noble lord would open the door to vague inquiry, while the resolution of the right hon. gentleman was open to another objection. He had for many years voted in minorities; and, if a charge of bribery were brought against a member of the opposition side of the House, in times when party feeling ran high, he feared he would have but a bad chance of a fair inquiry.
§ Mr. R. Palmer
observed, that the reso- 676 lution of the President of the Board of Control would exactly meet the case he had stated. The corruption of that borough ["name, name"] would thus be exposed. He hoped, therefore, that the noble lord would withdraw his motion, though if it were brought to a division he should vote for it.
§ Lord Althorp
felt called upon to state, that there was a considerable difference between his own resolution and the suggestion of the right hon. gentleman. His own proposition was intended to have the effect of facilitating the disfranchisement of corrupt boroughs, while the amendment of the right hon. gentleman would by no means go to that extent. In many cases before election committees, only enough was proved to unseat the particular member, and there the inquiry stopped, without pursuing the investigation, to ascertain whether it would be fit to disfranchise the borough for bribery and corruption. He did not include counties, because his object was, not to attack the seats of members, but to purify boroughs; and he knew of no means of disfranchising counties. Although he preferred his own resolution, he considered that the change proposed by the right hon. gentleman would be a great improvement of the present election law of the House. Under the circumstances, he would not trouble the House to divide, but could not consent to withdraw his resolution.
The resolution was negatived without a divison. On the proposition of Mr. Wynn being put,
§ Lord Althorp
said, he was willing to support the resolution, because he felt considerable anxiety for any beneficial alteration of the law on this point.
§ Lord Milton
agreed, that, as far as the resolution went, it tended to remove corruption in boroughs. But he must take leave to observe, that the scope and object of the resolution of his noble friend was different from that of the right hon. gentleman's proposition. His noble friend wished to get rid of the corruption of the elective body, but the right hon. gentleman opposed himself to the person elected. This, he allowed, was a good object but it was different from that which his noble friend had in view.
Mr. Secretary Peel
concurred in the opinion of the noble lord, that the scope and object of the resolution now before the House was different from that of the 677 proposition which had been rejected; and for that very reason he would support it. It was, in his opinion, an improvement of the Grenville act. Under that act, when no promise in writing was received, when no bond was given, when no sum was paid, but an understanding was entered into between the parties, that, at a certain time after the election, a douceur should be given, then the law might be evaded. But his right hon. friend's resolution provided this further security, that, within a definite time, if a specific fact were stated, the party might have redress: he would support the resolution, because it was a considerable improvement of the existing law.
§ Mr. Abercromby
viewed the great question as being, whether a general committee should be appointed, or a committee on each particular case. He was not inclined to attach all the importance to the present resolution, which, on the first blush, some gentlemen might think it deserved. Many petitions were presented under the bribery act; but they all must be aware, that though bribery was mentioned as one of the points on which those petitions were founded, that charge was rarely touched upon. They were not, therefore, he conceived, likely to benefit much from the present resolution. From that of his noble friend he believed much good would have arisen, as it referred to a class of cases quite different from those which the present resolution was intended to meet.
expressed himself in favour of the resolution, and trusted that all opposition to it would be withdrawn. At the same time, he should not be acting fairly, if he led the House to suppose that he expected any great benefit from it. He did not think that any material good would be effected by this or any other temporary expedient. At the same time, it would be extremely wrong, when an opportunity occurred, even of attempting good, not to accelerate it as far as he possibly could.
§ Lord Milton
thought the resolution carried with it rather the appearance of a wish to do something, than contained within itself the prospect of any substantial benefit.
Mr. G. Lamb
said, it would appear, from the wording of the resolution, that no benefit could be derived from it until the next session of parliament, because 678 it said "in all future returns." In his apprehension of the matter, therefore, cases that were now worthy of being brought before parliament, could not be affected by it. He felt with his hon. friend, that this resolution, while it professed to do much, would really do nothing. He approved of the resolution of his noble friend, as being more comprehensive.
Lord J. Russell
thought, that the resolution was a considerable improvement of the law. He wished to know whether the right hon. gentleman meant to introduce any general remedy for general corruption.
§ Mr. Wynn
said, that he wished by this resolution to keep both the electors and the elected pure. The person seeking for a seat, if solicited, would answer, "I cannot bribe you, even though you wish it; because, long after the election is over, if any well-founded impropriety is complained of, I am certain to lose my seat." He would thus render it imperative on candidates not to transgress the law.
§ Lord Milton
had two objections to the resolution. The first was to the word "future;" the other was, that the corrupt promise mentioned in it only referred to the payment of money: whereas a candidate might bribe a voter by promising him a place in the Customs, or some other situation, and not offend against the resolution.
§ Lord Milton
said, that he had two amendments to propose: the first was, that the word "future" should be left out of the resolution; the other, that after the word "money," the words "or gift of place, emolument," be inserted.
§ Mr. Ferguson
observed, that, as the question did not appear to be clearly understood, it would be better to adjourn the debate upon it.
first amendment, as to the omission of the word "future," was then put and negatived. The noble lord's second amendment, as to the insertion of the words "or gift of place, emolument," being put,
§ Mr. Scarlett
observed, that, as there 679 appeared to be a doubt amongst some members, as to whether the words of the resolution were sufficiently comprehensive, the wisest course would be to adjourn the debate.
§ The debate was accordingly adjourned till Friday.