HC Deb 04 March 1828 vol 18 cc966-75

Mr. Tennyson having moved the order of the day for going again into the committee on this bill,

Samuel Buxton was called in, and examined,

By Mr. Tennyson

, and others.—Had been a burgess of East Retford for thirty years. Had witnessed many elections. At some of the elections did not receive a farthing. Could not say any thing about any one else. Received no money at the election when Mr. Osbaldiston and Mr. Marsh were candidates, because they would not give him any. He was promised money by an attorney (Mr. Hannam); but he forgot to give him the money. Mr. Hannam told him to call upon him and he would give him ten guineas; but he did not perform his promise. Hard as this was upon him, he was obliged to bear it. At the election in 1818, he received twenty pounds or guineas. He would speak the truth; but he could not tell who gave it him. It was sent to me as a present, in a letter. He had some conversation with Mr. Foljambe. Mr. Foljambe came in and sat down by him, and said, "all should be right." Did not know what Mr. Foljambe meant by it. Had often heard the expression used at Retford, but never knew what it meant. Had said upon the committee, "If they win, they expect the same as a labouring man that goes to his day's work, and that the practice had been continued for twenty years." Might have said before the committee that the voters seldom got any thing but black-looks, if they were on the losing side; and that the meaning of a burgess at Retford "having lost his election," was, that he had got nought for voting.

Mr. William Grant

was called in, and examined

By Mr. Tennyson.

—Was a burgess of Retford. Had received money at elections. Could say that no candidate never gave him a half-penny, nor he never promised him any thing, nor never gave him any thing, nor he never received any thing. Did not know if he had ever received money from Mr. Mason. Had voted in the interest of the duke of Newcastle. Mr. Mason was the agent of the duke of Newcastle. Could not say he ever received any money from him for election purposes, from him himself, to his knowledge. He received a present when he voted in the interest of the duke of Newcastle. Could not say from whom. Recollected the election at which Mr. Crompton was returned. Had a present sent him after that election. Could not say if it was 20l., 30l., or 40l. Could not say if it was more than 20l. Did receive a present at Mr. Osbaldiston's election, but did not know from whom. A gentleman left it at his House. He had never seen that gentleman before in his life-time. He did not know what he received the money for. "He axed me my name, and gave it into my hand, and said not a word." He could not say how often that gentleman called before he found witness at home.

By Mr. Fergusson.

—He always received these presents about the time of elections. Never received such things at any other times. The present he received was in bank-notes. Could not say exactly what he did with them. He took care of them. He put them into practice.

By Mr. Fergusson.

—Did you count them before you put them into practice?—The witness did not answer.—Did you tell them, or reckon them, in order to see how many there were?—The witness still remained silent, and the Chairman said he must again caution him against the answers, or rather no answers, which he gave.—Could not say how many there were. Knew how many there were when he received them.

The frequent repetition of this question to the witness failed to elicit any distinct answer, whether he had or had not counted the notes. He could not name any candidate for East Retford who had not given money to him, excepting Mr. Marsh. Had once received payment for an election when he was in London: a sum of money had been put into his hand in the common street; he could not tell how much.—Have you had any conversation with alderman Parker, of Retford, since you came to London?—Just as we passed on. He said "good morning;" and I said "good morning;" and he said "Grant, how do you do?" and I said "very well. I hope you are well."

R. Hodgkinson

was called in, and examined.—Had not voted at any election but the last for twenty-one years. Received twenty guineas after the members were returned. Had had that evening a conversation with alderman Parker in the lobby, who told him, that no man had occasion to commit himself.

E. C. Brown

was called in, and examined. He was town-clerk of Retford. He was an attorney.—Have you received any election money?—I appeal to the Chair whether I am bound to answer that question or not.

The witness was directed to withdraw.

Mr. Tennyson

observed, that other witnesses had been obliged to answer similar questions, and he did not conceive why the last witness should be permitted to refuse.

The Attorney-General.

—The witness was not in law bound to answer any question which might criminate himself. The other witnesses who had answered had answered voluntarily.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that the House might be disposed to take any statement as to the practice of the law from the learned gentleman, but they would not take his authority as to what was the practice of parliament. That practice was to oblige witnesses to answer every question put to them. Without that power, their privileges, in prosecuting any inquiry of this kind, were worth nothing. If the witnesses were allowed to go from their bar without being compelled to answer the questions put to them, they ought to go in a body, with their chairman at their head, and apologise to the individual whom they had committed.

Mr. Littleton

said, if the House permitted the witness to depart without answering the question, they would act most unconstitutionally. What would be the effect of such a course, but to give perfect impunity to every man who might be called before them, who wished to suppress the truth? He was surprised the Attorney-general should have shown himself so ignorant of the law of parliament. But his ignorance was the least to be considered. He had shown a contempt for that law in the opinion he had given. Was it to be supposed that in asking any questions from a witness, they would not extend to him a full protection from the consequences which in other places would follow from an admission criminating himself? It was the well-known practice of the House to do so, and it would abandon its duty if it did not compel every witness to answer all the questions put to him.

Sir C. Burrell

observed, that the law of parliament, as he understood it, was, that every witness was protected from the consequences which might otherwise follow from his speaking the truth before the House, but that he was committed only for prevarication, or for refusing to answer. He therefore considered that the witness was bound to answer any question put to him, to the best of his knowledge; but as some witnesses might not be aware of the protection which the House gave to those who were called before it, he would move, that the chairman be instructed to state to the witness, that in any evidence he gave before that House, he should be protected as far as he spoke the truth.

The Attorney-General

said, he rose for the purpose of repelling the coarse, unfounded, and wanton, attack which had been made upon him by the hon. member for Staffordshire. The hon. member had charged him with ignorance of the law on this question, and had added that his ignorance was the least of it. How was the hon. member warranted in making such a wanton attack on him? Had he said that if they compelled the witness to answer any questions put to him, they were not bound to cast round him the mantle of their protection, as to the consequence of his answers? But the hon. member had implied that something of this kind was meant by him, and had taxed him with ignorance of the law of parliament. He had been longer in parliament than the hon. member, and knew the practice of parliament, as well as he did: but he would not retaliate or reciprocate his wanton attack, for he disdained such rustic coarseness. He had merely objected that a witness was not legally bound to criminate himself, and at once the hon. member accused him of ignorance. He could not tamely bear such language as that which the hon. member had vomited forth. The hon. member was wholly unjustified in the coarse attack he had made upon him: and he trusted it might be permitted to him, as the Attorney-general, who, though Attorney-general, was still a member of that House, to repel it as he now did. He would say, that no member of that House who sat or voted from any comer in it, voted or acted more independently than he did; and therefore he had reason to complain of the rudeness of the hon. member for Staffordshire. He had not given his opinion as Attorney-general. He had given it as a member of that House, and as independently as that hon. member or any other, and therefore it was, that he complained of his attack, as rude, wanton, and unfounded.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he was sure his hon. friend, the member for Staffordshire, would see, on more cool reflection, that the attack he had made upon his learned friend had called for the warmth of expression with which he had met it. He had risen for the purpose of begging that any remarks arising from personal feeling might give way to the important subject under discussion. They were then acting in a different course from their ordinary proceeding, and it was of the utmost importance that they should go on with good temper. His learned friend had laid down the legal rule, consistent with justice and equity, that no man was bound to give an answer which might criminate himself; but, on the other hand, it was not meant to be denied, that as the witness before the committee was to be protected from the consequence of his answers, his case was taken out of the general rule; for if the witness could refuse to answer any question put to him, no investigation by that House could take place. In that respect, the House differed from the courts of law; and he remembered the case of a witness, an attorney, who was examined at that bar, who refused to divulge the secrets of his client; but that was overruled, and the House declared that the rules of the law courts did not apply; that for the ends of public justice it was necessary that he should answer, he being protected from the consequences. On these grounds, he was compelled to answer. The case before the House was one which, in his opinion, called for an application of the same rule; but he thought it was necessary that the witness should be informed that in answering, he would be protected from the consequences of his answers, He would suggest, therefore, that the resolution of the House of the 26th of March, 1818, be read to the witness.

Mr. Wynn

rose for the purpose of stating the difference between evidence given before that House, and evidence given in courts of law. In that House no evidence given could be used against the witness in any other place, without the permission of the House, and as that permission would not be granted where the party spoke the truth, his protection was complete. In the courts of law, the party giving evidence might refuse to answer what would criminate himself; but if he gave his answers voluntarily, the court could not protect him from the consequences.

Mr. Lyttleton

said, that nothing had fallen from him, that ought to have excited the irascibility in which the Attorney-general had so intemperately indulged. In what he had stated, he was not conscious that there had been any vulgarity or coarseness.

Mr. Horace Twiss

wished to make a few observations with respect to the resolution of 1818. Unquestionably the rule in a court of justice was, that no man was bound to answer a question the answer to which might criminate himself. It had been said distinctly, with reference to the present case, that if the witness were to criminate himself by his answers, the House would protect him from all consequences injurious to himself. The right hon. gentleman had read the resolution of the House, which declared that no clerk, short-hand writer, or other officer of the House, should give evidence elsewhere of what had occurred in that House, without leave first obtained. That leave, he took it, would not be granted. But he begged to ask, if a witness was criminally prosecuted, what could prevent his conviction on the evidence of any two or three hon. members who had heard his confession in that House, and whose attendance in the court of justice it would not be in the power of the House to prevent? He had made this statement, not as presuming to lay down the law of parliament, but in order that, if wrong, he might be corrected.

The Speaker.

—I beg permission to say a few words. Some expressions have just fallen from the learned member for Wootton Bassett, which are so directly at variance with the first and most important privileges of this House, that I feel it my duty not to allow them to pass without notice. I understood him to say, that it might possibly, happen that a member of this House might be required to give evidence in a court of Law of what had passed within these walls. Now, I conceive, that hardly any doubt can exist in the mind of any hon. member, that he is not at liberty to give evidence elsewhere of what passes here, without the direct, or at least the implied permission of the House. I wish to state this principle as broadly as possible; for if I am mistaken, it is high time that my error should be corrected. At present I certainly conceive, that on the privilege of preventing what passes here from being communicated elsewhere, vitally depends the dignity and the rights of this House. No hon. member who hears what passes within these walls (and no other person has a right to hear it) can be required, or allowed, to give evidence in a court of justice touching the matter which he has so heard.

The witness was again called in, and the Chairman having read to him the resolution of the House respecting the protection given to witnesses, and told him that under such protection he was bound to answer all questions put to him, his examination proceeded,

By Mr. Tennyson.

—I have received election-money after two elections, those of 1818 and 1820. About six weeks after Mr. Crompton and Mr. Evans were returned in the first election, two letters, without signature, were brought to my house. Each letter contained 20l. I do not know from whom they came. I did not know the hand-writing. They were directed to me. After the election of 1820, I received two letters, containing the same sums, addressed to me, and left in a similar way. I should conceive the money was left in consequence of the election. The lower freemen, I conceive, expected money after the election. I could not have received the money inconsequence of my vote, for I had not voted, or promised a vote; but as I am to speak the truth, I believe it was for the purposes of the election. The practice of receiving money was not general. It was confined to the lower freemen.

By Mr. Peel.

—How came it to be sent to you?—I was at that time a poor boy writing in the office in which I have now the honour to be a partner.

By Mr. F. Clinton.

—I was agent to sir H. W. Wilson. I got a promise of sixty-seven votes for him. I did not promise money. The freemen did not expect it, and the reason why I say they did not expect it is this—I met sir H. Wilson one day near the town, and I told him the lower freemen expected money. He said, "My good fellow, I will not talk about money, I have come here to do what is right and just." I mentioned this to the freemen, and they said they would vote for sir H. Wilson let the consequence be what it might. The witness further stated that, in his belief, there were forty persons at each election who did not receive money. The total number of electors was two hundred and sixty, of which number one hundred and twenty were resident. At the last election one hundred and seventy polled, of whom fifty-three were for sir H. W. Wilson, none of whom, in the belief of the witness, received money.

Jonathan Banks was called in and examined,

By Mr. Tennyson.

—Had been a freeman of East Retford for twenty years. Had been junior bailiff. The bailiffs were the returning officers. Was a smith and farrier by trade. Witness admitted after some hesitation that he had received money. Had received money, at three different times. The last occasion was after the last election. Two letters had been put into his house late at night, and at different times; they contained twenty guineas each. At the former election there had been one letter sent to his house containing twenty guineas. Witness believed it came from Mr. Crompton. Afterwards there came another. In 1812, the witness received no money. He had promised to vote for Mr. Osbaldiston: but when he applied for the election money, witness was told there was none for him; he was told that he was not a staunch blue. Never said that he and his family had received six score guineas. Whilst bailiff, witness belonged to the corporation. This was in 1820. Had received money after he had been bailiff.—Did you not say, that the man who delivered the letter had concealed his face; but that you had found him out?—No.

William Hodson was called in, and examined,

By Mr. Tennyson.

—Had received money after the election more than once.—How much? I cannot tell.—Was it 10l.? I do not know. — Was it 20l.? I do not know. Perhaps it might be 20l.—Was it 20l. or 21l.? It might be 20l. or 21l. The witness further stated, that he received the same sum on all occasions. There was a custom of paying the burgesses. It was not for their votes, it was a present. Witness has heard such a custom mentioned. The son of witness is an apprentice at Retford. Does not recollect any conversation with the master of his son respecting a different rate to be paid for his board if the borough were disfranchised.

Thomas Appleby examined.—Witness was a burgess of East Retford, and had resided there all his life. Had received election money. Packets had been left at his house with his wife; there were two packets containing twenty guineas in each. This was in 1820; it was the same at the former election. Is a miller by trade, and an alderman of East Retford. At the election in 1807, he did not receive either money or present, when sir W. Ingilby and Mr. Crawford were returned. After the election in 1820, he got two packets, with the sum of twenty guineas in each. He could not say whether others got the same.

William Clerk, examined by Mr. Tennyson.—Has been a burgess and alderman of Retford for thirteen years. Remembers the 24th of February, 1819. He received forty guineas on the part of Mr. Evans. Does not know whether that was double the usual sum. Is not aware of the precise sum commonly given to the burgesses. Heard twenty guineas and forty guineas only mentioned as the respective considerations to voters. Never received forty guineas except once. Got no money on the side of Mr. Crompton in 1818. After that, on the 29th of May 1820. He was paid twenty guineas. Never was made the medium of transmitting twenty guineas to a Mr. Pierpoint, of Lincoln's-inn. Was thrice bailiff.

Thomas Warwick, examined by Mr. Tennyson.—The duke of Newcastle's steward desired him to go into a certain room and take some packets, which were to be found upon the table, for the purpose of distributing them among the houses of the burgesses of Retford. He did as he was directed.

William Leadbetter

examined.— Is a burgess of East Retford, and voted at the elections of 1812, 1818, and 1820. He received nothing for his vote in 1812, nothing in 1818, and nothing in 1820. He did not get either money or present on any of those occasions; nor did any member of his family, to his knowledge, get money on his account. Knows William Newton. Having repeated his denial, he was ordered to withdraw.

William Newton

was examined.—Is clerk to a solicitor at Retford. Knows W. Leadbetter, and heard him admit that he had got money at the election of 1812, on the part of Mr. Osbaldiston, and a similar consideration at the elections in 1818 and 1820. Within the last fortnight, Lead better had avowed to the fact of his having received money for his votes. He himself was not employed by any person to collect the evidence. His doing so was entirely of his own voluntary impulse. Another person named Sharpe did the same. He knew a man of the name of Hodson, and was told by Parnham that Hodson had told him he had received money from Fox, and changed a 20l. note out of it at Parnham's shop.

On the motion of lord Nugent, Leadbetter was recalled, and the evidence of the last witness having been read over to him, he was asked if he still persisted in stating that he never had received any money in the years 1812, 1818, or 1820. The witness persisted in his former account, denying that he had received any money at either of those periods, directly or indirectly, or that he had ever said so to any person.

The witness Hodson was also recalled, and examined to the same effect. He said he had never received a shilling from Fox on any body's account, or taken a 20l. note to Parnham's shop to change. He admitted that he dealt with Parnham for grocery, and owed him money at different times, but he must have recollected having changed a 20l. note at his shop if he had done so.

The House resumed, the Chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.