HC Deb 10 March 1828 vol 18 cc1076-89

Jonathan Fox being called in, upon the motion of Mr. Lumley, to be discharged, the SPEAKER addressed him as follows:

"Jonathan Fox, the offence for which you were committed to his Majesty's gaol of Newgate, was that of suppressing the truth, when examined as a witness before a committee of this House. It is an offence of immense magnitude. It is obvious that if such an offence were to be tolerated, or suffered to pass with impunity, the ends of justice must be defeated, and the dignity and character of this House impaired. The House, therefore, had no alternative but to adopt the Resolution under which you were imprisoned.

"Since your imprisonment, you have approached this House by petition: In that petition you express to the House the feebleness of your health at the time you were examined; you express your entire respect and deference to the House; and you express also your sincere regret and contrition: It is because the House believe the explanation you have given, and because they rely upon the sincerity of regret and contrition you have expressed, and because they are satisfied that their conduct can, neither by you nor by any one else, be misconstrued, that I am directed, so early after your imprisonment, to inform you that you are discharged, on the payment of your fees."

Jonathan Fox was ordered to withdraw. Mr. Tennyson then moved the order of the day, for going into a committee on the East Retford Disfranchisement bill.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, that having, on Friday, intimated an intention of examining a member of the House on the subject of this bill, he would apprize the House, before he stated the reasons which induced him to make the motion, of what had passed between that hon. member and himself. Being desirous, on every occasion, to observe the maxim—"Do unto others as you would wish to be done by," he addressed a letter to Mr. Crompton, stating his intention of persevering in the motion, and desiring to know whether Mr. Crompton would attend voluntarily, or prefer attending by a compulsory order of the House. In answer to that communication, he received a letter from Mr. Crompton to the following effect:—"That it was not his present intention to be in his place in the House on Monday next, and in case he wished to change his intention, he would inform Mr. Harvey of that circumstance; that, according to his present views, he would rather be in his place some day subsequent to Wednesday; but that Mr. Crompton's colds were so tedious, as to leave him no chance of attending without making himself ill." In consequence of this letter, he should move that Mr. Crompton attend the committee on Friday next. He would now briefly state the reasons which induced him to make the motion. Since last Friday he had read all the evidence taken, not only at the bar of the House, but before the committee appointed to try the merits of the election; and the impression which he had entertained on Friday evening was strengthened by that perusal. It should be recollected, that the object of this bill was that of punishment, by striking the borough out of the political map of the country. The bill was not introduced upon the principle of general reform, but upon the principle of applying reform in any particular case in which palpable malfeasance should be proved. Acting upon this principle, there were three courses of proceeding. The first and most lenient was that of punishing only particular indi- viduals who had been guilty of corruption; their numbers, as contrasted with the entire body, being so trifling as to render it inexpedient, as well as unjust, to extend the punishment beyond the transgressing party. The second case was that in which a considerable portion of the constituent body had been found guilty of corrupt practices. The third was that of entire extinction of the right of election—the severest measure of punishment which could be applied to the political offender. In proof of misconduct requiring the last description of punishment, the hon. member who had introduced the bill had endeavoured to show a uniform and long-continued system of corruption; and, in pursuance of this plan he had pointed out three distinct periods in which corrupt practices had almost touched every person at the bar. The evidence relating to 1812, when Mr. Osbaldeston and Mr. Marsh were returned, was conclusive as to the manner in which Mr. Osbaldeston had secured that return. He then travelled to 1818, and placed at the bar an individual who had just been so correctly admonished, of the name of Fox, and the gist of his evidence was, that he had deposited in the hands of the Retford bankers, shortly after the election of 1818, the sum of 2,800l. On being interrogated as to the mode in which that sum was to be applied, he, at first, declared his total forgetfulness of the way in which the money was to be applied, but, on being admonished of the consequences, he admitted that he had an impression, that that sum of money was given over to the bellman to be distributed amongst the burgesses. He (Mr. Harvey) asked the House, whether that was a species of evidence upon which they were prepared to come to a decision, that gross corruption universally prevailed in the borough of Retford in 1818? The witness stated, however, that he could inform the committee in what way the money was disposed of, provided he was furnished with a paper in the possession of Mr. Crompton, in which were contained the names of every member who was to be a recipient in the distribution of the money. There was, therefore, a frightful chasm in the evidence, which it was in the power of the House to supply by the examination of the proper person. It might so happen that Mr. Crompton had never given an order—that he had drawn the money for a legitimate purpose; and, in that case, the burgesses of Retford would be exonerated from the imputation which now lay upon them. It was the duty of the House to examine all parties who could elucidate these facts. Could any person who had read the evidence conceal from himself the impression, that it was in Mr. Crompton's power to supply the defect in the testimony of Fox? Could it be believed that Fox had distributed the money, unless there was some additional testimony to confirm his statement, or remove the odium under which the electors of East Retford laboured? It was not necessary to refer to authorities to prove that it was competent to pursue such a course. It was not an unusual course for the House to order its members to attend, to undergo that examination which the course of justice, or the supply of facts, might render essential; he could not consider that such an interrogation would press remarkably hard upon this hon. gentleman, because he could not conceal from himself that the hon. gentleman was abundantly sustained by example and sympathy in the House; for it would be ridiculous to suppose that the hon. gentleman was the only person who had entered the portals of the House by the means which he was suspected to have used on this occasion. He, therefore, disclaimed any personal feeling against the hon. member; but thus much he must say, that we should be dealing out a most severe measure of justice, if it could so be called, towards these unfortunate individuals, many of whom were in the humblest condition of life, if while we exterminated their political rights for receiving the value of their rights (for it was nothing more), we threw round the members of the House the powerful and omnipotent shield of parliament, to guard them from similar exposition. There was another consideration to which he was desirous of calling the attention of the House. It ought to be recollected that this report came down expressly recommended for the purpose of drawing attention to the peculiar facts disclosed in it. A few weeks since, some of the standing orders of the House were circulated amongst the members, amongst which he read this:—"That it was a high infringement of the liberties and privileges of the Commons of the United Kingdom for any Lord of Parliament to concern himself in the election of members to serve for the Commons in parliament." Could any gentleman have read the report which had emanated from the committee, without being struck with the direct evidence which was to be found in it of a palpable interference of a Lord of Parliament; that Lord having paid the sum of 1,200l. into the Retford bank, to be applicable to those purposes into which the House was now inquiring. The House was looked up to as the guardian of the constitution; but was it not undermining the constitution to suffer the purchase of the votes of the constituent body? It was impossible the House could terminate its inquiries on this report. He would move, "That S. Crompton, Esq. do, in his place, attend the committee of the whole House, to whom the East Retford Disfranchisement bill is referred."

Mr. Alderman Waithman

expressed his dissent from the greater part of the observations of the hon. member. He did not think any evidence was wanted to prove general corruption in the borough. Some hon. members had entertained doubts and scruples which surpassed his comprehension. They seemed to forget things in the evidence, that an unexceptionable witness, named Thornton, had produced accounts as well kept as they could be in any merchant's counting-house: there were not only the sums paid, but all the persons receiving the money. He thought this a most convincing fact. The only circumstance which made him feel any difficulty in rejecting Mr. Crompton's testimony was, that the world would say that the House acted inconsistently, if not unjustly, in treating persons of a humble class in life with great severity, for an offence which they overlooked when it was committed by one of its own members. He had no wish to examine Mr. Crompton; for he wanted no further evidence to make up his judgment; but he thought that the House ought to consider, whether it would not injure its own character with the country if it failed to command the attendance of that gentleman.

Mr. G. Bankes

said, he would take that opportunity of informing the hon. member for Bletchingley, that he did not consider the evidence, as it now stood, sufficient to disfranchise the borough of East Retford. The evidence of Hannam varied materially from that of Pickup; and he should wish to have both those witnesses re-examined with a view of seeing whether the discrepancy in their evidence could be reconciled. He also was of opinion, that the banker at Retford, Mr. Foljambe, should be examined. As the evidence stood at present, it appeared that there were two cases at the election in 1826, in which promises of votes were given in consequence of its being understood, from a declaration of Mr. Foljambe, that at the end of the election "all would be right," meaning thereby that a sum of money would be paid to the voters. Now it was material to the present inquiry to know whether those two cases were true or not. Mr. Foljambe had denied the truth of them before the committee up stairs, and it was upon his evidence that that committee had declared the sitting members not to have been guilty of bribery. He should therefore wish to examine Mr. Foljambe on this point at the bar of the House. There was also another point on which he considered the attendance of Mr. Foljambe necessary; he meant with respect to that part of the case which related to the powerful influence which appeared behind Mr. Foljambe: that influence which had advanced 1,200/. in two sums for the purposes of the last election. Mr. Foljambe had stated, that the sum of 1,200l. was all that he expected to receive from that quarter for electioneering purposes. He should like to ascertain whether that was the case or not; because if it were, the inference from it would be that the sum of twenty guineas would not have been paid to the electors after the election, supposing that it had never been questioned. Painful as it might be to his feelings, he wished to have the attendance of Mr. Crompton at the bar, if it could be procured; but he did not see that Mr. Crompton ought to attend, if he felt a strong reluctance to such a measure. He now gave notice, that if Mr. Crompton should be ordered to attend at the bar on a future day, he would move that Mr. Hammond, Mr. Pickup, and Mr. Foljambe, be ordered to attend on the same day.

Mr. Sykes

said, he merely rose to state to the House the situation of Mr. Crompton. His hon. friend had intended to have met the challenge of the hon. member for Colchester; but he was at present too much indisposed to come down to the House. He held in his hand a medical certificate from a gentleman of the highest character in his profession, stating that Mr. Crompton was so ill that he could not attend that night in his place without extreme danger. He had himself seen Mr. Crompton, and he could say from his own knowledge, that he was not in a state of health in which he ought to be examined. Mr. Crompton, therefore, required a delay of two or three days. He had no intention whatever of avoiding any examination which the House might think it was his duty to meet. He reposed his honour securely in the House, and having so reposed it, he was willing to undergo any examination. At the same time, he entertained great doubts as to the competency of the House to put to him any questions which by their answers might involve him in a criminal prosecution. So much he had thought it right to say on behalf of his hon. friend. He would now say a word or two in his own person on the present motion. He was not going to deny the right of the House to order Mr. Crompton to attend, but he thought the House was bound to consider the expediency of exercising that right. If the hon. member for Bletchingly, who had conducted this case with the candour and the clearness of a lawyer, had closed it without thinking it expedient to call on Mr. Crompton to give evidence, the House might be inclined to pause before it did so, for no other purpose than to gratify—he would not say the spleen, for that would not be parliamentary, but the curiosity of the hon. member for Colchester, in matters with which that hon. member had no business to interfere. Why was Mr. Crompton the only person to be called to give evidence on this question, when Mr. Osbaldeston and Mr. Evans, who were equally implicated, were not called? Mr. Crompton had indiscreetly, considering his situation, but still competently as regarded his character as a member of parliament, proceeded to examine one of the witnesses produced on this inquiry, and it was not till some dissatisfaction had been excited by the indiscretion of which he was guilty, that the idea arose of examining him. Under such circumstances, he put it to the House to consider whether they ought to call Mr. Crompton to the bar. For his own part he would say that Mr. Crompton, if he were called upon to appear there, would have reason to complain of a violation of that candour and delicacy which he had a right to expect would be shown him by his brother members.

A Member, whose name we could not learn, stated several circumstances to the House, with a view of showing that there was no occasion to call Mr. Foljambe to the bar as a witness.

Mr. Lumley

considered that there was no necessity for examining Mr. Crompton.

Mr. Tennyson

said, that the question of the propriety of calling Mr. Foljambe as a witness to the bar had been so ably disposed of by the hon. gentleman on the other side, that he felt himself excused from the necessity of saying a word upon the subject. Under the peculiar circumstances in which that gentleman was placed, he felt that he should not be justified in summoning him as a witness before them. "With respect to the observations which his hon. and learned friend had made upon Mr. Foljambe's connexion with a part of the case proved before the committee up stairs, all he had to say was this, that the conduct of earl Fitzwilliam, as there disclosed, had no bearing whatever on the case which he had undertaken to lay before the House. If his hon. and learned friend had any charge to make against that noble individual, it was for his hon. and learned friend to bring it forward as a substantive charge against a peer of parliament. As he had been obliged to touch upon the conduct of earl Fitzwilliam, he thought it mere justice to the character of that illustrious nobleman to add, that though it had appeared that he had advanced 1,200l. for the purpose of that election, it did not appear that he had advanced it for any corrupt purposes. It was advanced for the defrayment of those legitimate expenses which every body knew were allowed at elections; and he must say, that he saw no harm in a peer's advancing 1,200l. for the payment of the legitimate expenses of his nephew's return to parliament. Such being the position in which earl Fitzwilliam stood, he thought that his hon. and learned friend would have done better if he had not alluded to it. No one looked with greater jealousy than he did to the interference of peers at elections; and, as a proof of it, he would refer to his own conduct some years ago, when he brought under consideration the proceedings of the duke of Marlborough at an election for Oxford.—As to the motion, for the attendance of Mr. Crompton, he had only a few words to say. It was indifferent to him how far the House might proceed in its examinations. He thought he had already made out a case amply sufficient to justify the House in disfranchising this borough. He was most anxious to go at the earliest opportunity into the examination of the question and into a division upon its merits. He regretted the delays which had taken place, and considered them extremely disadvantageous. At the same time, he was sure that if the House was not tired of these examinations, the further they were continued the clearer they would show the corruption of the borough.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that on the subject of the examination of their members in the manner proposed, the information furnished by the current of authorities was rather of a complex kind. No committee had, he thought, a power to originate a motion for the examination of any witness whether he were a member or not, without receiving an order from the House. Among the authorities, there were several instances of orders for the examination of witnesses, with the superadded words, "if they should think fit." On the whole, however, he was disposed to assume, that the House, if it pleased, had the power to examine members as witnesses in any business before them. He knew that there were instances of members having at first refused to be examined, but who had submitted after some wavering; in no instance had the House proceeded, as far as he could learn, to commit to the Tower in case of a refusal. For his own part, being satisfied on the point to which alone he thought Mr. Crompton could be examined, he saw no necessity for calling upon that hon. member. Still, as this was a case in which they had to decide judicially, and where their decision ought alone to be founded upon the uninfluenced operation of their consciences, he would yield his opinion, should it appear that any number of hon. members were anxious to have Mr. Crompton examined. He cared little for the prevalence of any feeling elsewhere, that they would be disposed to screen one of their own members: all he should ask himself was, ought this particular course to be taken? Because, if he felt it ought, he would do it, regardless of popular impressions. If many hon. members were desirous of examining Mr. Crompton, then he thought it quite clear that in the course of such examination no question should be put which could expose the witness to penalties, or to his being placed in an unfavourable situation elsewhere. The examination should not be conducted with any view of criminating the hon. member himself, but solely for the purpose of ascertaining in what degree the borough of East Retford had been corrupt, and whether it ought to be disfranchised. It had been already proved by Fox, that 2,840l. had been lodged in a bank to pay the electors. It was to that point only that Mr. Crompton could be interrogated; and as they had the information already, what necessity was there of having it repeated? However, if any hon. member thought the evidence material to add a link to the chain, he certainly would not oppose it.

Mr. Wynn

thought there was not a shadow of doubt as to the power of the House to direct the examination of a member. In a committee of the whole House, every member had a right to put such questions as he thought fit to any other member. In this instance, he did not see sufficient grounds for the delay which would result from Mr. Crompton's examination, and, therefore he should vote against it. At the same time he proceeded only on the impressions of his own mind; and if he thought there were many members who wished to hear the evidence of Mr. Crompton, he would vote for his examination. As he considered it most important that every thing concerning the power of the House should be clearly understood, he would repeat, that he was clearly of opinion, that in a committee of the whole House, every member had a perfect and unquestionable right to examine any other member, without any fresh orders from the House. In the case of colonel Wardle, on the charges against the duke of York, no order had been made that he should attend in his place; but being called upon to answer some question, and having objected that one member of the committee should call on another, lord Colchester, then Speaker of the House, sitting as a member of the committee, stated, that no member could refuse to be examined before a committee of the whole House. But it was said, suppose the member should object, the committee had no power to enforce his attendance. The committee could do in this case what they could do in any other similar instance. They would report the fact to the House, and obtain its interference. This was the course they always followed. In the cases of the witnesses who had been guilty of prevarication and false evidence in this investigation, the committee had invoked the authority of the House. That no member was privileged to disobey the resolution of the House, was proved in the instance of three members who were concerned in the South Sea Company. They had objected on the ground of their oaths of office, and those oaths they had taken as members of the Privy Council, but the House overruled the plea, and on the report of the committee, they were committed to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms, That was going as far in the way of compulsion as the House could well do. There could be no doubt as to the authority of the House over its members: it must be complete, or its proceedings might be totally paralysed. With regard to the question before the House, he did not see any necessity for acceding to the motion. He would always object that any witness should criminate himself, unless it was absolutely necessary to the ends of justice. It had been suggested that some individual might be present not belonging to the House, who might hear this evidence and give it afterwards in testimony before some court of justice. But no court, he was sure, would admit hearsay evidence of what had passed at the bar of that House. The only satisfactory evidence in a court of justice would be the short-hand minutes of that evidence taken by order of the House, but there was no danger that that evidence would ever be produced before any court of justice. He was aware there was some inconvenience not resulting directly from the evidence, but which might flow from it as a probable consequence in some cases; and that was, that the evidence itself, though it could not be produced against the party, might lead to the discovery of other testimony injurious to him. On that ground, bills had been sent down from the other House, in some cases, to indemnify the witnesses generally against all penalties and forfeitures they might have incurred by reason of any act of which they might give credence. He thought that principle so just and reasonable, that he wished to see it extended to all cases of inquiry before either the House of Parliament, or any committee of either.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, there was not a shadow of difference between his right hon. friend and himself as to the power of the House to compel the attendance of any member to be examined before a committee. The result of his inquiry was distinctly in favour of the existence of that power. A member stood in the same relation to a committee as any other individual. He did not claim for him any indemnity that he did not claim for every other individual.

Lord Howick

said, that if the only question was, whether the evidence of Mr. Crompton was or was not necessary to make out the case against the borough of East Retford, he should vote for that hon. gentleman's examination. But he wished to argue the question on higher grounds. If the laws against bribery were constantly enforced, he would say, by all means discover all the parties guilty of corruption in these cases. But as it was notorious that nine tenths of the members who sat for boroughs in that House were returned either by bribes of money, or money's worth, he saw no reason to select any particular individual, and make him a scape-goat for the sins of others. The House could neither deceive itself nor the country; and he would say, unless the House was determined to adopt some general rule to suppress bribery, and to carry it in all instances into execution, he would not concur in inflicting what he must otherwise consider only a cruel and useless punishment. He should certainly vote for the bill, as the burgesses of East Retford had no right to use their privileges for selfish or corrupt purposes.

Sir R. Wilson

said, that some hon. members had stated that they considered the examination of Mr. Crompton necessary to establish facts. He for one was prepared to vote for the disfranchisement of the borough on the evidence he had heard. But he thought it very strange, that members, who differed from him as to the sufficiency of the evidence, should join with him in refusing to hear further evidence. It had been stated, that the proposition to examine Mr. Crompton had originated in personal feelings; but the hon. member for Colchester had solemnly disclaimed the imputation. That hon. gentleman had stated that he held the examination of Mr. Crompton necessary, to enable him to arrive safely at the conclusion, which, as a judge, he must draw from the evidence before him. As to the objection that Mr. Crompton might, by some of his answers, subject himself to prosecution, he disregarded it; for the committee would prevent the hon. gentleman, from giving any answer which might expose him to any proceedings out of that House.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he was quite at a loss to account for the imputation so pointedly made against him by the hon. member for Hull, that he was influenced by feelings of spleen towards Mr. Crompton. He disclaimed solemnly that he had not felt the slightest spleen towards the hon. gentleman. As to what had been said by the hon. member who conducted the inquiry he would reply to him in the words of Sterne, "that the ass had sought his master as much only as the master had sought the ass." He had been induced to interfere in this inquiry in consequence of two gentlemen, connected with East Retford, having called upon him, who, after presenting that hon. gentleman's compliments, had stated, that he would feel personally obliged if he would give his aid in conducting this investigation. The persons who had thus induced him to intrude sat at that moment under the gallery, at the bar of the House. He had told them at that time, that, in his opinion, the inquiry would be mere trifling, if the committee did not call, not only on Mr. Crompton but on Mr. Evans. He knew nothing of Mr. Osbaldeston till he heard of him in the course of this inquiry, and he would have been as ready to have called him if it had been necessary. But there was no occasion for doing that, as they had had his agent Pickup, before them, who had stated, that he had taken the money for the express purpose of paying the voters; and they had also had Hannam before them, who had assisted Pickup on that occasion. Here there was a complete identification of a corrupt purpose. Not so with respect to Mr. Crompton; for, from all that appeared in the evidence of Fox, he might still be in possession of the 2,840l. He called on the hon. gentleman, who had been so dexterous in the management of his case, to state why he had not produced the evidence of dozens of persons who might have been found to prove that they had received the sealed parcels? Fox stated, that 2,840l. had been made up in parcels of twenty-one guineas each. Why had no witness been called who had received one of these parcels? There was another reason why it was important Mr. Crompton should be examined. There was no evidence that that hon. gentleman, though lie had spent money in 1812, had, laid out sixpence in the election of 1818, for any corrupt purpose. This, if it was proved to be true, would be strong testimony to show the improved character of the burgesses. He believed that the time was gone by when the hon. member could incur any penalties for what he might say, though perhaps at common law he might still be responsible; and, for any thing he knew, the very first question that might be asked, would lead to that liability which he agreed ought to be avoided.

Mr. Tennyson

said, that the hon. gentleman had been misled; for he had not sent his compliments to him, or any message on the subject. With respect to the present question, if he had abstained from calling for the evidence of Mr. Crompton, Mr. Evans, or Mr. Osbaldeston, he had done so, not from any desire of preventing their exposure, but because he had been given to understand that those gentlemen would be unable to prove the receipt of money by the burgesses.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

recommended the hon. member to withdraw his motion. If it went to a division, he should not vote for it.

Mr. Hume

concurred in the recommendation.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, that insinuations had been thrown out against him, and private motives had been attributed to him, and he therefore was anxious to press this motion to a division, in order to satisfy the House of the purity of his motives. If he stood alone he would divide the House thirty times. If, however, the House were satisfied as to the purity of his motives, he should not press for a division.

Mr. Peel

said, he could bear testimony to the fact, that the hon. member for Colchester upon a former evening, and before any of the imputations alluded to had been made, had pressed as anxiously for the examination of Mr. Crompton as he had done upon the present occasion. There was no question, therefore, as to the purity of the hon. member's motives; and seeing that, he trusted the hon. member would not call for a division.

The motion was then withdrawn.

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