HC Deb 13 April 1831 vol 3 cc1276-82
Sir Edward Sugden

rose, and addressed the House:— He was understood to complain of the attack which had been made upon him by the hon. and learned member for Water-ford, founded upon statements which had appeared in the daily papers, the originals of which the hon. and learned Member, he would venture to say, had not seen. If the hon. and learned Member believed such statements, why did he not, manfully and directly bring forward a charge? He was ready to meet any charge that might be brought against him, but he protested against these covert attacks, founded on statements of which the basest and most scandalous use had been made- It had been asserted that he had not paid his election expenses, and that he had taken improper means of securing a seat in the House, in order to obtain from the Government a judicial situation. That was no new charge, and he threw it back with the contempt which it deserved. All who knew any thing of him knew that he had no desire for judicial station. He wished only to win his way by the regular course of his profession. This he said before the House, and in the face of the world. He could over and over again have had judicial station, but he refused it, because he desired to be independent, and gain his independence by his own professional exertions. Was it right, then, that he should be thus censured? Or, was it likely that he would have had recourse to base means to procure a station which he might have obtained with honour? An answer to a statement of his had appeared in The Times of that morning, and he declared, on his honour, that nine-tenths of that answer was scandalously false. He would not trespass further on the time of the House, but merely call on those who imputed to him improper conduct, to come forward in a manly manner, and make a charge against him.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he had found the hon. and learned Gentleman the advocate of parliamentary corruption, and, as such, he had impugned his conduct. He had been led to take up the subject from the following circumstances:—An individual of the name of Northcote came to him, and stated that he had certain documents which related to the traffic in seats in Parliament, and that he wished to keep his name from the public. He (Mr. O'Connell) refused to hear any communication unless he might give his name and produce the original documents. Mr. Northcote finally consented to this, arid then asked whether an individual belonging to the same profession with himself should be allowed to escape, after such a transaction, without animadversion. After this conversation, and the production of the papers, he told Mr. Northcote, unless the subject were brought forward by some one else, he would bring it under the notice of the House. He spoke of the traffic of seats, because he found that the expenses of the election were to be paid out of this traffic in seats, and this he saw in the hand-writing of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He thought it his duty, therefore, to make an allusion to the subject, which he believed was in conformity with the documents. For his part he had considered those documents altogether as public property, and he had, therefore, no hesitation in making use of them in this way, with a view to secure an advantage to the people. As for the hon. and learned Gentleman, he had thought fit to have made use of language which would not have escaped him, had he not presumed that he might safely do so in respect to him, from peculiar circumstances. He had made use of the phrase "boroughmongering," and charged that hon. and learned Member with the advocacy of parliamentary corruption. The phrase and the charge had both been published in the journals of the day, and public papers. The letters written were not disavowed or denied, though the hen. and learned Gentleman stood high in his profession, and had occupied a high station under the late Ministry. Was it not absurd then to call such a. state of things the Representation of the people in Parliament? The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had so called it; and had challenged for this state of things the respect of hon. Members and of the country. What! was this, indeed, Representation of the people, that a man should, in such circumstances, be permitted to talk of vested rights and indemnities? Or hold out that persons had a right to make an outlay of 21,000l., by way of investing so much property in boroughs, reserving the return of one individual free of expense, whilst that party, so secured from all charge, had the boldness to state that a claim for indemnity might arise, on the ground of expense incurred, where none really had been incurred? He felt it impossible to restrain himself within very measured language, when he found the hon. and learned Member, this evening, instead of meeting the charge fairly and boldly, and denying his share of the correspondence, which he never yet had denied, resorting to a defence which was characterized by a spirit of low chicanery and artifice, calculated, as the hon. and learned Member had hoped, to conceal that which every one might see lurked behind the curtain—the hon. and learned Gentleman never had yet denied—would he now deny—the correspondence attributed to him? Would he join him now, and show his sincerity, by asking for inquiry on this subject? If he would do so, he would give him the opportunity, for most assuredly would he bring forward a malign upon the subject.

Sir Edward Sugden

remarked, that the foundation of the complaint he had made against the hon. and learned Gentleman, had only been considerably increased by what had fallen from him within the last few minutes. The attack he now sustained had been made advisedly. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member had stated the intention to attack him, and he had, as the House observed, performed that promise, by imputing to him the advocacy of corruption in the borough system, whilst only doing that which he felt himself conscientiously called on as a Member of that House, to do. If the House allowed the observations just now made use of, and the language to be unreproved which had just escaped from the hon. and learned Gentleman's lips, then indeed he would for once admit that a Reform in that House had become necessary, though in a very different respect from that contended for by the hon. and learned Gentleman. As to the letters which he had been called on to disavow, he confessed he was unable to do so completely till he had them in his possession, from the circumstance of his letters being written, at least nineteen times out of twenty, in Court between different proceedings, and it was therefore impossible for him to take copies of them. From expressions, however, in them he felt persuaded, he could not have written those letters imputed to him. Having, however, no copies of his own letters, he would now invite the hon. and learned Gentleman to bring forward the originals, and from the inspection of them, he felt he should clearly prove, as he had already stated, that the whole of the charges brought against him by the newspapers, and by the hon. and learned Gentleman, were totally false. If he declined doing so, then it would appear that he did so decline, not out of a wish to do justice between him and his accusers, but because the hon. and learned Gentleman had said, he would make him the subject of attack in that House. He confessed he was sorry to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman league himself with persons out of doors to heap unfounded obloquy on other Members of that House. He would repeat, in contradiction to the hon. and learned Member's assertion, that he paid the whole of his election expenses in 1826, when, though not contested, those expenses were very considerable, and also the whole of those incurred in 1830. He declared upon his honour, that all the charges and insinuations made against him on the score of those expenses were totally false. He had already denied these charges as publicly as they had been made, and he would then add, upon his honour as a Gentleman, that he did not think, though disabled, from the want of copies, to speak more decidedly, that he either had written, or could have written, the letters alluded to. He doubted the existence of those letters, notwithstanding the hon. and learned Gentleman said he had seen them; for he certainly would not pay him the compliment to say he believed that assertion. That hon. and learned Gentleman had admitted and justified the attack now made on him, though it not only originated with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but was made totally without provocation. The advocates of Universal Suffrage and Vote by Ballot might hereafter expect the same treatment as he had now met with from the hon. and learned Member, wavering on those great subjects as he appeared to be at present. As, on the one hand, he had always been averse to courting a quarrel, so, on the other hand, he should always be anxious to prove that he never would flinch from maintaining his character there, or elsewhere, in the manner that it behoved every Gentleman to support it.

Mr. Hume

considered the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke, had violated order by the allusion made to the doubts he entertained of his hon. and learned friend's veracity, when he asserted he would not believe what his hon. and learned friend had asserted.

The Speaker

had heard nothing which he could consider disorderly, in respect to the assertion by the hon. and learned Member, that he could not pay the hon. and learned member for Waterford the compliment to believe what he had asserted relative to letters, of the alleged contents of which he had before expressed his doubts; which only amounted to this, that he would not believe those letters to have been written by him until he inspected the hand-writing. He could not refrain from expressing, however, a wish that the interference of the hon. member for Middlesex had taken place earlier. Great latitude had been, and, in his mind, ought to be given to hon. Members when called on to defend their characters from attacks. If, how ever, he were desired to give his opinion whether disorder had been apparent in this case, he should say yes; but, if he were called on further to explain his view of it, he should say it had its origin with the hon. and learned member for Waterford.

Lord J. Russell

was of opinion that the subject was one which required further discussion and inquiry. Although the statement which had appeared in the public prints did not satisfy him that the hon. and learned member for Weymouth had been justly charged, yet on the other hand, the denial had not been such as to remove all impression from his mind that the hon. and learned Gentleman was wholly free from the imputation which had been cast upon him. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. and learned member for Waterford would bring the subject forward and he should be exceedingly happy if, on that occasion, the hon. and learned member for Weymouth should be able to give such explanations of his conduct as might relieve him entirely from the imputation.

Sir E. Sugden

wished to know what it was that the noble Lord desired to have examined before a Committee of Parliament? Was it if a seat had been obtained in that House by payment of money, or by nomination? If the noble Lord's sensitiveness was such that he could not bear to see men come into that House in any other way than was strictly legal and constitutional, let the noble Lord not make a personal attack upon him, but fairly look these abuses in the face, and endeavour to adopt some mode of getting rid of them. Among other instances of men getting into that House without having recourse to the free votes of a numerous constituency, was that of the members for the borough of Bletchingley, into which he thought an inquiry ought to be made, as well as into many other boroughs.

Lord J. Russell

denied that he had made any personal attack upon the hon. and learned Member. What he had said was solely from a wish to see the character of Members vindicated. As long as he continued a Member of that House, he thought he had a right to endeavour to make the laws which governed it be properly pursued. One of those laws was, that the sale of seats there, neither directly or indirectly, should be allowed. The hon. and learned Member called on him to see that the principle of that law was carried into effect. Why, he was engaged in doing so, to the utmost of his ability, at that moment. The hon. and learned Gentleman then referred to the borough of Bletchingley, and said that some inquiry ought to be made into the manner in which the seats of that borough were disposed of. If the hon. and learned Member would take the trouble of looking into schedule A of a certain Bill that was now before the House, he would find, that however the seats for that borough had hitherto been disposed of, all opportunity of their being again made the subject of sale would be most effectually destroyed, and, therefore, if the hon. and learned Gentleman was really anxious for the purity of that House, let him assist in destroying that practice which was now the subject of so much complaint. The opportunity was now given him, and he might at once prove himself the friend of the purity of that House, by voting for a measure which he had as yet opposed, making himself as celebrated by supporting Reform as he had hitherto been by opposing it.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

observed, that as the noble Lord had been engaged in a contest for counties, and in contests for open boroughs, and now held a seat for a nomination borough, he must have the means of affording some information upon every kind of corruption, and especially with regard to the exercise of patronage in nomination boroughs.

Petition to be laid on the Table.