§ Mr. Benett
, in rising to bring under the notice of the House the corrupt state of the borough of Liverpool, said, that it was not his intention to detain the House long, but he felt 306 it necessary to go into a short detail, in order to justify the Motion with which he intended to conclude. The subject branched out into two divisions; first, the corruption and bribery which prevailed during the Corporation elections, as well as during the elections for Members of Parliament. It was well known, that for many years past the elections for the mayoralty had been marked by the grossest corruption. On various occasions vast sums of money had been expended in the contest. In one year the election cost 10,000l., and so late as the year 1827 it was said to have cost no less a sum than 15,000l.; and, should his Motion for a Committee of Inquiry be granted, he should be able to prove, that corruption had been practised during the election of the Mayors, down to a very late period indeed. The prevalence of bribery in the Corporation elections led to the introduction of the same system in elections for Members to sit in that House, and these corrupt practices could be traced back to a very early date. But, not to go further back than the election in 1830, he would just state to the House what was the condition of the borough of Liverpool at that period. During that election scarcely a freeman went uncontaminated to the poll. Money was lavished in all quarters, the bribe varied from 5l. to 100l. a-man; and he had a proof in his possession, that even a Magistrate had allowed himself to be corrupted. He did not impute these acts of bribery to the hon. Member who was returned at that election, but who was afterwards on petition unseated. They were committed by some indiscreet friends of his; but they were not, on that account, the less illegal. He had seen the election-books containing the names of certain electors, with a sum of money placed against each; and he would undertake to prove, that upwards of 3,000 freemen had been bribed at the time of that election, and that in some instances where the parties had received money from both sides the bribe had been returned. That election was supposed to have cost 80,000l. The extent of the bribery was very material, because, if it was proved to the extent stated, it could not be said, that they were punishing the majority, who were innocent, because a few persons were guilty. He had been told by the noble Lord, the member for Liverpool (Lord Sandon), that there had been no bribery since 307 the election of 1830. He bad no doubt, that the noble Lord believed what he had stated; and that, if bribery had been practised, it was unknown to him. He was convinced, however, that the noble Lord was mistaken. An eminent Counsel, of unquestionable veracity, and skill in his profession, had been consulted on the petition which it was intended to follow up against the noble Lord's last return, and the learned Gentleman assured him that it was his conviction, that if the petitioners had persisted, the sitting Members would have been unseated. Doubtless the noble Lord had not sanctioned the proceedings on which the petition was founded, but he had agents and friends who might have done many things without his concurrence. How else could the noble Lord account for the extraordinary turn the election had taken. On the first day, Mr. Thornley, the noble Lord's opponent, was a-head of the poll, but the freemen came up in great bodies on the second day, and turned the scale in his favour. On the first day, 2,508 of the votes were given for Mr. Thornley, and 521 of the old votes; while, for the noble Lord there polled 994 of the old electors, and 1,522 of the new. On the second day no less than 1,116 of the old voters polled for the noble Lord, and only 369 for Mr. Thornley; what was it which made the old electors go in such a body to the poll on the second day, and vote for the noble Lord? He had been credibly informed, that when the bribery-oath was offered to the old freemen, they had invariably refused to take it. [Lord Sandon assured the hon. Member that he was misinformed.] He was not present, and therefore could only speak from what he was told; but, if the fact was not as he had stated, he was misinformed. There had been two species of bribery practised in Liverpool. The electors were bribed with money, and also with money's worth. For many years the patronage of the town was in the hands of the Member who supported the Government, and that patronage was distributed by his Committee for the purpose of securing his election. The Canning Club, which existed for many years, consisted of thirteen members, merchants of Liverpool, in whom all the patronage was vested; and it was well known that whilst that system prevailed situations were sold, and the proceeds employed in returning the Member. In his opinion, 308 that was a system of bribery more dishonest than if a Member bribed with money taken out of his own pocket. The history of the elections for the borough for years past had affixed a stain on the character of its elections which could never be wiped off until a Committee was appointed, and measures taken for securing the purity of the borough for the future. As to the petition against the noble Lord's return, he was bound to state, that it was not given up, as the noble Lord conceived, because the petitioners apprehended that it would have been declared frivolous and vexatious. It had been given up under his advice, because he considered it more creditable to the petitioners to take up the question on general principles, and to endeavour to preserve the elections of the town from the disgrace of bribery and corruption hereafter by the application of some effectual remedy. What he wanted was, to take away those who were the tools of greater rogues. He did not mean to apply that term offensively, but he did think that those who bribed were quite as bad, or rather worse, than those who received bribes. The House would hear, he doubted not, of the injustice of depriving the freemen of what were called their rights. He denied, however, that the elective franchise was a right—it was a public trust, and the Legislature had a perfect right to take it from those who exercised it disadvantageously for the country. That was the principle on which the Legislature had proceeded in passing the Reform Bill; and he, for one, very much regretted that what were called the rights of freemen in corporate towns and boroughs, had not been all abrogated, as was as at first intended by that Bill, he was no advocate for universal suffrage but he would rather have it than have a body of men in every town, always ready to sell their votes, and turn the scale at an election. He thought a sufficient case had been made out for the interposition of the House, and that a stain was thrown on the purity of election at Liverpool which would not be wiped out until a Committee had fully investigated the subject. The hon. Member concluded by moving "for the appointment of a select Committee to inquire into matters complained of in the petition of the inhabitants of Liverpool, presented 21st of February, and to report the result of their inquiries to the House."
§ Lord Sandon
thought the hon. member 309 for Wiltshire might have confined his allegations to the late election, instead of going back for twenty years, and referring to cases of alleged corruption, brought forward, he believed, for the purposes of aggravation, and merely to bolster up a bad case. The petition itself bore him out when he said, that the hon. Member should have confined himself to the late election for the petitioners plainly intimated that if the late election had turned out according to their wishes, they would have been satisfied. He had not been long connected, as a Member, with the town of Liverpool, and he did not stand there to defend the corruption which might have been practised at former elections for that town. For any thing he knew the statements of the hon. Member might be well or ill founded. The House had decided as to the bribery and corruption at the election of 1830, with which he had nothing to do, and which he did not stand there to advocate. There had been two elections since, the purity of which had never been impeached—[Mr. Rigby Wason said, that he had impeached their purity]. At all events, they were never legally impeached, and the last election was not impeached in the only manner in which elections were ever impeached in that House. As to the charges of corruption, founded upon the extent of subscriptions for the return of candidates, he contended that they were entirely unfounded. Many men who were warm in a political cause subscribed largely to support the return of a person whom they considered the advocate of that cause, without hoping for any patronage or profit from him. He held in his hand a list of subscriptions entered into for the election of Messrs. Brougham and Creevey in Liverpool, and he found that some of them were to so large an amount as 500l. and even 800l. Yet those candidates, at the time he referred to, were not in possession of any Government patronage. For his own part, he had represented Liverpool for two years, and he stated it in the presence of Ministers, that he had never asked from them a single favour. This fact was well known to his constituents, and yet, he was happy to say, it had not made them less ardent in supporting him. The expense of the first election in which he was concerned at Liverpool had been 1,800l, and of the second between 1,400l and 1,500l; and he should like to know how many Members, returned by so numerous a constituency 310 as that of Liverpool, had come off so cheaply? And he should also further be glad to know how it was possible for him to have bribed the voters, to any extent, with so small a sum? Was it fair, therefore, to call upon that House to pass a sentence of disfranchisement upon any portion of the Liverpool freemen upon the facts alleged? Upon whom, also, would that punishment fall? It would not fall upon the rich classes, who if any were guilty, were the most so, but it would take effect only upon the poor classes. The whole number accused by the hon. Member as having been guilty of bribery and corruption was 3,600; but of this the number to be disfranchised was 1,448. Now, of this 1,448, it could not be distinguished where the real guilt lay; for it was composed of persons of various classes; some were merchants' sons, and persons in independent circumstances; others were clerks and book-keepers, living in houses which entitled them to vote, and these ought to be separated from the 1,448. In fact, if the whole of the number, 3,600 were to be examined into it would be found that a very small portion came under the just accusation of the hon. Member. But the hon. member for Wiltshire argued that, because most of the freemen voted one way, he had made out a strong case in favour of their disfranchisement. He must, however, remark, that the intention of the Reform Bill, in preserving the existing rights of the Liverpool burgesses, did not mean to debar the newly enfranchised voters from exercising their rights in whatever way they might deem it proper, nor to debar them from-voting all one way. Neither was it contemplated that the old burgesses should be entitled to preserve their votes only so long as they sided with the householders. He must confess, that he saw great difficulty in drawing any line of distinction between the rights of the burgesses and those of the newly-enfranchised householders, for he believed that none existed. And with regard to the prayer of the petition which the hon. Member had presented, let him remind the House of the circumstances under which the Grenville Act, regulating the proceedings in all election petitions, had been passed. The preamble of that Act states, that the mode then pursued of deciding the merits of election petitions was found to obstruct the despatch of public business, and to be attended with 311 great expense; that the decisions often come to were at variance with the merits of the cases; that they were not guided by strict rules of justice; and that in order to provide a remedy for these inconveniences, the provisions named in that Act had been suggested. What was the protection which the House by that Act threw over the seat of a Member of that assembly? In the first place the chief object was to provide an impartial tribunal to decide on the merits of the petition, which being obtained by ballot, was further purified by the rejection of all the names of persons who were in any way connected with, or concerned in, the matter to be tried. The next precaution adopted was, to swear the Committee to an impartial judgment on the ease; and the third provision was, to give them the power of examining witnesses. Now, which of all the protective powers thus created would the hon. Member wish to throw around the tribunal which he proposed to establish? The tribunal would not be ballotted for; neither would they be sworn, nor would they have the power to put witnesses on their oaths; therefore, but one of those powers by which the House had chosen to protect the seat of Members would be at the disposal of the hon. Member's Committee. If, however, the House had no objection to grant the prayer of the petition, he had none; he would willingly listen to the evidence of witnesses at the Bar of that House; but let him ask, if once they threw their doors open for the consideration of charges of bribery and corruption, whether it was not likely that they would soon find they had nothing else to do? If all the cases of corruption which had occurred in Liverpool within the last twenty or thirty years, and he admitted that many very strong ones might be brought forward, were to be inquired into, where was the line to be drawn? Let him ask, was it possible to unite all the requisites in the general tribunal of that House which were already possessed by the present election Committees; and if not, what more insufficient or vicious mode of inquiry could be adopted, to examine into particular instances of bribery, than one which should also be adapted to a general inquiry as to all the cases of bribery and corruption that could be proved for a space of twenty or thirty years? If the prayer of the petition were to be granted, the House would soon have 312 their Bar crowded with similar petitioners' who would demand inquiries into other cases of long past corruption—[Cheers by Mr. O'Connell] He understood the hon. and learned Member's cheer. He understood him to mean that there should be no Statute of Limitation which should prevent them from going into the consideration of alleged instances of corruption, however long past the time at which they occurred might be—[Mr. O'Connell; "No, none."] Then let him ask the hon. Member, what time they would have for the consideration and despatch of the public business, if they were to be occupied by inquiries at the Bar into all the cases of bribery and corruption which might be alleged during a space of time extending over more than thirty years? But to return to the prayer of the petition—the House had been called upon to listen to a detail of all those general charges of corruption against the borough of Liverpool, for the purpose, it seemed, of swelling the amount of her guilt, and of prejudicing the minds of her judges before they went into Committee upon the petition. In the course of the observations made by the hon. member for Wiltshire, he understood him to say that the name of the Mayor of Liverpool was appended to the petition which he had presented. [Mr. Benett had made no such assertion.] He certainly thought that the hon. Member had said so; but the hon. Member had, however, asserted that the brother of the Mayor of Liverpool was the Chairman of his election committee, which was so far from being the fact, that the Gentleman to whom he alluded was not even on the committee. Now he hoped the hon. Member, having been altogether wrong in this assertion, would not be so confident in future in the truth of his allegations. The hon. member for Wiltshire also asserted that a great portion of the old freemen who voted for him had refused to take the bribery oath on going to the poll. This also was an unfounded assertion, for, in the first place, let him ask the hon. Member how the poll could go on if the voters refused to comply with the law of election? He could, however, tell the hon. Member what the facts were. The bribery oath was only proposed by the opposite party with a view to gain time, and to prevent a sufficient number of his voters from being polled to gain upon the other party's numbers. The object, however, was defeated, 313 for his voters not only came up, but they took the bribery oath and he gained the day. The only instance which he knew of a refusal to take the bribery oath was shown on the other side; a voter of which party refused to take it amidst the acclamations of all around him. He could also explain, for the satisfaction of the hon. Member, the cause why his majority on the first day had been composed chiefly of voters of the smaller class. Several of the old electors said to him, on being urged to go to the poll, that they would not vote with the small folk, but would come and vote for him on the second day. He had now to make some observations upon the report of a speech made by his hon. colleague a few days back, in presenting a petition, which had appeared in the public Journals, and which, he had been assured, by his hon. colleague, did not contain a true account of what he had said. He had been assured by his colleague, that he (Mr. Ewart) had not gone beyond the mere prayer of the petition in the observations which he had made in presenting it, and he felt himself bound, in justice to those concerned, to hasten to undo the erroneous impressions which the unfounded statements in the public papers had created. The petition, it was first, untruly, slated in the report to be presented on the part of certain persons against the Corporation of Liverpool; now, it was, in fact, a petition against the constitution of the dock companies there, and complaining against certain acts of which that company had been guilty. The next mistake was, that the annual income of the dock companies, amounting to 300,000l. was misappropriated. Now, it was impossible that any misappropriation of the funds of the dock companies could take place, for they were strictly appropriated to certain payments under a direct Act of Parliament. The next allegation was, that the Corporation had sold lands, at an unfair valuation, to certain parties. Now, the fact was, that in every case where the Corporation had sold the borough lands, they did so under the sanction of a Jury; and he thought it but fair to the Corporation to vindicate them from the charges which had thus been unfoundedly brought against them by the mistake of the public Press, for it was highly important to keep the minds of Members and of the public from entertaining an unfounded prejudice against them, He thought that 314 it was but just, too, that such an imputation should not rest upon the minds of the judges who were to try the merits of their case. He could say, for his own part, that as far as he had an opportunity of knowing, and from the opinion of those who, from their knowledge, were best qualified to judge of the matter, that the Corporation of Liverpool had administered these funds in the most useful and proper manner. With respect to the petition before the House, he must say it would have been more agreeable to his feelings if the prayer were granted, and the inquiry gone into at once. But he did not think, that it would be a course strictly consonant with justice to other parties, and he, therefore, should not be fulfilling his duty, as a Member of Parliament, towards his constituents, if he were not to oppose it. One of the first things the Committee would have to do would be to inquire into the circumstances of the last election; but he entreated Gentlemen not to go into the inquiry with minds prejudiced by the belief of allegations so general as those brought against the Corporation by the hon. member for Liverpool. With these views he must declare it to be his intention to oppose the proposition for a General Committee of Inquiry, as supported by the hon. Member, entreating him to bear in mind that, not with standing his lawyer might have told him that he had a very good case upon which to found his demand, it was not possible for the lawyer to whom he referred to have known all the circumstances upon which he had pronounced so strong an opinion, and that, consequently, his opinion was not worth much. There was not enough adduced by the hon. member for Wiltshire to induce the House to consent to the Committee proposed. He wished that the Gentlemen who urged forward this inquiry had been of the same opinion as Mr. Sheppard, one of the most distinguished Members of their party. That individual had expressed himself to the following effect at a public meeting held a few weeks before. 'He must confess that he could not come into court with clean hands to accuse the borough of Liverpool. No one, he trusted, would suspect him of having ever received a bribe; but he must confess his purse was lighter from his interference in election matters; he had subscribed money, and he had some suspicion that his money had been employed 315 in bribing others. Having done this, how could he put on a hypocritical face, and come forward to accuse his brother freemen? Having done this at the time of Mr. Roscoe' election—having done this at the time when it was attempted to return Mr. Brougham, and Lord Molyneux, how could he turn round upon the freemen of Liverpool, and say; "I will disfranchise your for receiving bribes?" He scorned to do so; instead of doing so he would himself assume the humble station of a penitent along with them'. He agreed with these sentiments and he could only in conclusion again express is wish that the party of which the reverend gentleman was a leader had all entertained the same sentiments. He saw no good ground laid for the Motion and therefore he should oppose it.
§ Mr. Robinson
thought these subjects ought rather to come before the Committee on Corporations, than before the House; supposing, however, the House were to grant the Committee, now petitioned for, what would be the necessary effect of investigating the allegations before a Select Committee, where neither the examiners nor the examined would be upon oath? He would take upon himself to say, that the Committee would be so entirely confused by the complicated and contradictory statements which would be thus made before them, that they would be utterly unable to fulfil their judicial duties. Or, suppose even that this Select Committee did come to a judgment, and it were in favour of the petitioners, would this House consent to disfranchise such a body of freemen on mere statements not given on oath? Would they not insist upon having the whole case thoroughly sifted and reinvestigated before them? Would they not summon the petitioners, witnesses, and counsel, to the bar of the House? If they did so, the expense and delay which would be the result would be dreadful; and he need only refer to the trouble and expense which had attended the investigation of the East Retford case. He need only refer to this, to show the House at one view what they would bring upon themselves by agreeing to this motion. He did not mean for a moment to deny, that bribery of the most flagrant description had been long practised at Liverpool; but whatever corruptions had existed at Liverpool, or anywhere else, the Reform Bill would be of little 316 use, if it did not prevent the repetition of all such for the future. As to Liverpool, indeed, hon. Members need be under no apprehensions of bribery being ever known there again, for there no longer existed any possibility of bribery there. One great branch of bribery and corruption—the grants of appointments—had been altogether knocked on the head. The noble Lord stated, and he had no doubt correctly, that during the time of his having been a Member for that borough, he had not had a single place to give away to his constituents. He denied, that any case had been made out for granting the prayer of the petition for permitting an investigation which would cost the country an enormous sum—not much under 8,000l. or 10,000l. and would occasion very great delay in public business. He implored the Government, by their sense of duty, to recollect the immensity of business they had to transact this Session—to recollect what time they would require for the discussion of the important question last night before the House. He implored them not to delay such all-important matters, for the investigation of local and partial statements.
§ Mr. Rigby Wason
was in favour of the pointment of the Committee. It seemed to him that the opposition to it was an opposition to justice—was a shield to corruption. An hon. Member had called it a mere election petition; but it was no such thing. It did not at all refer to the hon. Member now sitting for Liverpool: but the principal allegation (which that hon. Member, and the hon. Member for Worcester had entirely passed over) set forth, that gross bribery and corruption had for a long time existed in the elections of the Chief Magistrate, and the Members of Parliament; that, indeed, this vile—this degrading system had so long existed, that the minds of the inhabitants had almost arrived at the idea that there was nothing particularly objectionable in that which had become as it were an established custom. This was what the petition was directed against—not against the noble Lord, the member for the borough; there was not the slightest intention of unseating him. The whole aim of the petitioners was against the atrocious system. A presentment was made by the Grand Jury of Liverpool, not long ago, against the bribery and corruption practised at the election of the Mayor. The Magistracy directed their 317 power against two poor men who had foolishly allowed themselves to be bribed into going up to vote twice. These two ignorant men were disfranchised for this offence. Here were these poor men punished for an offence by the very Magistrates by whom they had been corrupted into the commission of that offence. The various circumstances of the several elections at Liverpool, since 1830, which were of great and public notoriety fully proved the grossest bribery and corruption in that borough. Thus, after the election of 1831, when the present Member for Nottinghamshire, who had been selected as Representative both by that county and by Liverpool—when that hon. Member made his choice for the former representation, there was a vacancy for Liverpool, and the House of Commons decidedly refused to issue a new writ, on the ground of gross corruption having been proved to have taken place at the previous election. Indeed the noble Lord, he must say, was now in that House purely by the influence of bribery and corruption. The hon. member for Worcester had said these investigations would occupy an immense portion of time, and that a subsequent inquiry would even then be necessary. But he did not think either of these fears well founded. On the contrary, he thought the labours of the Committee would not be of an extended nature.
thought the House could not avoid entering into this inquiry. If the allegations made by the petitioners were true, it was essential that justice should be done to the delinquents. If unfounded, it was due to the character of the inhabitants of Liverpool to have the aspersions cleared up. It was clear, however, on the face of it, from the incontrovertible facts stated on oath before the Committee of 1830, and contained in their Report, and from other evidence adduced, that the most unblushing bribery was carried on at Liverpool, from the lowest inhabitant to the highest Magistrate. The facts stated in the Report, too, had been fully borne out by the noble Lord, who had quoted a speech of the Rev. W. Sheppard, confessing that he believed that the money he had subscribed had been employed in bribery, to support his political opinions. It was notorious that the name of freemen of Liverpool was synonymous with bribery and corruption. Liverpool was not only a mass of corruption as 318 a whole, but there were cycles of corruption. An hon. Member had said; "Let the corrupters be punished." So he would say too, but let the corrupted be punished as well. Let all those who were base enough to have the taint of corruption in their souls, share a merited punishment. An hon. Member said, that these matters should be brought before the Corporation Committee; that Committee would have quite enough to do with Liverpool, independent of this matter, which related solely to the elective franchise. He regretted to hear the speech of the noble Lord. He could not think of it but as throwing a shield over corruption—as protecting the offence, and encouraging the offenders. There was no imputation against the noble Lord: his purity was perfectly established. The purity of the electors it was which was not established. This was a case which emphatically called for the interference of the House; and the Magistrates and inhabitants of Liverpool, if they were innocent, would be the first to cry out for the clearance of their characters from the aspersions now cast upon it. He should support the petition.
§ Lord William Lennox
regretted extremely that the hon. member for the county of Wilts should have felt it to be his duty to have again brought forward this question. He thought the valuable time of the House could be better employed than by raking up the grievances of 1830. He thought the funds of the country could be better disposed of than by paving the expenses which would necessarily occur in this investigation. During the last three elections no imputation of corruption had been made. The expenses of both the sitting Members during the last election were most moderate; they were open to the inspection of hon. Members, and, of course, had there been the slightest justification of a charge of bribery, the same spirit that had prompted this step would have not been wanting to have promoted a petition. He would oppose the Motion, because he felt it was an act of injustice to punish the innocent for the guilty; and by this measure 4,964 persons, who had never offended, would be disfranchised. He would add, that he would yield to no man in his desire for purity of election. He was happy that the Reform Bill had worked so well in that respect. He remembered the arguments of the right hon. member for Montgomeryshire in the last 319 Session, "that the example of disfranchising the freemen of Liverpool would operate on the minds of the electors." It had acted without the force of example, and he felt assured that it was not necessary for the cause of freedom of election to punish the delinquents of 1830, when at that period, and until the passing of the Reform Bill, so many hon. Members had sat in the House, whose seats had most openly and unblushingly been bought.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
opposed the Motion. The parties should have brought their case forward at an earlier period. He objected, however, to the Motion, principally because a Committee of that House was the most unsatisfactory tribunal possible for the trial of any such question. The judges were not sworn—the evidence was not given on oath—the Members did not attend constantly; and by such a tribunal, therefore, it was impossible to get at the truth. If there were to be any inquiry, it would be much better done by means of a Commission. He therefore should give his decided opposition to the Motion of the hon. member for Wiltshire.
Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, the only question was, it having been alleged, that bribery and corruption prevailed to a great extent amongst a certain class of voters, whether an inquiry should take place into the truth of the allegation, so that, if a case should be made out, steps might be taken to prevent the recurrence of such practices in future. The statement of the noble Lord (Lord Sandon), if it proved anything, went to prove, that the borough of Liverpool ought to be disfranchised altogether. When hon. Members recollected the notoriety of the reports of bribery at the last election, he would ask, whether it was possible to believe that that election was conducted without bribery? It was said, that there was no proof of bribery to warrant the House in granting the Committee; but he would contend that it was unnecessary to adduce proof, nor was it necessary even to allege that the case could be made out, for the circumstances stated were sufficient to induce the House, in the protection of its own privileges, to inquire whether they were founded in truth. On such a subject, it was no answer to the demand for inquiry, to say that the time was gone by. It was the duty of the House to preserve the purity of the election of its Members; and, therefore, it was its duty to inquire into all cases of alleged gross corruption. It was also said that, if bribery had taken 320 place, the parties ought to have petitioned the House under the Grenville Act. That, he would admit, might be a very good answer to persons complaining of bribery, and who had neglected to avail themselves of their right of petition; but it was no answer at all to the House, when complaining of the violation of its privileges. The right hon. Gentleman then referred to the preamble of the Grenville Act, under which, ordinarily, election petitions came before the House, and contended that it could not be made available in the argument on the present case, for here there was no complaint made of the return, nor was any wish entertained to unseat the present Member. Upon the statement made by the hon. member for Wiltshire of gross corruption in the borough of Liverpool, which corruption the hon. Member believed he should be able to prove to the House, they were, in his opinion, bound, in order to assert their own privileges, to grant this Committee of Inquiry.
§ Mr. Hume
supported the Motion. The House was bound to purify itself, and to keep elections pure. Such a case as this was seldom brought before it; and when it was said, why did not the parties go to an Election Committee, he answered, that the expense prevented them. He hoped the House would interfere, and put an end to bribery whenever it occurred. The hon. Member near him had objected to the inefficacy of a Committee; that was no reason for foregoing all inquiry, but a reason for suggesting a better tribunal. That corruption was very great, was proved by the case of the dissenting clergyman quoted by the noble Lord, who would not appear against those who were bribed, because he knew that money had been subscribed for some similar purposes. That admission was an argument for inquiry. He wished to ask the noble Lord if he meant to say, that the whole expenses of the election was only 1,400l. [Lord Sandon: Yes with 80l. for the hustings.] Then, he must say, that was impossible. As regarded the noble Lord, he had no doubt that the noble Lord was correct; but it was impossible that the election could have been carried for that sum. They were bound to have an inquiry, such as that now proposed, after every alleged case of corruption; and he, therefore, should vote for the Committee.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
reminded the House, that, during the discussions on the Reform Bill, it was proposed to disfranchise the 321 freemen, and it was with much reluctance that he consented to abandon that plan. But the Reform Act having been passed, and the freemen being allowed to remain, he regarded that Act as a general amnesty for all alleged corruption in the freemen previous to it. He, therefore, would never refer anything which had happened previous to that Act to a Committee of Inquiry. Moreover, this matter had been before an Election Committee, of which the Judges were sworn, and the witnesses were examined on oath; and he would never consent to refer a matter so examined to a less competent tribunal, before which the witnesses were not examined on oath, and of which the Judges were not sworn. He maintained, that, at the last election, and since that inquiry, no corruption had been proved against the freemen of Liverpool. It had been alleged, but not proved. If, henceforth, any such cases of bribery were brought before the House, he should be ready to go into them, and if he could not hope to cure the corruption of the freemen by the 10l. householders, he should have no objection to destroy any borough that was proved to be so incurably corrupt. He was altogether opposed to the Motion, because he thought the proposed Special Committee less appropriate to get at the truth than the Election Committee, which had already inquired into it.
§ Mr. Thomas Gladstone
was opposed to the appointment of a Select Committee. The allegations of the petitioners, who did not exceed forty or fifty in number, were negatived by two petitions presented that day—one signed by 8,000 persons, and the other by 1,400 persons, including some of the most respectable merchants, brokers, &c., in Liverpool.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that from the difficulties and expense that beset the investigation of elections, it would be utterly impossible to prevent bribery and corruption, unless the House resumed its ancient inquisitorial power. The most scandalous Liverpool election on record was that of 1831. He would, therefore, support the Motion for a Select Committee, but would postpone the appointment of its Members to a future day, and would then vote for selecting them by ballot.
§ Lord Sandon
would make no further objection to the course proposed, provided the Committee should be appointed 322 by ballot, and confined its researches to the last election.
§ The Solicitor General
thought, that the election of 1830 should rot be drawn into a precedent. They should allow a locus penitentiœ to offenders. He thought, however, that the Committee should be instructed to inquire into the proceedings of the last election; and, should bribery and corruption be found to have prevailed at that time, that then the whole question, including the practices in 1830, should be probed to the bottom. In his opinion the argument, that at the utmost no more than 1,450 persons would be punished, was exceedingly futile.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that the conduct of the noble member for Liverpool (Lord Sandon) seemed so fair and handsome, that he thought, although it might ultimately be necessary to go back to the other elections, that the first inquiry should refer to the last election only.
said, that the object of the Motion was to redeem the borough of Liverpool from the disgrace in which it was involved for the last thirty years by practices of the most scandalous bribery and corruption. For his own part, he would give the Motion his cordial support; though in doing so he sanctioned a measure which went to disfranchise himself as a freeman of the borough. The last election was conducted upon a principle which showed that the character of the place was quite notorious.
§ Lord Sandon
said, that his only object was to confine the Report of the Committee to the result of the last election.
§ Mr. Sheil
wished to know, whether he was to understand that the noble Lord did not propose to exclude inquiry from the facts connected with the preceding-elections? In the Grampound case, the Committee had recommended the disfranchisement of the borough, not on account of any bribery at the election immediately preceding, but on account of that which had been practised at former ones. That was an important principle; but, moreover, it was fully confirmed and established by the similar case of East Retford.
§ Lord Althorp
said, the House as 323 agreed as to the propriety of examining the last election proceedings; but probably it would be necessary, that the Committee should be instructed not to confine its inquiries to that alone. If the place should be found free from bribery for the last three elections—particularly taking into account the late infusion of householders—he thought the case should proceed no further; but if bribery had been employed at the last election, it was only just and fair they should suffer for offences aggravated by being committed after Reform.
§ Mr. Atherley
was convinced, that inquiry was necessary, because he was sure that the freemen would always corrupt the Representation, Till they were reformed the working of the Reform Bill would not be successful.
§ Mr. Goulburn
was against referring the petition to any but the usual sworn Election Committee appointed under the Grenville Act. It was an unprecedented step; and the question would ultimately be decided by a majority of the House. He knew, though he had no connexion with Liverpool, that the electors courted an inquiry; but he objected to the inquiry proposed, because it might prove, that the noble Member who represented Liverpool had been guilty of bribery, while it would provide no means for unseating him. Suppose that the Committee should report, that, at the last election, great corruption had taken place, in what a situation would the House be placed? Why, an imputation would be cast upon the sitting Member without any possibility of getting a proper Representative for Liverpool in his stead. For his part, he could not concur in any such anomalous and strange proceeding.
§ Mr. Benett
was perfectly content if the Committee should be instructed to inquire into the proceedings of the last election, and as far back as might be necessary.
§ Question, that a Committee be appointed, agreed to.
§ On the question, that it be an instruction to the Committee, that they should first inquire into and Report the proceedings of the last election,
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, that this was what he particularly objected to. He saw no reason for departing from the ordinary course of referring all such questions to a sworn Committee. It would both supersede the Grenville Act, and injure the rights of 324 electors; and he, therefore, felt himself bound to protest against it.
§ Lord John Russell
said, no Act could be more useful as between man and man than the Grenville Election Act; and the purity and impartiality of the proceedings under it gave uniform satisfaction. But it was very ill-calculated to promote the general interests of the representative body; in fact, they were lost in its restricted views and proceedings.
§ Mr. Goulburn
denied, that the noble Lord at all understood the operation of the Grenville Act. The Committees under it made general Reports.
§ Mr. Wason
said, that, in the case of Penryn, the Committee acting under the Grenville Act, had not only decided a particular question between individuals, but reported instances of gross bribery at the two preceding elections.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Lord John Russell
proposed, that the Committee should be chosen by ballot in a similar manner to Election Committees, but that the attendance of Members should not be enforced in the same manner. He moved, that the Committee should consist of fifteen Members; two to be named by the House, and thirteen to be chosen by lot. The ballot to take place on the 12th.
§ Agreed to.