§ Lord John Russell
said, that the House having come to a Resolution that it was expedient to appoint a Committee to examine into the subject of the Liverpool Election, he thought it proper that he should now bring before them the manner in which he proposed to carry that Resolution into effect. It was not necessary for him to say anything with respect to this particular case of Liverpool, for it had already been brought before the House, and they had decided that it was a case for an inquiry, although there had been no Committee previously appointed to examine into the validity of the return. A precedent of great importance had thus been set with regard to inquiries into the bribery and corruption practised in elections. It might be useful, under these circumstances, that he should state the view he had taken of this subject, and the course which he should feel called upon to recommend to the adoption of the House at this moment. The House was aware that, by its ancient Constitution, whenever any complaints were made as to elections, they were referred to 539 a Committee, consisting of the whole, or nearly the whole of the Members of the House itself. On this particular subject of bribery, many cases had occurred very soon after the revolution. One memorable instance to which he should just refer, was that of Sir Edward Seymour, who brought. a charge against a person of the name of Shepherd, accusing him that, with respect to no less than four boroughs, he had endeavoured to carry their elections by the influence of bribery; and he made it a matter of accusation against Mr. Shepherd, that that person had thus extensively endeavoured to corrupt the purity of the representation. The question was referred to a Committee of Privileges, of which Sir Edward Seymour was appointed the Chairman; and the result was, that the House resolved that Sir Edward had made good that charge, and that Mr. Speaker do publicly give him the thanks of the House. The Speaker did so accordingly, and told him, that great as had been the military and naval successes of his ancestors, there were none greater than that which he had performed when he rescued the Constitution of that House from contamination. After the Act known by the name of the Grenville Act became the law, that kind of inquiry fell into disuse, and the inquiries of the House became limited to the question as to which of two persons was entitled to his seat. The consequence was, that acts of corruption deeply affecting the character and the constitution of the House, the rights of the people, and the honour of the country, were compromised, and were concealed from public view. In a great many cases, it had been customary that, when two persons stood for a borough, and one of the candidates succeeded through bribery, that the other came before the House as a petitioner; but instead of an investigation taking place by a Committee, the person who was seated paid a sum of money to the other, to prevent his bringing the matter forward. That had occurred in many instances. He could mention one, as he had been in some degree connected with the case, it was that of Grampound. A petition was presented in that case, a Committee was appointed to decide upon the return; but, for some reason or other not then apparent, the petition was not proceeded with. The Committee sat but one day: and there being no evidence before them to impeach the right of the sitting Members to retain their scats, the Committee resolved that the sitting Members 540 had been duly returned. It appeared afterwards that a sum of 7,000l. had been paid by the sitting Members, in order to suppress all inquiry. The time had at length come when these practices must no longer be tolerated; but the fullest inquiry ought to take place. The method he now proposed for this purpose was, that instead of an inquiry at the Bar of that House, which, as every one knew, was desultory in its nature, and in which it was difficult to distinguish between truth and falsehood, as well as on account of the heat sometimes engendered among the Members by such an investigation, they should adopt another course. He should propose that a Select Committee should be appointed for any cases of the kind into which the House should think proper to inquire. The hon. member for Wiltshire had once proposed that the person who brought forward an inquiry of this kind should name the Committee. He differed from the hon. Member upon that point; but he admitted that that hon. Member should conduct the inquiry, and the noble Lord, the member for Liverpool, might defend the borough. He proposed that the Committee should be named by lot, as they would be upon a petition against the return; but that, instead of their number consisting only of eleven, it should consist of thirteen—and that, instead of thirty-three persons being chosen by the House, twenty-one should be appointed, and only eight of their number struck off. One hon. and learned Gentleman opposite seemed opposed to any of the names being struck off. He himself did not think there was much advantage in the plan; but as those who were interested in the matter in one way or another might think, if there were two or three Members appointed who were known to have expressed strong opinions for or against the borough, that doubts could be raised as to the impartiality of the decision, he thought it would be better to obviate such a consequence. As this Committee would not be assisted by counsel, he should propose, that the hon. member for Wiltshire, and the noble Lord, the member for Liverpool, should each strike off four names from the list, that the Committee should then elect their own Chairman, and proceed to consider the matter referred to their opinion. Their decision when made, must be reported to the House, and that report would, of course, be the foundation of further measures. He thought that an Act of Parliament should be passed in order to regulate 541 for the future, the mode of proceeding in all such cases. It was their duty not to allow these deeds of bribery and corruption to continue and to augment. It was their duty to institute an inquiry, and if they did, then they should take care that that inquiry should be effectual, and that it should become, what it had not hitherto been, a terror to those who were disposed to contaminate the purity of election. The noble Lord moved, that the Order of the Day for the Ballot for the Committee upon the Liverpool Election be read.
§ Read accordingly.
§ Lord John Russell
then moved, that two Members should be named by the House to conduct the inquiry; that twenty-one Members should be chosen by lot from among the Members present, to answer to their names, with such exemptions as the House should think lit to allow; that the two Members should strike off each four names from the list of twenty-one; and that, the thirteen remaining Members should constitute the Committee on the Liverpool Petition.
§ Mr. Wason
was opposed to that part of the plan by which the names of some of the Members were to be struck off. Such a course would operate most injuriously. He would take his own instance He was known to have exerted himself to discover these acts of bribery at Liverpool, and, of course, if his name should come up among the list of the twenty-one, he should be struck off by the noble Lord opposite, on behalf of the borough. It would be the same with others whose opinions were known. He should, therefore, propose, that they should take the first fifteen names given by the ballot, and that there should be no striking off afterwards. He proposed this as an Amendment to the Resolution of the noble Lord near him.
said, that if this Amendment was put to the House he should most certainly second it. They were much indebted to the noble Lord opposite for bringing forward this Motion, and setting an example that would show bribery could not escape unpunished merely because fourteen days had elapsed without a petition being presented against the return. Hitherto there had been no means of reaching unsuccessful bribery, but he hoped that this Motion would have that effect. There had been up to this time no stimulus for bringing such cases before the House; he trusted that the House itself would now make up for that deficiency. He objected 542 to striking off the names of any of the Members upon whom the lot fell, not only for the reason mentioned by the hon. Member opposite, but because, if that did not apply, the names of all those who from professional education might be supposed most capable of eliciting the truth from unwilling or corrupt witnesses might be struck off.
§ Mr. Warburton
thought, there was another point in the Motion that required an amendment. It was said in the Motion that the members of the Committee should be appointed from those who were present to answer to their names. He thought that limitation to be objectionable, for it was well known, that whenever an election petition was to be the subject of consultation, there was what was called "a whip" in the House, and Gentlemen went and got others to come down, in order to be there to answer to their names, or else got them to go away, that they might not he there to answer. To obviate the consequences of such a proceeding, he should propose, that whatever was the number agreed on to form the Committee, it should consist of that number of Members whose names were first drawn out of the Box, exempting of course, those who were absent from town, or were already serving upon Election Committees.
said, this was a matter of great importance, for the House were now about to set a precedent for future cases. The House ought, therefore, carefully to consider what they were now about to lay down. The noble Lord opposite had intimated his intention of bringing in a measure of a legislative kind on this subject. He should have been better satisfied if they had waited for the measure of legislation, and then adapted the particular case to it, instead of bringing forward the particular case first, and then adapting a legislative measure to it. This was, in fact, a departure from the principle of the Grenville Act. Why was it not enough to ask, under the principle of that Act, for a Committee to investigate the election, and to declare the election void, for that was the most effectual punishment upon a man who had been guilty of bribery? He should like the noble Lord to tell them what he understood by the precedent which he now proposed to make. Did he intend on every allegation of bribery, a Committee should be appointed, as of right, by that House? If so, what security was to be given by either of the parties to prosecute their petition, or to pay costs, if they 543 should fail in making it out? If there was not to be a Committee, as a matter of right, but the appointment of a Committee was to be in the breast of the House, the utmost partiality would ensue. All complaints against the minority would be listened to, and none would be allowed against the majority. Then again, who was to defend the poor persons who were accused; for, as in this case, there might be no accusation against the man who gave the bribes, the accusation might be against poor voters who had received them. Who was to defend them; for it was not a general accusation against the whole population, but against particular individuals? The noble Lord who sat behind him was not bound to defend these persons. But if the House instituted such Committees as these, the House would be bound to find means to defend them. The accusation was brought chiefly against the freemen of Liverpool. But the majority of these freemen now formed part of the 10l. householders, and they could not well be disfranchised, without the noble Lord declaring, that he found in Liverpool he had placed the franchise much too low—an avowal that might probably be just as applicable with respect to several other places.
referring to what had been said by a previous Member, who had asked out of what fund the charge for the defence of the accused freemen was to be paid, observed, that the whole Corporation Fund of Liverpool would be applicable to the purpose. The accused freemen were the tools of the Corporation, and the Corporation would defend its tools. He was opposed to the plan of striking off the name of any Member chosen by ballot to sit upon the Committee; but, at the same time, he thought that the Committee should be chosen from the Members present in the House at the time of the ballot, and who answered to their names.
§ Sir Robert Peel
doubted, whether by law the Corporation of Liverpool could apply a shilling of its funds to the defence of the parties charged with bribery. According to one of the provisions of the Corporation Funds' Act, they could not devote any of the corporate monies to any purpose, even "incident upon an election;" and that the defence would be incident upon an election no man could doubt. To pay for the defence out of the Corporation funds, therefore, would be to violate a positive Act of Parliament: and he strongly advised the Treasurer of Liverpool, or whoever might 544 be charged with the Corporation funds, to beware how he issued monies for any such purpose.
§ Mr. Hume,
did not hesitate in giving it as his decided opinion that an action would lie against the treasurer for that sum, and he advised the burgesses of Liverpool to look about them, and, if necessary, to commence proceedings to recover it back. As to the general question, he thought that the public money would be well expended upon inquiring into every case of bribery and corruption when it was made to appear that there was a good ground of accusation. He concurred with the hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton), that every Member whose name was drawn should be compelled to serve upon the Committee, whether he was or was not present at the time when the ballot took place; he would also, as in the case of Election Committees, make it compulsory upon them to attend. He hoped that this example would give warning to the elective body throughout the kingdom, that the House would itself proceed forthwith to detect and punish bribery, even if none of the parties thought prudent to prosecute. He begged the hon. member for Ipswich (Mr. Wason) to withdraw his Amendment, in order to make way for that of the hon. member for Bridport.
§ Mr. Wason withdrew his Amendment.
§ Mr. Warburton
moved an Amendment, that the ballot should be taken, and the Committee appointed, from Members not having leave of absence, not serving on Election Committees, or not having such other exemption as the House think fit.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
thought the question now before the House deserving of great consideration. It appeared to him that the expense of such a proceeding would be much too considerable for the House to incur it without full deliberation. He could assure the hon. member for Middlesex, that all the reductions he could make in the estimates this year would not be sufficient to meet the expenses which must be incurred, if the principle was laid down, that the House should enter into such inquiries. The moment the public were aware that the House of Commons would enter into such inquiries at the public 545 expense, there would be no end to such inquiries. There would scarcely be a defeated candidate in any part of the country, who would not come forward and petition against his opponent's return on the ground of bribery, if it was once laid down as the rule that the House would decide on such petitions, and the petitioners incur no risk or responsibility.
§ Mr. Harvey
thought Members were departing very widely from the question really under consideration. As he understood, the House had already decided, that the alleged bribery practised at elections for the borough of Liverpool should be inquired into, and the only question was, the best mode of forming a Committee to carry on the investigation. If he (Mr. Harvey) had been present when the Motion was made, he should certainly have voted against the inquiry, upon the ground that the alleged bribery was not stated to have had any thing to do with the recent elections for Liverpool; and the Reform Bill having passed, he thought they should draw a veil over the proceedings which took place at elections previous to the passing of that measure. However, the House had decided that the inquiry was to take place; and he merely rose to state, that he objected to striking off the names of any number of Members at the discretion of nominees, as proposed, and considered it would be better at once to appoint a certain number of Members to form the Committee. Twenty-one Members might be too many; but why not appoint fifteen Members at once. The principle of striking off Members was a bad one. He also thought, that the attendance of Members on the Committee should be regular, and enforced as strictly, as it was under the Grenville Act.
regretted, that he was prevented attending when this subject was formerly under the consideration of the House. He believed, that the hon. Member who brought forward the proposition for the appointment of a Committee did so, not with a view of establishing a precedent but merely as a motion, affecting the Corporation of Liverpool. He grounded that motion on the Report of the Select Committee of 1830, in which it was alleged that great bribery prevailed at Liverpool; and upon a petition which had been then recently presented, complaining of the continuation of such practices, both at the elections of Members of Parliament, and at the elections of the municipal officers of the town; in consequence of this, the House 546 was induced to sanction the appointment of a Committee. He was willing to give his support to the Bill of last year because it appeared to him at that period when the constituency of the empire was under revision, that it was desirable to ascertain what class of voters were habitually guilty of bribery and corruption, and whether corruption prevailed in Liverpool to the appaling extent which had been stated. He thought that it was of importance, in fixing the future constituency of the House, to take steps to prevent those who had been in the practice of committing crimes of this nature, from possessing the franchise and exciting others by their example to similar conduct. He urged upon the House the consideration whether they were not fixing the right of election in this place, on the same body or the same class of persons who it appeared, had been in the constant habit of taking bribes? The House, however, was of a different opinion and thought that there was no necessity to deprive these persons of their votes. He certainly did regret that the House did not sanction the view which he took of the matter derived, as that was, from the evidence before the Select Committee; which he considered to supply a sufficient ground to proceed upon. In consequence of the motion of the hon. member for Wiltshire, the House came to a resolution to appoint a Committee to inquire into the practices alleged to prevail in Liverpool. The declaration of the noble Lord to-night, had put the matter in an entirely new light. The noble Lord said, that this proceeding was establishing a precedent which was to serve as a guide to enable parties in future elections, alleging that they had a charge of bribery or corruption to bring forward, to have an inquiry instituted before a Select Committee of the House, without any expense to themselves, instead of being compelled to go, as at present, before the tribunal instituted by the Grenville Act. In this particular case, they had, indeed, the Report of a Select Committee; but it had been stated, that, hereafter, it was to be understood that in any case where parties should bring forward allegations as to the prevalence of bribery at the election for any place, an inquiry of this sort should be granted. For the last fifty years the House in every case of the sort, proceeded in conformity with an Act of Parliament according to which, those "who bring charges affecting the returns of Members, or the mode in which the constituency of any place have 547 exercised their franchise" were bound, under recognizances, to make good their charges. The hon. member for Middlesex said, that there ought to be no check to investigating cases of this sort on the score of expense; but that it was the duty of the House, when an allegation of this nature was made, to investigate it at the public charges. If the House intended so to act, the sooner it abandoned its jurisdiction in such cases the better. It appeared, that by this new device, the parties petitioned against were to be exposed to the greatest trouble, inconvenience, and anxiety; while those who made the complaint (which, of course, would be often groundless) were to incur no responsibility! The noble Lord had stated, that cases had occurred in which on complaint made of the prevalence of bribery in any place, the matter had been referred to the consideration of a Committee of privileges, which Committee had consisted of a limited number of Members. The only case of this kind with which he was acquainted, was that stated by the noble Lord, the case of Sir Edward Seymour, who preferred a solemn complaint against Mr. Shepherd, for having been guilty of bribery, and of having corrupted four boroughs. But in that case the inconvenience attending the proceeding was so great, that the same mode was not again adopted. Some hon. Gentlemen had objected to any Members being struck off by the parties concerned. If their opinion were acted upon, the most objectionable persons—those who had taken an active part on one side or the other in the very case to be investigated—might be constituted judges. Such a plan would place the decision of every controverted election in the hands of the majority of this House, and one party, the Members who belonged to the minority, would always go to the wall. The hon. member for Bridport had stated, that it was notorious, that, when the ballot was about to take place for the choice of a Committee on an election petition, a canvass took place among Members with a view to ensure the attendance of those who were known to be in favour of, or against it, according to the object of the canvassing parties. He knew, personally, of no such practice; and it was against both the letter and the spirit of resolutions and orders of this House. If the hon Member would bring the subject before the House, effectual steps would be taken to prevent the recurrence of so disgraceful a practice He did not think, that any political feeling 548 or bias had hitherto contaminated the tribunal before which these questions were determined. He would ask whether they could desire any thing to work more equally and fairly than an election petition Committee? He was satisfied, that if the course proposed by the noble Lord were adopted, and were to be considered as a precedent for future cases, no more cases would be brought before Election Committees; but vague charges, and general allegations of bribery would be frequently brought forward. The noble Lord had proposed to adopt an entirely new course, of the inexpediency, injustice, and inconvenience of which he entertained not the slightest doubt. In case of a conviction before that tribunal, a Bill of Pains and Penalties was brought in; and that was the only equitable and just mode of proceeding. He did not apprehend, that any general measure would be sufficient to meet the present case; particularly as 1,400 of the freemen of Liverpool were holders of 10l. houses. The circumstance of being in possession of a 10l. house did not in the slightest degree purge the sin of corruption in the individual. When the House came to reflect upon the subject, it would be convinced that to adopt the resolution of the noble Lord, would establish a precedent of the most dangerous kind. How could justice be expected from a tribunal of which neither Judge nor witness was sworn, and where no counsel was to be employed? An hon. Member said, that there was no way of punishing unsuccessful candidates. He was mistaken; the course to be taken was plain and simple—the informer upon any alleged delinquency in an unsuccessful candidate, might sue at once for a penalty of 500l. It was true that this step was seldom taken; but it was not the less true that it was perfectly open to any person who chose to adopt it. Liverpool was not the only place where very extensive bribery had taken place. He was far from saying that bribery ought not, in every instance if possible, to be punished; but by agreeing to such a resolution as the present, they would be opening a door to individuals, without any responsibility whatever, to object to the return of any sitting Member. By presenting, what he might call, a fishing petition—knowing that, at all events, it would occasion great trouble and anxiety, and perhaps calculating upon the timidity of the Member, any party shrinking from the expense of presenting a regular election petition, might threaten to adopt such a course as that proposed; and thus endeavour to drive the 549 Member returned into a compromise to purchase the silence of the accuser. He need not point out to the House how injurious such a result as this must be, in every point of view? Yet the noble Lord seemed to think it of very great importance to establish such a notable precedent! He was directly of the contrary opinion; but at all events he should certainly wish to offer to the noble Lord the same suggestion as on a former night namely—that, as by this new mode of dealing with a case of alleged bribery and corruption recourse was not to be had to a bill, it was very desirable to look cautiously at the plan, and reflect upon its probable operations before adopting it. In his opinion, it would only be proper that the subject should be embodied in a different motion, and be made the matter of further consideration and debate on a future day. It should be recollected that, in a case of this kind, it was necessary to consider not only the way in which they were to do justice, but the way in which they were most likely to convince the parties concerned that they were doing justice. He objected to the precedent which would be set by the appointment of the proposed Committee; because he believed that its effect would be, to lead the House into interminable inquiries. If, however, it were determined, that the Committee should sit, he thought it would be absolutely necessary to strike off a certain number of the names which might be drawn by ballot. If this were not the case, the most reckless individuals might be constituted judges on a matter deeply affecting the rights and privileges of the people; and, in the event of three or four Gentlemen being chosen, who were known to be eager either for or against the borough of Liverpool, the consequence roust be, that the public would believe the entire Committee to be influenced by their partialities. If they were to have a Committee at least assimilate it as nearly as possible, to those models which had hitherto answered so well in doing justice to all parties.
§ Lord John Russell
agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking, that if the names of three or four Gentlemen known to be eager either for or against the borough of Liverpool, were allowed to remain on the Committee, it would create a belief that the Committee generally were influenced by partiality either to one side or the other. He therefore thought it better that there should be a power of striking off a certain number of names; 550 and four, in his opinion, would be sufficient. If the House should be in favour of an arrangement different from that which he proposed, he should not be discontented; but he saw no reason why it should not come this evening to a decision upon the present question. The matter had already been a good deal discussed; and he saw no insuperable objection in their way to induce the House to take further time for consideration. With respect to another point which had been urged, he believed it was not in the power of the House to compel the attendance of the Members of a Committee of that kind. Attendance upon Committees could only be enforced under the Grenville Act; and, consequently, it would not be in their power to render attendance compulsory in an instance of this kind, without another Act of Parliament for that purpose. It certainly would be an advantage if the whole of these inquiries were regulated by Act of Parliament. That had always been his opinion; and last year he brought in a Bill by which the whole of the inquiry might have been managed without difficulty. That Bill passed this House, and was thrown out by the Lords at the end of the Session; but because that Bill, or a Bill of a similar nature, had not yet passed into a law, he did not see why they should refuse to enter into the inquiry. On the contrary, it would be wiser to take advantage of such a case as the present, to try how the machinery would work; that they might thus be better enabled to judge of what the provisions of any enactment upon the subject should be.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
I trust the noble Lord will persevere in his original plan, and allow four names to be struck out on each side on the ballot. The number four is sufficient to keep out those who may have a strong bias; and yet not enough to strike the brains out of the Committee, as is said. Our object is to obtain a fair and impartial tribunal. I object altogether to the Committee, and I think, if such inquiries are to be pursued, it would be much better to constitute by law a proper tribunal, acting under the sanction of an oath, and when the attendance of those who are both Judges and Jury may be secured. The noble Lord has referred to a precedent at a period subsequent to the Revolution. It is notorious that at that period the proceedings before Committees were most scandalous and unfair; the majority in this House rode over the minority, 551 and election proceedings, which should have been the subject matter of law and of justice, were determined by the spirit of party.
§ Sir Robert Peel
could not help expressing his opinion, that the House had been inadvertently betrayed into the consideration of a plan which it would be most imprudent to adopt. The precedent they were about to establish would be most inconvenient and dangerous, inasmuch as it was calculated to throw aside the best tribunal that they had; namely, that appointed by the Grenville Act for the trial of election petitions. He thought, too, should the precedent be established, that, hereafter, individuals would prefer trying cases of bribery at the expense of the public, through the medium of such a Committee as it was now proposed to appoint, to trying them, as they must at present do, at their own expense, before a Committee appointed, in the ordinary and proper manner, under the Grenville Act. During the speeches of the noble Lord and others who had addressed the House on the present occasion, he had been looking to some of the petitions that had been presented in the course of the present Session of Parliament, and in which the recognizances had not been completed. In several of these he found allegations of bribery and corruption much stronger than those imputed in the case of Liverpool. What would the House do with those petitions? The recognizances not having been completed according to the ordinary practice they would be discharged. But, if in the instance of Liverpool a Committee of the hind now proposed were appointed, did it not follow, that they ought also to appoint similar Committees in all the other cases in which bribery and corruption were alleged, but which the parties had failed to come forward to prove, at their own risk and their own expense? He hoped that the general feeling of the House was opposed to the proposition; but if it were not—if it were determined to adopt it—he was sure the noble Lord would admit, that the machinery of the new plan should be made complete, and that they should understand the nature of the tribunal which was about to be constituted, the more particularly as it was one which, if once established, was likely to be called into very frequent action. But let him put it to the noble Lord, whether, in the case of a distant borough, a borough, for instance, in the west of Ireland, it would be just, on vague allegations of bribery, made by parties not 552 willing to put their charge to the test, by going before a regular Election Committee, to put the country to the immense expense of bringing over witnesses for the purpose of investigating the case before a tribunal appointed in the manner proposed. He agreed with the right hon. member for Montgomery shire in the view which he had taken, and in the opinion which he had expressed, of the very unsatisfactory manner in which it was proposed that that tribunal should be constituted. Acting under the responsibility of no oath, incapable of administering an oath to the witnesses called before it, and unassisted by the ingenuity of counsel to sift out the truth from evidence, which, as was well known, in all cases of disputed elections, was strongly tinged with party feeling—he could not for his own part, conceive how the investigation of such a tribunal could terminate satisfactorily or advantageously. Why the employment of counsel should be refused, it was hard to comprehend; because, as the noble Lord must know, all the obligation of an oath was not worth half so much—would not go half so far—to extort the truth, as the ingenuity of a lawyer in the cross-examination of witnesses. There was another part of the proposition which he did not understand. They were told that two members of the Committee were to be named by the House, and that the remainder were to be chosen by ballot. What were to be the peculiar functions of the two nominees? There could not be two presidents of the Committee. Were they to act purely in the capacity of nominees of the two parties? That would be re-establishing a system which it was one of the particular objects of the Grenville Act to abolish. It was quite necessary, that this should be explained—because, from the passing of the Grenville Act to the present hour, he had never heard one word uttered in favour of the revival of nomination upon these Committees. On the contrary, he always understood that the greatest benefits had resulted from the abolition of that system. But, passing from that point, he would ask how the attendance of Members was to be secured upon this Committee, supposing it to be appointed? While so many regular Election Committees were sitting, how would it be possible to secure the attendance of Members upon a Committee of this kind? It was far from being impossible that the inquiry into the case of Liverpool might last for three months—in that case how could the attendance of 553 Members be secured? Under these circumstances, he protested against the proposed mode of proceeding. He very much doubted, indeed, whether anything of the kind could be properly adopted, except under the sanction of a special Act of Parliament brought in for that purpose. If the House, however, was so confident in itself—if it imagined that it could so clearly foresee what the "end of this beginning" would be, and was therefore, determined to adopt the noble Lord's suggestion, it would be vain to oppose it. At the same time, he could not help thinking, that by acceding to the proposition, they would establish a dangerous precedent.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that, as a large majority of the House had been of opinion that a Committee should be appointed, the only question which the House had then to discuss was, how it should be appointed. There would be this difference between the nominees to this Committee and the nominees to election Committees: the latter were sworn—the former would not be sworn. Their duty would be limited to seeing that no injustice was done towards cither party. This Committee would differ in another respect from Election Committees. The Election Committees decided each case, and their decision was final: but this Committee would only have power to report to the House, and the House would be called upon to decide whether it would stand by their report or not. He did not think, that this plan would induce individuals to prosecute election petitions, not at their private expense, but at the expense of the public. Election petitions were in general presented by individuals for the purpose of unseating rival candidates, and of seating themselves; and in all former cases, as, for instance, in that of Grampound, where the inquiry was instituted at the public expense, the sitting Members had never been unseated, although the borough itself had been ultimately disfranchised. He did not think that it was necessary to have counsel heard before the Committee, but he thought that if, on the Report of this Committee, a bill were brought in with penal enactments, then the parties to be punished by them might be heard against such a bill by counsel at the Bar.
§ Lord Sandon
said, that having agreed to the appointment of a Committee on a former night, he felt himself precluded from opposing the appointment of it now. He thought that, before it was appointed, the House ought to know something of the 554 proposed course of its proceedings. No rule had been laid down as to the time of its meeting, as to whether the attendance of its Members should be compulsory, and day by day, as to the number requisite to form a quorum, and various other similar questions. He thought that a tribunal constituted on this plan would be a tribunal of iniquity. He had been pointed out as one of the nominees, but supposing that he were to assume that character, how peculiar would be his situation. He would have to investigate a case in which his own conduct might be involved, and further, he must defend one part of his constituents against the attacks of another. Under these circumstances, he did not think that he was a proper person to act as nominee on the occasion. Who was to pay the expense of the inquiry? Were the funds of the corporation to be taxed for that purpose? In conclusion he entreated the House before the Committee should be appointed, to chalk out the mode of proceeding which it was to adopt.
§ The Amendment negatived. Main question agreed to. Two Members Mr. Benett and Mr. Nichol, were appointed by the House, and the remainder of the Committee was appointed by Ballot.