HC Deb 24 March 1834 vol 22 cc610-5

On the Motion of Lord John Russell, the House resolved itself into a Committee on the Bribery at Elections Bill.

On the second Clause being read,

Mr. Wynn

strongly objected to that part of the Bill which proposed that the decision of the Committee should be final. He thought it would be the bounden duty of the House to read the evidence given before the Committee before confirming its decision. Besides, the words final and conclusive, precluded the jurisdiction of the House of Lords which could hardly be intended.

Lord John Russell

said, the great object was, to obtain such a tribunal as might give a final Report, upon oath, such as the House of Commons might receive and approve of, and such as might prevent the House of Lords from feeling it necessary, if the evidence were taken on oath, to occasion additional trouble and expense, by seeking for Further evidence.

Mr. Wynn

thought the principle a good one. The details, however, in his opinion, required much consideration, and he must object. to the words "final and conclusive."

Mr. Hardy

wished that the functions of a Committee which was to try the validity of the return of Members, and the functions of a Committee to try the general question of bribery and corruption, should be separate. He thought it would be well to have two Committees, and to have them differently constituted.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he altogether approved of the arrangement by which the reduction of the list of names should be left to the Speaker. If put in practice, he was quite sure it would prove satisfactory to all parties.

Mr. Halcombe

suggested—1st, that the House should agree upon the definition of what bribery and corruption was, otherwise they might have various and conflicting decisions on the subject from different Committees; 2ndly, that when any petition complaining of bribery or undue election, should be presented, it should in the first instance be referred to a preliminary Committee, who should examine and report whether there was a primâ facie case to go upon; and 3rdly that when such primâ facie case was reported, the matter should be sent for inquiry, not to a Committee of that House, but to a commission consisting of three barristers, with a judge of the land at their head. If something of this kind were not done, the House could never get through election matters so as to attend to the other business of the country.

Mr. Roe

objected to the clause which referred the examination of any petition complaining of bribery and corruption to a Committee already sitting to try the merits of a petition against a return. This clause was inconsistent with another clause in the Bill; for by the one clause any Member for a borough against which a petition was presented might sit on a Committee to try the qualification of a Member on his due return, and eleven such borough Members might compose one Committee; but another clause said, that no member for a borough against which a petition complaining of general bribery and corruption was presented, could sit as Member of a Committee to try the question of bribery as to any other borough. Now, by the clause (the second) before the Committee, a petition complaining of general bribery and corruption in a borough might be referred at any time to a Committee sitting to try the qualification or due return of a Member, and the same Committee was to report on both; but, by the 10th clause, the authority of the whole eleven borough Members would be at an end, as by that clause, being Members of boroughs petitioned against for bribery and corruption, they could not decide on a question of bribery in any other case.

Mr. Hardy

thought, that the offence of bribery ought to be tried before a regular tribunal in the same way as any other crime, whether felony or misdemeanour. In a case formerly brought before that House of an hon. and gallant Member who had been convicted by a Court Martial of having improperly withheld some supplies from the regiment to which he belonged, the House took the result of that judicial proceeding as sufficient, and proceeded accordingly, without going through the evidence de novo. At least the House did not think it necessary to examine the witnesses. They acted on the facts already established, and expelled him. So, in case of bribery, it would be much better for the House to found its decision on some facts proved before a competent tribunal. But if it were to act on complaints of general bribery—and by the way it was no easy matter to bring bribery, though generally practised, home to particular cases—then they would have to go through a most tedious and expensive, and often unsuccessful, process of overhauling the whole inquiry, and sifting the alleged charge all through. The House should enact that, if a certain number of electors were convicted of bribery before a Judge and Jury, then they would act on that conviction. That course would save much investigation, time, and expense. If a Member of that House were charged with felony, the House would not appoint a Committee to try him, but would leave the investigation to a Court of Law, and then act on the evidence adduced before that Court, and expel him. Such would be the proper course for the House to pursue in a case of bribery, which was a very heinous offence.

Lord John Russell

said, that the Courts of Law were at present open to receive charges of bribery, and men might be, as they sometimes were, convicted of that offence. Indeed 800 electors of one borough might be convicted. But he thought it would be hopeless, all things considered, to bring home such evidence as would ensure the disfranchisement of a corrupt borough if they went to a Court of Law.

Clause agreed to, as were the clauses to the 8th. On the 9th clause being read,

Mr. Pryme moved the omission of the words "after thirty-three Members shall have been chosen by lot, according to the provision of the said Act, 9 Geo. 4th., c. 22, they shall, in lieu of being reduced to eleven in the manner directed by the Act, be reduced to eleven by the Speaker." He thought it would be imposing an invidious duty on the Speaker to authorise him to reduce the number of Members; and it was desirable that he should be in- vested with no power that would be likely to excite odium or jealousy. It would be much better that the number should be reduced, as in the case of a Jury, by the parties striking off each a given number.

Mr. Wynn

was of opinion that it would be far better that the Speaker should, out of the 658 Members of the House, select the original thirty-three, as he must be supposed the best judge of their fitness, and that, out of those, the eleven should be taken by lot.

Lord John Russell

had considered the clause, and he saw an objection not to leave the Speaker the power of naming those who would constitute the Committee, though he would admit, that it was not desirable to give him an invidious power. It he chose the thirty-three, then, when they came to the eleven chosen by lot, it might be found that the inquiry would be conducted by inexperienced and inefficient Members. On a question such as that of investigating corruption, where public justice and the public interest were concerned, it was desirable to have men whose decision, from a knowledge of the law and the practice of Parliament, would inspire the House and the country with confidence. It was better to have the thirty-three taken by lot; and let the Speaker select eleven.

Mr. Wynn

was surprised at hearing the remark of the noble Lord. He could not believe, that in a Reformed Parliament, which the noble Lord had said was to contain so much intelligence, experience, integrity and talent, that the Speaker would find any difficulty in selecting thirty-three efficient Members for Judges from whom there could be any risk of drawing eleven bad ones. He was of opinion, that it the thirty-three were left to chance, the Speaker could not, perhaps, select eleven who were not sufficiently acquainted with the law.

Lord John Russell

doubted whether it would be competent to the Speaker to select thirty three. Many would wish to avoid the appointment, and make interest to be excused. He thought it an invidious power to give him the appointment of the thirty-three.

Mr. Tennyson

said, it was very necessary to shield the honour of the Speaker from imputation. He thought, however, the proposal of the right hon. Member (Mr. Wynn) the least objectionable.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 34; Noes 43—Majority 9.

On the question, that the clause be agreed to,

Mr. Aglionby moved, to leave out that part of the clause which provided for the appointment of nominees. He disapproved of Members being converted into advocates.

Lord John Russell

said, the nominees would not have the right of voting; but he thought a Committee would be benefited by having two Members present familiar with the case.

Mr. Wynn

thought the plan of the noble Lord would place Members named as nominees in a most difficult and unfit situation. In his opinion, no Member of that House ought to be named a party to an inquiry under the express or implied understanding, that he would contend for a particular side.

Mr. Spring Rice

admitted, that the clause, as it stood, contained somewhat of an anomaly; but, at the same time, contended, that the alteration suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. Aglionby) would, if introduced, weaken its general effect. The object, in proposing the appointment of nominees was, to have the case brought fairly before the Committee.

Mr. Wynn

instanced a case, in which Mr. Fox and another hon. Member, having been appointed nominees, were, with the single exception of the Chairman, the only persons who voted in opposition to the decision finally come to.

Mr. Mark Philips

was unfavourable to the appointment of Bribery Committees, and thought it would be much batter to leave the inquiry to the ordinary tribunals of justice. He likewise objected to the appointment of nominees, as being likely to place Members in an extremely invidious position. He had himself been appointed it nominee in the case of the Liverpool inquiry, last Session; and, from experience, was able to assure the House, that they were altogether unnecessary, and might, with perfect safety, be abolished.

Mr. Wason

said, that the Liverpool inquiry would have been gone through in half the time, and with half the expense, had it not been for the nominees. He, therefore, quite concurred in the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cockermouth.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 19; Noes 35—Majority 16.

Clause agreed to. The House resumed, Committee to sit again.

List of the AYES.
Attwood, T. Hayes, Sir E.
Blackstone, W. S. Philips, M.
Briggs, R. Romilly, J.
Brotherton, J. Sinclair, G.
Bruce, Lord Ernest Torrens, Col.
Chetwynd, Capt. Walter, J.
Evans, W. Wason, R.
Ewart, W. Wynn, Rt. Hon. W.
Gaskell, J. M.
Halcombe, J. TELLER.
Hardy, J. Aglionby, H. A.
List of the NOES.
Baines, E. Plumptre, J. P.
Bish, T. Pryme, G.
Brocklehurst, J. Rolfe, R.
Browne, D. Ross, C.
Buller, C. Russell, Rt. Hn. Lord J.
Burrell, Sir C. Smith, R. V.
Elliott, Hon. Capt. Stanley, Hon. H. T.
Fremantle, Sir T. Strickland, Sir G.
Gordon, R. Tancred, H. W.
Hawes, B. Tennent, J. E.
Inglis, Sir R. Tennyson, Rt. Hn. C.
Jeffrey, Rt. Hon. F. Tower, C. T.
Macleod, R. Tracy, C. H.
Martin, J. Verney, Sir H.
Murray, J. A. Walker, C. A.
O'Reilly, W.
Palmer, C. F. TELLER.
Peter, W. Rice, Rt. Hn. T. S.