HC Deb 30 May 1837 vol 38 cc1103-13

Sir J. Graham moved the Order of the Day for the attendance at the Bar of the Messenger from the Crown-office, and the Deputy Postmaster-General. The first of the witnesses was called in. His name was William Sparrow. He was deputy-messenger to the Great Seal, and went with a writ from the Crown-office on Wednesday to the Lord Chancellor's house. He afterwards took it to the Post-office as soon as it was sealed. He arrived at the Post-office about twenty minutes past eight o'clock. The mails were gone. He gave the writ to the clerk in waiting.

John Good received a writ on the 17th of May. He also received a note from Mr. Stanley addressed to Colonel Maberly. It said that a writ would be sent, and that if sealed in time before the departure of the Glasgow mail, it should be sent by that conveyance; but that if the mail should be gone before the writ arrived, it should be forwarded by express, if practicable. The Glasgow mail was gone, and he made it up in a parcel. It was eventually directed to the sheriff of Lanarkshire. It was forwarded by a horse express. This was the first time that such an occurrence came within his knowledge. The witness withdrew.

Lord J. Russell

The right hon. Gentleman (Sir James Graham) will have the opportunity of making any comparison which he may desire to institute when the letter is produced. He seems now, however, to be insinuating. From the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed himself, I make no doubt, that after the charge which he has already brought against my hon. Friend of violating the Act of Parliament in forwarding the writ, he will now bring against him another and a felonious charge—the charge of having forged this letter; although, when the first mention was made of it, he avowed himself the writer of it, and declared his intention of producing it.

Sir J. Graham

I know not, Sir, that there has been anything in my demeanour that justifies the insinuation which the noble Lord thinks proper to make; or anything in the mode in which I have brought forward and sustained this charge which justifies the peculiar temper which hon. Gentlemen had thought proper to exhibit at the opposite side. But, Sir, neither by that tone, nor by that temper, nor by the manner which the noble Lord has thought fit to assume, shall I be deterred from the exercise of what I conceive to be a public duty. I certainly, Sir, mean nothing disrespectful towards the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Secretary to the Treasury; but it must be remembered, that we are here proceeding judicially. The witness, who told you that he was aware that an Act of Parliament was about to be violated, told you that he performed that act under the direction, as he conceived, of a Member of his Majesty's Government, holding the responsible official situation of Secretary to the Treasury; that he received a letter, which was conveyed to him by an unknown hand, by a person who was, in fact, an utter stranger to him. He was told, he was at liberty to open the letter; he opened it, and it conveyed to him the direction that a particular letter should be forwarded by express. The first impression of the witness, as recorded by him in his evidence before the House, was, that this was a violation of the law; and he informed the person who delivered the letter, that such was his impression. He, nevertheless, acted upon the direction which that letter contained. It appears, that he kept the letter until the subsequent morning; and to whom did he then deliver it? If he said that he had given it to the hon. Gentleman opposite, I would not seek to trace this transaction further. But he has said distinctly, that he gave the letter, not to the hon. Secretary to the Treasury, but to Colonel Maberly. Surely, there can be no offence legitimately taken, and most assuredly I mean none, because I express a desire to have the investigation carried to this point. If the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary to the Treasury, produces a letter which he says he wrote, it is clearly important to ascertain whether the letter which has been given to this person by a total stranger, is or is not the same document.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

ob- served, that if the letter in question had not been alluded to and tendered for inspection by his hon. Friend, the Secretary to the Treasury, if it were a letter which had been referred to by one of the witnesses, as throwing light upon the subject as to which he was examined, there might have been some colour or pretext for recommending the course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had suggested. But the House would bear in mind, that in reference to this letter, his hon. Friend himself had announced his intention of producing it, in order to prevent any inconvenience which might possibly arise from the adoption of a course which would involve a most singular departure from those principles of ordinary common sense which every hon. Member, however unprovided with legal knowledge, was prepared to acknowledge. The right hon. Gentleman had proposed to examine one of the witnesses who had been summoned to the House, as to the import of a document which the hon. Secretary to the Treasury, the writer of the letter, could himself much better explain. When the right hon. Gentleman alluded to that document, his hon. Friend, the Secretary to the Treasury, had at once got up and declared his readiness to produce it. The right hon. Baronet was undoubtedly skilled in making fine distinctions. But surely, there was no hon. Gentleman present to whose mind it was not obvious that the intention of his hon. Friend was to authenticate the letter so produced by his own declaration. In accordance with the rules of Parliament, he believed that no stronger evidence could be given at the bar of that House—no evidence possessing greater force or validity in their deliberations, than a statement made by a Member of Parliament in his place in that House, and the production of a document which he declared, upon his honour as a Member of Parliament, to be genuine. The right hon. Gentleman, upon the one hand, expressed himself desirous not to depart from the ordinary courtesy of Parliament; and, upon the other, he suggested a possibility that a false messenger might have delivered a false letter; and he said, that he was desirous to know that it was the real bond fide letter upon which the officers at the Post-office acted. Did the right hon. Gentleman doubt that it was the real letter? Would he get up in his place and avow that belief?—getting rid at once of these wiredrawn distinctions? If he entertained such a doubt, let him state it; if not, and such was his belief, let him not press a suggestion which was liable to lead to an inference that was derogatory to the privileges of Parliament, and involve, in no small degree of doubt and suspicion, the course which they were to pursue.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that the right hon. Baronet had exhibited no small degree of inconsistency in this matter. On a former night he had commenced his accusation by stating that he had received a letter, upon which he thought it necessary to found a charge, in which one of his Majesty's Ministers would be involved. Upon its having been pointed out to him that this, as being an anonymous letter, was objectionable evidence on which to found such a charge, what was his answer? Why, that as a Member of Parliament, he had a right to state that he had received such information. The Secretary to the Treasury had subsequently got up, and stated his intention of producing the letter in question, upon which the right hon. Gentleman threw a doubt upon the very class of testimony to which he himself had appealed the night before as irrefragable. And the right hon. Gentleman had, in his own case, attached to the declaration of a Member of Parliament the value of testimony, while he refused to make any such acknowledgment in the case of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury; thus claiming to himself a privilege which he denied to another hon. Member.

Sir J. Graham

hoped he might be excused for briefly asking the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down whether he was to understand that, because he had accused his Majesty's Government of violating the Act of Parliament, the issue was now to be changed, and he himself was to be put upon his trial? It was impossible that the hon. Member for Bath should not be aware of the complete distinction which existed between the two cases. The assertion of a Member in his place in Parliament, however vague and uncertain it might be, touching any question affecting the freedom of election or the conduct of Government, afforded ample ground to justify the House in instituting inquiry. But when the inquiry was in the act of being proceeded with when its subject-matter was under consideration by whose direction was a certain illegal act performed? and when the reply of the witness was, that he did it under a written authority from the Secretary of the Treasury, it was the undoubted duty of that House to trace clearly and distinctly the identity of that letter. If it was the opinion of the noble Lord and of the hon. Gentleman opposite that this inquiry could proceed satisfactorily without this subject forming a part of it, let them say so: but until the House should pronounce this identification unnecessary, he would certainly contend for what he judged to be requisite to the perfection of the inquiry. Had the letter been produced, and had the Secretary to the Treasury said that there could be no mistake as to its identity, his assertion would have been quite satisfactory; but, so far was this from having been the case, that the witness had admitted that he had received the letter from a person who was totally unknown to him before; that he had given it, not to the hon. Gentleman opposite, but to Colonel Maberly; and from that period to the present all trace of its identity was lost.

Mr. E. J. Stanley

expressed his surprise that, having stated his willingness to produce a copy of the letter which he had sent to Colonel Maberly, an identification of that copy with the original letter, through the means of witnesses at the bar, should have been insisted on, and thought it unparalleled in that House, when an hon. Member stated his intention to produce a copy of a document to institute any inquiry as to its authenticity. He was in the recollection of the House whether, upon the former, as well as on the present night, he had not manifested an eager desire to meet the right hon. Gentleman fully and fairly. If, upon the former occasion, he did not enter fully upon the subject, the House would agree with him that this was not surprising—taken as he was by surprise, without time for communication with a single person, without time for consideration himself, as to the answer which he should give, and without knowing how other parties might possibly be affected by the inquiry. He asked the House whether he had not a right to complain of the right hon. Baronet's conduct towards him. Immediately before a question was put upon a former evening with reference to this matter, the right hon. Gentleman had come behind him (Mr. Stanley) and said, "I wish you would remain in your place, for I want to put a question to you." "Will you state what the question is," was his (Mr. Stanley's) reply. "No, I will not," was the right hon. Gentleman's rejoinder; "will you hear it when I rise." He would ask every hon. Member present whether it was not the common practice, even in ordinary matters, for hon. Members opposite to tell the Gentleman of whom they were about to ask a question, what was its subject, in order that he might be prepared to give an answer. He believed that it was indeed unparalleled, that when a question was to be asked upon a subject affecting the personal character and conduct of a Member of that House, particularly to the extent of a violation of an Act of Parliament, a breach of the privileges of the House, and an unjust interference with the freedom of election, the courtesy should not be extended to the Member thus assailed, of making him acquainted beforehand with the nature of the threatened attack. When charges so grave were about to be preferred, he asked whether there was another hon. Member in that House who would have declined to make this communication? "I would not credit it that any other hon. Member would have been capable of doing so; and I do believe that there is no other hon. Member in this House who would not have been ready to give that information." The right hon. Gentleman had excused himself on a former occasion for declining to give a similar notice beforehand, on the ground that the fact which was stated was so incredible that he could not believe it; but in the present instance, according to his own admission, he could plead no such excuse; for the evidence here, he had contended, was quite convincing. He would leave it to the House to decide as to what was the motive, and what the object, which had stimulated the right hon. Baronet here to adopt the unprecedented course of taking an hon. Member thus by surprise. This was an altogether novel species of courtesy. This was the courtesy which might be expected at the hands of him who now bid high to lead that party which was so vehemently opposed in principle as well as conduct to the party with which the right hon. Baronet had for twenty years acted. This was, in fine, the courtesy which might naturally be expected from him who had ever shown himself ready to lead the forlorn hope against every one of his former hon. and noble Colleagues, as well as against every one of his quondam associates, even against their humblest supporters. With regard to the question before the House, he would lay before them a simple statement of what had occurred. The writ had been moved for at the sitting of the House at 4 o'clock, on Wednesday the 17th of May. Under ordinary circumstances, there would have been no difficulty in transmitting the writ, which should have gone by the same night's post. He had communicated to the Crown-office the fact, that the writ would be that night moved for, desiring the proper officer to be in attendance. One of the clerks of the House of Commons was despatched with the writ to the Crown-office; from whence it was brought to the Lord Chancellor's house at Bruton-street; and, upon its being ascertained that the Lord Chancellor was at Wimbledon, a messenger was despatched to the latter place, for the purpose of getting the seal affixed there to the writ. Apprehending that the writ would arrive too late to be transmitted by post, he made a remark upon the subject to a clerk in the Treasury-office, who said that he recollected writs having been sent by express repeatedly, and instanced a case which had occurred in 1829, under a Tory Government, in which the Post-office authorities were directed to forward an election writ by express that night. Believing therefore, that the proceeding was quite correct, and had been done before, he wrote the following letter to Colonel Maberly. May 17. Dear Maberly,—It is of the greatest consequence that the writ for Glasgow should go by to-night's post, so that if it should not arrive in time for the Glasgow mail, I should wish it, if possible, to be forwarded by express tonight, and directed to the Sheriff of Lanarkshire, at Glasgow. The delay has been occasioned by the Chancellor being at Wimbledon; but I believe that the writ will be back in time, or soon after. Your's ever, E. J. STANLEY. Lieutenant Colonel Maberly &c. He could produce witnesses (if desired) in corroboration of his statement; and that, at the period of his writing this letter, he had made no secret whatever of the course he was pursuing. Shortly afterwards he had heard some doubts expressed as to its conformity with the Act of Parliament, and he would now confess that, after perusing the Act of Parliament, he thought it possible that the wording of the Act might be opposed to the course which he had taken. But he would ask, what was the intention of the Act? He would ask whether it was not to remove delay in the transmission of writs of election? Had the Lord Chancellor been in town, the writ should have gone by that night's post. As it was, the writ returned from Wimbledon, and was despatched half an hour after the departure of the mail, and did not reach Glasgow until four hours after the mail had arrived. As the express did not arrive until evening, the sheriff had left town, and his return to Glasgow, where he could officially avail himself of the document, did not take place until very near the period of arrival of the following day's mail. The interests, therefore, of no party had been injured. If he (Mr. Stanley) had erred, he had erred through ignorance, and through the information of those whom he had naturally imagined to be peculiarly cognizant of matters of this description. For his own part, he thought the words of the Act were of very dubious construction. They directed the writ to be forwarded by the "next mail or post." Now, he believed that any express forwarded from the Post-office was in reality "a post," and that a person stopping the horses would render himself subject to all the penalties of felony. He therefore looked upon this as being one of the modes of conveyance contemplated by the Act. The writ passed through the hands of the proper officers, and was intrusted by persons deputed by the Postmaster-General to the postmaster of Glasgow, to be by him delivered to the sheriff of Lanark. Under these circumstances, he trusted the House would believe that, although he might have exceeded the strict line of duty, he possessed no knowledge at the time that he was doing anything which was unusual in practice; that, on the other hand, no injury had been the consequence of the writ being forwarded by express instead of mail; and that, finally, he (Mr. Stanley) had been actuated in this matter by no intention of violating the spirit of the statute. He believed that he had stated fairly the motives by which he had been guided; and, as he certainly had not been the means of giving an unfair advantage to any party, nor had entertained any such intention, he trusted the House would not consider him in this matter in the light of a transgressor. In conclusion, he would observe that he had made some inquiries at the Post-office, which were directed to ascertain whether any election writs had been forwarded by express upon former occasions, and the result of his inquiries was as follows:— Extract from Express-book, March 23,1829. On His Majesty's service. To Sandwich. A packet for the Mayor at 25 minutes to 1 p. m. "(Signed) G. WELCH. This packet he found to contain an election writ, and though it was despatched before post hour, it at all events clearly proved the desire which had been entertained by the Government of that day to expedite writs of this description.

Sir R. Inglis

observed that the natural sympathy which had been excited in behalf of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down by his hon. Friends around him, had induced him to draw the attention of the House from the real point at issue, which was the authenticity of the letter in question, upon which it was the business of the House judicially to decide.

The Attorney-General

said that the question was, whether the declaration of an hon. Gentleman in his place in that House should not be received as affording in itself a satisfactory evidence?

Sir J. Graham

wished to be informed by the hon. Gentleman opposite, whether it was his intention to put in as evidence a copy of the letter which he had read?

Mr. Stanley


Sir J. Graham

said, that he did not mean to enter into any vindication either of his political or of his personal character; and that he was by no means disposed to be drawn into any such discussion by the taunts of hon. Gentlemen at the opposite side. That conduct was before the public; and between him and the hon. Secretary to the Treasury the public must adjudicate. It was for the public to decide whether in the principles which had guided, or the incidents which had characterized his public life, he had been influenced by private considerations of a low, mean, and despicable character; or whether the motives by hich he had been actuated were as pure and as fitted to win the public approval as they had already entirely secured the approbation of his own heart and conscience. With regard to the particular matter which was now under consideration, he had disclaimed, repeatedly disclaimed, and he again disclaimed, the imputation of having entertained any unwillingness to impute to the declaration of the hon. Gentleman in his place in Parliament its full value. Had the hon. Member made upon the former occasion the statement he had just now made to the House, he should not have been disposed to carry the matter further. He contended, however, that the conduct of the hon. Gentleman in this instance was a clear violation of the Act of Parliament. The case which the hon. Gentleman had referred to was not altogether a parallel one. The duty of the Executive Government should be to take care that the writ should not be arrested; at the same time to recollect, that as much injustice might be done by too much expedition as too much delay. The object of the Legislature had been, that the writ should be taken out of the hands of parties altogether, and intrusted to the executive, whose discretion was confined within the narrowest limits. The Postmaster-general, or his deputy, were alone the persons who were to be intrusted with the despatching of the writ to be forwarded by the first mail or post, which plainly signified that if the writ arrived after the mail had set out it should be kept until the following day, and instead of being intrusted to the hands of private individuals—to perhaps twenty or thirty post boys, as should be the case between this and Glasgow—that it should be detained for the mail-bag, so that its safe custody might be ensured, and all chance of surprise avoided. Supposing a writ to have been obtained a moment before the rising of the House—all necessary regulations to have been made at the Home-office—the great seal to have been procured, and the express started at midnight, he could readily conceive that in such a case a surprise might be so complete as to prevent any contest whatever. In bringing this case before the House, he felt that he was discharging his duty; but after the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman opposite, he would not pursue it further. With regard to the taunts which had been thrown out against his public and private character, he should only say that they would not deter him from following that course which his own sense of honour, justice, and propriety suggested.

The order for the appearance of the witnesses was, on the motion of Sir James Graham, discharged, and the subject was dropped.