§ Mr. Blackstone
moved, that the Order of the Day be read, directing J. L. Poulter, Esq., and Martin Smith Metcalf, to attend at the bar.
§ Mr. Mildmay
said, he very much objected to entertain this motion at present. In the first place, he did not think it proper for that House to enter into a contest with an individual. He thought, they always came ill out of such a contest, because on all such occasions, the public sympathised rather with the individual, than the mass who were opposed to him. He neither thought this proceeding necessary for the assertion of the dignity of the House, nor likely to have a happy result. He objected, however, on even stronger grounds than these. He had known Mr. Poulter now, a great many years; he was as manly, spirited, firm, and determined a man as any of his acquaintance; and when he brought a serious charge against any individual or any body of men, he was very likely to persevere in it. In what condition, then, did they stand? If Mr. Poulter appeared at the bar, he would endeavour to show, that he had just grounds for the accusation he made, and what would be the result? Mr. Poulter's ex parte statement would go forth to the public, who would have no opportunity of judging whether it were correct or not. The Committee, however, would have the power of disproving the facts, if they were false, by the publication of the evidence. He would therefore suggest for the consideration of the House, whether it would not be better to postpone the question, until they had the evidence before them, in order that they might be able to judge whether or not the charge was well founded. If they insisted on bringing Mr. Poulter at present to the bar, and if, upon reading the evidence, they should come to the conclusion, that the statement he had made was perfectly correct, what would they then have done? The charge of corruption might or might not be true, but if it were proved, and if Mr. Poulter were punished for making it, they would either affirm that which was not the fact, or commit him to prison for affirming that which was the fact. Would this not be the height of unfairness and injustice? If he found the feeling of the House to be in favour of postponing the question till the evidence was printed, he should certainly press the motion he was about to 481 submit, to a division; but if he found the general feeling to be opposed to it, he would withdraw it. He begged to move, that the further consideration of this question be postponed, in order that the evidence might be printed, to the 24th of April.
§ Mr. Blackstone
could not believe, that the hon. Member for Winchester had read the letter of Mr. Poulter. Mr. Poulter had not merely said, that the Shaftesbury Election Committee were deficient in judgment, he had distinctly charged the Members of it with corrupt motives. Supposing the motion of the hon. Member to be agreed to, in what condition would the Members of the Committee be placed? A month or five weeks would be required to print the evidence, during which time, the Members of the Committee, with such an imputation resting on their characters, would hardly dare to show their faces in the House. Would the House consent to let the stigma remain during this time, and thereby proclaim its suspicion that a portion of its Members had been actuated by corrupt motives? No Member of the House was entitled to impute motives to another, and yet Mr. Poulter had not scrupled to accuse the Committee of a flagrant breach of honesty and good faith. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not persevere in the motion, which would place those who had been Members of the Committee in a very unpleasant situation.
said, it seemed to him, that the hon. Member had stated the worst possible reason for objecting to the postponement of this question. The hon. Member asked, what would be the situation of the Committee if the question were postponed? He would ask, what would their situation be, if they shrunk from placing the evidence before the House, till the House had come to a determination on this question. What were the facts? It had been admitted by one of the Members of the Committee, that there was, what he called, an honest perversion of judgment. That hon. Member called it honest; but did he expect, that if it went forth to the public that there had been a perversion of justice, that the public would call it honest? No, they would not. There was, then, a distinct perversion of justice, and he thought that the grossest injustice was done to Mr. Poulter that was ever done to any human being, even upon the statement of a 482 Member of the Committee. He did not attribute motives, he was not so unparliamentary as to attribute motives; but what were the facts? There were thirty-one votes upon the register. The votes were not objected to when the overseer sent in his list. There was nothing to be done but the mere form of the revising barrister coming and putting them on the list. He did put them on the list. There was no objection to their votes; they were fully entitled to vote; but the Committee had struck them off. And upon whose evidence were they struck off? Upon that of the assessor himself. He had heard eulogiums pronounced upon the purity of this Gentleman's intentions; but there was the fact that thirty English voters, carrying a seat in that House, were struck off the register by the mistake of a Gentleman who was thus eulogised for his honour and integrity. Would any Gentleman get up and say, that if Mr. Poulter had been a Tory the Committee would have unseated him. There was not a man out of that House would say so. They ought to avow these things—they ought honestly to avow, that if Mr. Poulter had been a Tory he would have been a Member of that House at the present moment. Any man who asserted the contrary would place himself in a most ludicrous position, the entire public would contradict him. What became, then, of their mighty anxiety for their characters? Did not the Member for Cork city say, that there was perjury in those Committees? Did not the Member for Cork county (Mr. Callaghan) say the same, and the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Gillon)? And did they not say so with perfect impunity? They spoke in the House and to their faces. And even so humble an individual as himself had presumed to hold the same language. To be sure he had been reprimanded. But did he, therefore, shrink from repeating the charge? Did he not repeat it after he was reprimanded; and did a single Member rise to have him censured or committed for doing so? But Mr. Poulter was out of the House, and out, too, by the grossest injustice that had ever been done to any human being. Why, then, shrink from allowing them to compare the evidence with the decision? Did they want to punish Mr. Poulter first, and try him afterwards. This was the very spirit in which the Committee appeared to 483 have been conducted. According to the statement of the hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. Elliot) there had been a gross case of treating. Public-houses had been opened in every corner. Drunkenness was going on from day to day, and the price of this was traced to the agent of the sitting Member. The progress of the money through the hands of his bankers was distinctly traced; and this was the party which was so exceedingly attached to religion, and whose high notion of purity was shocked at the least approach of anything irreligious. They would not allow a loaf of bread to be baked on the Sabbath, but they patronised the abominable practice of drunkenness, and refused to consider it as treating. He did not say, that these were the facts; but they had been stated in that House to be facts, and he wanted the evidence in order that he might know whether they were facts or not? Would they seek to criminate a man in the absence of the evidence that must justify his conduct to himself and the public? Till these tribunals were altered they would never obtain the respect of the public, and to proceed vindictively against Mr. Poulter would do their character no good, and the very disposition they exhibited in that House the public would say they were actuated by in Committee. He, therefore, submitted, that the manly way was to have the evidence printed. Let Mr. Poulter's vindication or mitigation appear with the charge, and then, if at all, let the House enter upon the subject. But let them not proceed in the absence of evidence. Let them not convict first, and try afterwards.
§ Mr. Mildmay
explained, that his intention in moving the amendment was, that Mr. Poulter's ex parte statement might not go forth to the world without the evidence.
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, the hon. Member for Roxburghshire had made use of the phrase "honest perversion of judgment." The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had with singular ingenuity omitted the word "honest," and substituted "justice" for "judgment." The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had founded a very triumphant argument on this incorrect representation of the meaning of the hon. Member for Roxburgh. He certainly thought his hon. Friend, the Member for Wallingford, had been betrayed into what might be 484 called an error of practice on this occasion. His single and simple duty was to lay the letter complained of on the table, and to leave the House to take what steps it pleased for the defence of its Committees and the vindication of their honour. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had taunted those who wished for the better observance of the Lord's day, but the hon. Member forgot that Mr. Poulter supported the Sabbath Bill, and was therefore just as much responsible for the provisions of the measure as any Gentleman on the Conservative side of the House. The real matter to be now considered was, whether the letter was a breach of the privileges of the House. The merits of the Committee were not in question, and were totally foreign to the matter. He confessed he thought the greatest improvement of which election Committees were susceptible was the publication of their proceedings, and the hon. Member for Wallingford was the first person to propose that the evidence taken before them should be printed. There were circumstances connected with this question which made him unwilling to take any part in it, but he had come to the conclusion that the original motion was the one which the House ought to entertain.
§ Mr. Hume
doubted very much whether either of the motions could fitly be entertained by the House. He had on a former occasion deprecated proceeding against the hon. Member for Dublin, and he believed almost all who looked at the result of that affair agreed that it would have been much better if it had not taken place. The motion of the hon. Member for Wallingford interfered with the liberty of the press; it went to repress public opinion, and to diminish the liberty of commenting on the proceedings of the House. If they insisted on bringing Mr. Poulter to the bar, they ought to bring there every other man who offended the self-esteem of any Member in the House. They had only to look to the journals of the day to find language much more bold and severe used to characterize the proceedings of the House than Mr. Poulter had ventured to employ; they would find the acts of the Legislature denounced as corrupt, infamous, atrocious, and by every other term of abuse. It was of no consequence whether the signature of the writer was appended to the article or not; the editor of a paper was as much responsible for the articles contained in it as Mr. 485 Poulter for the letter he had written. It was impossible that they should escape the observations of newspapers or of individuals on their proceedings. He thought they could not, without gross injustice, proceed against Mr. Poulter, unless they laid down a rule, that no remarks derogatory to the character of the House should be made in newspapers, to which he did not anticipate that they would consent. Mr. Poulter's letter ought to be viewed in the same way as other productions censuring the acts of the House or the Committees. Were Mr. Poulter brought to the bar, and asked, if by corruption he meant bribery, he would of course answer no, for nobody could suppose the existence of it. He would reply, "I mean political corruption." Why, they had heard from the right hon. Member for Ripon, that election Committees were biassed by party considerations. One man would call this deviation from equity a party bias, another would call it political corruption; it was indifferent by what name it was called, so long as its existence was admitted. The better and manlier way would be to dismiss this question altogether, for if the motion were carried, there would be no end to the questions brought before the House. It was unfair to single out Mr. Poulter as the object of vengeance when so many individuals had offended more gravely. He should vote for postponement, but would prefer to reject the question altogether. He trusted that the motion would be rejected, as it would be productive of nothing but dissatisfaction.
§ Mr. Harvey
said, that if it were really true, as some Gentlemen were extremely anxious to impress upon the House and the country, that the House, collectively, in Committees, and individually, was grossly corrupt, as some persons seemed to wish to impute to them, both collectively, in Committees, and individually, he owned he was greatly perplexed to reconcile this opinion with the great efforts and sacrifices Gentlemen were making on all sides to have the honour of a seat within those walls. He could not but think that the amendment was, at all events, premature, and unjust towards Mr. Poulter. Let that gentleman appear at the bar, and if he then stated that it was impossible for him to substantiate his charge, as put forth in his letter, until the evidence was before the House, that might be a suggestion 486 which the House might properly recognise. But they must have it from Mr. Poulter himself; because, except as regarded the statements made by one or two of the Members of the Committee, the House was perfectly ignorant of the contents of the evidence. If, therefore, Mr. Poulter should say, that he was able to justify in letter and in spirit the contents of that address which he had put forth to his constituents, but that he could not do so until the evidence was in possession of every Member, that appeal would be so rational and just, that he could hardly suppose it would be resisted. Mr. Poulter might say, that the testimony he would be able to offer in confirmation of the serious allegation of corruption was not in the evidence which had been received, but in that which had been rejected; not in the conduct discovered in Committee, but out of it. For this reason he thought that Mr. Poulter ought to be called to the bar. He did not agree in the opinion that the object was to have another victim; he did not think that this motion originated in any vindictive and malignant feeling towards Mr. Poulter; on the contrary, he thought they would be doing Mr. Poulter a great injustice if they did not have him at the bar of the House, and ask him what were the grounds on which he made so serious an imputation. He did not apprehend that Mr. Poulter would be thankful to anybody for discovering that his morbidness of mind was an apology for a deliberate imputation. He thought that, in justice to Mr. Poulter, they ought to have him at the bar. There might be a distinction drawn between personal and political corruption; and it was desirable that they should have Mr. Poulter at the bar to know if he only meant to impute political corruption. He certainly had come to the conclusion that something more than mere political corruption was conveyed by the imputation, and he therefore was not at all surprised that those Gentlemen who were on the Committee should be anxious that Mr. Poulter should appear at the bar of the House to state whether he meant to impute anything else but political corruption. He doubted very much whether any Gentleman who had ever been deprived of a seat by a Committee did not come to pretty much the same conclusion, that political corruption or great mental imbecility lay in some quarter of the Com- 487 mittee. So far, therefore, from concurring in the amendment, he thought it premature. He thought it unfair towards Mr. Poulter and towards the House, and he thought it tended to encourage unjust imputations as regarded the public mind. He for one disclaimed the imputation that a Committee of that House could not arrive at a righteous judgment. He had been sitting that morning upon a Committee, listening to counsel for two or three hours, and he could state for one that his sole object was to arrive at a just conclusion. He did not know why Gentlemen were so anxious to make such imputations, as, if there were any grounds for those that were daily thrown out, he should conceive that seats in that House would be numerous and easy to be obtained, for Gentlemen would be anxious to take some office or other in order to escape from such company.
§ Colonel Davies
must object to summoning Mr. Poulter to the bar. Did the hon. Member for Wallingford expect that Mr. Poulter would retract there all that he had said in his letter? He felt no hesitation in saying, that the letter at first sight appeared most intemperate, but hon. Members ought to consider what grounds there might be for writing such a letter; it might be seen, when they recollected that the hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. Elliot) had declared that five or six voters had been struck off the poll on the evidence of a perjured witness, and that the Committee, when requested, refused to re-examine these cases. The statement respecting treating had been in like manner made and never contradicted; so that he was quite astonished at the course pursued by hon. Members opposite: he thought they ought to rejoice at having an opportunity afforded them of contradicting such allegations as these. When so much was said of the character of that House, were hon. Members aware of a letter which had appeared in The Times of Saturday last, bearing the signature of an hon. Member of that House? It ran thus—To the Editor of The Times.Sir,—Having been present in my place yesterday at the extraordinary scene which preceded the ballot for the Wicklow Committee, and finding no mention of my name in your list of the minority, in which I had the satisfaction of voting, I shall feel extremely obliged by your rectifying the mistake in your next 488 impression, and shall be grateful for the opportunity of disavowing all share in such a transaction, worthy only of our present Government, and leaving a record of my opinion of the grossest outrage ever perpetrated within the walls of the House of Commons. I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient servant,*68, Mount-street, April 6.ROBERT PIGOT.He did not know whether the hon. Member happened then to be present, nor whether he avowed or disavowed the sentiments of this letter or not, but this he would say, that if Mr. Poulter were to be visited with the displeasure of the House, he thought it ought to fall upon their own refractory Member also.
§ Mr. Williams Wynn
could not agree in the assertion that the present was a vindictive proceeding; its real object was not vindictive, but protective; its object was the assertion of the privileges of the House, and the assertion of that for which all their privileges existed—the preservation of the independence and impartiality of their proceedings and votes. And was it fitting or just to impose upon a certain body of Gentlemen the adjudication of these cases of controverted elections, and then to say to any Gentleman whomsoever, that he was at liberty to impute to any one of those bodies of Gentlemen the crimes of corruption and perjury? Let him ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last how he would act under such imputations? How would the noble Lord opposite act? Supposing any man, holding the rank of a gentleman, published in the public newspapers a charge of perjury against any other gentleman, what was the course which the latter would adopt? There were two measures open to him—one, to seek the protection of the law—the other, to take the vindication of his own character into his own hands by answering publicly that his accuser was a calumniator and a liar. Now, in case they*The letter in the text refers to the circumstances which occurred with closed doors on striking the ballot for the county of Wicklow on the 5th of April. A discussion took place as to the right of the sitting Members to have a Strike each, in forming the Committee; their opponents stating, that they had only a right to one Strike for both. The House, on a division, decided that the two Members should have a Strike each. This decision was characterised in the letter as "one of the grossest outrages" &c.489 suffered this matter to be postponed for six months, what, he asked, must they expect would be the consequence? If the House refused to protect hon. Members in the discharge of their judicial duties on election Committees, it must be expected that hon. Members placed on those Committees, and subjected to imputations like these for their judicial acts there, would take the law into their own hands. But, it was said in this case, wait till the evidence taken before the Shaftesbury Committee is printed and we have had an opportunity of deciding upon its merits. Why, would this be the course adopted in any court of justice in England—that if any individual, on losing a cause there, should publish a letter charging the judge who tried it with perjury, the rest of the judges composing that court would wait as was now proposed? No, they would say to their brother judge, "You must be protected in the performance of your duties, and the court will take measures to afford you that protection forthwith. It is not for us to determine whether your motives were corrupt or not; the law gives you that credit which it gives to every man before conviction of crime—namely to believe, that you act honestly." After the charge of personal corruption which had been brought against hon. Members of the House, they had ample ground to proceed upon; and how could it be asked that they should not proceed? The evidence hon. Members opposite well knew, would not be read by one-tenth or one-hundredth part of those who had read the charge. In almost every suit, the unsuccessful party would be apt to deem the court corrupt which decided against him; he believed this was very common; but then those parties did not think that they were at liberty to publish such charges against these courts; they felt, that the law was the fountain of justice, and that the law would not allow those who were charged with the judicial functions to suffer for the due execution of their duties. He begged to state, as his most decided opinion, that the House could not in justice either to individuals or to themselves come to any other decision than to call Mr. Poulter to the bar.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
knew not what would be the use of ordering the individual in question to attend the House, if he were not to be called on to appear at the bar. This 490 had been called a breach of privilege; but he apprehended the breach of privilege depended entirely on the truth or falsehood of what Mr. Poulter had said. The House were bound to let Mr. Poulter appear at the bar, in order that they might ascertain whether the letter was a forgery or not, and whether he stood by the allegations made in his name.
§ Lord John Russell
could not let the question go to a vote without saying a few words upon it, though he found it impossible to agree with the great part of those who had spoken in the debate, whether on that or on the Opposition side of the House. He did think, that these questions ought not to be entered upon. He did entertain the opinion that into allegations against persons, and affecting their political opinions, it was discreet and wise in the House not to enter. With respect to what the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wynn) had asked, as to whether it were not right to vindicate the Members of these Committees from personal imputations, he must say, that he did think that a very great distinction was to be made between charges of this nature, when made against particular persons, and when made, as in the present case, against bodies of men. If it were to be alleged against any individual Member of the House, that he had dealt fraudulently in respect of a certain sum of money, in that case he thought that the person making such a charge as that ought to be brought to the bar, and that the House should take measures to vindicate the character of its member. But when they knew that political charges of this kind had been repeatedly carried beyond the bounds of moderation, and that what by some was called biassed conduct, by others was termed profligate and corrupt, and that such language was every day applied to their Committees without notice, then he did think that they ought not to go on with the present proceeding. And he must make another distinction between punishments inflicted by the authority of the House, a popular body, and punishments by the judges sitting in the courts of justice; for he had no fear that the judges of the land would carry too far that discretionary power with which they were invested by the Constitution, and by law for the maintenance of the authority and jurisdiction of their courts, the respect due to which they were bound to exact and to maintain for the interests of justice, and in 491 consideration of what was owing to the Sovereign, as whose representatives they sat. He did fear, lest a vote of that House which went to condemn any single person to prison, or to any other punishment, or to any penalty or disgrace, should be the offspring of passion, or be made hastily, and on the spur of the occasion, rather than from regard to precedents. He thought this would be inferred, if the only cases of this kind taken notice of were found to be those of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, and of the late Member for Shaftesbury. He said, that he thought this would be the case, and the more so, because he held in his hand a a letter to the editor of a newspaper (The Times of Saturday last) applying these terms to a vote of the House—viz., that that vote "was the grossest outrage ever perpetrated within the walls of the House of Commons." Now he knew nothing of that vote, though it was declared in that letter to be a government question—it was a question which he had never heard debated, but it was a question which was debated for a considerable time, and was decided at last by the whole House; and as he gave to the Shaftesbury Election Committee the fullest credit for acting in the decision they had made according to their consciences and to the best of their judgment, so he said that the House at large was entitled to credit for having decided with impartiality in the question respecting the ballot for the Wicklow Election Committee. And was it to be said, that because there were certain parties in that House who were fond of these proceedings, that therefore Mr. Poulter was to be punished, while Mr. Pigot, the hon. Member whose name appeared to the letter he had quoted, was to be allowed to escape? If that course were adopted, then he would say, without wishing that any one should bring forward the case of Mr. Pigot with a view to his punishment—that while one side of the House would not bear the slightest imputation upon their proceedings, while they would not suffer that what they considered improper language, should be used with regard to themselves; yet, that any degree of imputation, any degree of calumny, might be brought by them against those Members of the House, who either from their religion, or from their politics, might have become obnoxious to those imputations. With respect to the amendment of the hon. 492 Member for Winchester, he should not vote for it; he would not vote for an amendment, which implied, that when the evidence taken before the Shaftesbury election committee came before the House, then, that he would enter into the question with a view of deciding, whether Mr. Poulter was justified or not, whether he was provoked or not, to use the language in which he had dealt. Of that question he did not constitute himself a judge; and he would not vote for an amendment which declared the reverse. He should feel great difficulty in voting at all on this occasion. He must say, that when terms were used, that merely implied intemperance and violence of language, the consequence of excited feelings, he did believe the better course for that House to adopt was to trust to the real character of its proceedings, and leave it to the public, to decide whether those who came forward to act in that House, or those who arraigned their proceedings, had the better claim to public confidence; he did believe that neither by reprimand, nor by penalty, nor by imprisonment, nor by any other mode of punishment, could the House deprive any individual of the confidence and affection of the people of England, and that if he had that affection and that confidence with him, he need fear no calumnies nor imputations against him.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that if he understood the noble Lord rightly, the fair conclusion from the noble Lord's argument, was this—that it shall be competent for any person whatever to prefer any imputation on Members of that House, who might have judicial duties to perform with respect to the manner in which they discharged those duties, and to bring forward charges, no matter how aggravated, of corruption, and still the noble Lord thought that they must trust only to the character of the House, and that the House ought to give notice to individuals that they might libel the House of Commons with perfect impunity; and that though the law gave protection to all who were attacked by the libeller, yet that the House of Commons had nothing to do with scandalous charges that might be brought against its Members. But what was there in the case with which the House had at present to deal? He begged to call attention to what really was the question. Certain Gentlemen became bound to 493 serve on election committees. On their names being drawn, the House told those Gentlemen that unless they appeared to perform their judicial duties, they would be committed to custody: they did appear, and were compelled to serve: and then the doctrine of the noble Lord was, that having compelled them to serve the House was to permit them to be insulted. The noble Lord's remarks went the whole length of this. He would tell the noble Lord, that if this were to be the course, the House of Commons should pursue, he should advise an individual to come forward, and try this question, and stand up when his name appeared as Member of an election committee and say, "I will not serve." He asked hon. Members opposite, would they say, in such a case, "we would compel him to serve;"—would they declare that he should be given into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms for declining to serve? He asked, whether the noble Lord thought it just to subject any individual to this, first to compel him to serve as one of a body charged with arduous judicial functions, and then refuse to protect him and the rest of the body in the discharge of their duties? Mr. Poulter's words were, "A petition, which, under ordinary circumstances, and with a fair committee, might probably have been found frivolous and vexatious, has by the effect of mere chance been enabled to call to its assistance the services of the most corrupt majority of a committee that ever degraded the administration of justice, and the name of the Commons of England." Let the House mark the words "of the most corrupt majority of a Committee," that they would perceive, was not an allegation of incompetency—it was not an allegation of imbecility or ignorance. Almost in the first sentence, there was a distinct and specific allegation by Mr. Poulter, that the majority of the Committee were influenced by corrupt motives—that they were "the most corrupt majority that had ever degraded the administration of justice and the name of the Commons of England." In another part of the letter was to be found the following sentence:—"In this way, my majority was destroyed, and my seat as completely filched from me as ever a purse was stolen from a person on the common highway." The noble Lord opposite, had drawn a distinction between collective bodies and individuals. 494 In the case of a charge against a whole body, the noble Lord was of opinion, that the House ought not to interfere, but if the charge were made against individuals, the House, he thought, ought to protect them. Would the noble Lord be so good as to tell him upon what principle it was that he defended the exception which he had made in favour of an individual? The noble Lord said, that if an individual was charged with corruption, the House ought to protect him. In such a case, he (Sir Robert Peel) presumed, that supposing the individual to be corrupt, the arbitrary protection which might be afforded him by the House, would not recommend him to the favour of the public, or clearly exculpate him in their eyes from the charge which had been preferred against him. He did not very clearly see how the noble Lord discriminated between the two cases. The attack was not made upon a party, as the noble Lord said. It was made upon grounds unconnected with party. Mr. Poulter distinctly said, "Do not suppose that the high-minded men who constitute a large portion of what is called the Tory party, can approve of these things. I have reason to know that they regard such criminal acts with the greatest disapprobation." The attack of Mr. Poulter upon the Committee, was not a party attack; it was a personal attack upon the individuals who composed the majority of that Committee. The Members who composed the majority of that Committee were well known, and the charge was applicable to them individually, and it might be by name. He could not see how the noble Lord could discriminate between the case of an attack upon one individual, and an attack upon a few individuals, upon six or seven gentlemen, who were pointed out, and all but nominated as distinctly as could be. If the noble Lord thought it the duty of the House to protect one individual, upon what grounds did he think that the House ought not to interfere for the protection of six or seven? Upon the present occasion, he (Sir Robert Peel) felt bound to take the same course precisely, which he had taken upon a previous occasion, when the conduct of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin was brought under the consideration of the House. He thought it unsafe to lay down as a general rule, that the House ought not to notice charges made against its Members collectively. It was dangerous to 495 hold, that the House of Commons should maintain this position, not only with respect to Mr. Poulter, but also to everybody who might think fit to pursue a similar line of conduct. It was unwise to hold out an expectation that it might be done with impunity. Laying down such a rule would operate as an encouragement of such attempts. He was of opinion, that when judicial duties were imposed by the House itself compulsorily upon its Members, the House ought to interfere to protect them in the discharge of their duty. What course the House might take with Mr. Poulter, he did not know, but he could not assent to the proposition, that any man might charge the House of Commons with corruption or criminality, and that the House ought not to interfere for its own protection.
§ Mr. Warburton
was of opinion that the breach of privilege complained of was not a direct interference with the business of the House or the performance of its ordinary functions, but was merely a constructive breach of privilege. If Mr. Poulter did anything which interfered with the business of the House, the House, for its own protection, might and ought to interfere. He begged to ask the question whether an indictment for libel might not be preferred against Mr. Poulter in the Court of Queen's Bench? If that were so, and the Committee felt themselves aggrieved, they had the redress in their own hands, and why should the House interfere to protect them by the present proceeding? The argument of the right hon. Baronet opposite, the Member for Tamworth, went entirely upon the supposition that there was no other mode of defending the character of the House or of vindicating its privileges, whereas there was another and a better mode,—namely, by bringing an indictment for libel in the Court of Queen's Bench.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Sir C. Grey
thought that there was considerable force in the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Bridport, considering that the Committee, or court, if he might so call it, for the trial of controverted elections was ap- 496 pointed by statute, and not by the House of Commons itself; considering also, that one of the enactments of that statute was, that the decision of the Committee should be final, except in particular cases. He ventured to suggest for the consideration of hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether the decision of the election Committee would be final, as the act said it should be, if they persevered in the proposed course of proceeding. Whether they proceeded to take into consideration the minutes of evidence taken before the Committee, or directed them to be laid upon the table of the House, leaving it open to any one that pleased to institute a motion respecting them, they would be equally opening up and reconsidering what was intended to be a final adjudication.
§ Lord Henniker
protested strenuously against an observation which had fallen from an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, to the effect that if Mr. Poulter had been a Tory he would be still the sitting Member for Shaftesbury. Sitting upon that Committee the solemn oath which he had taken at the table of the House was always present to his mind. He felt it needless for him to repudiate the insinuation which had been thrown out. He did not regret a single act which he supported in that Committee; he did not regret a single observation which he had made. He trusted that the evidence would bear out what the Committee had done, and that the House would give him credit for having acted an honest part.
, too, did not regret a single observation which he had made. He hoped with the noble Lord who had just sat down, that the evidence would be printed. The present proceeding, it was true, was one which courts of justice might take, and a resort to which was formerly familiar to them. But when were courts of justice most in the habit of doing so? Why, when the judges were the most corrupt. The right hon. Baronet opposite, the Member for Tamworth, said that hon. Members were compelled to serve on Committess and were forced to come down to the ballot. Why, was there one of them who did not receive a ticket from that respectable gentleman called "the whipper-in," or from the Carlton Club? But then, it was said, that Members at the ministerial side of the House came down in the same way. They did, it was true; but then, they had not the hypocrisy to 497 deny it. Hon. Gentlemen at the other side were forced volunteers. For aught he knew, the noble Lord himself received a ticket to come down. He hoped the House would adopt the previous question. It was better to do so than to carry on a conflict with an individual, in which the House had never yet succeeded, and never would succeed, unless he shrunk from the manly avowal and iteration of his sentiments. By stifling inquiry, they would make the public believe they were afraid of the details of their proceedings being published.
§ Sir E. Sugden
thought, that any one who was a friend to Mr. Poulter would, instead of bringing him up to the bar of the House, advise him to admit, that in a moment of anger and excitement he had been inadvertently led into saying what his cooler moments taught him to condemn. No one was acting as a true friend to Mr. Poulter who endeavoured, by his observations, to prevent Mr. Poulter from taking that course which his own reflection would show him was the proper one, and which he probably would take if not goaded on by the officiousness of so-called friends. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had contended that this was only a constructive breach of privilege, and that the House of Commons ought not to notice it, because the high courts of justice in Westminster-hall, if such an offence were committed against themselves, would not interfere. Did the hon. Member forget what had taken place only a few months ago, when an hon. Member of that House (Mr. Charlton, the Member for Ludlow) was fined and imprisoned by the present Lord Chancellor for a constructive contempt of court? He did not find fault with the Court of Chancery for that; he merely mentioned it as an instance which had recently occurred, and which the hon. Member, who had gone back several years, did not appear to be aware of. The fine and imprisonment were ordered by a Whig Lord, a member of the present Cabinet. Did the noble Lord mean to cast a stigma upon the Lord Chancellor? Did he mean to say that the Court of Chancery stood in need of greater protection than the House of Commons? If they looked to the letter, which he deeply regretted that Mr. Poulter had been induced to publish, they would see that he spoke only of a particular section of the Committee, Suppose 498 that an indictment were to be preferred against Mr. Poulter for libel, how, he asked, could it be framed? No innuendo would show it. There was nothing in the face of the document which could show who were the real parties aimed at. Nothing would give him more sincere pleasure than to see Mr. Poulter express his regret for what he had stated.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had asked whether it were meant to cast any reflection on the conduct of his noble and learned Friend, the present Lord Chancellor, for having given a decision, and committed an individual in a case in which he (the Lord Chancellor) himself was the party attacked; and the right hon. and learned Gentleman had also asked whether the Court of Chancery ought to have greater protection than the House of Commons? Now, to those questions he would give this answer—that whatever might be the political opinions of the learned judges who presided in our courts, he thought the due protection of those might be safely left to their own discretion and judgment; but he thought the case was very different when a popular assembly came to decide as judges on matters in which they were parties interested. The House remembered the case in which the hon. Baronet, the Member for North Wiltshire, had been committed to the Tower. That was a decision in which the House was at once the party complaining and the judge. No doubt the House acted honestly in the expression of its opinion on that occasion, but he doubted much whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like to see the precedent acted upon.
§ Mr. Blackstone
had so high an opinion of the gentlemanly feeling and the manly bearing of Mr. Poulter, that he had little doubt that, if called to the bar of that House, he would retract the objectionable remarks into which he had been led in his letter. As to what had been said by the hon. Member for Roxburghshire, that the decision of the Committee had been "an honest perversion of judgment," he would only say, that that hon. Member had in the Committee more than once admitted that the questions on which discussions arose, were questions of law which he did not understand. The opinion of that hon. Member, therefore, was not entitled to any very great weight on this subject. The 499 opinion given by the noble Lord opposite was not entitled to more weight than as an opinion on representations made to him by others. The noble Lord had not attended the sittings of the Committee.
An hon. Member
said, that if Mr. Poulter were called to the bar of the House, he would either retract or re-assert what he had said. Now, in the latter case, what course was the House prepared to take? That course he thought ought to be determined on before the Committee proceeded to call Mr. Poulter before it.
§ Amendment withdrawn. The question that Mr. Poulter be called to the bar, was put and agreed to.
§ The Speaker
Mr. Poulter, I am desired to acquaint you that, by a recent decision of this House, a letter, purporting to be addressed by you to the electors of Shaftesbury, and transmitted for insertion in the Morning Chronicle, has been declared to be highly disrespectful to Members of the Committee which sat to try the merits of the petition against your return for Shaftesbury, and in violation of the privileges of this House. That letter, amongst others, contains the following passages:—An unprincipled combination, to which I have been for some time exposed, has been but too successful. A petition, which under ordinary circumstances, and with a fair Committee, might probably have been found frivolous and vexatious, has, by the effect of mere chance, been enabled to call to its assistance the services of the most corrupt majority of a Committee that ever degraded the administration of justice and the name of the Commons of England. The consequence has been, that I have ceased to be your representative in Parliament. The printing of the evidence by the order of the House will, I trust, exhibit to you and to the world the full particulars of this most flagrant and wicked case. The conduct of a revising barrister of the name of Graves, in neither giving the overseer of Stower Provost an entire day for bringing in his list, nor adjourning (as it was his duty to have done) in such a manner as to prevent even the most trivial and technical objection being raised, was the first cause of the monstrous injustice which has been inflicted upon me. The Committee having decided this point in my favour, after an elaborate and unanswerable argument, founded upon reason, principle, and justice, as well as precedent, subsequently on the application of the petitioner's counsel, reopened the matter, and ultimately reversed their own solemn decision! The revising barrister a man of long standing at the bar, and of the same politics with the majority of 500 the Committee, whose business it was to know the law and to act upon it, had not the grace to inform the Committee, according to the fact, that having departed hastily and before the conclusion of the day, he felt it his duty to return, at the request of the overseer, to perform the ministerial act of revising a list that was totally unobjected to, but declared that be knew nothing, and could say nothing, of the law, and begged the Committee to instruct him! The majority of the Committee, whose ignorance upon the subject was second only to their corruption, were thus enabled to put their decision upon the shoulders of this Gentleman. The next main feature was this:—An overseer, a partisan of my adversary, had caused, by his sole evidence, four votes to be struck off from my poll, on the ground of non-payment of rates. On the fifth case his oath was contradicted by too receipts produced in his own handwriting; and I will venture to say, that no judge who ever sat in Westminster-hall would have permitted a case to go to the jury for their consideration upon the evidence of a man so exposed and contradicted. My counsel, of course, applied for the restoration of the four votes; the Committee refused to allow it. In this way my majority was destroyed, and my seat as completely filched from me as ever a purse was stolen from a person on the common highway. We then proved a case of treating so extensive and decisive, that if any one should desire to state the sort of evidence by which such an allegation should be sustained, he might be content to take as an example what was substantiated before the Committee. Ample opportunity was afforded for establishing this part of the case, by the notorious fact, that unlimited treating was the only mode an entire stranger could adopt of standing against one who did, and does at this moment possess the affections and opinions of a large majority of your constituency. This proof was also treated with the same contempt as the rest of my just and righteous cause. I was unwilling to witness in person these disgraceful scenes; but I am assured that all the proceedings of a section of the Committee were accompanied by such external and convincing signs of partiality to my opponent, and prejudice against myself, as to excite the disgust of even casual spectators. Do not suppose, that the high-minded men who constitute a large portion of what is called the Tory party can approve of these things. I have reason to know that they regard such criminal acts with the greatest disapprobation. It does seem to me that I have been made the victim of a degree of iniquity, compared with which the irregular acts of all former Committees may fairly claim to stand excused.
§ The Speaker
, having concluded the reading of these passages, said, I am now to ask you, Mr. Poulter, whether you are the writer of that letter, and whether it has been published in the Morning Chro- 501 nicle at your suggestion, and by your authority?
§ Mr. Poulter
Sir, certainly that letter was written by me, and published exclusively by my authority in the Morning Chronicle, and, if the House will permit me, I should like to make a few observations on the circumstances under which that letter was written. The learned Gentleman then proceeded to say, that he regretted much that the letter addressed to his constituents had arisen out of one of the most, if not the most extraordinary case, that had ever arisen in an election Committee in that House. He would beg, in the first instance, to be permitted to call the attention of the House to those extraordinary circumstances, and having done so, he would, in conclusion, request that the House would suspend its judgment for the present, and call him before it on a future day, and that, in the mean time, it would direct the printing of the minutes of evidence. When that was done, he would confidently appeal, not to any Friends whom he might have in the House, or to any of those to whom he might naturally look for support, but he would appeal to those who differed from him in politics—to those who had got what he had lost. He would appeal to the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, and those who acted with him, and would ask them to decide whether the judgments given in the Shaftesbury Committee could be reconciled to any principles of justice. If the right hon. Baronet, and those who acted with him, should be of opinion that the decisions of the Committee were right, and that he was wrong in the view he took of them, and that he was therefore not justified in the remarks he had applied to them, he should be ready to adopt any reasonable apology which could be required to the House generally, and to the Members of the Committee in particular, and would further submit in silence to any punishment which the House might think proper to award. But until the House took that which he respectfully considered a just and reasonable course, he must, however unwilling he might be to adhere to any expressions which were calculated to give offence to the House, or to any Member of it, not surrender the high moral ground which had been the foundation of his letter. The constituency of Shaftesbury had returned him to that House, by a 502 small majority it was true, but that majority would show the powerful efforts that had been made by the party opposed to him. His constituents, however, considered that his majority, however small, could not be attacked except by some frivolous and vexatious petition, or unless he was to be frightened out of the defence of his seat by the prospect of the ruinous expense which it would entail. To show the feeling at one time of the parties who petitioned as to their probable chance of success, he could prove by evidence at that Bar, if he were allowed, that the agent of his opponents had declared to a gentleman of great respectability that, but for the constitution of the Committee, the petitioners would have given up their case on the first day. As it was, however, the proceedings of the Committee had been protracted for three weeks, and then the Committee had come to the conclusion that he was not duly elected, and this not by one, or two, or three, but by four or five judgments, so extraordinary in their nature, that his constituents naturally expressed their surprise at them, and naturally expected some explanation at his hands. He did give that explanation in the letter which had been published in the Morning Chronicle, and did state what he considered to be the great unfairness with which he had been treated. Before he proceeded to call the attention of the House to some of the facts of the case before the Committee, he would say a few words in contradiction of a statement made by the hon. Member for Shaftesbury.
§ Mr. Poulter
would not advert to debates, but he might be allowed to refer to a statement which had been made somewhere, as to his having been ill during the election. He would give this answer to that statement, that during the seventeen days that he attended in Shaftesbury, in canvassing, and on matters relating to the election, he had made great personal exertions; sometimes he rode thirty miles a-day, and had never enjoyed better health in his life. What could have been the motive for stating the contrary he was utterly at a loss to guess. He would now call the attention of the House to a few facts connected with the Election Committee, and to some of its decisions. It appeared that 503 the revising-barrister had gone down to Shaftesbury, and there saw all the overseers, and revised the lists of all, except of one who was not in attendance. Not finding him in attendance, he adjourned the court to a future day. The use of the word "adjourn" would show, that it was his intention to return and revise the list of the parish, the officer of which had not attended on the first day. The overseer wrote to the revising-barrister, and the barrister fixed a day when he would return according to the adjournment. He revised the omitted list, which then became a part of the registry as much as any other list that had been revised. However, upon an assumed irregularity in that revision, the whole case of the petition against him had been grounded. He contended that the whole proceeding had been regular. To hold it otherwise would put it in the power of any overseer to disfranchise a whole parish. Before the Committee, the learned counsel for the petitioner objected to all the votes in the list to which he had referred, and said that he would take any one of the thirty-three cases in that list as one which would decide all the others of that class, on the ground of irregularity in the revision. The case was argued by counsel at both sides during a day. Time was taken for consideration, and a solemn judgment was given in his favour, and against the petitioner. After that decision he had naturally expected that the point would be considered as settled. It never entered into his head, nor into the heads of his counsel, that a point so solemnly argued and so solemnly decided, would be re-opened, and, still less, that, being re-opened, the previous decision would be reversed. He did not wish to repeat any strong language as applicable to the Committee with respect to this decision, but he must at least be permitted to say, that it was one of the most extraordinary ones he had ever known amongst the varied and contradictory decisions of Committees. He was the less prepared to expect it after the decision of the Evesham Committee, of which the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was chairman. In that Committee an application was made to re-open a point that had been already decided, but the right hon. Baronet said, that having been decided by the Committee, it must so remain. Would the right hon. Baronet justify the re-opening of this question? He fancied the right hon. 504 Baronet would not, and he must repeat, that a more extraordinary and unheard-of decision had never before been known. By that decision of the Committee, rescinding its former judgment, his majority had been reduced. In another case, the Committee had struck four votes off his poll, and was proceeding to attack a fifth, by showing that the voter's rates had not been paid till after the election, when a receipt in the overseer's own hand-writing was produced for the rate in question, and within the proper time. It was endeavoured to be shown that this receipt referred to a former payment, but the receipt for that former payment was produced also, in the handwriting of the same overseer. Yet after this falsification of his evidence under his own hand, would the House believe it, that the Committee allowed this overseer to overturn other votes of his, and refused the application of his counsel to have the four votes which had been struck off on his previous evidence restored to the poll? Would any of the Gentlemen opposite call this justice or fair dealing? It could be proved that many of the voters for the sitting Member had been treated; that great eating and drinking had been enjoyed by those parties; and the bank-notes which were paid in liquidation of the debts incurred by those expenses could be traced to the hon. Member for Shaftesbury. It had been insinuated that unlimited treating could be proved against his party, but such was not the fact, as he had laid a positive injunction on his agents not to obtain the vote of any elector by such means. All he would ask was, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) and others would investigate the evidence on treating taken before the Committee, and he felt satisfied it would be brought home to the sitting Member for Shaftesbury. Let there be a fair scrutiny of all the evidence, and he would then appeal, not to his Friends in the House, but to his political opponents, whether his was not a case of the greatest hardship. If all his statements were proved to be correct, and that still his seat had been taken away, was it not natural in him to feel indignation? He felt satisfied the judgment at which the Committee had arrived was untenable on any grounds, and he would be happy to leave his case to any tribunal, and be governed by its decision. He was the last man in that House to use coarse language, or impute unworthy motives to any hon. Member. 505 He had been a Member of that House for three Parliaments, and he would appeal to all parties, whether he had ever used any expression that indicated a want of courtesy on his part. The hon. Member for Liskeard could corroborate his assertion, that he had always advocated the honour and integrity of the House, and felt the solemn oath imposed on hon. Members was a perfect guarantee for the justice of their decisions. He continued to retain the highest respect for the honorable character of the House, but he could not abandon that high moral principle by which his conduct was actuated on the present occasion. He did not ask for juries or assessors, but merely demanded an impartial investigation into his case; and, in making such a request, he was prompted solely by a love of justice. He appeared before them suffering under severe misfortune, and he believed the old remark might be considered applicable to himself, that "whom God wished to destroy he afflicted with infatuation." He might have secured on his Committee the hon. and gifted Baronet, the Member for Buckingham, the proud and respected noble Lord, the Member for Buckinghamshire, and he might have had the advantage of the accomplished and innocent mind of the noble Lord, the Member for Hertford. The Committee had displayed great inconsistency—they were right at starting, but became egregiously wrong in the conclusion. It might, perhaps, be said, that he took too partial a view of his own case, and that he was not a fair judge of what appertained to himself, but he only claimed a fair trial. Let the judges of the case be his political enemies, and if they declared themselves satisfied with the justice of the decision of the Committee, he would be prepared to revoke all he had said, and to submit to any punishment the House should think proper to inflict; but until he had the acute and correct judgment on the subject of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) and other hon. Members, he should continue to hold the opinion, that when justice deserted earth and fled to heaven, her last footsteps could not be traced to the Shaftesbury Committee. He had great reliance on the honour of the House, and would rely on whatever decision it came to after an investigation of his case.
§ The learned Gentleman withdrew.
§ Mr. Blackstone
said, that he had a 506 painful duty to perform, but an opportunity had been given to Mr. Poulter to retract the expressions he had used, but the learned Gentleman had thought fit to withdraw without expressing his regret or revoking his language. The sole object of the motion he intended to conclude with was, to defend the conduct, honour, and character of the hon. Members of that House, and he should, therefore, conclude by moving, "that the expressions in the letter that had been read that evening charging a Committee of that House with being actuated by corrupt motives, was a false and scandalous imputation on the honour and conduct of hon. Members."
§ Mr. Blackstone
said, that certainly the evidence would be printed and laid before the House, but whatever the House might think of the errors in judgment of the Committee, it surely could not impute corrupt motives to any hon. Members.
thought, it was a most objectionable course to attempt to couple the question of the publication of the evidence taken before the Shaftesbury Committee with that now before the House. That question was not whether the Select Committee should be put upon their trial for the votes they had given, or the decisions they had come to, or whether they had adjudicated upon this or that point of law in the manner that a Committee of lawyers would have decided it; but the question was, whether a gentleman, with an adverse decision of the House of Commons against him, should, with perfect impunity, be entitled, without any reference to the merits of the case, to charge the Members of an election Committee, not with having given an erroneous judgment, or an illegal decision, but with having been influenced by personal corruption in the exercise of their judicial functions? That was the question, and the only one before the House and before they came to any vote upon it, he really should wish, that in this, its real point of view, it should be represented by the Speaker to Mr. Poulter. He was the more anxious that this course should be taken, because in the speech Mr. Poulter had already delivered at the bar, it struck 507 him he had come very near to the expression of an apology, which he thought would be satisfactory to the House and to the Members of the Committee, whose conduct his letter certainly attacked. If, therefore, the true position in which Mr. Poulter stood were represented to him, he did think Mr. Poulter might be induced to do that which the House would certainly exact from one of its Members, and which it had consequently every right to require from a person placed in Mr. Poulter's situation. That Gentleman had already said, he believed, that he did not mean to violate the privileges of the House, and that he did not wish to make any personal accusation against its Members. Now, if to such an admission Mr. Poulter could be induced to add, that while entertaining his opinion upon the merits of the case, he was far from wishing to impute to the Members of the Shaftesbury Committee, either collectively or individually, corrupt motives, and that he regretted such expressions in a moment of irritation and excitement should have been used by him, be thought that the object the House had in view in adopting the present proceeding would be fully answered, and that the hon. Member for Wallingford and the other Members of the Committee might feel perfectly satisfied. He threw out this suggestion, because it appeared to him the most fitting, under all circumstances, for their adoption; and should the House be of his opinion, he did trust Mr. Poulter would, after a little reflection, feel he would not be derogating, but, on the contrary, that he would be placing himself in a most honorable and straightforward position, by retracting those expressions which imputed corruption to the Members of the Committee.
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
said, that the question was not put to the House as a mere breach of privilege. The hon. Member opposite called on them to determine whether the charges were false and scandalous—and when Mr. Poulter appeals to his political adversaries, and prays their attention to the circumstances of the evidence on which he founds his charges he, for one, could not be a party to condemning him unheard. Neither ought the House to be a party to such a decision without knowing further. To afford it this opportunity he would move the adjournment of the debate to this day month.
§ Mr. Harvey
hoped it would turn out 508 to be consistent with the usages of the House, that some questions similar to those indicated by the noble Lord could be put to Mr. Poulter. He must say he regretted that Gentleman had not ended his speech where he began it; for had he done so, he thought the matter might have at once terminated. As, however, the matter then stood, he confessed he was in great doubt as to whether or not Mr. Poulter meant to challenge the inquiry before the Committee, inasmuch as he had distinctly appealed to the right hon. Gentleman in the chair and to the House to read the evidence taken before the Committee, and had intimated a conviction that when they had done so they would come to the conclusion that he had been fully justified in using the words contained in his letter. Now, in his humble opinion, the perusal of the evidence could be attended by very little practical result. Those who read it might, perhaps, come to the conclusion, that Mr. Poulter had quite as much reason to be dissatisfied, as his adversary had to be delighted, with the decision of the Committee; but, that after all, would be a mere matter of opinion, and would in no degree explain away the terms of the letter. He wished, therefore, to ascertain whether Mr. Poulter persevered in adopting the spirit of the terms set forth in his letter, imputing to the members of the Committee direct corruption and perversion of justice. If he did, then he should feel called upon to concur in the vote to which the hon. Member for Wallingford proposed the House should come to. But if, on the contrary, as he confidently expected, Mr. Poulter should state that he did not mean to insinuate in the remotest degree anything offensive to the Members of the Committee, but that he meant simply to convey to the House and the country, and particularly to his constituents, a strong conviction that the inquiry did not justify the conclusion to which the Committee had arrived, then he should be prepared to say, that the House ought to be satisfied, and let the matter drop.
said, that there was one passage in the speech of the hon. Gentleman at the bar which could not be overlooked—that he was ready to prove that the sitting Member had stated to a friend or agent that he should never have continued the contest after the first day but for the constitution of the Committee.
§ Lord Ebrington
felt great difficulty in 509 coming to any vote on this question, but it was impossible that he could vote in favour of the motion of the hon. Member for Wallingford (Mr. Blackstone. He did not deny, that the allegations of Mr. Poulter contained a breach of privilege, but whether those allegations were true or false he was not prepared to say. He felt a very strong objection to the adjournment of the debate, as proposed by the hon. Member for Limerick, but he thought that course preferable to adopting the previous motion.
could not help concurring in the observations of the hon. Member for Southwark, and he wished, if it were consistent with the forms of the House, that they should permit Mr. Poulter to be recalled to the bar, and for the questions suggested by the noble Lord to be put to him by the Speaker. He believed that Mr. Poulter was anxious to cast no personal imputation on any individual, and if he remained of the opinion he had before expressed, he (Colonel Wood) thought it a fair case for inquiry, and that the House would be justified in waiting until the evidence given to the Committee could be placed before them. He thought Mr. Poulter should be recalled to the bar, and it was his hope and belief, that the questions would be satisfactorily answered.
§ Mr. Mildmay
could not affirm whether the allegations complained of were true or false, but he would suggest to the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) to put the questions proposed into some form, and have them put by the Speaker.
§ Mr. Elliot
regretted, that the words introduced into the motion were so harsh, though he had in his address to the House on a former night shown how little he participated in the expressions which Mr. Poulter had used, and that he had no feeling whatever in common with them. He was satisfied, however, that Mr. Poulter had used them from his honest conviction that his own opinion was right, that he felt himself ill used, and that he was the subject of great injustice. But Mr. Poulter had been misled by what had occurred upon the Committee, and the course he had taken had been the result of this misapprehension; at the same time, in justice to Mr. Poulter and the Members of the Committee who were opposed to him in opinion, he felt bound to refer to what he had stated on a former evening. With respect to the adjournment of the Com- 510 mittee, which had been so much discussed, he believed, that Mr. Poulter was entirely mistaken as to what had really occurred; and besides this there were several other points on which he was wrong. He hoped, however, that some motion might be framed in terms a little less harsh than the proposed one, which seemed to convey an imputation upon Mr. Poulter himself. If that were done in more moderate and less offensive language, it would enable many Members on his side of the House to join in supporting it; but he could not bring himself to vote for the one already brought forward.
§ Mr. Williams Wynn
must say, that it would not be very consistent with what Mr. Poulter had already stated in his address to the House, for that Gentleman afterwards to say, that whilst he maintained his opinion, he did not mean to impute corruption to any Member of the Committee. He could, however, make every allowance for excitement of feeling, and he hoped that Mr. Poulter would be called in again, and be asked whether, without withdrawing any expressions that he had made as to the erroneous judgment of the Committee, he persisted in his declaration that they had been guilty of corruption?
§ The Speaker
said,—"Mr. Poulter, I have been commanded by the House to put to you a question arising out of the statement which you have already made at the bar. Before I do so, I think I shall best discharge my duty to the House, and I think I shall equally discharge my duty to you, by stating to you what I conceive to be the sense of the House with respect to the present state of this proceeding. The complaint is not that you have urged that the decision of the Committee was in your opinion erroneous, they make no complaint of that, they desire no retraction of that opinion, they consider that you are at liberty to express that opinion so long as you shall entertain it; but the complaint which they do make is, that in stating your opinion that the judgment of the Committee has been erroneous, you have applied to the Members of the Committee expressions of a harsh nature—I use the gentlest expressions—I wish the 511 question to be considered calmly and temperately by yourself and every body concerned—you have used harsh expressions, and you have used expressions which you, as a person who have been long a Member of this House, must know very well you in your place in Parliament could not have applied to any Member of this House; therefore, looking at what you have said, I conceive there is every reason to hope that you will see, as I think the House sees, that there is a distinction, and a broad distinction, between retracting that which implies your own opinion that the decision of the Committee has been erroneous, and retracting those expressions which impute directly to the Members who composed the majority of that Committee, which is, after all, a conclusion of which no positive proof could in any way be produced; it could only have been an inference which you yourself drew, because you took a strong view of the erroneous nature of the judgment; and under these circumstances, I am desired to put to you this question—whether or no you are now disposed to retract those expressions, in which you charge the Members of the Committee with personal corruption in the votes they gave, and the conduct they pursued in the Committee, and also those expressions in which you allege that your seat has been as completely filched from you as ever a purse was stolen from a person on the common highway?"
§ Mr. Poulter
said, that he must continue to assert, that his seat in Parliament had been taken from him by political motives; but in saying this he did not mean to ascribe to the Members of the Committee, any corruption in the sense of pecuniary or base corruption; but he must say, that he should ever regard his seat as taken from him from political causes, and not from any causes founded on justice.
§ Mr. Blackstone
must say, on behalf of himself and the other Members of the Committee, that the answers of Mr. Poulter had not been sufficient. Mr. Poulter had not said that he considered their judgment erroneous, but still imputed corrupt motives to them.
§ Mr. Langdale
expressed his sincere 512 regret that this matter had been brought forward. He did not mean to defend Mr. Poulter's expressions, but he would ask, whether terms of the same character had not been used in reference to almost every Committee which had been appointed for years? He had daily heard such expressions towards the Committee on which he had been recently serving. When a Committee was sitting, they were bound to keep up an appearance of a court as long as it existed; but it was going a great length to notice any expressions that might be let fall as to the conclusion they had come to. He would just refer to the last number of a well-known publication, Frazer's Magazine, in which the Committees of the Whigs were accused of injustice, and those of the Tories were justified, and it was said, "That the Whigs had succeeded in making a loss to the opposite party of six votes; but that they had obtained the deep disgust of all honourable men." He would ask whether this was not strong language, and whether it ought to pass unnoticed, if that House brought forward such a case as the present?
§ Mr. Hall
[amidst cries of "Divide"] said, the hon. Member for Knaresborough had quoted an observation from Frazer's Magazine, and he could also read another from another publication, which had been put into his hand only a few minutes before. He would read it to the House, for he felt it to be just to the Committee on which he had the honour of sitting to do so, and because also it might be seen why he should vote against the proposition of the hon. Gentleman opposite. Since these subjects had been brought forward in the House, the business had been delayed week after week while they had been engaged in these matters. The conduct of hon. Members had never been more villified than in the case of the Roxburgh Committee. Now, with reference to that Committee, it was said in the Monthly Law Magazine, that "as for the proceedings of the Roxburgh Election Committee, they would defy any man to produce anything more manifestly adverse to justice out of the records of the most corrupt tribunal of the worst country in the vilest age of the world, and that if Committees went on in this manner unrebuked, the House would become a by word of reproach." If Gentlemen opposite had been so anxious upon points 513 of privilege, why had they not come forward with this? They ought not to have introduced this isolated case. If hon. Members brought under the consideration of the House, every case of a similar nature, it might then be said, that they acted justly and impartially. He did not himself think it necessary to submit to the House the charge which had been made against the Members of the Roxburgh Committee, because he knew that those Gentlemen might securely rely for the vindication on their own characters.
§ Lord Worsley
also thought it was in his power to quote from a public print some expressions applied to Election Committees, equally censurable with those used by Mr. Poulter. He found it stated in one of the public newspapers, that the effect of the proposed bill for the settlement of controverted elections would be to make Election Committees less infamous than they were at present. Now, if Mr. Poulter was to be punished, he thought that in fairness such language should not pass unnoticed.
§ Mr. Baines
said, it seemed to him that hon. Members opposite, were requiring from Mr. Poulter a concession which he had already made. Mr. Poulter had retracted the imputation of personal corruption, and yet hon. Members were not satisfied with that concession, which they professed to be all they asked for. The hon. and learned Member for Ripon had admitted, that there was a political bias in the Election Committees, and that was what Mr. Poulter said. ["No, no!"] There might be the shadow of a distinction between the two expressions, but, considering the peculiar situation of Mr. Poulter, he thought the House ought to be satisfied with his retraction of the charge of personal corruption. He did hope, that the hon. Member opposite, who seemed to be pressing forward his motion in a manner wearing the appearance of vindictiveness, ["No, no!"] would not pursue the matter, as the imputation of corruption had been withdrawn.
§ The short hand writer read Mr. Poulter's reply on Lord John Russell's motion.
§ Sir E. Sugden
did not deny, that he had said, there existed a bias in the minds of the Members of Election Committees, which they found it difficult to relieve themselves from, and he sincerely wished he could conscientiously regard the language used by Mr. Poulter as having the 514 same meaning. But that Gentleman still persisted in imputing political motives to the Members of the Committee, whereas he had only spoken of a bias from which they could not relieve themselves.
did not understand the distinction drawn by the hon. and learned Member, between the expressions "political bias," and "political motives." He thought it a very fine distinction. He imagined that the source of motives was bias. Supposing the motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite to be carried, he should be glad to know what would be gained by such a whitewashing of the Committee? Mr. Poulter asked them, before they declared his assertions to be false, to give him an opportunity of proving that the agent of the petitioner declared, that had not political bias existed in the Committee to a very great numerical extent, he would have abandoned his case. Was not that a fact which Mr. Poulter should be allowed an opportunity of proving, if he could? Mr. Poulter also said, "Let the evidence taken before the Committee be produced and read by my political opponents of the highest class; and if they afterwards think that I am wrong, I will apologise." Why were hon. Gentlemen so anxious to vote a statement false, which Mr. Poulter said, he could prove to be true? Do not let it go forth to the public that they shrank from an investigation of the evidence. What signified it that hon. Gentlemen cried out "No," if the public came to a contrary conclusion? The present proceeding was a vain attempt to throw a veil over the conduct of Election Committees, which was condemned by all parties in language of the strongest nature. Both Whig and Tory Committees were accused of corruption by the different parties; and now hon. Gentlemen fancied they could get rid of these mutual recriminations, by voting themselves the purest of human beings.
§ Mr. Blackstone
said, the language used by the agent for the petitioner, was the consequence of his supposing, that he trusted in the justice of the Committee, and of his confidence that they would admit the evidence of the revising barrister.
§ Lord John Russell
must say, that the great eagerness shown by hon. Gentlemen to come to a vote on a personal question like the present, was no conclusive proof that they would act in the most solemn and deliberative manner. He could vote 515 neither for the amendment nor for the original motion, but he wished hon. Members to reflect what it was they were about to decide upon. On the one hand, it was proposed to adjourn the discussion for one month, in order that it might be seen, whether the evidence before the Committee afforded any ground for Mr. Poulter's imputations. He could not acquiesce in that proposition, because it would force the House to try the propriety of the decisions come to by the Committee. On the other hand it was proposed to declare all the assertions of Mr. Poulter false and scandalous, without any further evidence than that afforded by Mr. Poulter's own explanation. He admitted Mr. Poulter, on finding, that the decisions of the Committee deprived him of his seat in Parliament, had written a most intemperate and inexcusable letter, and having been called to the bar Mr. Poulter declared he could not retract any portion of that letter, which implied that the Members decided from political motives. Still, he did not think that a sufficient reason for adopting the motion before the House, because Mr. Poulter's statement was not stronger than that which had been made in the course of several debates, that political bias was to be found in the Election Committees. If Mr. Poulter had imputed pecuniary or personal corruption to the Members, that would have been a charge which might either have been investigated, or at once indignantly denied; but the statement that the Members of the Committee, because they differed in opinion from Mr. Poulter, must have come to their decisions from political motives, was only an impression which existed in Mr. Poulter's mind and was not sufficient to induce the House to pass a grave condemnation on that Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, had drawn a distinction between political motives and political bias, and thought that the latter expression might be used without offence; but that if a charge of political motives was made, it ought to be visited by some severe censure on the part of the House. He had never known so fine a distinction drawn before, except by Acres in the comedy of the Rivals, who did not mind being called a coward, but declared that he should be mightily offended if called a poltroon. He really did think, that the house had already lost a great deal of time by the present discussion, and he therefore hoped 516 that Mr. Poulter's last explanation would be considered by the House as a justification for not proceeding further in the matter. Though he could not vote in favour of the amendment, he should, if it were rejected, certainly consider himself at liberty to move by way of amendment, that the House proceed to the Orders of the Day.
§ Sir A. Dalrymple
did not concur in the construction put on the language of Mr. Poulter by the noble Lord. He understood Mr. Poulter to impute, not pecuniary, but political corruption to the Members of the Committee; and for that reason he should vote in favour of the motion.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
thought, the hon. Baronet did not correctly represent the explanation of Mr. Poulter; who had expressly stated, that he did not attribute pecuniary or base corruption to the Members of the Committee, though he did not retract his assertion that he had lost his seat by reason of their political opinions. It was true, that Mr. Poulter persisted in saying that the Committee was actuated by political motives, but he did not think that a sufficient reason for involving the House in the difficulties which must arise from proceeding further in the matter. He really thought, that the experience, not only of past Parliaments, but of the present also, must have taught them the wisdom of taking advantage—if they could do so without sacrificing the dignity of the House, or the characters of the Members of its Committees, which they were bound to protect—of any just and equitable mode of escaping from the embarrassment of a question like the present.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he could not vote for the proposition that the present debate should be adjourned for one month, in order that the House might have an opportunity of seeing the evidence printed; because such a motion, if carried, would constitute the House of Commons a tribunal of appeal from Election Committees; and he thought, that after the experience which had been had, of the decisions of the House of Commons previous to the passing of the Grenville Act, no one would be prepared to devolve on the House generally jurisdiction in cases of controverted elections. Then with regard to the original motion before the House, he must say, that he had shared in the desire, which he believed to be a 517 prevailing one, to find some means of terminating the present proceeding, without resorting to a measure of severity. Considering the situation of Mr. Poulter—considering that he was smarting under what was undoubtedly a great disappointment, and, as he said, in justice, he could not hear that Gentleman's appeal, or witness the tone and temper in which the speech at the bar was delivered, without feeling an unwillingness to visit that Gentleman with the severe displeasure of the House. But he must not permit such considerations to blind him to what he regarded to be the justice of the case. He looked upon the expressions originally used by Mr. Poulter as an unqualified charge of corruption against the Members of the Committee. The noble Lord opposite had characterised Mr. Poulter's letter as intemperate and inexcusable. He wished the noble Lord had used the same language the other evening, when unfortunately he allowed some expressions to fall from him calculated to throw obstacles in the way of the settlement of this question. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, that the Members of the Committee were entitled to the protection of the House. That was all that he asked for. The motion now before the House had been described as harsh; but it was precisely the same as had been adopted in the case of the learned Member for Dublin; and he must say, that no expressions made use of by that learned Member warranted a severer censure than did the language in which Mr. Poulter's letter was couched; for it cast imputations on the individual Members of a particular Committee. Then the question arose, had Mr. Poulter signified such a retraction of the offence as would warrant the House in letting the matter drop? Nothing would be more satisfactory to him than to think that such was the case; but, on the other hand, nothing would be more discreditable to the House than to pretend to discover an apology which really had never been made. It would be unfair to Mr. Poulter himself, for it would be imputing to that gentleman concessions to which he was no party. He doubted very much that Mr. Poulter would like the House to say "Oh, you have come very near to an apology, and we will go a little further and say you have apologised." That he thought would be unfair to Mr. Poulter. He must say, 518 then, that the original charge of corruption remained. It was true, that Mr. Poulter disclaimed the charge of pecuniary corruption, but he had imputed a political bias to the Committee, which had dictated them to follow another course, which, if not corrupt in an imputed sense, was characterised as unjust. That was a charge of judicial corruption. So far from feeling any thing like vindictive feeling against Mr. Poulter, such had been his conduct as a political opponent in the House, and if he could forget that, his conduct at the bar that night, that he would be inclined to take the most lenient course. But personal considerations could not prevail upon him to attempt to find concession and apology in a case where honesty declared that they did not exist.
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
if the noble Lord would move the order of the day, would withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord J. Russell
moved the order of the day for the third reading of the Slavery Act Amendment Bill.
§ Mr. Praed
, amidst continued cries of "Divide," was understood to suggest that the amendment of the noble Lord should be reserved until after the Committee had been vindicated by a vote of the House, and that it should be proposed on the question being put that Mr. Poulter be called up to be censured.
§ The House divided on the question, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question. Ayes 122; Noes 120: Majority 2.
|List of the AYES.|
|A'Court, Captain||Chapman, A.|
|Adare, Viscount||Chichester, J. P. B.|
|Arbuthnot, hon. H.||Chute, W. L. W.|
|Attwood, W.||Codrington, C.|
|Attwood, M.||Cole, hon. A. H.|
|Bagge, W.||Conolly, E.|
|Baillie, Colonel||Cooper, E.|
|Baring, hon. F.||Corry, hon. H.|
|Baring, H. B.||Courtenay, P.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Dalrymple, Sir A.|
|Bateson, Sir R.||Douglas, Sir C. E.|
|Bethell, R.||Douro, Marquess of|
|Blackburne, I.||Dunbar, George|
|Bolling, W.||East, J. B.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Eaton, R. J.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Egerton, W. T.|
|Broadley, H.||Ellis, J.|
|Brownrigg, S.||Farrand, R.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Fector, J. M.|
|Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.||Fellows, E.|
|Cantalupe, Viscount||Forester, hon. G.|
|Cartwright, W. R.||Freshfield, J. W.|
|Chandos, Marquess||Gaskell, Jas. Milnes|
|Gibson, T.||Perceval, hon. G. J.|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Planta, rt. hon. J.|
|Godson, R.||Polhill, F.|
|Gore, O. J. R.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Goulburn, rt. hn. H.||Powerscourt, Viscount|
|Grant, hon. Colonel||Praed, W. M.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Richards, R.|
|Harcourt, G. S.||Rickford, W.|
|Hardinge, rt. hn Sir H.||Rose, rt hon. Sir G.|
|Henniker, Lord||Round, C. G.|
|Herries, rt. hon. J. C.||Round, J.|
|Hodgson, R.||Sanderson, R.|
|Holmes, hon. W. A. C.||Scarlett, hon. J. Y.|
|Holmes W.||Sheppard, T.|
|Hope, G. W.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Hope, H. T.||Sinclair, Sir G.|
|Hotham, Lord||Smith, A.|
|Houldsworth, T.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Hurt, F.||Spry, Sir S. T.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Stanley, Lord|
|Jones, T.||Stewart, J.|
|Kelly, F.||Stuart, H.|
|Kemble, H.||Sugden, rt hon. Sir E.|
|Kerrison, Sir E.||Teignmouth, Lord|
|Kirk, P.||Thompson, Alderman|
|Lowther, J. H.||Trench, Sir F.|
|Lucas, E.||Verner, Colonel|
|Lygon, hon. General||Villiers, Viscount|
|Mackenzie, T.||Welby, G. E.|
|Mackinnon, W. A.||Wilbraham, hon. B.|
|Maclean, D.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Maxwell, H.||Wood, Colonel|
|Miller, W. H.||Wood, T.|
|Monypenny, T. G.||Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.|
|Ossulston, Lord||Yorke, hon. E. T.|
|Palmer, G.||Young, J.|
|Parker, R. T.|
|Parker, T. A. W.||TELLERS.|
|Patten, J. W.||Blackstone, W. S.|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Adam, Admiral||Dundas, hon. J. C.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Easthope, J.|
|Archbold, Robert||Ebrington, Viscount|
|Baines, E.||Elliot, hon. J. E.|
|Ball, N.||Ellice, Captain A.|
|Bannerman, A.||Evans, Sir D. L.|
|Baring, F. Thornhill||Fazakerley, J. N.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Finch, F.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Fitzroy, Lord C.|
|Bernal, R.||Fitzsimon, N.|
|Blake, W. J.||Gordon, R.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Grattan, J.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Greenaway, C.|
|Bryan, George||Grey, Sir G.|
|Buller, E.||Hall, B.|
|Callaghan, D.||Harvey, D. W.|
|Chester, Henry||Hastie, A.|
|Clay, W.||Hawes, B|
|Craig, W. Gibson||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Hill, Lord A. M. C.|
|Denison, W. J.||Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Dennistoun, J.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Duff, J.||Horsman, E.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Howard, Philip H.|
|Duncombe, T.||Hume, Joseph|
|Dundas, Captain D.||Hutton, R.|
|James, W.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Scholefield, J.|
|Langdale, hon. C.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Lushington, Dr.||Seymour Lord|
|Lushington, C.||Sharpe, General|
|Lynch, A. H.||Stanley, E. J.|
|Macleod, Roderick||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Macnamara, Major||Staunton, Sir G. T|
|Mactaggart, J.||Stuart, R.|
|Mahony, P.||Stewart, J.|
|Martin, J.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Maule, hon. F.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Maule, W. H.||Style, Sir C.|
|Murray, rt. hon. J. A.||Surrey, Earl of|
|O'Brien, Cornelius||Talfourd, Sergeant|
|O'Connell, D.||Tancred, W.|
|O'Connell, J.||Thomson, rt. hon. C. P.|
|O'Connell, M.||Thornley, T.|
|O'Ferrall, R. M.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Ord, W.||Turner, E.|
|Palmerston, Viscount||Verney, Sir H.|
|Parker, J.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Parnell, rt. hon. Sir H.||Villiers, C. P.|
|Pattison, J.||Warburton, H.|
|Pechell, Captain||White, A.|
|Philips, G. R.||White, S.|
|Pinney, W.||Wilde, Sergeant|
|Power, J.||Wilshere, W.|
|Power, J.||Wood, Sir M.|
|Protheroe, Edward||Worsley, Lord|
|Ramsbottom, J.||Woulfe, Sergeant|
|Rice, rt. hon. T. S.||Yates, John A.|
|Roche, E. B.|
|Rumbold, C. E.||TELLERS.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Salwey, Colonel||O'Brien, W. S.|
§ On the main question being again put,
§ Mr. Hawes
thought the House had arrived at the worst period of its history, and that the decision which the House had just come to, was one which was calculated to put an end to all freedom of discussion. It was an indication that the Members of that House were influenced by political bias. He did say, that the House had come to its decision from political motives. Gentlemen had come down to the House biassed, and prepared to vote. But if they were to declare, that an imputation had been cast on the Members of the Committee, or on the majority of the Committee, because it had been said, that several of those Members, had acted from political motives, and that statement was to be considered a breach of the privileges of that House, such a decision would not only be fatal to the freedom of debate in that House, but to the freedom of discussion out of the House.
§ Mr. Sergeant Wilde
owned that it seemed to him as if the House was going very 521 much beyond any instance that he was aware of in adopting the course now proposed in reference to Mr. Poulter. He believed, that he should be considered by those who knew him, to be one of the last men who would be disposed to permit anything which would infringe on the privileges of the House. He felt, that on the maintenance of its dignity and character its usefulness very much depended. He thought, that the circumstances out of which the present question had arisen had not been sufficiently adverted to. When a Committee had been appointed by the House, and sat and acted under its authority, and when the House was afterwards called on to enforce whatever resolutions the Committee might have come to, the case was very different to that now before the House; because in this case the House must be considered as a body of jurors, from amongst whom was selected a Committee, and over that Committee the House had no power; its resolutions were its own acts, and it did not sit under the authority of the House. Therefore, he could not see how a breach of privilege could be proved. It appeared to him that the Committee did not sit under the authority of that House. They ought to be left as a jury of the country would be left to deal with any individual who should slander its character. He did not recollect an instance of any court being called on to interfere in consequence of a libel on a jury of that court. He remembered that about twenty years ago a man was tried for murder before Mr. Justice Le Blanc, who, with the jury, became the subject of a libel. The authors of the libel were tried and convicted; but then the proceedings were not instituted in the criminal court before the accused tribunal itself, but in the Court of King's Bench. He confessed, therefore, he could not understand upon what principle it was, that the House was now called upon to interfere in consequence of something that had been said in reference to a body over which it had no control. The case referred to by the hon. Chairman of the Hull Election Committee was of a different nature; because in that case the publication of the libel took place during the sitting of the Committee, and it might have been supposed, that if a Committee were open to such attacks from day to day, its Members would be deterred from doing their duty. But when a Committee had finished its labours and 522 discharged all its functions, it did not seem to him that public justice in any degree called for the interference of that House. He believed a doubt had been suggested by an hon. Gentleman on the other side whether a prosecution could be maintained against the authors or printers of a libel in such a case. There could be no doubt about it. Those who were acquainted with the case of "The King against Williams," which was a prosecution of the defendant for a libel on the clergy of the county of Durham generally, would find very little difficulty in applying that case to the case of a majority of a Committee being libelled. Where was the difference? It was said that the Committee had come to a decision from political motives. The indictment might name the majority, and state such and such members of it as having been libelled. He therefore entertained no doubt as to the liability of a party guilty of such a libel to a criminal prosecution. The House, then, in his opinion, was not called on to interfere, either on the general principle, or in the particular case. He must say, however, that he did not think Mr. Poulter had been fairly dealt with. It seemed to him that the House was disposed to meet Mr. Poulter on anything like a reasonable explanation of his intention in the alleged libel; but then, on his being called to the bar of the House, and giving that explanation, the House turned round on him and said, "We are not satisfied; you have not met this charge by a plain statement of the facts." Various suggestions which had been made plainly indicated that the House, however much it disapproved of the letter, was disposed to meet him on a fair explanation. And what had he said? The House would observe that Mr. Poulter had used two words. He began by stating that he had lost his seat through political motives. He owned that he thought that was a mistake in the words of Mr. Poulter, as written down by the short-handwriter, there; but afterwards Mr. Poulter said, "I do mean to insist that I lost my seat in this House from political causes, and not causes founded in justice, by the evidence." Now, what was Mr. Poulter's meaning? He was not seeking to trifle with the House by asking the House to understand the words in a different sense from that in which Mr. Poulter meant them. That gentleman came back to the 523 bar in a temper and disposition, as it appeared to him, most anxious to do all his own honourable feelings and respect to the House would permit him to do; giving him credit for that motive, when Mr. Poulter concluded by saying, "I mean to say, that I lost my seat from political causes not founded in justice," he begged to ask whether that did not fairly mean, that Gentlemen had come to a decision which had deprived him of his seat, believing as the right hon. Gentleman had expressed it, that the justice of the case called for another decision? Or whether this was not consistent with Mr. Poulter's declaration, "I think political bias has operated in the judgment of that Committee, and the result is the consequence of that bias, and not of an impartial consideration of my case? If the House was disposed to interfere with imputations on the election Committees of that House, he was sorry to say, that he, who had spent the greater portion of his life at Westminster-hall, had frequently heard this inquiry made, "What is the constitution of these committees?" When the political bias of an election committee was known, and without at all imputing any dishonourable intention to the members of the committee, still there was an impression that was almost universal, that if any one was told the names of the committee, he would then be enabled to say whether the petition would succeed or fail. Now, with that strong feeling abroad, Mr. Poulter lost his seat, and he put it to the House whether it could fail to have perceived that Mr. Poulter made use of expressions which conveyed meanings much stronger than he intended they should; that he in fact was in the habit of conveying, and he was certain that if he had had a friend at his elbow when he wrote the letter, the expressions now contained in it would not have been found there. And what was the present situation of the House? Why, it was engaged in the discussion of a publication upon a tribunal which at present was most undoubtedly at a great discount. And the House was asked to come to a resolution that the publication was false and scandalous. But Mr. Poulter said this, not that he had witnesses to call to prove declarations out of the mouths of the Committee, but that he would show upon the notes of the evidence such a case as he believed no honourable man, even his greatest politi- 524 cal opponent, could read without thinking that the Committee had come to a conclusion that was inconsistent with justice; if however Gentlemen opposite, whom Mr. Poulter had named, would read the evidence, and upon reading it should be able to reconcile the decision of the Committee with it, then he had said, he would confess himself to have been in the wrong, would make an humble apology, and would yield himself to any punishment that the House might think fit to impose. Now, there was scarcely a Member of the House, except those who had been on the Committee, who knew what the evidence was, and all that Mr. Poulter asked was, that hon. Members should hear that evidence before they judged him. How could any honourable man do otherwise? What would be said of a juryman who should say, "I am ready to vote that the imputation is false and scandalous, and it is beneath me to read the evidence in order to ascertain whether or not the charge is well founded? "Was the House prepared to act so, and to persevere as a question of privilege with this imputation upon certain Members constituting a tribunal created by Act of Parliament? Again, Mr. Poulter, when at the bar, though naturally embarrassed, had conducted himself in a most respectful manner towards the House; he had expressed his regret at offending the House, and went, as he thought, as far as any gentleman influenced by honourable feelings, anxious to retract a charge made in too strong terms, could go. He trusted the House would make allowances for the expressions used by Mr. Poulter at the bar, and would understand those expressions in the mildest sense. When the House looked to the division just now—122 to 120, what acquittal was it of the Committee,—what, in short, was it but the political party of the majority of the Committee acquitting their own friends? It did not appear to him that the case of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin bore any resemblance to the present case; at all events there was a distinction between the cases, and he was satisfied this case was not one in which the House could safely go forward. The House would, he thought, pursue the best course by acceding to the motion of the noble Lord.
§ The House divided on the amendment that the debate be adjourned for a week:—Ayes 122; Noes 116; Majority 6.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adam, Sir C.||Martin, J.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Maule, hon. E.|
|Archbold, R.||Maule, W. H.|
|Baines, E.||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Bannerman, A.||Murray, rt. hon. J. A.|
|Baring, F. T.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Barnard, E. G.||O'Connell, J.|
|Bellew, R. M.||O'Ferrall, R. M.|
|Bernal, R.||Ord, W.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Parker, J.|
|Bryan, G.||Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.|
|Buller, E.||Pattison, J.|
|Callaghan, D.||Pechell, Captain|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Philips, G. R.|
|Clay, W.||Pinney, W.|
|Craig, W. G.||Power, J.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Protheroe, E.|
|Davies, Colonel||Ramsbottom, J.|
|Dennistoun, J.||Redington, T. N.|
|Duff, J.||Rice, rt. hon. T. S.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Roche, E. B.|
|Duncombe, T.||Roche, W.|
|Dundas, Captain D.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Dundas, hon. J. C.||Salwey, Colonel|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Easthope, J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Ebrington Viscount||Scrope, G. P.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Seymour, Lord|
|Ellice, Captain A.||Smith, R. V.|
|Evans, Sir De L.||Stanley, E. J.|
|Fazakerly, J. N.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Finch, F.||Steuart, R.|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Stewart, J.|
|Fitzsimon, N.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Gordon, R.||Strutt, E.|
|Grattan, J.||Style, Sir C.|
|Greenaway, C.||Talfourd, Sergeant|
|Grey, Sir G.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Hall, B.||Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Thornley, T.|
|Hastie, A.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Hawes, B.||Turner, E.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Hill, Lord A. M. C.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Villiers, C. P.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Vivian, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Horsman, E.||Wakley, T.|
|Howard, P. H.||Wall, C. B.|
|Howard, R.||Warburton, H.|
|Howick, Viscount||White, A.|
|Hume, J.||White, S.|
|Humphery, J.||Wilshere, W.|
|Hutton, R.||Wood, C.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Wood, Sir M.|
|Langdale, hon. C.||Worsley, Lord|
|Lushington, Dr.||Woulfe, Sergeant|
|Lushington, C.||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Lynch, A. H.||Yates, J. A.|
|Mactaggart, J.||O'Connell, D.|
|Mahoney, P.||Wilde, Sergeant|
|List of the NOES.|
|A'Court, Captian||Arbuthnot, hon H.|
|Ashley, Lord||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|Attwood, W.||Jones, T.|
|Attwood, M.||Kelly, F.|
|Bagge, W.||Kemble, H.|
|Baillie, Colonel||Kerrison, Sir E.|
|Baring, hon. F.||Kirk, P.|
|Baring, H. B.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Lucas, E.|
|Bateson, Sir R.||Lygon, hon. General|
|Bethell, R.||Mackenzie, T.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Mackinnon, W. A.|
|Bolling, W.||Maclean, D.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Maxwell, H.|
|Bramston, W.||Miller, W. H.|
|Broadley, H.||Monypenny, T. G.|
|Brownrigg, S.||Parker, T. A. W.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Parker, R. T.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Patten, J. W.|
|Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Cantalupe, Viscount||Perceval, hon. G. J.|
|Chapman, A.||Planta, rt. hon. J.|
|Chute, W. L. W.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Codrington, C. W.||Powerscourt, Visct.|
|Cole, hon. A. H.||Praed, W. M.|
|Conolly, E.||Richards, R.|
|Cooper, E. J.||Rickford, W.|
|Corry, hon. H.||Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Courtenay, P.||Round, C. G.|
|Dalrymple, Sir A.||Round, J.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Sanderson, R.|
|Douro, Marquess of||Sandon, Viscount|
|Dunbar, G.||Scarlett, hon. J. Y.|
|East, J. B.||Sheppard, T.|
|Eaton, R. J.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Egerton, W. T.||Sinclair, Sir G.|
|Ellis, J.||Smith, A.|
|Farrand, R.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Fector, J. M.||Spry, Sir S. T.|
|Feilden, W.||Stanley, Lord|
|Fellowes, E.||Stewart, J.|
|Forester, hon. G.||Stuart, H.|
|Freshfield, J. W.||Sugden, rt. hn. Sir E.|
|Gaskell, Jas. Milnes||Teignmouth, Lord|
|Gibson, T.||Thompson, Alderman|
|Godson, R.||Tollemache, F. J.|
|Gordon, hon. Captain||Trench, Sir F.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Trevor, hon. G. R.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Verner, Colonel|
|Harcourt, G. S.||Wilbraham, hon. B.|
|Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Henniker, Lord||Wood, Colonel T.|
|Herries, rt. hon. J. C.||Wood, T.|
|Hodgson, R.||Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.|
|Holmes, W.||Yorke, hon. E. T.|
|Hope, G. W.||Young, J.|
|Hope, H. T.|
|Houldsworth, T.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Hurt, F.||Gladstone, W. E.|