§ Mr. Blackstone
said, that it was his intention to move, that the evidence should be printed which had been taken before the committee appointed to inquire into the St. Alban's election. In bringing the motion before the House he felt bound to say, that they were greatly indebted to the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) for the bill which he had carried through the Session before last, for altering the constitution of election committees. In the present case he considered it to be highly necessary that the House should see on what grounds the decision of the committee on the St. Alban's case had been made. It could not be denied that at the late election at St. Alban's the grossest bribery prevailed to a great extent: such, at least, was the impression throughout the country; but it was impossible that private individuals could be called upon to squander large sums of money in tracing that bribery up to its source. He should only move for the minutes of the proceedings, as he was anxious that the House should judge of them for itself. In reference to the notice which the hon. Member for Finsbury had last night given, that he would move also for the minutes of the proceedings before the select committee on the Canterbury election peti- 808 tion, he must say, that he had no knowledge of what the object of the hon. Member could be in making that motion, unless, perhaps, the hon. Member agreed with him in thinking that when the committee had met to investigate the merits of the case, and the petitioners' counsel came forward and said there was no case against the sitting Member, they ought to have resolved that the petition was frivolous and vexatious. There was another subject to which also it ought to have reference. He could not shut his ears to a report which had prevailed for some days past, that a compromise had taken place, the one party agreeing to abandon the petition against the St. Alban's election, on condition of the other party not prosecuting the Canterbury election petition. It was impossible, as he had already said, that private individuals could be found to prosecute such proceedings, before such a tribunal at their own expense; and it ought to be therefore a matter of serious consideration whether a Member once accused of acts of gross dereliction of duty should be allowed to prevent all inquiry by procuring a petition containing similar charges, to be presented against another Member. He could not defend the custom for the one side or the other. He had not brought forward the motion with party views. A gross and flagrant case of bribery—and bribery, he was sorry to say, had been on the increase since the passing of the Reform Bill—had been made out, and it might be his duty hereafter to move, that they should investigate further into proceedings in the borough of St. Alban's. On that occasion he should wish that the House might be able to, see that there had been no endeavour made to shrink from inquiry, by putting one petition against another. If such conduct was tolerated, they might, after a general election, find 150 petitions, presented on each side and one Member saying to another, "If you do not give up your seat I shall be placed in jeopardy, though I know that you are fairly returned by the yeomen of your county." When the evidence should be placed in his hands he would see what further steps should be taken. He would, therefore, move—That the minutes of the proceedings and the evidence taken before the select committee appointed to try the merits of the late election for the borough of St. Alban's be laid before this House.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
could assure the hon. 809 Member that in moving the amendment, of which he had given notice, there was nothing further from his intention than to interfere with the motion of the hon. Member, or to weaken the force of that motion. He agreed with the hon. Member that it was the duty of this House to watch the conduct of committees, This wast he first Session, since the act of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had come into operation—at least it was the first in which many petitions had been tried under it. It was, therefore, of the utmost importance that this system being only an experiment, should have the confidence not only of this House but of the public and of the individuals whose cases came to be tried under it. But it was impossible that these committees should have the confidence of this House, or the public, or individuals, if those statements in public prints, which he had seen recently, and those rumours to which hon. Members had alluded, should pass unnoticed and uncontradicted. He would read a few extracts from a leading article in a morning paper of yesterday, on this subject:—'When things have come to the worst, there is hope that they may mend,' says the old proverb. With reference to the St. Alban's election petition, and the law and practice of committees in cases of bribery, this saying seems to come into full force.There never was a more open, unblushing, reckless purchase of a borough than that effected at St. Alban's at the last election. The facts of the case, happily, are beyond all doubt. One of the leading ministerialists of the town comes up to London on hearing of the vacancy, drives to the Treasury, and there contracts for one of the lords of the bedchamber, whom he duly escorts down to St, Alban's as the candidate of his procuring. He then sets to work, loudly proclaiming to every one that 'we have plenty of money,' and dispensing this commodity in open day-light, in exchange for votes, alike to whig or tory, without the least apparent wish or attempt at concealment.Of course these proceedings became universally known, and universally talked of. They have been brought before a committee of the House of Commons, and there proved; and no attempt at disproof so much as thought of. The whole reliance of the lord of the bedchamber's advocates was placed upon one point:—' The bribery we don't deny; but you can't prove the agency.' And accordingly, having a majority of ministerialists on the committee, they have steadily adhered to their point, 'agency not proved.'According to the decisions of tins committee, if, which God forbid, they should become authority and precedent, nothing could 810 be more clear or more certain, than that, if the money be but forthcoming, the whole of the borough constituencies of England must I be made matter of purchase and sale in all future elections. Notice is hereby given, that so long as the candidate gives no written appointment, under his hand, which can afterwards be produced in evidence, and takes care not to declare, before witnesses, any person to be his agent, the whole of his committee may run about the open street, with money in both hands, offering it to every voter they meet; and the verdict of a committee acting on the St. Alban's precedent, will be 'agency not proved.'Except a change takes place, and that right soon, every idea of public principle in elections is lost, and one abyss of universal corruption absorbs the aggregate constituency. The St. Alban's ease must operate injuriously to all parties. The ministerialists have been promising us for this month past, that they should unseat Mr. Smythe on the Canterbury petition; but their counsel, on looking over his case, finds that the very principles which he himself had succeeded in establishing in the St. Alban's case, would inevitably re-act on him in the Canterbury, and that his own arguments would put him out of Court. He, therefore, at once abandons the petition.As they had not all the proceedings now before them, they could not say whether this account were true or not, He believed that it was totally unfounded, and that it was a gross libel on the St. Alban's committee—and as members of that committee were now in the House, he hoped they should hear from them what reliance was to be placed on it. With regard to the rumour to which the hon. Member referred, as to the cause of withdrawing the Canterbury petition, he must say, that it was in every body's mouth. He could not help reading from the same paper the report of the proceedings of the two last days before those two committees, as from these it would appear that there was a prima facie case of compromise clearly made out.Mr. Austin rose and said, that after duly considering the evidence, he should have been able to produce in support of the petition, and having communicated with the counsel for the sitting member, he had now only to announce, that he should not further prosecute the petition.Mr. Sergeant Wrangham, on behalf of Mr. Smythe, said, that the petitioner's counsel had acted most fairly and handsomely towards him, in thus, in the very outset, making the communication he had then addressed to the committee; and on behalf of the sitting Member he begged leave to add, that he not only did not ask for, but sincerely deprecated, any 811 resolution passing the committee injuriously affecting the petitioner in consequence of the withdrawal of his opposition.The chairman, after the room had been cleared, declared the sitting Member duly elected, and that neither the petition, nor the opposition thereto was frivolous or vexatious.If ever there was a case of compromise, this was one. A prettier arrangement he never saw in his life. The same scene took place in the St. Alban's election committee-room.Upon the admission of strangers,The chairman stated, that the committee had resolved that the evidence should be received, but desired that it should be given by Lord Grimston himself.Mr. Hildyard then addressed the committee, and slated, that after the close of the proceedings on the previous day, he had thought it his duty to unite with his learned friend, Mr. Talbot, in taking into serious consideration the position and prospects of the case, and that the result of the consultation was, that they had determined to proceed no further with the case, as the views which the committee had taken of the law of evidence were so different from those of him (Mr. Hildyard) and Mr. Talbot, that he and his learned Friend were of opinion, that they would not be justified in putting the committee or the sitting Member to any further trouble.Let him turn the attention of the House to the fact, that the two last decisions of that committee were in favour of the petitioner, and that the very last decision gave him greater facilities for proving his case, and yet that it was then his counsel said he would abandon the case. Was not this a prima facie case of compromise? Were they to have that scene from the Beggars' Opera re-enacted in this House, wherein Peachum says to Locket—" Brother, brother, we're both in the wrong; Jet us make it up, or we shall hang each other." Was that the way in which the new tribunals were to transact business? He would say this was making a farce of the proceedings before a committee. It was a perfect mockery of justice, if this sort of proceeding was to be tolerated. He knew not whether the committee had the power of pushing the inquiry further, but if they had not, it was time they should have it. On these grounds he would move as an amendment and addition to Mr. Blackstone's notice, "Also the minutes of proceedings, and the evidence taken before the select committee on the Canterbury election petition."
§ Mr. A. Sanford
assured the House that 812 he had heard the notice given by the hon. Member for Wallingford with the greatest satisfaction, and he trusted that there would be no opposition to it. He said this because he found that, as chairman of the election committee, he could not very well make such a motion himself unless he had been specially instructed to do so by the committee. He felt it to be his duty to follow this course. He thought also that he should not pay proper deference to the opinion of the committee if he did not appear to concur in their proceedings. Under these circumstances he thought it a very fortunate circumstance that the hon. Member, by making his motion, gave him an opportunity of making a short statement to the House. If there was anything improper in his doing so he trusted that he should meet with the indulgence of the House, and, above all, after the statements that had been made respecting the proceedings of the committee. When he addressed the House last Session, when the proceedings respecting the Ludlow petition were under consideration, he stated, that the proceedings of an election committee not only involved the character of that committee, but also the character of the House, and he now repeated this. He believed that the country was greatly indebted to the right hon. Member for Tamworth for the attention which he had paid to the constitution of this tribunal, and for the improvement which he had effected in it by means of his bill. He stood in the situation not of a simple member of the committee, but was one of those whom the committee of selection had nominated as chairman, and he had willingly accepted that position, because he was anxious to render every assistance in his power to the carrying into effect the new measure, however heavy the duties might be. With this feeling, then, he had entered upon his duty as chairman of the committee, and he felt that, great as was the responsibility of the other members of the committee, it was somewhat different from that of chairman, for they were compelled by the law of the House to act, but the chairman acted, to a certain extent, voluntarily, in taking this responsibility on himself. With regard to the St. Alban's petition, the House would recollect that peculiar circumstances had been stated respecting it, which gave to the proceedings of the committee a greater degree of interest and importance than otherwise would have been the case. He could assure the hon. Member who had 813 just addressed the House, that he had heard with great pain some of the observations Which had fallen from him. In one passage of the statement read by the hon. Gentleman, it was stated, that there was a majority of Ministerialists in the committee. He had heard with great, pain this expression loudly cheered by hon. Members. He said, that he had heard this with great pain, placed as the hon. Gentlemen Were who formed the committee; who were obliged to take this duty on them, and to discharge it under the obligation of an oath. Placed as they were in the face of the country, it was not a fair way of viewing their labours. With regard to the publicity given to the details of evidence which had been before the House and the country by means of the newspapers, he would only say, that, if these accounts were to be published, and if the evidence taken before the committee was to be printed from day to day—and for his own part he did not object to this, nor did he pretend to say whether the practice was right or wrong—it would be only fair that observations on the proceedings of the committee, or on the evidence, should not be printed until the case was closed. He would not go into a statement of the evidence taken before the committee, but would only make a few observations on what more particularly concerned the members of that body, During the whole progress of the investigation before the committee, they were only called upon to give two decisions on matters of fact. The first had reference to the admission of evidence, and by this admission they were to decide whether a certain person was or was not agent for the sitting Member. The committee divided on this point, but so far from the decision being either Ministerialist or non-Ministerialist, the division was five to two. The decision was, that they would not allow the question to be put, because they did not think the agency proved. The division on the other question was four to three. The question then was, whether evidence could be produced, when those who formed the majority of the committee were of opinion that, as no additional proof of agency had been given, they could not admit evidence which implied that agency had been proved. But what did the committee do besides? Before it came to the conclusion that agency had not been proved, so eager and anxious were they to have a full investigation, a"d to afford every facility to establish the charge of bribery, that they 814 came to the resolution that, if the counsel for the petitioner would state to the committee that he could prove an act of agency by or through an act of bribery, he should be allowed to go into it without proving the agency in the first instance. This resolution was come to, although the agency had in no one instance been determined. This was stretching a very considerable point in favour of the petitioner, to enable him to prove bribery against the sitting Member, The point then, was, that first of all agency had not been established; but that if the petitioner said, that he was unable to prove agency unless through a case of bribery, he should be allowed to prove the bribery first. This was adopting and acting upon a resolution previously agreed to by the chairman's panel for their guidance. What more, he would ask, would the hon. Member require the committee to have done for the purpose of eliciting the truth as to the agency? With regard to the other questions, they chiefly turned on points growing out of the law of evidence. There was hardly a day passed without several questions being raised involving points of this kind. There was hardly a question put to a witness which was not objected to on a technical ground; and he was sure the House must see the state in which the committee was placed when two very clever lawyers were making strong assertions as to those points, and doing everything in their power to confuse and mislead. He had no doubt that there was a general feeling growing up in the House, that it was very unfortunate that there was no legal authority to which the committees could appeal on points of evidence, desirous as they were of doing justice between parties, and willing to give all their attention, and to use every exertion to enable them to give a just and fair decision, but when they gave it, whether right or wrong, they could only give it to the best of their judgment. He had presided on former committees, and he felt bound to declare that he had never seen an instance of men manifesting a more anxious feeling to do their duty and acting justly, or a more nervous degree of attention, because they came to a decision to do what was right, than was the case with the Members of this committee. This he assured the House was the case, and he had felt bound to state this much, after the observations made by the hon. Member for Finsbury. When the minutes of evi- 815 dence and the proceeding of the committee were printed, the House would see, that at the latter part of the investigation every facility was given to the petitioner to press his case. The division of five to two, which was the last, enabled the counsel for the petitioner to put questions to the noble Lord, the Member for Hertfordshire, as to what passed between himself and another party, with the view of proving the agency of the latter, through an act of bribery. What, then, were the allegations of counsel on this point? Not that such or such a thing had happened, and that they did not like to go into an explanation, or to investigate the matter further; but they stated, that in consequence of the first decision of the committee, that agency had not been proved, and which would be found in the minutes, the counsel for the petitioner would give the committee no further trouble. Now, the first decision had been come to three days previously to the day on which this observation was made, when the proceedings terminated; and this, be it recollected, was after the committee had stated, that they were prepared to admit evidence, and had pressed the counsel to prove agency through an act of bribery. The counsel stated, that he could not produce any stronger evidence of agency by acts of bribery, or add anything to the evidence that had been adduced to the committee. The committee had agreed to allow the counsel to prove the agency indirectly, but they declined to do so; and now an attempt was made to throw an imputation on the committee, by declaring that, in consequence of their former decision, the counsel could not go on. He hoped, that it was in some degree excusable on his part, as Chairman of the committee, to endeavour to relieve it from the unjust imputations which had been cast on it. He trusted, also, that he might be allowed to make a few observations as to the constitution of the tribunal itself. This was the second committee over which he had been called upon to act as Chairman since the measure of the right hon. Baronet came into operation. The first was the Ludlow committee, and the second was the St. Alban's. He need hardly observe, in consequence of the state of parties in that House, and from the latitude given to the press, great difficulties had been experienced in carrying this act into effect; but this was not all, for there were other difficulties of a political nature. He had 816 already stated, that the committees wanted some legal authority to which they could appeal in case of a point of difficulty arising. There were two modes of dealing with this difficulty; the first was, having a legal person appointed assessor. This might be done, and a learned Gentleman appointed in whom both parties would place confidence. In applying to him for his opinion, they would not have to ask it as to any question of fact, but only on dry questions of law. In case then of taking evidence, if any doubt or difficulty arose as to any legal point, the committee should have the power of appealing to this legal Gentleman; they would thus have some high authority as to any legal interpretation. The other course which he would suggest, and he was not sure whether it were not the better, was, that the House should declare what description of evidence should be taken. It should determine whether the committees were to be bound by the strict rules of evidence, or whether greater latitude should be allowed. Unless some alteration and some such change as he had suggested was made, he very much feared that these tribunals would not give that satisfaction to the country which they ought; and, at the same time, would have the effect of injuring in the opinion of the country the characters of hon. Gentlemen, Members of that House, by creating a belief that they did not deal out that fair and honest-justice which they ought.
§ Mr. Mildmay
felt obliged to the hon. Member for Wallingford, for having brought forward this subject, and he should cordially support his motion. He did not wish to trespass on the attention of the House after the speech of his hon. Friend, the Chairman of the committee, but there was one point not touched on by his hon. Friend, and to which he wished to direct the attention of the House. It was, that the evidence taken before the committee was incomplete, and only an exparte statement, and that the witnesses in many instances contradicted themselves in their cross-examination. The evidence also involved serious charges against individuals, who had had no opportunity afforded them of rebutting these accusations. Altogether the evidence was of a very unsatisfactory nature. This was a reason which operated with the committee to induce them to abstain from coming forward with a special report, or to ask that the evidence should be printed. He knew well 817 enough that the House had always received these special reports with great caution in cases where the evidence was not sufficient to fix the charge of bribery on any specific person. Several years ago he was a Member of the Camelford Election Committee, and the committee had chosen to make a special report to the House, stating, that bribery had taken place at the election, but that the evidence was not sufficient to affect in any way the sitting Member; and he well recollected, that in consequence of this special report the committee got well knocked about in the House, and their proceedings were severely commented on. He knew, that bribery existed to a fearful ex tent in many of the boroughs in this country, and he was most anxious to put it down and punish those who were guilty of it. No one looked with greater disgust than himself on proceedings of this nature, but the House must remember, that to punish those who were guilty of it, it must be proved in a legal manner. He took an oath as a Member of the St. Alban's committee to do justice between two parties, and to give a true judgment according to the evidence. He had looked into the petition, and he found, that the bribery was not charged against the person who had been so much alluded to in the proceedings of the committee, but it was stated, that Lord Listowel had bribed by his agents, and they were then bound by their oaths to take the question of agency, in order to prove, that bribery had been committed by Lord Listowel, and, of course, unless the agency was proved, they could not prove the bribery. They thus proceeded for some time in endeavouring to prove the agency, but at length the committee allowed the counsel for the petitioners to prove agency through bribery. This was owing to their anxious desire to get at the truth. As far as he was personally concerned, he would say, that he never felt a more earnest or anxious desire to do justice than he did on this occasion. He declared in the face of Heaven that he never entered upon any duty with more sincerity to arrive at a correct decision than in this committee. He was ready also to admit, that he went on that committee with a fear of being influenced by any political bias. After twenty-five years passed in political life it was impossible that his mind could be perfectly divested of political bias. He said this without hesitation, but still he had done all in his power to divest himself of any such feeling. They, however; must 818 still make allowances. They would not allow a father to be the judge in the case of his son, nor even one friend to try another, as they could almost tell what the decision would be. If, then, in common affairs, they could not expect a man to throw off his feelings, notwithstanding he might manifest every anxiety to do so, it must also be expected that there would be some feeling or bias on matters in which men felt so strongly as on politics. On this ground he thought the House was unfit to furnish the materials for a satisfactory tribunal in these matters. Again, there was an inherent difficulty in calling upon Members of that House who had not received a legal education to give decisions on legal points. He did not complain of any attacks being made on his political conduct; but when he found his motives impugned, and scandalous accusations brought against him, he would insist on justifying himself. He would only add, that he had taken a solemn oath to do justice, and that he went into the committee-room with a full determination to do so; and it was a matter of indifference to his mind whether the seat was to be given to Mr. Cabbell or to Lord Listowel.
§ Mr. R. Clive
should hardly have thought it necessary to address the House on this question but for the observations of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who complained that a compromise had taken place in the cases of the Canterbury and St. Alban's election committees. He would venture to assert, as chairman of the Canterbury committee, that they had not the slightest cognizance of anything of the kind. They went into the committee-room perfectly unconscious of what was to be done, or of the course intended to be taken by the counsel for the petitioner. They went into that room under the belief that the proceedings would go on. In the first place, he explained to the legal gentlemen engaged on each side the course which the committee had thought proper to adopt as to their future proceedings. Immediately afterwards the counsel for the petitioner got up and stated, that, on the previous night, he had gone into an examination of the evidence which he should be able to adduce before the committee, and although he was satisfied that many acts of bribery had been committed at the election, as he could not bring home the agency, he thought it wiser not to proceed and involve his client in great expenses, when the probability was that he should not succeed, 819 Under these circumstances, the counsel for the petitioner withdrew, and, on the ground alone that there was no evidence before it, the committee gave its decision. He was also glad to have the opportunity of making another observation as to the conduct of the late Canterbury committee which had been so pointedly alluded to. The hon. Member for Wallingford, said that the committee should have reported, that the petition was frivolous and vexatious. They, however, could not do so on the ground stated by the counsel for the sitting Member, to which allusion had already been made. With respect to the remark that had been made as to Ministerialists and non-Ministerialists, he would observe that he was on a committee last year which was composed nearly equally of gentlemen of opposite political feelings, and that on a division, the numbers were six to one. He was glad to take that opportunity of mentioning that during the very short time the Canterbury committee sat he never saw more zeal manifested to do justice. He entertained the most conscientious conviction that, however long the proceedings before them were protracted, they would properly discharge the duty imposed upon them. They had an anxious duty to perform, and he hoped the House would give them credit for having had a zealous desire to act justly, and which he was sure they were entitled to demand.
§ Mr. J. E. Elliot
felt assured, when the evidence before the St. Alban's committee was printed, that it would satisfy every hon. Member as to the conscientious conduct of the committee. He had not seen any of the observations in the newspapers as to the proceedings of the committee, and he had cautiously abstained from reading them during the progress of the inquiry. The House should recollect that the committee only proceeded on the petitioner's case, and endeavoured to get at the agency through a case of bribery; in doing this allegations of bribery were brought against two individuals. With respect to the two individuals, the evidence taken before the committee went, to a very considerable extent, to establish a case against them. Indeed a prima facie case of bribery had been made out. Immediately afterwards the petitioners said, we will go no further. The House should recollect, that the counsel for the sitting Member might have been enabled to bring evidence in answer to that adduced before the com- 820 mittee. There was a serious charge against two individuals, and there was a great mass of ex parte evidence which threw serious imputations on the characters of those persons. The question then which arose in his mind was whether it was prudent to publish to the world ex parte evidence affecting the character of individuals, to which they would have no opportunity of answering. Again, a great part of the evidence taken before the committee would be only legal in case the agency was proved. The agency had not been proved, and could not now be established, because the committee was broken np. If, then, the House printed it, would it not be giving to the world illegal evidence, affecting the character of individuals? He considered it to be his duty, and only just to those persons, to ask the House to take this point into consideration. At the same time, he admitted that it was a matter of importance to the character of the committee and the House that the evidence in the case should be forthcoming. He did not believe, that, with the most scrutinising investigation, anything could be found wrong in the proceedings of the committee. In these proceedings they had allowed every facility to the petitioner to make out his case, and the question was, whether the committee had not gone too far in opening the door so wide for the admission of evidence. After the committee had decided a point in favour of the petitioner, and had established the principle, and granted the prayer which had been demanded of them, his counsel turns round, and by throwing up his case, casts ah imputation on the committee for which there was not the slightest ground. He did not understand what was the object in putting these charges on the committee. For his own part, he did not feel so excited at the groundless accusations which had been brought against the committee as his hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, as he felt that he had acted throughout the whole of the proceedings as an honest man. He did not believe, that there were two men in the House who entertained a different opinion; and if there were two such men, he could at once tell them that he held their judgement in utter contempt. He felt assured that no one would entertain this feeling without knowing that he would act himself in the dishonest way which he suspected in others.
§ Viscount Howick
thought the com- 821 mittee fully justified in taking the course they had pursued on this occasion; and so far as the hon. Member for Finsbury was concerned, he did not understand him as throwing any imputation on the character and honesty of the Members of the committee. He thought the discussion which had now taken place of a most important kind, and he hoped it would have the effect of directing the attention of the House to the question whether there were not serious defects, both in the present constitution of these tribunals and in the law which they had to administer, which required the interference of the House. With respect to the constitution of these tribunals, he could, in the fullest manner, add his confirmation to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Somersetshire, as to the position in which Members of those committees were placed, in deciding upon questions as to what was and what was not legal evidence. During the protracted inquiry into the Ludlow case, of which committee he was an unwilling Member, these questions were of repeated occurrence; and in such cases as his hon. Friend had truly stated, Members not having the advantage of a professional education, when conflicting decisions were adduced before them by counsel, and they were called upon to decide between these decisions on the moment, were naturally at a loss how to form an opinion on which they could rely. Having given a decision upon one point, to the best of their judgment, in five minutes afterwards, perhaps, they were called upon to decide another point, not differing in any marked features from the previous point, in quite a different way, the counsel on either side presuming on the ignorance of those they addressed—knowing that Members of committees were not professional men, and were consequently generally unable at the moment, in the confusion of legal disputation, to detect the fallacies which might be brought forward—taking every opportunity of distracting the attention and confounding the judgment of the committee, by the introduction of all sorts of doubts and difficulties and conflicting authorities and legal quibbles, and the usual result was to make the committee-room a mere scene of wrangling and uncertainty. Was it the wish of the House—was it the wish of the country, that bribery and corruption at elections should be put an end to? If it were, some great change in the law was absolutely necessary. As the law 822 now stood, it was utterly impossible, unless through some extraordinary and very unusual blundering in the parties, to arrive at any satisfactory proof of bribery, for agency must first be proved, and proof of this was next to impossible, under a law which prohibited committees from calling on witnesses to answer questions which they conceived might criminate themselves. With anything like ordinary skill on the part of those who defended alleged corruption, it was out of the question to suppose, that as matters stood, a committee could ever prove bribery, however clear the case might appear to the whole audience. A remedy for this would be to enable committees to examine and cross-examine witnesses upon all points which tended to clear up the case before them, with reference to the opinion which the witnesses might have as to the bearing of the question with regard to themselves, with this provision, however, that such witnesses should be exempted from penal consequenecs in their own persons, the result of the evidence affecting only the seat in dispute. Further than this, it would be necessary to provide some public authority to interfere in cases such as that upon which his hon. Friend had so forcibly observed, where there appeared a strong primâ facie case of compromise. He had hoped there would have been some dental of any compromise, having been made in the case referred to; but in the absence of such denial, he must say it seemed difficult to withhold credit to the rumours which were abroad on this subject.
said, that every Gentleman who had a regard for the character of the House, must deeply regret, that such scenes of bribery and corruption should have taken place at St. Alban's, at Canterbury, and at Walsall. He did not know whether hon. Members were cognizant of what was done in their name, and in their behalf, or not. He believed they were not, and for this reason. He declared upon his honour as a gentleman, that when he stood for Carlisle, in the year 1820, he was not cognizant of one single farthing having been expended in bribery, when, in fact, several thousand pounds had been expended in that manner. He was informed at that time, that the legal expenses of the election would be from 4,000l. to 5,000l., and three weeks after the election, he was told, that the election had cost 12,000l.—that the money which he had put into the hands of his agent, 823 for the legal expenses of the election, had been expended in gross bribery. He declared, that he had not the slightest knowledge of it; on the contrary, he was constantly told by his friends, that no bribery whatever was going on. If the hon. Member for Wallingford and other Members were sincere in their desire to put an end to bribery, let them adopt the only real and effectual remedy for the evil, the vote by ballot.
§ Mr. J. E. Gladstone
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down, seemed to labour under the impression, that bribery had taken place at the last election for Walsall; but, although his (Mr. Gladstone's) friends were accused of bribery, the petitioners afterwards discovered there was no foundation for such charge, and on the day the committee met, they withdrew the charge altogether. Before the hon. Member made another similar charge he would recommend him to read the evidence adduced.
§ Mr. Hayter
said, that the petition contained an allegation with respect to treating, and the special report stated, that a system of treating to a considerable extent had existed at Walsall, previous to, and at the last election; but that the evidence was of so doubtful a nature, that they could not connect it with the sitting Member. He (Mr.Hayter) had the misfortune of differing with the majority of the committee on that occasion, and on reflection, he had seen no reason to change his opinion. He believed, that every Member felt, that the difficulty of the inquiry was owing to the nature of the tribunal. These questions were considered simply as issues to be tried between two interested parties, but the most interested party, the House of Commons, did not appear in that tribunal; and although it might be quite clear, that certain persons could prove or disprove the facts, it did not suit the purposes of the parties interested to call these witnesses, and the committee were consequently left to come to a decision on imperfect evidence. He must say, that he never saw an investigation in which there was so little of truth and so much of falsehood stated. The committee felt the insufficiency of the tribunal as at present constituted, and he trusted, that if the right hon. Baronet, to whom the country was so much indebted for the improvement which had taken place in these tribunals, should think it necessary to amend his bill, he would endeavour to devise some 824 means to enable the committee to arrive at the truth, which it was quite impossible for them to do at present.
§ Sir R. Peel
quite agreed with the hon. Member who spoke last as to the policy of devising some means by which truth could be extracted from unwilling witnesses examined before election committees, but the mode in which that object could be accomplished was quite apart from the nature of the tribunal that might be appointed to try the merits of controverted elections. Whether that tribunal were in future to be a court, of law, or whether the House of Commons would find it necessary to resort to the former mode of dealing with these subjects, were matters not at all affecting the expediency of granting additional powers. The House must see, that additional powers for the purpose of extracting evidence were wholly apart from the nature of the tribunal before which that evidence was to be produced. There was another point which it was not then the proper time to discuss, and that was the policy of committees resorting to legal advice—to the impartial advice of assessors—for the purpose of enabling them to judge of the value of the arguments urged by counsel, the weight of the objections which they might take, or the importance of the points in dispute between contending advocates. All these, as he had already observed, were subjects into which they need not then enter; but with reference to the matters which did properly come under their consideration, he must, in the first place be allowed to say, that nothing had occurred which in the least degree tended to impeach the integrity of the tribunal before which this election had been tried. Neither in the last nor in the present session of Parliament had anything occurred to show, that committees had not in all cases been most desirous of doing their duty, and of administering justice with strict impartiality between the parties. In the present case he would put it to the hon. Members to say, whether any course could have been adopted that was in any respect preferable to that which had been taken. The panel of chairmen met and took into their consideration the points most frequently litigated before election committees; they took into their consideration the necessity of there being a proof of agency before the question of bribery could be gone into; and they likewise considered whether in any case the evidence of bribery might be 825 used for the purpose of establishing agency. At this committee the chairman stated, the general rules laid down by the panel of chairmen, and asked whether they were disposed to abide by those rules. The House would, of course, recollect that those rules had been laid down without the least reference to the case of St. Alban's or to any other case—they were adopted before the framers of them could know anything of the cases likely to be brought forward. To him it appeared to be of no consequence whether the members of the St. Alban's committee voted in the proportion of four to five, or in the proportion of three to two, he saw not a shadow of pretext for imputing to them the least dishonesty. It was very easy for hon. Members then present to pronounce judgment upon the conduct of the committee. It might be very easy for people to talk freely upon the subject who had never heard the evidence, and had never listened to the nice distinctions upon matters of law which counsel might have sought to establish; but surely there was no one in that House who would for a moment say the presumption was not altogether in favour of the perfect honesty and integrity of the committee; he therefore could not call for the evidence on the ground of its publication being necessary to the vindication of the committee. But he saw this clearly enough, that the production of the evidence might show systematic bribery, or it might show the necessity of committees resorting to professional assistance. On these grounds he might support the production of the evidence, but not as he said, for the purpose of vindicating the committee; that was wholly needless. At no time did he think that they ought to violate general rules in deference to personal feeling. It had been said that the evidence in this case was ex parte, that might possibly be some reason for withholding it from the House, were it not that the whole of that evidence had already been published in the newspapers, and thereforen o party could now be prejudiced by the Members of that House receiving a copy of the shorthand-writer's notes. He should say, that in all cases the evidence ought to be laid before the House, were it not for the expense.
§ Mr. Wakley
trusted, that the right hon. Baronet would not object to the production of the evidence merely because he thought no imputation rested on the character of the committee. If it was intended to legislate on the subject, the 826 House ought to be put in possession of those materials which would enable it to judge of the present state of the law. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that there was no imputation on the character of the committees appointed to try these election petitions; but, in order that that allegation might be affirmed by the decision of the House, he thought the motion ought not to be limited to two out of the three cases. Let the evidence relative to Walsall be produced. If no other hon. Member would make a motion for its production he would, and he trusted the House would adopt it. The hon. Member for Walall said, that he knew nothing of bribery in that borough—that he was not cognisant of it. [Mr. Gladstone—The charge was treating]. Yes, "treating," a mild and gentle parliamentary term for bribery. Although the hon. Member might not know anything on the subject at present, what information might he not receive three months hence ! What information did the hon. Member for Carlisle receive? Why that 5,000l. which he had deposited for the purpose of paying the legal expenses of the election, had all been dissipated and squandered in treating and corruption. He would recommend the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Gladstone) not to congratulate himself too much on the extent of his ignorance, for within a brief period from that moment, he would probably have some intimation to lighten his darkness. He must say, that this was one of the most degrading pictures which could be held up to the people of the country, who thought that they were represented in that assembly. Why, this system of bribery and corruption was now become as common as noon day, and the exception was in the purity of an election. But did they find these evils to prevail where there were large constituencies? No. If then that House were sincere in their desire to prevent corruption and bribery, they would extend the franchise to the large masses of the community; by which means the constituencies would be so large that no purse, however long, would reach them. The hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. A. Sanford) proposed to add a lawyer to the committees who should decide on cases of law; now his proposal was to get rid of the lawyers altogether, for their interference in such matters was only prejudicial to the due administration of justice. He would move to add to the motion and amendment the words, 827Also, the minutes of proceedings and the evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Walsall election,
§ Lord F. Egerton
said, he entered deeply into the feeling of his right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. The tenour of the discussion which had been gone into would imply, perhaps, that some imputation was intended to be conveyed upon the Members of the committees. If such were the intention or feeling which had prompted the motion, he should object to the production of the evidence and proceedings in these cases; but, on the other hand, these productions would be very useful for general purposes. For his own part he would say, that, in respect to the chairman of the St. Alban's committee, Mr. Sanford, no Gentleman could have conducted the inquiry more honourably, and he knew no gentleman he would sooner see filling such a situation.
§ Lord J. Russell
was rather in favour of the minutes of evidence and the proceedings before these committees being laid before the House. If indeed it were to be considered that their production implied that the House sanctioned or concurred in any imputation against the Members of these committees, he should decide against the motion; but he thought that after what had been stated there could not be an impression of such a nature. He thought, in fact, there were two reasons of considerable importance in favour of asking for the printing of these documents. First, he thought it was important in the first working of the new act to have the minutes of evidence; but there was another consideration of great weight with him, in respect to which he had last year introduced a bill—namely, to ascertain whether it was not advisable to give these committees some additional powers on behalf of the House and the country, not as affecting the present Act of Parliament, but as it affected the Grenville Act, and having, as he had frequently stated, a tendency to make questions before committees appear questions between two parties aided by able counsel. He thought, however, that the production of this evidence would show the insufficiency, he would not call it the deficiency, of the tribunal; but a want of power in this case was useful, as pointing out what remedy might be hereafter applied.
§ Mr. Blackstone
assured the House, that he had no intention whatever of casting 828 any imputation upon the Members of the committee.
§ Motion as amended by the proposition of Mr. Duncombe and by the proposition of Mr. Wakley agreed to.