HC Deb 08 June 1841 vol 58 cc1324-43
Mr. Williams Wynn

rose to move, that the Attorney-general be instructed to prosecute Mr. Richard Webster, for bribery at the last St. Alban's election. He said, that the facts lay in so narrow a compass, that it would not be necessary for him to trouble the House at any length. He did not wish this question to be mixed up with the general subject of the bribery laws, but to stand upon its own merits, and to be decided upon the evidence taken before the committee which had been printed, and was in the hands of Members. He was anxious, that the charge contained in that evidence against Mr. Richard Webster, should be placed in a course of judicial investigation. Two witnesses, of the names of Adams and Stebbings, had sworn, that Mr. Webster, not in the presence of each other, had given them 12l. each, for their votes in favour of the sitting Member. It might be said, that the testimony of Adams and Stebbings was not to be trusted, but what they had deposed, had been confirmed by a clergyman upon the hustings, who had stated, that Adams came upon the hustings, and put a small paper parcel into the hands of the mayor, which was found to contain two five-pound notes and two sovereigns. Being asked whence he procured it, Adams answered, that it had been given to him to vote for Lord Listowel, by Mr. Webster, who was then standing in the crowd. Adams pointed him out, and Mr. Webster's answer was, "Well, what of that? the other side are just as bad." Upon this evidence he contended, that the House was bound to proceed, unless it was meant to be held out to the world, that although the House passed laws against bribery they might be violated with impunity. It ought to be recollected that the party accused was not a man in the lower rank of life, but one of educa tion and influence, whose example might be most prejudicial. Mr. Webster had himself brought Lord Listowel down to St. Alban's, and had boasted, that he had procured the return of nine out of ten candidates, whom he had previously introduced and supported. He had, besides, proposed the sitting Member at the hustings, and had subsequently paraded the streets in his company. He wished to avoid all remarks upon the conduct of the committee which had tried the merits of the election; they had decided, that there was no proof of agency, possibly, for the very natural reason, that Mr. Webster was, in fact, the principal, and that the candidate was the agent in his hands. It seemed to him, under all the circumstances, that it was the bounden duty of the House to make this offender an example, if when the opportunity was given him, he was not able to rebut the accusation. Looking at the evidence, he would ask any Member who had read it, whether, if acting as a grand juror, he should not be decidedly of opinion, that the case ought to be tried 1 In answer, it might be said, as indeed he had heard it said, "Why do you not also look at the case of Walsall?" His answer was twofoldߞfirst, that if fifty persons had been guilty at Walsall, it did not show, that Mr. Webster had not been guilty at St. Alban's; and, secondly, that the offence at Walsall, was treating, which rendered an election void, but was not a punishable offence. It had also been urged, that Mr. Webster might be made the object of a private qui tarn action for the penalties; but he thought the House would neglect the part it ought, for the sake of public example, to take, if it passed over this instance of bribery in that manner. He moved, that the Attorney-general be instructed to prosecute Mr. R. Webster, for bribery, at the last election for St. Alban's.

Mr. Sanford

said, as the Chairman of the late St. Alban's Election Committee, he would offer a few observations on the motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and in doing so, he would not throw any impediment in the way of the motion. He would leave it to the House, and to those who had heard the evidence, to raise that opposition. He would state to the House the impression which the evidence had made upon his mind, and before doing so, he would refer to the fact of the evidence having been printed, and having been laid upon the Table of the House. He would refer to what took place on the last day of the sitting of the committee. The special report was drawn up by himself, and was in much stronger terms than the report presented, having been afterwards corrected and modified, and it was agreed that the Chairman should be instructed to lay the minutes of the proceedings upon the Table of the House. His (Mr. San-ford's) impression certainly at first was that a further consideration of the evidence should take place, and that after, such charges had been made against Dr. Webster by the two witnesses Adams and Stebbings, the doctor should have an opportunity of rebutting them if he could. With regard to the question brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman, and considering evidence as a juryman, if he (Mr. Sanford) were asked to say whether it proved Dr. Webster to be guilty of bribery, he should reply, that it did not. He would observe to the House, that before instructing the law-officers of the Crown to prosecute a party for bribery, they should be thoroughly convinced, that they could obtain a verdict. He had at first intended not to take any part in this discussion; but, as he considered, that the House would not be acting rightly in attempting to institute a prosecution unless they were satisfied they could carry it to a successful issue, he wished to say, that he did not think the evidence adduced before the committee sufficient to secure a conviction. He trusted the House would give him credit for wishing to carry the investigation to its fullest extentߞto have the whole matter thoroughly sifted. If hon. Gentlemen wished to examine the manner in which his votes had been given in the committee, they would see, that his anxiety was, to carry that investigation to its utmost limits. The question at this moment was, whether there was sufficient evidence given before the committee to justify them in directing the Attorney-general to prosecute. It was not merely to what was written down, but to the manner in which the evidence was given that they should look. He had had an opportunity of seeing the manner in which that evidence was given. He did not like to make use of a strong expression, but he must confess, that it was the manner in which that evidence was given, that led him to doubt whether the House would be justi- fied in directing this prosecution. He did not like to throw a damper on prosecutions of this nature, but he thought, if they were to prosecute for bribery, they ought also to do something against treating, which was the same as bribery in act, in animus in criminalityߞin short, in everything except the penalties attached to it. He begged pardon of the House for having offered an opinion on a question of this nature, and would again call on them to consider, if Dr. Webster should be acquitted, what would be its moral effect on the character of their proceedings.

Mr. Blackstone

had two objects in view when he moved for the printing of the evidence taken before this committee; one was, that the country might see it, and the public be satisfied with the decision of that committee; and the other was, to test whether the House would permit such scenes, carried on in open day, to be left uninvestigated. He avowed, that his wish would have been to have had a committee appointed to investigate the whole case; but when he saw the state of the public business, and the difficulty there was of obtaining the attendance of Members on the committee, he had given up the idea of moving further in the matter. Yet, as the right hon. Gentleman had made the present motion, he would lend it his support, and he would remind the House, that in the Ipswich case, on which he had sat, there was but one case of bribery distinctly proved, and for that six men, including the most respectable town-clerk, Mr. Sparrow, were sent to Newgate, compared with which a prosecution by the Attorney-general was very slight. He had always deprecated any vindictive course towards any individual, but the present appeared a case that required notice.

Mr. Charles Buller

would shortly state why he, on very general grounds, objected to the present motion. He would not willingly set up precedents to stop the great ends of justice, and he was so anxious to stop bribery, that he would be willing to hold up individuals, in terrorem, but if the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in his present motion, he would establish a large precedent for the prosecution of bribery, contrary to all the principles of justice. He considered, that if the House of Commons ordered a prosecution, it was a very strong measure, and it was the strongest stigma, that could be cast on an individual. The House of Commons should only do so on good grounds, it was dangerous for an individual to form an opinion upon what were good grounds. He had asked the right hon. Gentleman before he came into the House whether there were any precedents in which the House of Commons had ordered the prosecution of any individual except on the report of a committee. In those cases in which there had been a report of a committee, the House had ordered the prosecution of certain parties; but it was rather dangerous to trust to individual opinions as to whether the grounds were good. The primâ facie case might appear to the right hon. Gentleman to be strong against Dr. Webster, but that was the mere individual opinion of a Member of that House, and it was against the opinion of the committee. They who had heard the evidence, and who had seen the manner of the witnesses, were of opinion, that there was not a good ground for prosecution, and if any proceedings were to be instituted, the cutting short of the proceedings of the St. Alban's Committee, was an act of monstrous injustice towards Dr. Webster. He was no party to that step. On cross-examination, too, it was proved, that one witness was rather out of his mind, and that the other went by the rather unpleasant name of" Lying Adams." The counsel for the sitting Member had other direct evidence to produce to shake the testimony of these witnesses, and without giving these persons any opportunity of offering any explanation, the House was called upon, on an ex parte case to order a prosecution against the opinion of the committee. If they were to go by the report of a committee, at least let them not go upon the report of a committee, that had only heard one side. The other reasons which the right hon. Gentleman had assigned for his motion, the failure of private remedies for bribery, only led to the conclusion that the general law of bribery ought to be made more effectual. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not do an act of injustice to Dr. Webster, and establish a dangerous precedent.

Mr. Mackenzie

said, that he was at the Verulam Arms during the election, and assured the House, that Adams gave the same testimony there, when he brought the money, as he did afterwards when he was examined before the committee. Stebbings, too, went to Dr. Webster's house, got the money, and then called at the Verulam Arms, telling the same story. He did not think, that the cross-examination showed any great discrepancy in their evidence; but, at any rate, there had been no contradiction of the clergyman, who heard Dr. Webster on the hustings make what he conceived to be a distinct admission of the fact. Either Dr. Webster had a justification or he had not. If he had a justification, he would only suffer inconvenience for a short time, and if he had no justification, he had been guilty of gross bribery, and ought to be punished.

Mr. Mildmay,

as a member of the committee, must say, that not only the manner of the witnesses, but the actual evidence of Stebbing, was against him: there was a contradiction to other witnesses. And with respect to the other witness, making every allowance for him, and admitting that there was nothing in Adams's evidence to shake his testimony, he appeared to be a loose kind of man. There was another circumstance, too, that weighed with him; it was the statement of the counsel for the petitioner, Mr. Hildyard, in his opening, that this was an election trick, and that the money was given by one party to catch the other. [Mr. Wynn: The speeches of counsel were not printed.] That was an advantage he had over the right hon. Gentleman; he had heard the speeches and the evidence, and he assured the right hon. Gentleman that the blue book would not afford him half the information that the blue countenance of the man would have given him. Again, he did not think that he would have been perfectly justified in marking any opinion with respect to the evidence, when the person accused had had no opportunity of making a reply; the other party had stopped the proceedings just at the very moment when Dr. Webster could have begun his defence. When, therefore, it became a question as to the propriety of presenting the evidence to the House, he had thought what had Dr. Webster been accused of doing? He was said to be guilty of bribery. Had it been proved? Two witnesses had appeared before the committee and had given evidence. Had Dr. Webster had an opportunity of vindicating himself? Had he done so? No. And why? Because at the very point when the counsel for the petitioners had raised the evidence to the point he wanted, without giving Dr. Webster any opportuuity of defending himself, the counsel withdrew the case. Dr. Webster could not, therefore, take any steps to vindicate himself; though, if he had had an opportunity, and had not done so, he would have been willing to join the committee. When, therefore, there was a question whether the committee should report the evidence to the House, he had asked himself these questions, and he had also inquired whether the House had usually prosecuted in these cases? He had investigated the journals, and he did not find a single one. There had been cases brought before them in which there had been distinct reports of bribery, in Ludlow and Cambridge. Did the House punish the parties? They had had the whole case before them, and they had not prosecuted; and here they sought to punish when they had only half a case. These were the reasons which induced him not to wish for the success of the present motion. It might be the last act of his political life, and he would not so condemn himself in the eyes of the country as to allow men to escape punishment who were convicted before committees, and to prosecute one who was only accused upon half a case. He would walk out of the House and would not give a vote upon the present motion, because he had been a member of the committee; but he left the case in the hands of the House, in the perfect conviction, that if the House did prosecute upon half a case, they would go before the country as one of the most unjust assemblies that had ever sat.

Colonel Conolly

said, that if this were the last act of his political life, he would vote in favour of the present motion; for he defied the annals of Parliament to find such a case of corruption as the present: and he was glad that the motion had been taken up by a person of such experience as the right hon. Gentleman. He thought, that the character of that House with the country, greatly depended in its punishing guilt in every quarter. The frightful dexterity with which bribery was now carried on, the parties keeping clear of punishment, was a consideration which ought to weigh with the House to induce them to follow with punishment delinquency that was so palpable. The very dexterity ought to be an additional reason for the prose- cution. He said in the face of an expiring Parliament, that bribery had become a perfect trade. Persons learnt how to bribe without being discovered, and how to destroy the links of evidence between the briber and the candidate; thus defeating Parliament, frustrating justice, and leaving the delinquency unpunished. He called upon the House then, in the face of a staring dissolution, to let the country see who would record his vote in favour of not prosecuting in such a case as this, merely because the whole case had not been proved in all its parts before the Committee. The country would look upon every one who voted against the present motion as an abettor of corruption.

Mr. Mildmay

explained, that it was his intention to have moved, by way of amendment, that the Attorney-general be instructed to prosecute the agents of the hon. Manners Sutton, who had been "proved before a committee of that House to have been guilty" of bribery, and that he be further instructed to prosecute Dr. Webster, who had been accused "of bribery; but he had thought it better as a Member of the committee, not to vote.

Mr. Warburton

thought, that the hon. Member for Winchester, Mr. Mildmay, had sufficiently proved, that they ought not to be guilty of the inconsistency of prosecuting in a case in which there was no special report, when in the cases of Ludlow and Cambridge, in which there had been a special report, they had omitted to prosecute. He recollected, that when the bill of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) was before the House, he had pointed out the omission in not giving the committees power to proceed and sift every case to the bottom, notwithstanding compromises of the parties in order to stop evidence. He (Mr. Warburton) would not be afraid of voting against the present motion, notwithstanding the threat of the vengeance of his constituents held out by the gallant colonel. For what was the object of punishment? To prevent the commission of crime. Now the present law had existed during the whole of this Parliament, and for a long time previously, and yet the gallant colonel admitted, that the practice of bribery was so common, that it had been reduced to a complete system of trade; and that the parties principally concerned, had contrived to escape un- scathed, whilst the whole of the punishment had fallen on the less culpable agent. Would that prevent crime? Was not the only object of punishment to prevent crime? Yet, with all the means of punishment in their hands, did any one believe, that if they were to prosecute Dr. Webster, they would diminish bribery at any one election that was to take place? It was folly to conduct a prosecution without the legitimate aim and end being answered. If they believed, that bribery would be prevented by such prosecutions, let them be instituted. But they would not have the measure of the ballot, the only effectual means of preventing bribery, nor any other measure that would really tend to carry out that object. ["Laughter."] Hon Members might laugh, but they would preserve small constituencies and open voting, the most certain means of encouraging bribery; while by way of making a parade of purity of election, they would order a few casual prosecutions, knowing they would not have the smallest effect in preventing the practice of bribery. He (Mr. Warburton), objected on principle to any prosecutions of the kind, knowing they would not answer the purpose that was sought to be effected.


was bound to say, that when he found a witness had sworn he had received a sum of money from Dr. Webster, and when he found that Dr. Webster had openly said, "Never mind, they have done just as bad on the other side," he could come to no other conclusion than that Dr. Webster had been guilty of bribery. It appeared by the evidence before the committee, that Dr. Webster, in his speech introducing the noble candidate, had said he had brought in ten or eleven candidates for the borough, and had carried all with the exception of one. He thought it desirable, that special notice should be taken of the present case, particularly before the general election, in order that the borough of St. Alban's might have the opportunity of wiping out the stain that rested upon it, and he would, therefore, vote for the motion.

Mr. Ward

said, if this practice had prevailed in the borough of St. Alban's for so long a time as the hon. Member who had just sat down had stated, the advantage had not been confined to one party only, for he believed that he (Mr. Ward) was the first liberal Member who had represented St. Alban's of late years, It was true that he had been introduced to the electors of that borough by Dr. Webster. According to the statement of the hon. Member (Mr. Dugdale) bribery was a very ancient practice in the borough. With respect to the motion he would say, that if a clear case was made out, he would be the last person to vote against it. He knew, that the plague spot of bribery was creeping through the small boroughs, and it was gross hypocrisy on both sides of the House to pretend to condemn it, when at the same time they refused on taking their seats to make a declaration, that they had not by themselves or their agents been guilty of bribery. In all the arrangements for the coming elections, notwithstanding all their condemnation of bribery, hon. Members would not scruple to do the same thing. It was well known, that there was scarcely an election at which, in some shape or other, bribery did not take place. Why, then, should they select this particular place for punishment? They were now making preparations for the coming election, and were they not making preparations to bribe the electors? Why, was it not well known, that money was the thing which they all sought for? But he did not rest his opposition to the motion on this ground, but on the incompleteness of the evidence adduced before the committee, and upon the fact that the inquiry had been interrupted and cut short, without any opportunity having been given to the accused party to defend himself. He also opposed the motion upon the statement made by the hon. Member for Winchester, that in two previous cases where bribery had been proved, and brought home to certain parties, the constitutional zeal of the right hon. Member for Monmouth had not burned so brightly as in the present case, and the guilty parties had been allowed to escape without prosecution. But in this case, where the accused party had had no opportunity of making his defence, the right hon. Baronet called upon the House to assume a prima facie case of guilt, and to direct the Attorney-general to prosecute. They might as well prosecute a man on a newspaper report; and he believed it had been stated by an hon. Member who represented Ipswich, and the statement had been published in a newspaper, that he declined to stand again for that borough on account of the exorbitant demands that were mads upon him by his constituents after all legitimate claims had been paid Here, then, was a man confirming his own guilt, and would they, in that case, propose to institute a prosecution? There were better modes of protecting the character of the House than by instituting these prosecutions,; they must begin amongst themselves.

Sir R. Inglis

said, they were not going to punish Dr. Webster, to fine, or imprison him; they were going to send him to trial; and he asked the hon. Member, and the hon. and learned Judge, whether they had ever met a grand jury, and heard them charged from the bench. They were told that the question was not whether the parties accused were guilty, but whether there was prima facie evidence of their guilt. The question for the House was whether or not a prima facie case had been made outߞwhether there was sufficient evidence of guilt to justify them in sending the accused party to trial. The resolution before the House did not condemn Dr. Websterߞthere was no question of his guilt or innocence before them. The only question which they were called upon to determine was thisߞdid the blue book then before them afford sufficient evidence to warrant their sending Dr. Webster before the tribunals of the country; Now, he was one of those who entertained the opinion that a prima facie case had been made out. The House would recollect that the cross-examination before the committee had proceeded in that case to an extent rarely exceeded, and that a very large body of evidence had been obtained; nevertheless Dr. Webster had not been placed upon his trialߞhe was not on trial before the committee, neither was he on trial before the House; but the proceedings would still be watched with much anxiety, and, whatever might be the decision of the House, he did not hesitate to say, that he believed, the decision of the country would not be favourable to the purity of Dr. Webster; and he further contended that the power of the Attorney-general could alone impart the proper direction to that opinion. Nothing but an authoritative prosecution by the Attorney-general could insure the attaining the justice of the case. In his opinion no reason against proceeding in the present case could be derived from the circumstance that in other cases, alleged to be similar, no prosecutions had been instituted. There was nothing to prevent these cases being; brought forward whenever any hon. Member thought proper. Let Ludlow, Cambridge, or Walsall be brought under the consideration of the House, and he took upon himself to say, that the matter would be immediately taken up. Because other Members had neglected their duty, that circumstance formed no reason why the mover of the present resolution should neglect his, now that a specific instance of bribery had been brought forward. The House would not allow such an instance to pass unnoticed, if they wished to maintain their character with the people of England. It appeared to him that they had the duties of grand jurors to discharge, and that on the present occasion especially they ought not to shrink from an effectual fulfilment of it.

Sir C. Grey

said, that everybody was agreed upon the necessity of having a fixed rule on these occasions. Bribery was a crime that might be prosecuted by private individuals. If a prosecution was so brought forward without sufficient grounds, the accused party would have his remedy for a malicious prosecution. But would that be the case when a prosecution was ordered by a branch of the Legislature? In the first place, the House acted without responsibility at law to the party. He could not indict or bring his action against the House for a malicious prosecution; he was without a remedy. In the mean time, the intelligence would go forth to the public, that the Attorney-general had been ordered to prosecute him for bribery, accompanied by all the severe remarks that were made by Members in debate. If the person were a professional man, he might be ruined. He (Sir C. Grey) contended no precedent had been laid before the House for the course proposed to be pursued, and if there were no precedent, it would be unjust to depart from the usual rule for the first time, in a case where the Committee had not made a report against the individual against whom they were now called upon to direct a prosecution. It was a principle of English law, with respect to evidence, that much was to be judged from the demeanour of the witness when giving his testimony, and his conduct under cross-examination. How many of those who would vote upon the present occasion had seen the witness when questioned? With regard to the comparison that had been made relative to a grand jury, there was this differenceߞthat here there was no finding at all. The evidence was printed and laid before the House, without having been heard by all the hon. Members, and perhaps many of them had not ever read the whole, of it. But had there ever been a case sent down to a petty jury in which the grand jury had not found a true bill? Now some of those who might perhaps in this case be considered in the light of a grand jury were now present, and two of them at least had said there was no case for a prosecution. He would put it to all who had heard the evidence, whether, upon the testimony of one witness, and that a suspicious witness, it would be fair, at the close of a Session, to order this prosecution. If it should end in an acquittal, it would be seen that the House had not proceeded upon sufficient grounds.

Sir R. Inglis

explained, that he had not compared the Committee, but the House, to a grand jury.

Mr. Pringle

said, that, as a Member of the Committee, he should have thought that Committee would have overstepped the bounds of its duty if it had made a special report with respect to the conduct of Dr. Webster. Still, as a Member of the committee, he did not consider himself precluded from expressing his opinion of the conduct of that individual. They were, in his opinion, in the situation of a grand jury. Strong evidence had been laid before them, which had not been rebutted. In regard to the witness Adams, he must say that he had never heard a witness give his evidence in a more fair and straightforward manner, than that person had done, and the impression on his mind was, that the witness stated the truth. He seemed to believe what he said, and had the appearance of a man who would not be swerved from the truth by any interruption. As the evidence of the witness went to show that Dr. Webster was acting as agent in the election, he must confess that he did not see how bribery could be put down, unless they prosecuted the persons guilty of the practice. He was not aware of any evidence establishing cases of bribery, in either Ludlow or Walsall, but if there was, all he would say was, that if as strong a case as the present were made out against either of those places, he would vote for a motion for the prosecution of the parties. Every case must stand on its own merits, and as the bribery in the present case was notorious, he would vote for the motion. It might be very well for the hon. Member for Sheffield to say, that the Members of the House knew how general the practice of bribery wasߞit might be very well for him to state that he himself had been first introduced to St. Alban's by this Dr. Webster, but the hon. Member was much mistaken if he supposed that the experience of the House coincided with his own. He would be sorry if such was the case; and as an opportunity now offered itself to him of expressing his detestation of bribery, he should vote for a motion for the prosecution of those who had been guilty of it.

Mr. Hutt

felt rather surprised at the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member, because he could not but recollect that, on the part of the committee there had been no expression of opinion, nor had they ever recommended the prosecution of Dr. Webster. What the committee would not have recommended, this House was now called on to recommend, with far less evidence before them than what had been brought before the committee; and, in fact, they were not merely called on to recommend, but to adopt a particular course. If they did adopt such a course, it would be viewed by the country as an act of extraordinary injustice and insanity. He knew that a feeling existed against that committeeߞthat a great deal of pains had been taken to throw odium on that committee by certain persons who seemed to be guided more by their vindictive passions than by due regard to their character and dignity. He felt satisfied if the House expected their proceedings to be regarded with respect by the country, they would not lightly permit imputations to pass unnoticed, which cast a slight on and tended to lower the character of election committees of that House. He would feel exceedingly disappointed should the House adopt the proposition of the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. What was the case before them? He did not mean to say that there was no bribery. He fully believed that there was. He fully believed that not only at St. Alban's, but at Walsall, Ludlow, and in all those boroughs where hon. Gentlemen opposite had been so lately triumphant, that notorious bribery had been practised. What case was there against Dr. Webster? What was the evidenceߞwhat did it amount to? That a parliamentary agent had suborned two persons to make out a case of bribery against him, one of these persons so employed having passed by the name of "Adams the liar." The hon. Member who spoke last, said, that he had never heard a witness speak in a more truthful or straightforward manner. Would the House listen while he read one or two of the answers which this model of candour and propriety gave to the questions put to him? The witness was asked if he would swear, that a fellow-workman of his had not marked up the number of lies which he (the witness) told in a day? The witness's answer was, No, I do not believe he did. Do you swear it? was the second question. His answer was, I do not know it. Do you swear it? Yes, I can swear it. Do you swear it? I cannot remember it. There were many jokes passed, which I never thought would be made public. This, then, was the evidence of a person remarkable for the straightforward manner in which he gave his testimony. But who was the second witness against Dr. Webster? A man who was insane, and who had been confined as a lunatic, who laboured under the delusion that Dr. Webster, was the cause of his confinement, and on whom he had often said, that he would be revenged. This was all the evidence against Dr. Webster which had been laid before the committee of the two witnesses retained to make out a case against him, the one being known by the name of "liar Adams," and the other being a lunatic; yet on such testimony did the right hon. Member opposite propose to the House a prosecution for bribery. His belief was, if evidence of this sort was admitted, that neither the property, the character, nor the life, of any gentleman in that House was safe. He would not pursue the subject further, hut he would not conclude without calling to the recollection of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that there was a time when bribery was not so much the object of theirߞaye, even of the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshireߞhostility as it now was. He remembered, when in 1833 the right hon. Gentleman rose at two o'clock in the morning, and made a speech of two hours' length, in order to protect the elector of Stafford, who had been convicted before the committee of participating in acts of bribery and gross corruption. He had a perfect recollection of it, and the hon. Gentleman, on referring, would find, that what he had stated was correct. He believed, that the strong indignation expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, in regard to the St. Alban's Committee had arisen, not so much from their detestation of bribery, as from the fact, that the election had been carried in opposition to their political party. He believed, that had they succeeded in bringing home acts of bribery to Lord Listowel, it would have been a triumph for their vindictive passionsߞa triumph which would have been very little mitigated by the reflection that that noble Lord was in close connection with the Court, and a personal attendant on the Sovereign,

Mr. Bramston

thought it was very important for the House on this occasion to direct its attention to what had been the conduct of those parties after the transaction. One of the witnesses states that he went and received the money. Now the witness Howey is admitted to be a respectable man by all parties. He states, that, having received the money from the person stated to be the party acting for the successful candidate, he sealed it up separately in bulk. The hon. Member for Sheffield, (Mr. Ward) had said, he could not see that was a case that ought to be singled out to found thereon a prosecution, as all must be aware that bribery was going on at nil elections. He was not prepared to concur in that hon. Member's view of transactions of this nature, because instances of bribery were unfortunately of frequent occurrence. It was his duty as an enemy of unfair practices and of corruption to attempt to convict the person who should be detected bribing any elector. He must confess that had he been called upon to act in this case in the capacity of a magistrate, he should, as an honest man, think there was a good cause of commitment. The question before the House Was strictly this, was there evidence enough produced to induce the House to direct that the Attorney-general should prosecute Dr. Webster for bribery at the St. Alban's election? He thought that there was sufficient evidence to induce the House to adopt that course, and he should, therefore, give his vote in favour of the motion of the right hon. the Member for Montgomeryshire.

Sir T. Cochrane

said, that as some allusion had been made in the course of this discussion to a certain letter which he had written connected with the Ipswich election, lie would admit, that he had written a letter to some of the constituents at Ipswich, from which extracts, by some means or other, got into some of the public papers, and in which he said, that the demands which were made on him were not just and fair, and therefore he should not be a candidate again for the representation of Ipswich; but there was not a paragraph in that letter which showed that those demands were in any way connected with bribery. He would not only state, that the letter did not say so, but he was ready to declare on his honour that of the demands which that letter alluded to, not one shilling was connected with bribery. The hon. Member for Sheffield had asked, why should not hon. Members come down to the House, and sign a declaration at the table that they had not, either by themselves or by their agents, encouraged or practised bribery. Now, he would tell the hon. Member that he was ready to support a bill for the purpose of calling upon every Member, on taking his seat, to declare that he had not, either directly or indirectly, employed bribery as a means of procuring his return. In the mean time, however, let the hon. Gentleman support the present motion, and then he could bring forward such a bill with a better grace.

The Attorney-General

hoped the House would not expect him to express any opinion upon the question before the House, or to vote upon the motion of the right hon. Gentleman. He should certainly diligently obey the orders of the House, if they decided that a case for prosecution had been made out. He Would prosecute, and use all fair and proper means to ensure justice being executed upon the guilty party. But it must be obvious, that he should be desirous of not giving any vote upon the motion.

Viscount Ingestrie

observed, that the hon. Member for Halifax had described the chief witness in the case as a lunatic and a liar. He (Viscount Ingestrie), happened to be in the room when that individual communicated the fact that a bribe had been tendered to him immediately after the transaction took place, and the statement which he then made, was precisely the same which he gave before the committee. He had no reason to doubt, that the individual's statement was perfectly true, and thought, that the House would neglect its duty if it did not direct a prosecution to be instituted in a case which had been so clearly proved. There was a bill on the Table of the House, which had been brought in by the noble Lord opposite, for the prevention of bribery at elections; and it would be a perfect farce for the House to adopt that bill while it refused to prosecute the present case. The hon. Gentleman had made some allusions to the borough of Stafford, in which he was so erroneous, that he would recommend him to apply to the Attorney-general, who would be able to give him some correct information upon that case.

Mr. Hutt

in explanation, said, he did not state that Adams was a lunatic and a liar; but it was admitted by the evidence of Adams himself before the committee, that he was a liarߞthat he was commonly called a liar.

Mr. Wynn,

in reply, expressed himself much surprised at the tone which had been assumed in this debate by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and particularly by the manner in which the hon. Member for Sheffield had treated the subject. He begged to remind the House, that he had not said one word in the nature of a charge against the committee of any impropriety of conduct in their manner of dealing with this case; nor had he attempted at all to introduce any party considerations into the discussion of this subject. On the contrary, he had studiously avoided everything of the kind. He did not even introduce the name of Lord Listowel, and he had protested against bringing into discussion the circumstance of Dr. Webster having gone to the Treasury immediately before the transaction at St. Alban's, because he did not consider it fair to draw any inference from that fact, which, though it had been mentioned before the committee, Was not fully gone into. The right hon. and. learned Gentleman opposite (Sir C. Grey) had objected that this case had not been reported by the committee as one which ought to be prosecuted, and that it would be unjust to order a prosecution upon evidence adduced in the absence of the accused, who, therefore, had no opportunity of defending himself or answering the charges made against him. But that must be the case in almost every instance of the kind, for, with the exception of the candidates themselves, or petitioners against a return, the persons implicated were not before the committee, and were not in a position to instruct counsel or give evidence in defence or explanation. The committee had come to a determination, which the evidence seemed to them to warrant, that agency had not been proved, that Dr. Webster was not the agent of Lord Listowel, and, therefore, they had no case to report to the House. They had determined that there was not sufficient evidence to connect Lord Listowel with Dr. Webster, and to render him responsible for the acts of Dr. Webster, and, therefore, whatever might have been the conduct of that person, it could not affect Lord Listowel. The committee then very properly said, "We may now retireߞour business is over, for we are not the counsel of Dr. Webster, and we have no reason to go any further." But still the House was entitled to have the evidence laid on the Table, though no special report might be made; and upon that evidence every individual member had a right to found a motion, if he thought fit. Therefore, when he found evidence imputing bribery to an individual, he was justified in bringing the case before the House, and in calling upon the House to carry it into a court of justice. The hon. Member for Sheffield had thought proper to accuse him of being a protector of bribery; his answer to that was that he had been forty-two years in that House, and during the whole of that time such an accusation had never been brought against him before. He remembered no case in' which he had defended persons who had been convicted of bribery. He might have stated his objections to a particular bill, because it might have appeared to him to be defective, but certainly it had never been his practice to protect bribery. With respect to the case of East Retford, and every bill upon the subject of bribery, he had taken an opposite course and supported every proposition for the punishment of bribery, with the exception of a Cornish borough, in which case he thought the evidence was not sufficient to prove the existence of general corruption, and that, therefore, there was no chance of the bill being carried through Parliament. That was the only instance, as far as his recollection served him, of his not supporting a bill to punish bribery. But suppose it had not been so, suppose he had entertained different opinions and pursued a different course; suppose he had been wrong heretofore, would that be any reason why he should not be stopped from recommending a prosecution in a clear and palpable case? He had not been forward in this matter; he had not been anxious to act the part of a public accuser. He had waited in the hope, that the hon. Member who had moved for the production of the evidence, or some other hon. Member, would have taken up the case. But, finding that no one moved in it, he had brought it forward, with a desire to preserve the credit and honour of the House. They should take care, that the law did not sleep and become a dead letter. If they did not all their debating upon bills relating to bribery would be mere idle talk and waste of time. The hon. Member for Halifax and others had treated this case as if it rested entirely on the evidence of Robert Adams, but it should be borne in mind, that the witness immediately made a communication as to what had taken place upon the hustings, before the mayor, and produced the money which had been given to him, pointing out Dr. Webster as the person who gave it. The statements he then made were precisely the same as he gave in evidence before the committee, and were confirmed by the concurrent testimony of a clergyman, who also pointed out Dr. Webster at the time, and Dr. Webster said, "Well, what of that? the other side have done the same." There could not be a clearer case, and however extensively bribery might be carried on during the approaching elections, even if men walked through the streets holding out bank-notes, and inviting the electors to name their price, the House of Commons could not without the greatest disgrace, notice any such scandalous transactions, if they suffered the present case to go unpunished, because they might be told, "You had a similar case proved before you, and you declined taking any step with a view to prevent a repetition of such transactions." It was, then, for the sake of the people of England, for the sake of the laws of England, and for the sake of common justice, and common honesty, that he called upon the House to agree to his motion.

Motion agreed to.

Mr. Ward

gave notice, that on Friday, he should call the attention of the House to the bribery, that had taken place at the elections for Cambridge and Ludlow.