§ Mr. Redington
reported 1179 from the Select Committee appointed to try and determine the matter of the petitions complaining, of an undue Election and Return for the Borough of Southampton—That William Rouse Mabson had disobeyed the summons contained in Mr. Speaker's warrant, and that he, by warrant under his hand, committed the said William Rouse Mabson to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, to await the pleasure of the House.The hon. Gentleman having laid the report upon the Table, expressed his regret at being again obliged to appeal to the House on the part of the Southampton Election Committee. He feared, that it might appear to some of the Members of the House, that the committee were pursuing their inquiry with too minute an attention to matters of secondary importance. But, in this instance, William Rous Mabson having been ordered by the Speaker's warrant to produce documents which were considered material for the information of the committee, had not only not produced those documents, but had refused to assign any adequate reason for not producing them. As Chairman of the committee, therefore, he had no other course left open to him, than to appeal to the House to enforce the Speaker's warrant. With that view, he begged to move—That William Rouse Mabson, be, for his said offence, committed to her Majesty's gaol of Newgate,
had been informed by the Speaker the other evening, that no portion of the evidence taken before a committee could be referred to in that House until the report of the committee had been received. He thought, however, that he should not be out of order, if he mentioned the kind of documents respecting which the summons of the Speaker was supposed to have been disobeyed.
§ The Speaker:
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to allude to any evidence or document produced before the committee, until that evidence or that document has been printed by order of the House.
§ The Speaker:
The decisions of the committee not yet reported, cannot be referred to without irregularity.
would content himself, then, by simply declaring, that he should meet the proposition submitted to the House by the Chairman of the committee (Mr. Redington) by a direct negative; and this much he conceived himself entitled to add, that in his opinion, the documents in question were of no value, and that if they were, the excuse for not producing them, was as good and valid as a man could possibly give.
§ The Solicitor-General
understood the report from the committee to be, that the witness had refused to obey a warrant served upon him by order of the Speaker; not that he had been guilty of prevarication or evasion, or of refusing to answer the questions of the committee, but that he had disobeyed the Speaker's warrant requiring him to produce certain documents. For this disobedience he had been committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. This being the case, he thought it essential, before the House entertained the motion submitted by the Chairman of the committee, that it should see the warrant know what its requirements were, and ascertain when it was served upon the witness. For this purpose, he would suggest, that the witness should be called to the Bar. The House must bear in mind that the offence for which this witness was committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms was very different from that which was brought under its notice a few evenings since. In the former case, the offence was against the committee, and the committee only. In the present instance the contempt (being a refusal to obey the warrant issued by the Speaker) was a contempt against the House itself. It was, therefore, incumbent upon the House to inquire into the circumstances under which the alleged act of disobedience had taken place. He would therefore, suggest to the hon. Mover that, in lieu of the motion now before the House, he should substitute a motion to the effect that the witness should be called to the Bar of the House for the purpose of being interrogated.
§ Mr. Redington
had submitted his motion, not from any wish to deal harshly with the witness, but solely because he believed it to be most in accordance with the forms of the House. If that were not 1181 the case, he should be perfectly willing to withdraw it, and to adopt that suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ Mr. Redington
then moved, firstThat the clerk attending the Southampton election committee, do produce Mr. Speaker's warrant; for the attendance of William Rous Mabson.Motion agreed to.
The clerk of committees appeared at the Bar, and in reply to an interrogatory from the Speaker, stated that he held in his hand a copy of the warrant served upon William Rous Mabson. Having delivered it in, he was ordered to withdraw.
It required Mabson to produce before the committee all notes, letters, accounts of cash, &c, connected with the last election for the town and county of Southampton, that might be in his custody, possession, or power; also all receipts for money, books containing accounts of the payment of monies, memorandums, documents, and papers whatsoever relating to the said election.
§ The Solicitor- General
expressed a doubt as to the regularity of the summons. It was dated the 10th of September, 1841. Was it regular that a summons served in one Session should have effect in another Session.
§ Sir G. Grey
observed, that if this objection were to prevail, it would relieve the House from the trouble of trying any more election petitions during the present Session; for, with the single exception of the Dublin petition, all the petitions complaining of undue returns of Members to serve in Parliament were presented in the short Session of last autumn, and the Speaker's warrants were issued at that time.
§ The Solicitor-General
had been misunderstood by the right hon. Baronet. Of course, the House could not proceed to imprison the witness unless the warrant had been regularly served. He was not aware whether this warrant were regular or not; and, being apparently irregular, he thought the right course was to ask the Speaker whether it were regular or not. He wished to know whether a warrant issued in one Session was to be held good for another Session.
§ The Speaker
stated that his opinion had been drawn to the point towards the 1182 close of the last Session, and he then took an opportunity—the case being quit a new one—to take the best advice he could obtain upon it. He accordingly consulted with the law officer appointed by the House to assist the Speaker, and that officer assured him that the warrants were regular. Upon that assurance he had acted.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ William Rous Mabson brought to the Bar in custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms accordingly. He was thus interrogated:—
§ The Speaker
Do you remember on the 13th day of September last receiving a warrant from the Speaker of this House, requiring your attendance before the committee appointed to try the Southampton petition, and by which you were required to produce before that committee all books, documents, writings, printed papers, bills, receipts, and orders for the payment of money in your possession referring to the last Southampton election?— I do.When were those documents last in your possession?—I can't say exactly, but I think within the last three months.Have you brought them before the committee?—I have not.
§ Mr. Thesiger:
"Why have you not?—Because 1 incautiously sent them to the chairman of the election committee, and it appears that he does not acknowledge the receipt of them.Who was the chairman? What was his name?—Captain Ward.
§ Sir G. Grey
"How long after you received the Speaker's warrant did you send these papers to Captain Ward?—Three or four months after the 13th of September.What made you part with them, after you had received the Speaker's warrant?—I did it incautiously, and lost sight of the Speaker's warrant altogether.Did you apply personally, or by letter, to Captain Ward, to enable you to comply with the Speaker's warrant?—No; I made no application of the kind.Then what makes you state, that Captain Ward does not acknowledge the receipt of the papers?—I have been told by a friend from Southampton to-day, that Captain Ward says, he knows nothing about them.An hon. Member: " By whom did you send the papers to Captain Ward?—I sent a messenger with them, but I don't recollect his name."
§ Mr.C. Buller:
What documents did you send?—A check-book, and two or three little bills which I paid on account of the election.Did you send them by Captain Ward's desire?—No; it was my own idea.
"How came you possessed of the papers?—I was authorised to 1183 pay some bills, and after I had paid them, they laid about in my possession for some time; but having understood that all the rest of the papers were sent to Captain Ward, I sent him these also.Who directed you to pay these bills?— The bills were paid by direction of the Conservative Association.Had Captain Ward anything to do with it?—No.This was on the 13th of September; have you since that day had any particular note or memorandum of the documents necessary to be produced before the committee?—Not since.You were called before the committee the other day; had you any intimation of the particular 'documents you were to bring?— to the least.Had you any opportunity of inquiring what documents would be necessary?—None.Is the House to understand, that since the 13th of September no person has given you any information as to what papers you were to bring with you?—Not the slightest.When the papers were asked for before the committee, was that the first intimation you had, that you were to produce them?—It was.
"Have you given up all the papers, that were in your possession?—Yes.Then a memorandum specifying what particular papers you were to produce, would be perfectly useless?—Yes.
§ Mr. Godson
"In the margin of the checkbook you mention, was there anything more than the date, sum, and name of the person to whom it was paid?—Nothing more.Are you sure, that nothing more than the date of the sum of money, and the name A.B. which would be in the body, appeared in the counterfoil?—I am certain of it.
§ Mr. Thesiger: "
What notice did you receive to attend the committee?—I received a notice on Monday night, from Mr. Sharp, the solicitor, of Southampton, quite suddenly; I was in London at the time."
§ Mr. Jackson: "
If you were at home, when you received the notice, do you think you would have recollected those papers?—I am certain I should."
"Can you procure these documents?—I cannot say.Do you say, that you cannot?—I don't know.Then you may?—I may, possibly.
§ Mr. C. Wood: "
By whom did you send these documents to Captain Ward?—I gave them to some of my people.To which of them?—I cannot swear to which of them.1184Where?—In my own shop; I have some fifteen or sixteen people in my employment.Are the same people in your employment now?—No; not all of them.Can you ascertain the names of the people?—I might do so, by inquiry.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson: "
You were not required by the Speaker's warrant at the time to produce those papers?—I was not; if I had been, I should not have been so incautious as to have given them away.What was the amount of the bills in your possession?—I should think about 15l. or 16 l.
§ Sir G. Grey:
"What is the whole amount of the money which was paid on the checks cut out of the check-book, the counterfoils of which remained in your possession?—I think something like 3,000l."
§ Mr. Thesiger
thought, that this was not a proper course of examination. They were not now inquiring as to the nature of the papers, but whether the witness had been guilty of contempt in not producing them.
§ Mr. Watson:
They had been told, that the check-book was of no importance, and he had put his question merely to elucidate that point.
§ Mr. Godson
said, that what he had stated was, that the check-book was a mere counterfoil, and of no value.
§ Witness ordered to withdraw.
§ Mr. C. Wood
recommended the learned Gentleman to withdraw his question. He agreed with the hon. Member for Woodstock (Mr. Thesiger) that they were going into an inquiry altogether irrelevant. The learned Gentleman, the Solicitor-general for Ireland, had asked a question as to the amount of the sums paid, the answer to which was loudly cheered by Gentlemen opposite, and his hon. Friend, the Member for Devonport, had asked a question as to the amount paid by means of checks, as appearing from the counterfoils, and the answer to the latter question showed that a very considerable amount had been paid in that manner. But all these points ought to be left to the committee, which possessed, except the power of committing for contempt, all the powers of a judicial tribunal. The better course now to pursue, would be to discharge the witness under the Speaker's warrant, and to leave to the committee the further investigation of the matter.
The Attorney- General
said, that before they set aside the warrant, they ought to be satisfied, that it was irregular, and before they resolved on committing any person to Newgate, they ought to be satisfied, that the warrant was regular. He, for one, considered, that there had not been such a state of facts laid before the House, as ought to induce them to send the witness to Newgate. It appeared, that he had been served with a warrant from the Speaker, dated the 10th of September, requiring him to bring in his custody all letters and accounts of cash relating to the late election, and all receipts for money, and all other documents and papers whatsoever relating to the said election, and therewith to appear before the said select committee at such time or times as shall be notified to him by the parties signing the said petition, or their agents. Now, according to the statement of the witness, he had received that warrant in the month of September, and until he came before the committee he had received no intimation as to what were the particular papers which he was called on to produce. This was not the usual course of proceeding in reference to the administration of justice. A man who was subpoenaed to attend a court of justice, and to bring with him a variety of documents, had, according to ordinary courtesy, an intimation given to him of the documents he was required to bring some time before he was called on to attend, and he thought that this witness, before the parties applied to the committee to report his conduct to the House, ought to have been informed some short time before, that he would be required to produce such papers. By the warrant he was called on to produce these papers, at such time as he should receive a notice from the parties signing the petition, or their agent. Unless he received some such intimation, he could not be described as having been guilty of a contempt. Now, he had never been required to produce them at all. ["Oh, oh."] The witness had been required to attend himself, but he had not been required to produce any specific documents. ["Oh, oh"] He heard the noise made on the other side, but he appealed to their judgment, he appealed to the candid consideration of the House, whether he had ever so addressed the House on a legal subject as to induce them to believe that he had ever given any but what he conceived to be a just and proper legal opinion? Whether he had 1186 not always boldly stated that opinion, or whether he had ever shrunk from stating anything that he believed to be true from any motives whatsoever; and he asked hon. Gentlemen who were then dealing with him fairly to hear, and judge for themselves whether this witness had been guilty of any contempt, when the Speaker's warrant only required him to appear with the papers and documents at such time or times as shall be notified to him by the parties petitioning or their agents, neither the parties nor their agents having called on the witness to produce any documents at all. For these reasons, he could not agree to the motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Redington), but thought the course suggested by the hon. Member for Halifax the one best suited for the occasion. The witness said, that he had sent the papers to Mr. Ward. Had that gentleman been brought before the committee? Where was the use of sending the witness to Newgate, if Mr. Ward was yet to be examined before the committee? It would be much better-in the first place, to endeavour to trace the papers, and then deal with the witness as they might afterwards see fit.
§ Mr. Redington
should be sorry to do anything which would appear harsh, but the committee had acted in this matter to the best of their judgment. It appeared to them that the warrant ought to be obeyed, no matter what might be the courtesy observed in other courts. Counsel had shown that those documents were material: the witness had stated that he had given them to another party, whose name he could not recollect, and the committee felt that justice to the parties concerned would not be done unless those papers were produced, and that they were bound to see the authority of the Speaker's warrant obeyed. In what position were they now placed? There was an order that this individual should produce those papers. At the time that order was served he was in possession of the papers. Were they to release him from all responsibility, merely because he told them that he sent the papers to Mr. Ward by a person whose name he did not recollect? That evening a summons had been sent to Mr. Ward; but they had no reason to believe that Mr. Ward knew anything about these documents. Would they allow these papers to escape their search without taking what steps they could to prevent such a disregard of their authority? He regretted 1187 that the question had been again raised after the decision of the committee. As Chairman, he should hare considered himself guilty of a neglect of duty if he had not brought the case before the House. He thought it would be a dangerous precedent to discharge a man who had been guilty of such conduct; and he would therefore move, that the prisoner, William Rous Mabson, be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms attending the House, and that the Sergeant do take the said William Rous Mabson to the Southampton election committee as often as he shall be required.
§ Mr. C. Buller
seconded the motion. This was a very grave question, and one that involved the honour of the House. His opinion was, that the wisest course was for the House to interfere as little as possible in support of the authority of the election committees, and that the best safeguard they could throw over the administration of justice in those committees was to take their report as final. Although he differed in some respects from the learned Attorney-general, it seemed to him very unwise, when the committee reported to the House that a person had been guilty of disobedience to the warrant of the Speaker, that the House should enter into the kind of inquiry with which the House had been edified that evening. The offence of the witness was of a very grave nature; and if the House overlooked its jurisdiction, and the jurisdiction of its committees, its authority would be utterly trampled upon and set at defiance. A certain quibble had been raised that the Speaker's warrant was applicable only to the last Session of Parliament; he trusted that objection would be dropped, and that no one would put it into the heads of any of the witnesses that the Speaker's warrant was not now binding upon them. It would appear from the evidence of the man that he did not know the missing papers were amongst those required to be produced by him. He stated, that having received orders to produce a variety of papers, he gave all that related to the Southampton election to a third person, through the medium of a shopboy, and that from that person, who happened to he Captain Ward, who was chairman of the committee at Southampton for conducting the election of the sitting Member, the witness declared he had received no acknowledgment of the receipt of those papers. Now, upon the face of this statement, there was nothing 1188 to induce him to believe it. He did not go so far as to say that he must disbelieve it, but he really could not believe it. As far as he was able to ascertain the facts of the case, it appeared that Captain Ward, the only other person named by the witness, denied having received the papers. Captain Ward was known to be a respectable man, and certainly his denial was worthy of consideration. The House would sacrifice its own honour if it totally overlooked the conduct of this man. He did not wish to have the man committed to Newgate, or to punish him severely, but to let such a person go away with an impression that he was one against whom the House would take no further proceedings would be highly derogatory to its honour. He should, therefore, second the motion of his hon. Friend, and with this particular object in view, namely, that the prisoner should remain in custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms until the committee had time to examine Captain Ward, and any other necessary witnesses, in order that they might ascertain whether the story told by the prisoner was true, or whether he had not purposely and flagrantly acted in defiance of the orders of the House, and put the papers out of the reach of the committee, in order to prevent them from getting at the truth.
Mr. H. Hinde
said, he rose to make a few observations upon this subject, but he would take care to go as near the facts of the case as he could without contravening the order of the House. His hon. Friend had said that he had no reason to suppose that the witness at the Bar had acted under any mistake or misapprehension of what he was called upon to do by the Speaker's warrant. Now, there was not the slightest evidence that the check-book was in his possession, at the time the Speaker's war-want was served upon him; and there was no reason for believing that the statement of the witness was not a bona fide statement, because, if he had chosen to tell a falsehood to screen himself from any imagined mischief, he might have done so with more safety to himself by denying all knowledge of the check-book, or that it ever had been in his possession. He hoped the House would not sanction the detention of the man in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. If the committee upon examining Captain Ward should have reason to think that the statement of the witness was not bona fide, they might 1189 call upon the House to deal with him. He should, therefore, move, and he hoped the House would concur with him, that this debate be postponed to that day week.
§ Mr. Jervis
said, it was quite true that during a short interval the prisoner might send to Southampton and make those inquiries which would tend to set himself right, but the orders and authority of the House ought to be enforced and maintained. It had been laid down by the right hon. Speaker that no statement of the proceedings of the committee could be received from any hon. Member of it until its business had terminated and its report was made, but that they could hear what evidence the witness at the Bar of the House might have to offer. True; but how were they to know that the evidence he gave at their Bar might not be contradicted by other evidence taken before the committee? If they acted upon his evidence then they would be in danger of acting inconsistently and of violating the rules of justice. They were bound to place implicit confidence in their committees, who were guarded by the authority of the House and by their oaths, and the House ought not to act until all the evidence collected by a committee, with its report, was duly laid before them. It appeared that the witness had at least been guilty of great disrespect towards the House; for why did he keep the papers three months after the election, and send them away after he had received the Speaker's warrant to produce them?
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
could not concur in the amendment proposed by his hon. Friend near him (Mr. H. Hinde) for the adjournment of the debate. He thought the House ought now to decide on the matter, because the question was fully before them. The question was whether this person should be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms or not? He thought that there were no grounds apparent to the House that this individual had been guilty of contempt. If there were any grounds to show that the witness had been guilty of contempt, no one would be more ready to punish him than he (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) would. But he did not think that it appeared he had acted in contempt. He would take for granted that the warrant served on him was a valid warrant. But what was the tenor of that warrant? It required the witness to produce an indefinite number 1190 of documents at such time and place as he should be required to produce them by the party, or their agents, by whom he had been summoned. He believed that the statement which this man had made to the House was bona fide. He had stated that he had been served with the Speaker's warrant in the month of September last, seven months ago. He had not any recollection of the tenor of the documents he was required to produce, and he said that he would not have parted with the documents if at the time he had recollected that he would be required to produce them. He was of opinion that all the facts of the case made it quite clear that this individual had not been guilty of contempt. He thought, therefore, that this individual ought not to be punished, and he would therefore vote against the motion of the hon. Member for Dundalk.
§ Mr. Labouchere
feared, that if the House followed the course which had been recommended by the hon. Gentleman opposite, the authority of election committees would be weakened in such a way that it would be vain to expect from them that they could hereafter prosecute their inquiries so as to produce any advantage to the public, or give satisfaction to the House. All that the House was called upon to do at present was this,—the committee having reported their opinion of the misconduct of the witness to the House, they were asked, not to discuss it, but to take some notice of it. He thought the course proposed by the hon. Chairman of the committee was that which the House was bound to follow. For could any Gentleman who had listened to the statements which the witness had made at the Bar deny that the gravest suspicions attached to them? Having been served with the Speaker's warrant to produce certain papers which he had kept for several months in his possession, and which he retained some time afterwards, he then gave them up to some other person, forgetting, as he declared, that the Speaker's warrant had any reference to those papers. The witness asked the House to believe that he forgot that. Was it likely that a person taking an active part in an election would not narrowly inspect and perfectly understand the nature of a Speaker's warrant? But to whom did he send the papers? To Captain Ward, the chairman of the committee for conducting the election of the sitting members, a respectable gen- 1191 tleman, no doubt; but one who from his position would naturally desire to suppress any evidence affecting the seats of the sitting Members. He thought that it was of the utmost importance that the authority of the committees appointed by the House to try the merits of election petitions should be supported.
§ The Solicitor-General
said, that the proceedings which had that night taken place were amply sufficient to satisfy him as to the justice of his opinion, that questions of this kind would be more properly decided by the examination of witnesses before the election committee, and that that House was not the proper place for the enquiry. The hon. Members for Liskeard and Chester were mistaken if they thought he had altered his opinion that the object of his right hon. Friend's bill was to withdraw everything of this kind, connected with election business, from the House, and leave it to the committee. In regard to the present question, on looking over the precedents supplied by the journals of the House, he thought the course was, that as the committee, in its report, had accused the witness, not of contempt of the committee, but of what is considered to be contempt of the House, the party should be brought to the Bar, and examined on the question whether he had received the Speaker's warrant, and why he had disobeyed it? Notwithstanding the remark of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, he considered himself quite justified in the observations he had made as to the form of the warrant. The motion of the hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the committee, was, he believed, that this person be forthwith committed to Newgate. Now, without entering further at present into the question of the legality of the warrant, he would suppose that this person were committed by the Speaker's warrant, and then discharged by the Judges of the Queen's Bench, there would be another dispute between the House and the Courts of Law. Now he felt that, before the House proceeded to commit the party to Newgate, they should be satisfied that he had disobeyed a legal warrant. If the warrant were issued in one Session, and they committed him in another for not obeying it, he must say that a question arose as to its legality. The course which he had already taken ought, he thought, to vindicate him from the charge of wishing to shield the 1192 individual if he were guilty. The question could be examined before a select committee, and if it appeared that, after receiving the Speaker's warrant, the witness designedly kept back the documents, he should be committed to custody. He was not disposed to oppose the present motion of the hon. Member opposite, for if the committee came to the conclusion that the party had designedly kept the papers back, he ought to be kept in custody until inquiry were made whether he was really guilty of the contempt imputed to him. He could not therefore support the motion of his hon. Friend for the adjournment of the debate. He should not oppose the motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Redington) opposite, and he took this course under the distinct understanding that the motion was not to commit the party to Newgate, for if that were the case he should have opposed it until clearly satisfied that the warrant was a legal one, and he thought that if any doubt existed as to the legality of the warrant, the best course would be to get a fresh summons and a fresh warrant.
§ Mr. C. Wood
said, there was no doubt but that the witness had not acted pro perly in the matter. A strong case certainly of suspicion was made out against him, sufficient to justify the committee in retaining him in custody, but not sufficient to warrant his committal to Newgate. He thought that the course proposed would meet the justice of the case.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that he must confess it was always with regret, that he saw there should exist any necessity for an appeal to the House of Commons in a matter of that kind; but as the committee had thought proper to make an appeal, as the appeal was now made to them, it was the duty of each Member of that House to decide upon the matter on purely judicial considerations. The question involved the personal liberty of the subject. In the first place, they must ask whether the summons were valid; and secondly, whether the committee had acted in conformity with law. It was clear that when the Speaker issued his warrant it was his opinion that it was a legal document. The report stated that the witness disobeyed that summons. He must infer that the witness wilfully disobeyed that summons, thereby defeating the ends of justice. Under these circumstances, the committee decided upon summoning the wit- 1193 ness to the Bar of that House; and it was their duty, dismissing from their minds all that had taken place before the committee, to form their judgment from what took place during the examination of the witness that day at the Bar. He must say, that the evidence of the witness had been unsatisfactory. It appeared that he had kept in his possession the papers for a period of three or four months, until the period fixed for the commencement of the Session of Parliament. At that period, he received the summons of the Speaker, requiring him to attend the committee with papers and documents. It was then that the witness, after having the summons in his possession, thought proper to send them to another party—to a gentleman of great respectability, who had no recollection of having received them. The witness certainly said that Captain Ward did not remember the circumstance. The impression on his mind was, that Captain Ward would not now admit that he had received the documents. He would not at present, impute anything like guilt to the witness; but under the circumstances of the case, he thought they were justified in retaining him until the matter had been thoroughly examined into. This was the proper course to pursue. But, at the same time, he did think, after the opinion stated by his hon. and learned Friend, it would not be advisable to commit the witness to Newgate. The House must recollect that if the witness were committed and he applied for a writ of habeas corpus, and upon that he obtained his discharge, the House would not have the power of making any resistance. The question would be purely one of law. Taking all the circumstances connected with this transaction into consideration, he could not consent to the discharge of the witness. He thought that the House ought to support the committee in the exercise of its authority, onerous as it was, and on that ground he should give his vote.
differed from the authority of the hon. and learned Member, as to the illegality of the warrant. It should be recollected that the witness received the summons before the committee was constituted. He thought this a monstrous case, and one which ought not to be frittered away. At the moment the Speaker issued the warrant, the papers were in the custody of the witness. He was bound to keep them.
§ Mr. Christopher
said, that whatever was the opinion of that House, and whatever course they might think proper to pursue, he felt convinced that the people of England would not allow themselves to be committed to Newgate in a way that no court of justice in this country would consider itself warranted in adopting.
§ The House divided, on the question that the debate be now adjourned:—Ayes 16; Noes 176: Majority 160.
|List of theAYES|
|Bradshaw, J.||Hodgson, R.|
|Buck, L. W.||Northland, Visct.|
|Chelsea, Visct.||Polhill, F.|
|Christopher, R. A.||Thesiger, F.|
|Cochrane, A.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Ferrand, W. B.||Verner, Col.|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.|
|Fleming, J. W.||TELLERS.|
|Forbes, W.||Hinde, H;|
|Godson, R.||Bruce, C.|
|List of the Noes.|
|Acton, Col.||Cripps, W.|
|Aldam, W.||Dalmeny, Lord|
|Antrobus, E.||Damer, hon. Col.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Dawson, hon. T. V.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T||Denison, W. J.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Dennistoun, J.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Douglas, Sir C. E.|
|Bernal, R.||Drummond, H. H.|
|Bernard, Visct.||Duncan, G.|
|Blackburne, J. I.||Duncombe, T.|
|Blake, M.||Du Pre, C. G.|
|Blake, M.J.||Eaton, R. J.|
|Blake, Sir V.||Ellice, rt. hon. E.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Ellice, E.|
|Bodkin, W. H.||Eliot, Lord|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Escott, B.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Ferguson, Col.|
|Borthwick, P.||Feilden, W.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Fielden, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Filmer, Sir E.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Fitzroy, Capt.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Follett, Sir W. W.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Forster, M.|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Busfeild, W.||French, F.|
|Callaghan, D.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Campbell, A.||Gill, T.|
|Chetwode, Sir J.||Gordon, hon. Capt.|
|Clayton, R. R.||Goring, C.|
|Clements, Visct.||Goulburn, rt. hn. H.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Cobden, R.||Granby, Marquess of|
|Cockburn, rt h. SirG.||Granger, T. C.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Greenall, P.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Greene, T.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Craig, W. G.||Grogan, E.|
|Hamilton, J.||O'Connell, D|
|Hamilton, W. J.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||O'Connell, J|
|Hardy, J.||Palmerston, Visct|
|Hastie, A.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Hatton, Capt. V.||Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.|
|Hawes, B.||Philips, M.|
|Hay, Sir A. L.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Heathcoat, J.||Ponsonby, hn. C. F. A. C|
|Heathcote, G.J,||Powell, C.|
|Henley, J. W.||Power, J.|
|Hepburn, Sir T. B.||Rawdon, Col.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Redington, T. N.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Richards, R.|
|Hobbouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Hodgson, F.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Hope, hon. C.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Howard, hn. C. W. G.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Howard, hn. E. G. G.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Howick, Visct.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Hume, J.||Sheppard, T.|
|Humphery, Mr. Ald.||Smith, A.|
|Hutt, W.||Smith, rt. hn. R.V.|
|Irton, S.||Stanley, Lord|
|Jackson, J. D.||Stanley, E.|
|Jocelyn, Visct.||Staunton, Sir G. T.|
|Johnstone, H.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||Thornely, T.|
|Kirk, P.||Tollemache, hn. F. J.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Trevor, hon. G. R.|
|Lascelles, hn. W. S.||Tufnell, H.|
|Lefroy, A.||Tuite, H. M.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Turner, E.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Vernon, G.|
|Lindsay, H. H,||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Lockhart, W.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Lowther, J. H.||Vivian, hon. Capt.|
|Mackenzie, W. F.||Wakley. T.|
|Mainwaring, T.||Wall, C. B.|
|Martin, J.||Wallace, R.|
|Martin, C. W.||Ward, H. G.|
|Masterman, J.||Wemyss, Capt.|
|Meynell, Capt.||Williams, T. P.|
|Mitcalfe, H.||Wood, B.|
|Mitchell, T. A.||Wood, C.|
|Morgan, O.||Wood, G.W.|
|Morris, D.||Wortley, hon. J. S.|
|Mostyn, hn. E. M. L.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Muntz, G. F.||Young, J.|
|Nicholl, rt. hon. J.||Buller, C.|
|O'Brien, W. S.||Jervis, J.|
§ Question again put, that William Rouse Mabson be committed, &c.
§ Mr. Thesiger
being convinced that the warrant was illegal, could not give his consent to restrain the liberty of the man for one instant. After the doubt which had been expressed by his learned Friend the Solicitor-general, he should indeed be astonished if his learned Friend did not vote for his discharge. He wished to explain to the House, that he had voted in the minority in the last division, on the 1196 plain ground that, had that motion been successful, it would have led to the discharge of the prisoner. If any hon. Member had any doubt upon his mind as to the validity of the warrant, could they hesitate for a moment in voting for his discharge? Hon. Members ought to bear in mind that they were an irresponsible body; if they injured the man by imprisoning him illegally, he had no redress. If he were committed by a magistrate upon an illegal warrant he might bring his action, but against the House he would have no remedy.
§ Mr. Ward:
The hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, had at once converted into a fact that which was simply a doubt upon the mind of the Solicitor-general. But see what would be the result if his opinions were carried out to their full extent. Let the House agree with him, discharge the prisoner on the ground of the invalidity of the summons, and they would invalidate the proceedings of every election committee which had sat during the present Session. ["No."] He said, "Yes, yes," for no one witness would have attended before them had they not thought they were compelled. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had been perfectly quiescent hitherto; but now, when the inquiry was into the doings of the election at Southampton, they appeared to be desirous to throw the shield of protection over a man who had set the House of Commons at defiance. He fully believed that it was highly desirable that the trial of these petitions should be before a tribunal totally unconnected with the House; it was impossible for Members to keep themselves free from party bias, as had been shown by the cheers of either party as a sentiment favourable to either of them was given utterance to either by any of the prisoners at the Bar, or the hon. Member for Hants last night. They were alike on either side. But, as the law at present stood, a man who had so glaringly, and evidently so intentionally erred, deserved punishment. He would ask the hon. and learned Member for Woodstock, whether he believed the man was innocent? If he were, he would merely say, that, had he been the most ingenious, the most cunning person in the world, or even had he acted according to the advices of the most astute and ingenious counsel who was acting for the sitting Member, he could have taken no way better calculated to defeat the inquiry in which they were engaged.
§ Mr. Christopher
would repeat that the trial of all election petitions ought to be taken out of the hands of the House, and he trusted that these discussions, of which there would be many more, would be the means of sending such trials before a legal tribunal, where a gentleman of legal talent would preside. He felt quite certain that were such a judge appointed, whatever were his politics, he would give his opinion conscientiously upon all points that came before him.
§ Sir G. Grey
said, the Solicitor-general seemed to have assumed that the prisoner had been called upon to attend the committee during the last Session. Now, undoubtedly the recital of the warrant did mention last Session, and it could not be otherwise, for the Act of Parliament directed that the trial of petitions should take place during the Session in which they were presented, and those presented last Session were only delayed by a subsequent order of the House. But the warrant went further, and required him to attend before the committee to be appointed to try the merits of a petition presented against the return for Southampton, and there produce certain documents named. Now, the object of serving the summons immediately upon the presentation of a petition was to fix the parties who might have documents of consequence to the inquiry in their possession—to attach them in their hands for the purposes of the inquiry. If the doubt expressed by the Solicitor-general should, upon due consideration, prevail—if it were necessary that when a committee was adjourned from one Session to another, it was necessary that the party should again be served, then no committee would ever obtain any document of importance, for they would be destroyed in the interval, and with impunity. Should the doubt prevail, then he hoped some hon. Gentleman would introduce a short bill for the purpose of curing the error.
§ Sir J. Tyrell
could not give his vote for a motion for the committal of the man, and he trusted the great sticklers for the freedom of the subject would vote against the motion.
felt that he should be acting a perfectly consistent part in voting for the committal of the person, although he was one of the friends of freedom to whom the hon. Baronet had alluded. 1198 Were hon. Gentlemen going to throw the shield of protection over such a man—a man who had been employed as an agent to spend 3.000l.? ["No!"] Well, he spent that sum of his own money. ["No!"] Why, he stated at the Bar that that sum had passed through his hands—had passed by a check-book. That made his case the stronger—he wanted the check-book, in order to see through whose hands it went. What could they think of a man who had forgot receiving the Speaker's warrant? That was not such an every day affair. If it had been a nisi prius case in which he gave such an answer, he would have asked him when he forgot it? Surely hon. Members were not anxious to shield bribery. The present was, perhaps, the most monstrous case which had ever come before the House. No Gentleman could believe what the man stated at the bar. That they were debating the case was a clear and convincing proof of the necessity of constituting another tribunal for the trial of election petitions. He had been censured, he had been punished by the House for speaking his mind of the old system, but he had his reward—that system was found to be so indefensible that it was swept away. What was the case now? The system was worse. It was not so bad only because it was worse. The question was not now on which side was the majority, but who was the chairman? In his opinion, they ought to adjourn the question, in order that a bill might be brought in, constituting a proper tribunal,—one presided over by a judge of the land; let him have a salary that would make him independent, and then he would not care if the jury were chosen out of that House. Justice would be done. He wished some means could be adopted to relieve persons who were examined on their oaths before election committees from the reproach to which they were frequently subjected, on account of the suspicion expressed with respect to their evidence. The present system, he thought, must have a tendency to promote immorality in the country.
Mr. S. Worthy
agreed in many of the sentiments of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just addressed the House; but he thought, many of the points mooted by the hon. and learned Gentleman could not be discussed on the present occasion. The question before the House was, whether they were justified in retaining in cus- 1199 tody the person who had been called to the Bar in consequence of his having disobeyed the precept of Mr. Speaker in the matter of the Southampton election. He thought that House was a most unsatisfactory tribunal for the decision of nice points of law. In this case, the warrant issued by Mr. Speaker had been called in question; and Mr. Speaker having considered the matter, pronounced his decision upon it. He did not refer to Mr. Speaker's private individual opinion; but Mr. Speaker, having doubts on the subject, had consulted the legal advisers to whom he was authorised to appeal, and, acting upon their advice, he had officially pronounced his decision. He thought that, in this case, they ought to assume—as it was not in opposition to the principles of British law, that Mr. Speaker, to whose guardianship their privileges were confided, was the proper organ for expressing the judgment of the House; and when Mr. Speaker, after adopting measures for arriving at a just decision, had pronounced his opinion on the question, he thought the House was justified in adopting that opinion.
§ Mr. C. Buller
said, the committee of the House had admitted the validity of the warrant by committing the individual to custody for his disobedience; and he thought, the House ought to follow up the acts of the committee. The decision of these matters was left entirely to the committee. The bill which gave this power to the committee provided, that in cases where persons were guilty of prevarication or disobedience to the summons of the committee, the chairman might, by warrant under his hand, directed to the Sergeant-at-Arms, commit such parties to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and report thereon to the House, that the House might approve such proceeding, or express its censure. The chairman of the committee had, in this case, consigned an individual to custody for disobedience to the order of the House, and had reported thereon. He thought, the course for the House to pursue was, to receive the report, and to approve or censure the proceedings of the committee.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
said, the committee were authorised to commit for twenty-four hours, and to report the committal to the House, and the House exercised its discretion as to the prolongation of the imprisonment. The warrant in this case was either valid or invalid. If it 1200 was valid, the committee had the power to examine the witness. If it was invalid, in what position was the House placed? If the imprisonment of the witness was continued till to-morrow, he would, in all probability, apply for a writ of habeas corpus. Why should the witness be detained in custody, if he had not been guilty of contempt of the order of the House? He understood that the witness, happening to be in the committee-room, was called upon to give evidence, and had no opportunity of obtaining the document he was required to produce.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, that if the House committed the witness to Newgate, or to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms for contempt, and the witness appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench, that court would not inquire into the ground of contempt. If Mr. Speaker were constituted the single judge on such matters as this, it would afford him great satisfaction; for six years ago he had asked for the appointment of a single judge in cases of this description. He did, however, object to the decision being vested in that House, for a worse tribunal for the determination of legal questions could not exist. He must say that party considerations were involved in every question brought before that House. He regretted that the learned Solicitor-general, whose opinion was entitled to great weight, had expressed a doubt as to the legality of the warrant. He argued by analogy, that according to the ordinary course of proceedings at quarter-sessions with regard to recognizances, it was unnecessary for the House to renew, or in legal phrase to respite its warrants. He wished to know what excuse, either in morality or law, the witness could urge for his conduct in this case.
said, this House was not, probably, on any occasion the best tribunal for deciding legal questions. He could assure the House, however, that in entering on the consideration of this subject he wished to divest himself of all party views and feelings; and his only desire was, that while the authority of the House was duly maintained full and substantial justice should be done. He thought that until the House was perfectly satisfied that the warrant issued by the Speaker was an illegal document, the presumption of the House should be, that it was a document of full legal force and. 1201 authority. He was the more disposed to entertain this opinion, because, though the present question had taken the House by surprise, Mr. Speaker had, in a case of this nature, which had formerly arisen, taken the deliberate advice of those officers whose duty it was to render professional assistance to the House, and their opinion had been favourable to the effect and validity of the warrant. He thought, therefore, that the House should act upon the presumption that the warrant was a valid and authoritative document. It was not his intention to enter into any discussion as to the merits of those tribunals which had been constituted by Parliament for the determination of controverted elections. It was enough that Parliament had constituted such tribunals, and had invested them with full authority to investigate proceedings connected with controverted elections. In the case now under consideration, the committee had decided that a contempt of the House had been committed. The committee had not yet delivered their report to the House; but they had reported that they had consigned to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms a witness who had disobeyed the orders of the House, and they asked the House to sanction their proceedings. The application was not for the committal, but rather for the remanding of the witness. Now, he entertained grave doubts whether or not in this case the witness had designed to defeat the ends of justice. The committee were, however, better qualified to judge on that subject than he could be; and he did not in any degree question the discretion of the committee in exercising their functions. If a suspicion existed that the witness intended to absent himself from future examination, that would be a strong ground for retaining him in custody. He presumed that the object of the committee was to ascertain, by further investigation, whether or not a contempt had been committed which would justify the adoption of more severe proceedings with regard to the witness; and he was, therefore, without giving any opinion as to the point of law involved in the case, prepared to give his vote for retaining the witness in the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms till the matter was investigated. If the chairman of the committee was prepared to recommend that the witness be ordered to attend the committee to-morrow, and facilitate their inquiry, and that 1202 he be released after them, he was prepared to support the committee in that recommendation, and to vote that he be detained in the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms until then.
Mr. Hodgson Hinde
said, that hon: Gentlemen who had opened the question in favour of the committal of the witness had taken the ground that, in doing so, they would be supporting the views of the committee. Now he would tell them that they were doing no such thing. If they wished to support the committee, they must go still further. The committee had not only made a report, but had instructed their chairman to move that the party be committed to Newgate. The House, having repudiated this recommendation of the committee, how could they now uphold the authority of the committee by adopting a different course. The noble Lord who had just spoken had said, that if he should be convinced that there was no likelihood of the witness attempting to abscond, he should vote for his release. He thought, however, that justice required that just the reverse of such a course should be adopted. He thought that justice required that they should ascertain that there was a likelihood of the witness being likely to abscond before they detained him—no member of the committee had stated that any such occurrence was probable. So far as they knew, Mr. Mabson was a person in a large way of business, and employed fifteen or sixteen individuals. Now, it was not likely that a person under such circumstances, in order to avoid a temporary inconvenience, would subject himself to the injury and loss which would necessarily attend the adoption of such a course by him as absconding. He had made a motion for the adjournment of the debate, which, if it had been agreed to, would, he thought, have answered the ends they all had in view. Among the difficulties which he had to encounter in the case he should choose the least, and vote against the motion.
§ The Solicitor-General
said, that the simple question before the House was this, whether or not a warrant, which, on the face of it, stated that the person to whom it referred should attend before a committee of the House during the Session in which it was issued—whether or not that person was guilty of contempt in neglecting to obey its instructions in the present Session. When the warrant had been first 1203 read, it had struck him that it was not a legal warrant. He was then not aware that the matter had been previously brought under the notice of the Speaker, and that the same objection applied to other documents of the same kind. He thought that it was a warrant issued during the last Session of Parliament; and that the parties had, wrongly, as he thought, neglected to renew the summons or warrant for the new Session, to which it was now to apply. He could not bring his mind to the conclusion that the warrant was a legal instrument; but, at the same time, be must say, that as the matter had been considered by eminent authorities, he should be guilty of disrespect to them, the Speaker, and the House, were he to state firmly that the warrant was an illegal one. He could not feel justified in saying, that these authorities were wrong, and he would now give his vote, not on the ground that the warrant was illegal, because he did not think that he should be justified in voting for the discharge of the party on that ground, but on the ground that such discharge might lead to delay in the furthering of the ends of justice. He thought, however, that the matter was one which should be set at rest by the decision of counsel, as far as such decision could have such effect. With reference to the course which the House should now adopt, he would observe, that some hon. Gentlemen seemed to suppose that the House had voted the party in question guilty of contempt, but the facts were, that the committee had reported him guilty of disobeying the Speaker's warrant, and, under this accusation, there existed what he could not but designate as a very glaring anomaly—that while the House referred the consideration of all these matters to committees appointed for the purpose, and left them to decide, and had given them all the powers they possessed with a view to this end, that these committees should be obliged to come to the House and report upon matters which came before them, with the view of getting the House to enforce their opinions or orders. Now, the anomaly was this, how could committees properly come and ask the House to commit persons when that House had no proper means of forming its judgment upon the circumstances of the case? He thought that it was far better that committees should have all the powers which it was necessary for them to possess, in 1204 order to carry out their views, and it was an anomaly, that with the powers the committees possessed in one respect, they should be obliged to appeal to the House to put in force their orders. With respect to the course they ought to take, he hoped that in anything which he had said, or might say, the House would believe, that he was actuated by no party feelings, and that his sole desire was, that the House should proceed fairly and justly. Now, if he might venture to express an opinion of the course adopted by the committee, it should be, that the recommendation for committal was premature. It was not for contempt of the House for which it was made—it was not for the purpose of getting the witness to answer questions—but it was for the purpose of punishing him for not obeying the summons of the Speaker and reading certain papers. But, according to some statements lately made, it appeared that the object of the committal was to have the matter further investigated, to call for other persons, to whom it was alleged that the witness had given the papers in question, and to have the whole charge more fully gone into; and he thought that if the party was recommended to be committed for disobedience, the matter should be further investigated before the committee came to that conclusion. But if any one of the committee thought that justice would be done were the witness not kept in custody—if the members of the committee thought that there was no probability of his absconding, he would suggest that, instead of his being committed to the care of the Sergeant-at-Arms, the House should direct him to attend before the committee to-morrow; and if he attended as often as commanded, the matter might be fully gone into, and in the meantime the question respecting the legality of the warrant might be settled, and by adopting such a course, he believed that the ends of justice would in all respects be answered.
§ Mr. C. Wood
remarked upon the change which seemed to have taken place in the minds of hon. Gentlemen upon the question of the witness being retained in the hands of the Sergeant-at-Arms since the first division upon the subject. He had been all along actuated by feelings in favour of supporting those tribunals which the House had constituted for the purpose of trying the merits of election petitions, and he was sorry to see that so many hon. 1205 Gentlemen had cast blame upon the acts of those tribunals; nay, even members of those committees had come forward and stated opinions adverse to the conduct of the majority of the committee. He did not think that such line of conduct was at all calculated to give weight and influence to the tribunals in question. He had been also sorry to have heard the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite express the opinion he had upon the conduct of the committee now more immediately before the House—the more particularly as that hon. and learned Gentleman had only formed his opinion from the examination of the prisoner at the Bar of the House. With regard to the legality of the warrant, he agreed with those hon. Gentlemen who thought that they must presume the warrant to be good and efficient. The witness had stated, as regarded the papers he was ordered to produce, that he had thoughtlessly parted with them. Now he thought that no substantial injustice would be done to Mabson by detaining him. He had admitted, that he was bound to obey the summons, but he had parted with the papers which he also knew that he was bound to produce, and that too under circumstances which threw great suspicion upon that part of his conduct. Such was the view of the case taken by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, that the circumstances under which the papers had been disposed of were very unsatisfactory, and that the suspicion against him was so strong that it was not right that he should be left at liberty to withdraw himself from the country if he chose, and thus defeat the ends of justice. He thought that they were bound, by what he considered to be the virtual, if not the formal decision of the House, and retain the witness in custody.
§ Mr. Godson
reminded the House, that if the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard held good, it would be in the power of a single Member, without going into the entire question, to send a fellow-creature to Newgate, because the majority of one would have that effect. But he must also remind hon. Members that the committee had not sent this man into custody for refusing to answer questions put to him, but for the non-production of two classes of papers which were of value in the cause or they were not. One class had been shown to be a set of 1206 counterfoils to checks—which counterfoils the man had distinctly stated contained nothing more than the date and the amount, but stated nothing as to the name of the drawer. He mentioned those facts, because the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. O'Connell) seemed to have got an erroneous impression as to those facts. These counterfoils contained nothing more as to the particulars of the checks—the checks themselves were of course at the bankers, and therefore these counterfoils, even if produced, would be of no value. And what were the other papers? Why they were not of the least value. They were simply three tradesmen's bills, amounting to something between 15 1. and 16l., and these of no material consequence to the inquiry at all; the counsel could, on proof they were lost, have given secondary evidence as to their contents. This was the third party who had been committed before the House—first there had been the witness Wren, then an hon. Member of the House, and now the present individual; and he should vote against his committal, because he thought the application had been made by the counsel for the petitioners, for the purpose of acting upon the nerves of the witnesses yet to be examined.
§ Mr. Hutt
would not reply to the last observation of the hon. Gentleman, which he was sure would be sufficiently answered by the good feelings of the House. Although he believed that it would be more decorous in him to abstain, yet he was compelled to take a part in the debate by two circumstances which had taken place. The House would observe that the chairman of the committee had left the House under, as he believed, the full conviction that the discussion upon the subject was at an end. He said what was his own impression, and doubtless hon. Gentlemen who cried "no" were better informed. He could not but advert to the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (the Attorney-General). He could assure the House that he was by no means insensible to the censure which had been pronounced upon the committee of which he was a member; but he could only say that according to his sincere conviction he had done his duty in following the course which he had adopted, and he trusted that the House would give him credit for such being the case. He had found himself placed in a most diffi- 1207 cult position. It had been determined by the House that he should exercise judicial functions of a very high nature, although he professed to have no knowledge of the law. But he would state to the House the motives by which he had been actuated, and the reasons why he could not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite in the suggestion which he had thrown out. He was convinced from what had taken place in the course of the inquiry, and from what he had heard in that House, that the witness who had been brought to the Bar of the House had disobeyed the summons of the Speaker; he was convinced that he (the witness) had been concerned in attempting to defeat the ends of justice, and under these circumstances, it was imperative upon him not to agree to the suggestion that he should be allowed to go at large without fi[...] being visited with some degree of punishment. He did not support the motion because he believed that it was necessary to retain the witness in custody for the purpose of future examination, but because he believed that he had been guilty of a dereliction of duty in attempting to defeat the ends of justice. He was under the imputation of having acted in the most suspicious manner. The censures which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had passed upon the conduct of the committee would operate injuriously upon the operations of such tribunals, and he trusted that the consideration that such would be the effect of his observations would induce the hon. and learned Gentleman to recal some portion of his speech upon the subject—a speech, however, in which he was glad to have heard the hon. and learned Gentleman explain away, in some degree, those views which he had, during the earlier part of the evening, expressed with reference to the legality of the warrant.
§ The Solicitor-General
explained. He said that the disadvantage of discussing a subject of this nature was, that one could scarcely approach its consideration without expressing an opinion upon its merits. He begged to say, however, that he had never had the least idea of imputing to the committee that they had acted from any other but the purest and most proper motives.
§ Viscount Howick
thought that it was scarcely to be considered discreet to express an opinion upon a subject of this 1208 nature involving censure upon the committee. He had understood the hon. and learned Member to say, that he thought that the committee had acted "precipitately."[The Solicitor-General; "Prematurely."] Even taking it so, he thought that in a case of this kind such an opinion, coming from the hon. and learned Member, involved a censure on the committee —a censure, which he took the liberty of saying, it was not, in his opinion quite proper, for the hon. and learned Member to pronounce, except on the very strongest grounds—grounds which, he must add, did not belong to this case. In stating his own views upon the question, he should take it, as he thought he ought to take it, as if he knew nothing of what had passed in the committee room which was not stated in the report: and doing so, he thought that it appeared that the committee had acted with perfect propriety and judgment. What was the accusation against this person? It was said that at the last election for Southampton bribery was committed, and, as a means of ascertaining the truth of the charge, the warrant of the Speaker was served on the witness to appear and produce all papers in his custody. It was notorious to all who had attended these tribunals, that it was of the greatest importance that these warrants, should be served as speedily as possible after the termination of the election, so that the persons served should not have an opportunity of making away with any papers or documents in their possession. It was very much the practice of hon. Gentlemen opposite to sneer at a reformed Parliament, and to say that more bribery existed under the new system than had formerly existed; but he thought that those who used language of this description would do more to put an end to this practice if they would co-operate with those on that side of the House to bring cases of bribery to light when they really existed. Of all the proceedings most necessary on these occasions, it was essential to take care that those documents in the hands of persons engaged at elections, immediately at the close of the elections, should not be destroyed or made away with. The warrant having been served in this case, all the witness could say was— "Oh! I forgot that the warrant required me to produce the papers." He asked whether that was a statement to which they could give any great credit, coming 1209 as it did from an old electioneerer? Was it likely he should have forgotten the importance attached to documents of this sort? He confessed that, for his own part, he could not believe it. And if it did turn out that he could not now produce these documents, the witness had been guilty of a great offence; for he had allowed the papers to go out of his own hands, so that they could no longer have any assurance that they were still in the same state as when they had been given up by him. Seeing, therefore, that the witness had acted contrary to the warrant in allowing these papers to go out of his hands, even though they might be certain that they would now be produced, he thought that they should not depart from the course which was right, if, in the mean time, they committed him to the custody of the Sergeant. The question of the validity of the warrant was one which, in his opinion, they could not entertain. If the witness himself had raised it, the question might have been discussed; but as the witness had not raised it, he thought that it was hardly fit that it should be raised in his favour by others. But even if he had not been served with the warrant, if he had wilfully concealed any information necessary to be brought before the committee, or if he had wilfully disobeyed the authority of the Speaker, it was quite as much a contempt as if it were a legal warrant. A contempt of the House consisted in wilfully withholding information from the House, or in obstructing the House in its inquiries; and believing that the witness had been guilty of such a contempt, he should not consent to allow him to be relieved from custody, but he should support the motion.
§ Mr. Borthwick
said, there had been quite a flood of learning and argument poured out upon the House with reference to the present question, and, therefore, he should not take up much of its time. The noble Lord (Lord Howick) said, he entirely approved of the proceedings of the committee, which had acted, in his opinion, with judgment and propriety, and he confessed that, if the recommendation of the committee had been acted upon, aye or no, he would have said aye. If he were not mistaken, however, the noble Lord and the rest of the House had departed from the original recommendation of the committee and had taken another course; the question then resolved itself into one 1210 of degree—namely, whether they would depart from the motion then before the House and go one step further. The question was, did the witness at the Bar act with bond fides or not? It seemed to him that the account that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of her Majesty's Government gave was not satisfactory. He had believed, and he thought it was understood generally by the House, that the question was decided by the last division, and he should not have stopped to vote on this occasion, if he had not remained for another purpose. He was, however, sure, that the result of this decision would be to transfer decisions of this sort from tribunals where they were now decided to more proper tribunals, and such as would be more satisfactory to the country.
§ Mr. Muntz
said, that in giving his vote in favour of this motion, he should not take into consideration the question whether the warrant was illegal or not, believing that it was sufficient that the witness had disobeyed that Warrant. The witness had put himself in this position: after the warrant had been received by him, he kept these papers three months in his possession, and after that he sent them to Captain Ward, who forgot having received them, and now the witness had forgotten all about their contents. He could not believe, however, that a matter which involved 3,000l. in amount could so easily have slipped from his memory. Hon. Gentlemen in that House might be more credulous than he was, but he did not think that they would believe this. He did not believe that the truth was always so strictly adhered to in these inquiries as it should be; and he had no doubt that there was a great deal more behind the curtain than before it. Believing that the witness had done all he could do to frustrate the ends of justice, he should give his vote in favour of his detention in custody.
§ Mr. Fleming
might be supposed to have something like a biassed feeling upon this question, but he thought that he should be guilty of great injustice towards Mr. Mabson, if he did not rise for the purpose of expressing the greatest respect for him. He had had dealings with him, and he had always found him to be an honest and conscientious man; and, at all events, he might say that he believed that there was no tradesman in Southampton who was 1211 more highly respected by all parties. He did not believe that he had been actuated in this case by any improper motives in sending these papers from his own possession, and so high was his opinion of him, that if he could be permitted to give any guarantee for him, he was quite ready to hold himself responsible for him.
§ The House divided, on the question that William Rouse Mabson be committed, &c.—Ayes 117; Noes 32:— Majority 85.
|List of theAYES|
|Ackland, Sir T. D.||Greenal, P.|
|Acton, Col.||Grey, rt. hn. Sir G.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Hamilton, W. J.|
|Allix, J. P.||Hampden, R.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Hardy, J.|
|Baird, W.||Hastie, A.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Hay, Sir A. L.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Heathcoat, J.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Henley, J. W.|
|Bernal, R.||Hepburn, Sir T. B.|
|Blake, M.||Hill, Lord M.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Holmes, Hn. W. A'Ct.|
|Bodkin, W. H.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Howick, Visct.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Hume, J.|
|Borthwick, P.||Humphery, Mr. Ald.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Johnstone, H.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Leader, J. T.|
|Brotherton, J.||Mackenzie, T.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Mackenzie, W.|
|Buckley, E.||Mahon, Visct.|
|Busfield, W.||Martin, C. W.|
|Butler, hon. Col.||Masterman, J.|
|Campbell, A.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Chapman, B.||Mostyn, hn. E. M. L.|
|Chetwode, Sir J.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Clements, Visct.||Newport, Visct.|
|Clements, H. J.||O'Brien, J.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||O'Connell, D.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Philips, M.|
|Colvile, C. R.||Pigot, Sir R.|
|Coote, Sir C. H.||Powell, C,|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Pringle, A.|
|Craig, W. G.||Pusey, P.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Reade, W. M.|
|Darby G.||Richards, R.|
|Drummond, H. H.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Duncan, G.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Eliot, Lord||Seale, Sir J. H.|
|Ferguson, Col.||Seymour, Lord|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||Shaw, right hon. F.|
|French, F.||Somers, J. P.|
|Gill, T.||Stanley, Lord|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Staunton, Sir G. T.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Goring, C.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Tennent, J. E.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Trotter, J.|
|Granger, T. C.||Tufnell, H.|
|Turner, E.||Williams, W.|
|Vernon, G. H.||Wood, B.|
|Villiers, hon. C.||Wood, C.|
|Wakley, T.||Wood, G. W.|
|Wallace, R.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Ward, H. G.||Young, J.|
|Wawn, J. T.||TELLERS.|
|Welby, G. E.||Hutt, W.|
|Wemyss, Capt.||Jervis, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Antrobus, E.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Bailey, J., jun.||Lygon, hon. General|
|Barrington, Visct.||Mackinnon, W. A.|
|Baskerville, T- B. M.||Master, T. W. C.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Morgan, O.|
|Christopher, R. A.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Escott, B.||Polhill, F.|
|Fielden, J.||Rashleigh, W.|
|Fitzroy, hon. C.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Fleming, J. W.||Round, C. G.|
|Forbes, W.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Stuart, H.|
|Godson, R.||Tollemache, J.|
|Hinde, J. H.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Jackson, J. D.||TELLERS.|
|Kirk, P.||Thesiger, F.|
|Knatchbull, right hon. Sir E.||Ferrand, T.|