§ Mr. Roebuck
rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to certain resolutions founded on the report of the Election Proceedings Committee. I should have been glad, the hon. Member said, if I could pos- 768 sibly have escaped from the necessity of bringing forward the motion of which I have given notice; but it is absolutely necessary, after the course which has been taken by the House, that some step should be taken, in consequence of that inquiry, which was originated by myself. I stated some time ago, that I had beard certain rumours respecting various individuals, Members of this House. The House believed that statement to be so extraordinary, and of so remarkable and important a character, that it appointed a committee to inquire whether those assertions were correct; and it further-more passed a bill, giving some extraordinary powers to that committee by which they might be enabled to pursue their investigations. Believing, therefore, that the House would not have taken that course unless it had conceived the inquiry to be important, I felt that when the inquiry came to an end I could not shrink front the necessary duty of now solemnly asking the House to deliver its opinion, ay or no, on the accuracy of the statements I then made, and to declare whether I have not made out those statements which some weeks ago I made in my place as a Member, and for the purpose, if I have made out those statements, of giving the House an opportunity of determining whether it is willing to rest contented with those assertions, and not to proceed further in the matter for the object of protecting the honour and dignity of the House. When I made those statements much surprise was manifested by various parties and great exceptions were taken to the mode I pursued, and various assertions were made respecting it, It was said, first, that the statements I made were slanders on hon. Members, and some hon. Members came down to the House with language on their lips very much to this effect, that they were slanders. The House now knows whether those statements were correct or not. There were others who said, "Certain it is that what you state is altogether true, but it is not new, all the world knows it, the thing is done every day."But the House did not take that view of the subject. The House seemed to think that the statements were very serious, and very much compromised the dignity and character of the House, and that they ought to be inquired into. They were inquired into. Now let me call to 769 the recollection of the House, first, the statements made; next, let me very succintly state the proofs of them laid before the committee; and, then, let me ask the House whether any course can be pursued better than that which I am now about to submit to the House, and I submit with a due consideration for the parties interested, as well as with a deep concern for the honour and dignity of the House. I came down to the House, and in five separate cases asserted that "I had heard and believed"that compromises had been entered into in the case of election petitions, by which those petitions were withdrawn from the consideration of the committees which were about to be appointed or had been appointed to try them,.—withdrawn in consequence of a fear on the part of parties sitting in that House that bribery would be proved against them; and that thereby the consideration of the bribery was withdrawn from the committees, and public justice defeated. I stated, first, in the case of Harwich, that a compromise had been made; that a sum of money had been deposited; and that one of the hon Members for that borough had agreed to vacate his seat. I remember the tone of offended virtue in which the lion. and gallant Member for Harwich repelled the charge. I was almost startled by the dignified attitude assumed by the hon. and gallant Member; for not content with a simple negation, he went further, and began to make charges in return. Those charges were then neglected, as they ought to be, and I now pass them by with the consideration they deserve. But were not the facts I stated proved? Did not the lion. Member for Harwich—I ant obliged to distinguish him by name, for I have no other means of doing so—did not Mr. Attwood agree to pay 2,5001., as he said, out arid out, in order to withdraw from the election committee the investigation then about to take place before it; and did not the other Member for Harwich the hon. and gallant Member, agree to withdraw himself at a certain date from his seat in Parliament by accepting the Chiltern Hundreds? Both of these facts have been proved, and they constitute the charge made. I was met at the time I brought this matter under the notice o the House by much anger, and hostility I had almost said vituperative hostility but I believe, that the hon. Gentlemen concerned, many of them, were unwittingly 770 and unwillingly the victims of the vicious system we did well to lay bare, though with no other feeling whatever except that of consideration and sympathy, for those hon. Members who had been made the victims of the system. I am exceedingly desirous in all I say, not to express in the slightest degree any feeling against any of them, for most of them, with some slight exceptions, have come forward in the most candid manner, and in the fairest and roost open spirit have laid before the committee evidence, which could hardly have been obtained except from their voluntarly coming forward. If they have been made victims or this system, and have done wrong under it, I say they more than justified themselves by coming forward, and giving to the House and the country, that evidence by which full conception of the evil can be oh- rained, and which will enable the House to legislate to prevent it. I, therefore, entreat the House to believe, that as far as individuals are concerned, I have no feeling whatever of hostility against them. The resolutions which I am about to lay before the blouse, are of a prospective nature— they have no retrospective Operation, hut are intended to regulate the future. They make no mention of she names of individuals; and they pass no more blame on these transactions than is absolutely necessary to enable the House to provide against future mischief. Then, Sir, if I were to run through from Harwich to Nottingham, Lewes and Reading to Falmouth, I must say, that in each case I have made the same statements, and in each case the same proofs have been laid before the House. I do not believe, there is one man who has looked at that report in the slightest manner, but must say, that every word uttered by me in my place here in Parliament has been justified by the evidence that has been laid before the House; that I have not exaggerated one tittle of what I stated. have proved fully all my asseverations, and I have I proved much more. Now let me ask what has been proved? I may be met, I know, after what has been stated by? the hon. Member for Oxford—for from the statement of that hon. Member last f night, he does not seem to consider that, what was stated to have taken place was; such a sin, and he has always been the I first champion of the parties against my y motion,—he may say—Now, all we have 771 proved is really nothing; there is nothing that the House of Commons can consider as derogating from its dignity;"but I appeal from the hon. Member to the people of this country, and I know not what the people are to believe, if we are to buy pour voters by any means that may degrade, debauch, and destroy them, and afterwards shield ourselves by some technical quibbles. I would ask, whether the really thinking or honest people of this country, would consider that conduct honourable to ourselves or beneficial to the country? I believe they would say, the grand, the chief criminal in all these cases, is the briber. How can we expect morality in the people unless those who are in high places in this country have an exalted morality? And if those who represent learned bodies and dignified persons exhibit a corrupt morality, we shall have a corrupt people. No matter how great may be his ability—no matter how long standing the reputation of any hon. Member, I should be the first to brand with my fiercest indignation that system, and the base, malignant, and corrupt morality of him who practised it. He who bribes is the great criminal. Down goes the rich man with his purse to some constituency; he finds a man pressed with want, having a family at home, earning by the sweat of his brow a small pittance, and to him comes a fiend in the shape of a candidate, and offers to him to sell his conscience for a bribe, and the man excepts the base and corrupt offer. Let us have an exalted morality, and we shall have a virtuous people; but let us refine away the difficulty, let us call it yielding to the necessary result of circumstances under which we are labouring, and say, that these people do not think it a sin; but if we are content to bribe, let us have no bribery laws — let us have no hypocrisy. There is far too much of this. We make aws to put down bribery, we pass the whole night from five o'clock to one o'clock discussing a Bribery Bill, and yet tomorrow he who is most careful among us, who is of most intact reputation, will go down and bribe the first constituency that offers. That is a far greater crime on our part than anything that is practised by the unfortunate constituency. The conduct of this House, from beginning to end, in the business of bribery has been of a most base and detestable description. We pass hours, knowing all the while we 772 don't intend to effect the purposes we have in view. We pretend to a sanctity that we do not possess. We are—I must use the word—it is the most correct—we are, or have been hitherto a band of hypocrites concerning bribery. I stated, that there were five separate cases of the grossest bribery, and at the same time of the most flagrant breach of the ordinary rules of law to escape from the detection of that bribery. How was I met? It was said, "You are telling us nothing new. Why are you in such a fuss? Why is there this great stir about what we all know? When you go into the lobby, every man will laugh under your nose. What will you do with your committee or your bill? We wish you joy of your inquiries;"and, if it was repeated once, it was repeated a thousand times, that the House would throw me overboard, and that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would never stand by me. I ask, what has been the result? I am not in the habit of paying any man compliments, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having stood by me. If he had not done so, I never should have got through the inquiry. He does not want my applause, but he deserves that of his country. In spite of all the manifest interests pressing on all sides, he did stand by me in this inquiry, and we have now got before the world what we have never had before—the undoubted evidence and proof of a base, degrading, and vicious system. I said before, that I think the parties who were most pained by the inquiries were the most willing to expose this system. I do not wish to mix up personal considerations in the matter, and therefore, let us turn our eyes not for one moment to the past, but let us look to the future, and see if we cannot find some remedy for the evil. What has been done? Bribery in every possible shape has been committed. Now, there is one part of this which I am slow to touch upon, but I am obliged to do so for the purpose of exposing the system. An hon. Gentleman goes with 5,0001., it may be 6,0001., in his pocket, to a constituency of 100 persons. He goes to an hon. and gallant Friend and says, "I want to have no bribery; I must know nothing about it. We must get an intermediate man, for my eyes are of so delicate a texture, my sensibilities are so nice, and my honour so peculiarly refined as to bribery, that I 773 must beg you 'not to say one word upon the subject, but return me Member for this borough, and don't let me know what means are adopted. How the 6,0001. goes, for God's sake, don't let me know, but return me Member for the borough."We know it is correct as far as regards the actual fact, and on any opposition no doubt the person will say, "I don't know whether there was bribery in this case;"but I ask whether, as an honest man, in the ordinary business of life, it is possible for him not to know? Is it not clear as the sun at noonday shining without a cloud, that he must know that the sum of 6,0001. put into a banker's conduit pipe, and which would descend, perhaps, to some smaller conduit pipes, and percolate through the whole constituency, must he applied in the grossest and basest bribery? As he walked along the streets and passed the beer-houses he might see his colours there, but he would know nothing about it. If you asked him he would say, "I have no doubt the beer-houses are open, and that so large a sum of money must be employed in that way, but if you ask me I know nothing about it-I am not cognizant of bribery."I ask you is not that just as wrong (I am not looking now to the past, but to the future), as openly, avowedly, and barefacedly to admit bribery, though it be not practised with his own hands? By the late law there was a pretty safe way of proceeding, but I am glad to say that the result of this inquiry is, that the present law, passed last year, I believe, by the noble Lord, the Member for London, has had an immense effect in bringing to light all this detestable system. But shall we, after having been so fortunate in one attempt, not proceed further? I hope that that bribery bill that was discussed last night, shorn as it is of what I consider the best part of its enactments, and from what I think were the over-technical objections of the learned Solicitor-general—yet, shorn as it is, I hope that it may still be a great benefit: and if we go on in the course we are now pursuing, not checked by the hon. Member for Oxford, who said last night, that he did not consider bribery was a very great sin—
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, that as the hon. and learned Member had twice referred to what he had stated on a former occasion, he felt that the House would excuse him if he were to explain what he did say. The hon. and learned Member had misap- 774 prehended what he had said. He said, that he thought that the course of the last six or eight weeks indicated a feeling on the part of too many in that House that bribery was the concentrated essence of all crime, and that next to that offence the compromising an inquiry into it was the greatest of all iniquities. But, at the same time, he distinctly stated that he regarded bribery as a sin.
§ Mr. Roebuck:
I was misled, I suppose, by my incorrect recollection of what I had read; but still, though the hon. Member puts it in the form he does now, there is that sort of term given to the system, that it is nut the concentrated essence of sin. Why, nobody thought that it was; nobody in the House said that it was; but that is a sort of calculating phraseology that I do not understand. Now, I don't look at it as anything like murder; but I ask this —is it a thing to be put down, or is it not? That is the question. Is it mischievous, or is it not? If it be, let us see if we cannot prevent it. Don't let us talk of its being this thing or that; of its being the concentrated essence of sin; or use any other wild phraseology; but is it not a matter that this House ought to take into consideration, for the purpose of putting an end to it. That is the simple straightforward matter of inquiry. And if it be, what becomes of the vast farrago that has been hurled at me? I want to know why we should quarrel about names, and not join together to put it down? Let us see, then, what we can do to put an end to the mischief. There is but one more argument, one to which I have given every possible attention. I mean the argument of parties who assign as a reason, that having attained their fair and legitimate object, they are terrified at the expenditure, and therefore the petition is no further prosecuted. I am the first to admit that argument; and I think it is the duty of this House, when such a statement is made by persons in such circumstances, to step forward and relieve persons who are in that position; but then the House should say, "True, you are not called upon to make a sacrifice of your whole fortune and means, but we do say, you should not by your conduct withdraw others from due inquiry. "And I hope, from the bill of yesterday, we may have, if not a new tribunal, yet a new and subsequent inquiry to ascertain whether the nation have not a right to go further and 775 say, that punishment shall follow the offence. I give all due weight to that argument of the expense, but I must not be turned aside by any view as to that expenditure from other considerations;that though there may be expense, there may, nevertheless, be other reasons, viz., the terror of investigation and the fear of exposure of the consequences of inquiry. In every case that has been before the House of the five I have mentioned, I have carefully abstained from considering at the present moment that other case which the House ordered us to take into our consideration, viz. that of Bridport, upon which I shall have to say a few words before I conclude—but in every one of those five cases the retiring party was afraid of the inquiry, not simply in consequence of ' exposure, but of his own acts being discovered. As to Harwich, the hon. Member had nothing to do with the 'election. He did not pay any part of the money- he was taken by his friend, and played the part of a second candidate; but the real party having learned that bribery would be proved paid 2,0001. to prevent that inquiry, and the agent employed in the election was so strongly impressed with a dread of that inquiry, that he advanced' 5001. more; and at this moment 2,5001. has been paid to get rid of that inquiry; viz., 2,0001. by Mr. Attwood, and 5001. by the agent. The hon. Member sitting opposite did not know what was going on at the election, and therefore he retires— gracefully retires—and his Colleague pays the money, and keeps his seat. If there be a case among the whole five in which I can safely say there is no proof of bribery, it would be Reading. But is it not a remarkable thing that a person like the hon. Member for Reading should agree, with his own hand, to pay 2,0001., if the person who was to stand was not elected; and at the same time he says he knew he could not be elected; therefore he must have undertaken to pay for that which was certain, viz, the non-election of the party who was to receive it. That clearly shows to my mind that the thing dreaded was inquiry; and though he may say, there was the expense and the danger of this, that, and t' other, and that the hon. Member must sacrifice his Colleague, or pay the 2,0001., and insure a quiet seat for the next five or six years, that won't do for the country. It is clear as noon day that hon. Members were terrified at the inquiry.
776 Then, I say, is it not right, under these circumstances, so different from that of mere expense, that the House should come forward and say in all cases such as this it would deem it a proceeding such as I have described a great violation of the rights of the people, and a gross breach of the privileges of this House? Let us look to the violation of the rights of the people, for we think nothing of them, and much of ourselves. Take the case of Lewes, where a person was placed at the head of the poll who stood third on the list. How was that done? It was done by what I think one of the witnesses called the shuttle-cocking of voters. One party said to the other, "We shall say, Jack Nokes has no vote,' and you shall say, Tom Styles has no vote,' so that we shall knock down one after another until Mr. — is placed at the head of the poll,"and thus the poor voters were struck off the list. That is what we have done with the franchise. Why, if you can get a counsel to come down and say, "It is very true: we did not believe a word of what the witnesses said, and the hon. Member for —shall retain his seat,"he having made an arrangement five weeks before that he should retain his seat until the 1st of July, is it not dealing with the constituency as if they were nothing? If they had been bribed let us know it; but don't proceed in this manner and do as you like for your own benefit. I say it is the business of this House to consider the interests of the nation, and the great privileges of this House, and that we ought to deem any such proceedings a gross violation of those interests and privileges. It has been said that I wished to bring this House into contempt. That was not my object; I wished to bring into contempt a bad system. I do not care if the House is affected by it. If the House be elected by a bad system, that is not my fault. I cannot help it; but its consequences I will pursue wherever I find them. What will the world abroad think when it finds men who in private life are unimpeachable men (on both sides of the House) whom you would trust with untold gold, going down, and for mere party purposes, debasing, debauching, destroying whole constituencies—and not whole constituencies merely, but whole towns—a gentleman rushing down to Nottingham with 10,0001., spreading drunkenness, and riot, and terror, and every species of immorality,—detnoralizing under some 777 specious pretences a whole community, just when a constituency are about to under take the grave, the solemn business, of returning Members to represent them in the great council of the nation,—he goes down to debase and debauch them, sowing the seeds of every species of immorality among them—I ask, what will be thought by the virtuous portion of mankind of such proceedings if we pass them by with contemptuous indifference? Things are now come to that crisis when they can go on so no longer. Though it may happen that such parties as I have described may be in the habit of throwing seeds of defilement among the people, the people do not take their morality from any such roots. Our's are still a virtuous people, and not to be misled by any of the selfish sophistries of such persons. They see the immorality of all this, and they despise those who take advantage of it; arid we, if we allow such proceedings, shall lose all out honour, and power, and dignity. If would retain our power, we must govern the people by influencing their wills not by their fears; by leading them in love and in respect. Their love, however, will be converted into hatred—their respect into contempt; if, after the scenes which have been described, and the terrible immorality they involved, we do nothing effectual to prevent their recurrence. Sir, I have purposely avoided all detailed dissection of the evidence. I have said enough, however, I trust, first (which is the minor point), to complete my own justification, and next, to support the propositions I have ventured to present. I have now to ask whether it would be wise, under the peculiar circumstances of this case, to issue writs to the five towns included in the original reference to the committee before we have further safeguards for the protection of the voter? I put it in that form designedly. I want no protection for the candidates—they can protect themselves; I demand it for the voter, against a system which necessarily drives him into guilt. Is there any protection in such a case as Nottingham, for instance, that the scenes described in that extraordinary evidence would not be repeated at a fresh election under the present system? Pass a better bill, provide greater safeguards, and then issue your writs; but at present, for the honour and dignity of the House, and to preserve the good opinion of the world, do not issue the writ. I wished to have left 778 the matter here; but the House devolved an inquiry on the committee as to the case of Bridport. I knew nothing of the case, therefore was obliged to have recourse to others to carry on the investigation. I thought we should have received every assistance from the hon. Members, We did receive every aid from one of them, be from the other, and he was most. forward, too, in urging the committee, we received every possible obstruction and difficulty, by himself or his agents. I mention this to the House to exculpate the committee. We thought if we attained the object the House had in view, and learned the main facts of the case, we should do all the House wished us to do, and therefore we passed by all considerations of what might otherwise have been deemed infringements of the privileges of the House. Having. then, proved fully to our satisfaction the case against that Gentleman, we have reported, as to him, what we believe firmly to be true, and he stands, though silent, as guilty as the rest. I now most sincerely move the resolutions on the paper, and first,That the compromises of election petitions, as brought to the knowledge of this I louse by the report of the committee on election proceedings, must, if for the future they be allowed to pass without punishment or censure, tend to bring this House into contempt with the people, and thereby seriously to diminish its power and authority.
said, so long as his own conduct had been under the investigation of the committee, he had scrupulously abstained from making any charges or complaints. When the hon. Member for Bath had thought fit to interrogate him as to whether he had been a party to certain transactions characterized by the learned Member as "corrupt,"he had certainly refused to answer; not that he had entertained the slightest reluctance to give every information to the House, but because he thought that the only course, consistent with his own independence, was peremptorily to decline answering a question which the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had since declared there had been neither precedent nor privilege for putting, and he felt that he should have abandoned his duty, not so much to himself as to the House, if he had submitted to so gross a breach of decency and order. But though he had refused to submit himself to the interrogation of the learned 779 Gentleman, be had offered no opposition to the appointment of the committee, nor had he taken any part in the debates which had since arisen on the subject, or given a single vote which by the remotest analogy could be considered to bear upon it. He had offered no obstruction to the inquiries of the committee; not that he would be deemed to have acquiesced in the propriety or justice of its appointment, but because he would not be thought to shrink from the fullest scrutiny into his conduct, and because he felt that as a Member of that House he was bound to defer to its decisions and submit to its authority. But now that the report of the committee had been produced, now that his whole conduct had been laid bare, he felt that he was entitled to enter his solemn and deliberate protest against these most unjust and unprecedented proceedings. He felt that this was a duty he owed to his constituents, to resist any resolutions founded on such proceedings for placing under the ban of the learned Member for Bath, with a view to the suspension of their elective rights, six constituent bodies of this kingdom. He asked, in the first place, what should have been the constitution of a committee to whom was to be intrusted an investigation like this, involving the characters of so many persons, and, perhaps, the elective rights of so many constituencies? For years Parliament had been engaged in framing a tribunal for trying controverted elections, divesting it by every possible means of all political character or party influence, and prescribing by law its proceedings; yet with all this prudence and forethought they had failed to accomplish their object, and had acceded to the appointment of a committee at the bare suggestion of the learned Member for Bath, under the pressure of the greatest excitement, both in and out of those walls, a committee singularly marked by the strong political opinions of some of its members, unsworn to do impartial justice, incompetent to swear others to the truth of their testimony, ungoverned and unrestrained in all its proceedings, and exercising powers calculated to arouse the alarm and awaken the indignation of the entire nation. I ask, (continued the hon. Gentleman), I ask, too, was the learned Member for Bath the fittest person to whom to intrust the care of such an investigation? Did he not sell his Par- 780 liamentary services for money? [Mr. Roebuck: I did not.] Did he not sit in this House as the paid agent of a rebel colony?
§ Mr. Roebuck:
Sir, I rise to order. The imputation against me is that I sold my Parliamentary services to a rebel colony. Now, whoever told the hon. Member that, uttered a falsehood.'
It was certainly universally believed; but however, if the learned Gentleman declares it to be untrue, I withdraw the statement. It was universally stated, when Canada was in rebellion, that the learned Gentleman, for money, became the advocate of Canada in this House. [Mr. Roebuck: " I was not a Member of the House at that time."] At all events, if I understand the learned Gentleman—[Mr. Roebuck: "In—If I understand the learned Gentleman to deny the statement, I willingly withdraw it. He must say a word of the singular powers which had been confided to the committee. It was to draw nice distinctions to say that it was not a judicial committee; it certainly was not so as to the power of inflicting punishments, but it was as to placing in jeopardy that which was of most value to any man — his character. The language used by the learned Member had been, "I charge you with bribery, and I will crucify you before the House and the country."Whatever the ultimate result of that committee, all those evils had been already suffered by its victims which arose from inculpation of character, from being "crucified"(the learned Gentleman had not unaptly called it) before the House and the country, from having extorted from their own lips what was calculated to prejudice their reputation. The learned Gentleman had constituted himself their accuser, and the House had, by a strange combination of offices, made him their judge. In that incongruous and anomalous character of accuser and judge, the learned Member had examined the parties accused. It was an old principle of the law of England that no man should be compelled to bear testimony against himself in criminal matters—a just and wise principle, which however had been utterly violated by this committee; before which the parties themselves had been examined, and been required to disclose confidential communications that might have passed between' Ahem and even their own counsel. Such was the monstrous violation of one prin- 781 ciple of law. Again, it was a principle of the law of England to throw every possible protection around accused parties. All this protection had been cast away, and evidence had been encouraged against the accused by offers of impunity and indemnity to any witnesses, while the accused had been denied the fair reciprocal security of duly sworn testimony. To the accuser every facility had been given; from the accused every conceivable security had been withdrawn. Testimony, true or false, had been encouraged from everybody; but the parties accused had been deprived of the security arising from a power of prosecuting for perjury those who gave false evidence. But, worse than all, these proceedings had been conducted in secrecy. Moreover, there had been given to the accuser the advantage of collecting his testimony at leisure, of selecting his evidence, of extracting it in any mode which best suited his purpose, of arranging it, marshalling it, and shaping it as he pleased, and of publishing it as he liked; yet the parties accused had been precluded from knowing any facts stated, and had been prevented from confronting the a witnesses against them—nay, had not even known the names of the witnesses till they had seen them published in the report. Was this the mode in which it had hitherto been customary to conduct such investigations ! Indemnity had been offered, forsooth, to such as had condescended to answer the questions of the committee; but what indemnity could be given for injuring men's characters—for violating their feelings—for extorting from him a betrayal of confidence, and the consequent coolness or reproaches of friends. He frankly admitted the courtesy and consideration of the learned Gentleman and all of the Members of the committee during; their proceedings; but the office the learned Gentleman had assumed was an odious one, which all his blandness could not divest of its disagreeable character. The learned Member was contented to hear from the lips of the parties accused the facts which were charged on them as corrupt, and if he had not sought further to invade their rights and to violate their feelings, they were probably as much indebted to his policy as to this courtesy; as the learned Gentleman knew full well that public sympathy would soon have been aroused in support of resistance, to the authority of the committee had such authority been 782 urged too far. Were they the to deem themselves indebted to the learned Gentleman for his politic forbearance when they had suffered the violation of some of the most important rights inherent in Englishmen? And what, after all, had been accomplished by all these monstrous violations of principle? Could the House proceed on such evidence as had been thus collected and suspend the rights of one constituency? How much more had been done towards the attainment of their object than at the first commencement of the business? Certain compromises had been charged. Had the House been ever ignorant of them? Had not they been made the subject even of actions in courts of law? He now wished to put this question. How many hon. Members were there who felt that, considering the position in which they were placed, they would themselves be entitled to "east the first stone?"He would not name parties on either side, he would not name persons, he would not; name places, but this he would say, that there was no class of constituents in the country who could prove that they stood in the eyes of the community at large free from the influence of such an imputation as that which the committee sought to cast upon the Members, the candidates, and the constituencies which had been the subject of notice in the report now under the consideration of the House. It was quite true that at present not much was said about the prevalence of corrupt influence in counties, a circumstance which could very easily be accounted for by a reference to the fact that so great was the predominance of Conservative power throughout the kingdom that amongst the rural constituencies no serious attempts were made to oppose persons standing; upon that interest. But no man in that House could have forgotten the profuse expenditure which, in past times, was incurred for the purpose of securing the representation of counties. It was well known that hundreds of thousands used to be expended on county contests at every general election. In proof of this he might refer to an observation often made, that the Catholic families were extremely wealthy, and that their advantages in this respect were to be accounted for by the fact that until very lately their ineligibility to serve in Parliament precluded them from wasting their substance in election contests. The expenses of 783 those contests, from which Catholics had so long been shut out, were known to be so great that the largest patronage of the Crown was often exercised to compensate for the pecuniary inconvenience which they. occasioned, and a peerage was often granted to repair the fortunes which a contested election had often seriously injured. Now, he would be glad to learn what difference there was between receiving a peerage and receiving a 101. note, and why should a borough or a borough representative be more severely censured than a county or a county Member—or in what respect was a large constituency, such as the hon. Member for Bath represented, different, with reference to the question of bribery, from a small borough constituency? Were not the large constituencies bribed by promises and professions—promises, the non-performance of which spread so much discontent and disaffection throughout the great body of the people, and which had the effect of sending many of the dupes and victims of those promises to our penal colonies. He would submit to the House, then, whether there was not infinitely more danger and more criminality arising from the existing state of things in the counties and in the large constituencies than from the indirect influence of which the hon. Member for Bath so much complained in the smaller boroughs. Was it to be inferred from all this that he meant to say that bribery ought not to be punished? He maintained nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he would say, by all means let the law be improved—let the law be administered with the utmost rigour. Let not the House select five or six places—let them not point out eight or ten Members of that House—why should they be made the scape-goats, and others equally, if not more, culpable be allowed to escape with impunity? From this point he did not wish to pass to any new topic without thanking the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford for the sound, statesman-like spirit with which he stood up against the utilitarian principles upon which it had been sought to discuss this question. He, like that hon. Baronet, was a strenuous advocate for purity of election; but he humbly apprehended that there were interests even higher than those which affected purity of election—there were interests of society more important—there were attributes of national character better 784 worthy of preservation. He thought the time had not arrived when Englishmen would conduct an inquiry or trial in order to obtain a conviction. He did not believe that they were prepared to abandon those principles which they had hitherto held to be inviolable. He believed they would not overlook the fact, that that which today was innovation would to-morrow become precedent, and on the following day become law. Some of those recent innovations which he so much deprecated were on the point of becoming law, but he hoped and believed that such things were not necessary, and would eventally be repudiated by the good sense and justice of the House. He thought the time had at length arrived when the House of Commons would see the wisdom and the expediency of surrendering a privilege which they could not exercise with credit to themselves or with any advantage to the country. The judges of the land ought to be permitted to administer the ordinary laws in the usual way, and if they were permitted to do so, without interference on the part of the House of Commons, the results would be sufficient to satisfy individual justice, and to obtain for the proceedings of Parliament the confidence of the whole country.
said, that one of the objects of the hon. Member for Bath was to depreciate as effectually as he possibly could the moral character of the representative system of this country, and as much as possible to undervalue the characters both of Members and of constituencies, with a view of converting those proceedings into grounds for the introduction of further organic changes in the representation of the people in Parliament. He would not then trouble the House with any further remarks upon the general objects of the hon. Member's motion, but proceed at once to notice its bearing as regarded himself. When the hon. Member first brought this question under the consideration of the House, he put certain questions to him (Major Beresford) which he said the hon. Member had no right to ask, and which he therefore declined to answer. He would tell the hon. Member that if a committee were granted with powers as extensive and as stringent as those which were granted to the committee over which the hon. Member for Bath presided, he (Major Beresford) would prove before that committee the truth of every word that he had 785 stated—every thing that he had stated he was ready to prove. The first day the matter came under consideration the hon. Member for Bath accused him of corruption, of bribery, and of treating. He now held the report of the committee in his hand, and he defied any one to show from that volume, or from any other species of evidence, that he had ever been guilty of anything of the sort He defied the hon. Member to show, from the questions and answers contained in the evidence appended to the report, that he had been guilty of anything bearing the least resemblance to the offences charged against him by the hon. Member for Bath. If then that hon. and learned Gentleman had failed to bring home those charges, nothing-could be more unjust than for the hon. Member to say that he had not given proper answers; when he declared his willingness to go before the committee and give all the information in his power. The accusation involved compromise, bribery, and corruption. The manner in which that charge had been made out was to be seen from the report and the evidenee before the committee. This he was perfectly ready to admit—that he had agreed to retire. He thought that if any one ought to retire that person should be himself, seeing that another candidate. and not he, had borne the weight of the election expenses. He felt in his own breast the consciousness of being perfectly innocent. He knew that he had done nothing wrong; hut if his having agreed to retire could fairly be considered a corrupt act, then he must plead guilty to that. He held in his hand the evidence of the committee, and he could find there no proof of the alleged corruption. At page 4 of the report it was stated, that—Three petitions having been presented against the return of Mr. J. Attwood and Major Beresford, on the ground of bribery, treating, and corruption (see appendix A;, a compromise was entered into by the agent of Mr. Attwood and Major Beresford on the one part, and the agent of Sir D. Le Marchant on the other; and that the arrangements so made by the agents were sanctioned and acted on by their principals.He had already stated that he had agreed with Mr. Attwood to retire; be wrote a letter to Mr. Currie consenting so to do, and lie would refer hon. Members to the question No. 221, in proof that he upon that occasion treated with Mr. Cur- 786 rie as the agent of Mr. Attwood. He gave his letter to Mr. Currie, but the letter was addressed to Mr. Attwood. The questions Nos. 278, 250, and 280 proved the same position. He held that he stood completely exonerated from any charge of compromise, and if further proof of that assertion were required, it would be found in Nos. 147 and 149. He would now state frankly the reason why he had agreed to give up his seat—it was, that he did not possess the means of defending it. No other feeling influenced him. He was not ashamed to aknowledge, that he was not a wealthy man, but he should be deeply ashamed of undertaking any expenses which he did not feel, that he could honestly and fairly discharge. He km. w, that his opponents, though they might petition, could not successfully prosecute that petition—they dare not proceed with it, and even if they did, and that the election were declared void, he could secure his re-election. The hon. Member for Bath alleged that the evidence had shown, that Major Beresford and Mr. Attwood had both been guilty of compromise, of bribery, and of corruption, either by themselves or their agents. He believed it would now be acknowledged, by an actual reference to the evidence itself, that there was no foundation for such a charge. The next point to which he should advert t was the statement made respecting a banker in Harwich, who had died since the election. His name had more than once been mentioned, and he, therefore, need not hesitate to say that the gentleman in question was Mr. Cox. He was a gentleman of education, of the most upright and honourable character, and a man also of considerable intellect—a man of whom he could very sincerely say, he was wholly incapable of such conduct as had been imputed to him in the course of these proceedings. Had the evidence gone into by the committee, and subsequently laid before the House, been obtained in the fair and open manner in which English inquiries were usually conducted, he felt quite assured that no imputation would have rested upon the fair fame of Mr. Cox; nor did he even now admit that any charge against that gentleman had been substantiated; and he could not refrain from saying, that it was hard and unfeeling to make this attack upon I one no longer living, The inquiry, as he already observed, was not carried on in a 787 fair and open manner. If it had not been carried on in secret, he would have taken especial pains to collect and bring forward evidence to negative the charges brought against Mr. Cox, and he felt quite assured that he would have had very little difficulty in giving to them the most complete and triumphant refutation; for had he known anything of what was going for- ward he could have produced documents to which he had access, and he might have produced witnesses from Harwich, whose testimony must have prevented so false a report from going forth to the country, one that cast a slur upon a character never before impeached, which planted a dagger in the bleeding breast of a young and interesting woman, likely soon to become a widowed mother. Proceeding to the other features of the report and of the evidence, he must notice some of its exaggerations. It stated, that a great portion of the electors of Harwich had been bribed—namely, that eighty had been bribed. Now, a large portion must, at least, mean more than half, while eighty were considerably less than half, the whole number being 182. The next accusation brought against one of the electors of Harwich, was contained in the evidence of Mr. Joseph Parkes, and the statement on the part of that gentleman was altogether gratuitous, for it related not to the last election, hut to the election in 1837. The evidence of Mr. Parkes was in these words:—I do know the fact of inordinate sums having been given; I saw enough of the case to prove that; and I knew the circumstances of former contests there, for there was an intention of petitioning in 1837 by Mr. Tower, and I knew that one man had had 5001. for the casting vote at the election. I knew it had been offered to Mr. Tower and refused by him, and that half the vote had been bought on each side for the two sitting Members, and I have reason to believe, that the man had 500l.Yet this statement, having no reference whatever to the proceedings at the last election was sent forth to the public by a committee directed to inquire into much more recent occurrences. At that election there had been three candidates who stood equal on the poll, namely, Mr, Herries, Captain Ellice, and Mr. Tower; the fourth candidate polled only sixty-six votes, while the first three polled seventy-four each. One elector only remained to give his vote, and upon his decision, the 788 election must, of course, have turned. That individual was Mr. Runnicles. He was a retired officer under the Board of Customs, and, being fearful that he might draw upon himself the displeasure of that board, he was anxious altogether to avoid voting. All the electors in the town had been polled at half-past one o'clock, and Mr. Runnicles remained obdurate till nearly four, still declining to vote; he was then induced to support Mr. Herries and Captain Ellice. Mr. Runnicles thought, that by voting for both, he should avoid getting himself "into trouble, "as it was called, and that he should also by that exercise of his franchise, conciliate for himself powerful support in the event of any unpleasant consequences arising from his vote. Besides, he thought, that by giving his vote to both candidates he would save all persons connected with the election from the trouble and annoyance of a scrutiny. He had just received a letter from Mr. Runnicles, dated the 24th of this month, in which that gentleman referred to the evidence of Mr. Parkes as a gross libel, expressing himself most anxious to repel so foul a charge; he announced his intention to call upon Mr. Parkes to give up the author of the charge; he professed himself ready to take his solemn oath before the House of Commons, that he was innocent of the offence implied in Mr. Parkes' evidence; that he had never seen Mr. Herries or Captain Ellice since the election; that nothing could be more unjust than the attack thus made upon his character, and that he was resolved that the matter should not rest there. He did not know whether the privileges of the House would take the statement to which he had been referring out of the operation of the law of libel—he did not know whether that which, if bound up in a white cover, must be regarded as a libel, would be called no libel being bound in blue; but he believed Mr. Runnicles to be a highly respectable man, and wholly incapable of the offence imputed to him in a report which libelled the living, and slandered the dead. It might remain to be quoted in future times as a glorious precedent by some Parliamentary speaker, more enamoured with the privileges of that House, than with the law of the land, and desirous to magnify those privileges of the constitution of the country. Rumours were spread through almost every club-room, which were known 789 to be false by the persons in whose presence they were uttered; it was said that his opponent's own committee had voted against his opponent, when it was known that such was not the fact, and those who knew that, ought to have openly and manfully declared it. He was called a "veni, vidi, vici man;" yet he was at Harwich for fourteen days in constant communication with the 182 electors, while his adversary was there only twenty-four hours. He might have been denominated a "veni vidi man," but he thought that the "vici" belonged more to his opponent. All that had been said about the 6,3001. was equally false as other statements. It was not all gold that glistened; neither was every man guilty who had the misfortune to be calumniated.
said, that on the present occasion, he wished to use no expression that might seem disrepectful to the committee; he was prepared, indeed, to acknowledge the courtesy which they had evinced in the discharge of a very unpleasant duty, but there were misstatements in that report which he felt bound in self-defence to notice. The third of three items in that report, professing to set forth the terms of an agreement entered into by himself and his opponents, was this—That all actions and indictments preferred respecting conduct at the election, should on I both sides be withdrawnNow, that statement was calculated to place his conduct in, at least, an hypothetical position, and, at all events, in a light different to that in which it really deserved to be regarded, because it would be imagined that there were cross-actions of sufficient importance, if not sufficient in number, to induce him for fear of the consequences to consent to a compromise. What was his answer to the question No. 1,140 which was put to him before the committee?—Any further particulars of the arrangement you knew nothing of, but they were reduced to writing?—There was no more arrangement, I imagine, but that Mr. Harford gave up, and, consequently, that I was to be seated, and after that, they said all cross-actions for bribery were to cease; now it so happened that there was no cross-action against us, for there was no proceeding except a writ, which they took good care not to put a name to, for they could not find one.Then again at No.1,154 he was asked,—You were cognizant that there was an 790 arrangement to give up all the actions that were pending?—Yes. I do not know that if I had been consulted I should have made that agreement, if the arrangement had not been made. It was suggested after the whole thing was over. It was not suggested before the arrangement was made, but after whatever arrangement was made. And after what the counsel had done, whatever writing they had between them, it was as if they had forgotten, and they said, Of course, it is understood.' And I said then, That it must be so.'Now, he did not wish the House to depend upon his evidence alone. Mr. Parkes, in answer to the questions 1,054 and 1,055 stated the same thing. He was asked—1,054. Mr. Fitzroy was sitting between you and the counsel at the time this was going on, and was cognizant of all that was going on?—Yes; then after the undertaking was drawn up, when I had it in my hand, I said to Mr. Clarke, who stood at my right hand, Of course, it is understood that the usual indemnity is to be given by all parties, that we drop the actions that are pending.' I think there were actions pending for bribery on both sides, but I cannot speak correctly as to what they were; Mr. Briggs, who was concerned in them, is aware of them, and also an honourable understanding that there should be no actions brought.' and that was assented to by Mr. Clarke, that was verbal.1,055. Did Mr. Fitzroy assent to that?I should be sorry to say, as a mere matter of opinion, that he heard it, because it was all in a hurry at the table, all of us together. He may or may not have heard that part of it. My own opinion would be, that he heard it, but I should be sorry to state, that this was particularly called to his attention. We were all four close together, and, I think, Mr. Clarke stood behind. I wish to be understood as not saying that that part of the arrangement was known so Mr. Fitzroy, or heard by him. I concluded that it was, but I do not know. I do not think that that was the agreement. It was verbal, and it was more a matter of honourable understanding between the agents. It was stated to the counsel also.But he would go further; he would refer the House to the answer of Mr. Briggs, the lawyer of the opposing party, who stated the same thing in still stronger language than that of Mr. Parkes, at question No. I,458—One item of it was, that all indictments and cross-actions for bribery should be dropped? —No, that was no part of the arrangement; the arrangement had been made before any suggestion took place about that; it formed afterwards part of the arrangement; it was not the basis of the agreement.791 Now, after those statements which were made not by him, nor by parties in his interest, but by Mr. Parkes and Mr. Briggs, he must say, that the committee ought not to have placed his conduct in the invidious light in which it was made to stand by their report, leaving it to be inferred, that there were so many cross-actions against him for bribery, that through fear, he had entered into a compromise. What was the effect of Mr. Parke's evidence? At question 1,035 he was asked,—Had you got up any counter cases of corruption, bribery, and treating in the election against the petition?—Yes, a very heavy case of retaliation was got up which I particularly instructed should be got up; I am not well-informed of the details of the retaliation case, because knowing, in all probability, that it would never be tried, and that it would, if tried, only be resorted to after the loss of the seats on my side, that is, after the decision of the committee against the return of the two sitting Members, II did not pay much attention to that class of the evidence, but it was all briefed in my hands.The fact was, that two cases were got up against him by a man who was caught in the very act of bribing, and, in order to prevent him from taking proceedings against the man, a sham action was immediately commenced against him. He repeated his opinion, that the committee had dealt rather hardly with his character, in reporting that to be the basis of the agreement which was not proved by the evidence. He did not wish to cast any obloquy upon the committee; but he thought, it was rather strange that they did not examine either his London agent, who had the conduct of the petition, or his agent at Lewes, who was acquainted with the circumstances of the election. He did not accuse the committee of doing this intentionally, but the effect was to use him unfairly, and to place him in a worse light before the pub-lie than otherwise he would have been. Let hon. Members turn to the evidence at question 1,322, when Mr. Clarke, of the firm of Clarke, Fynmore, and Fladgate, solicitors, is asked,Were you yourself the member of the firm acting in the superintendence and conduct of that petition?"—Answer. "No I was not; I saw Mr. Fitzroy in the first instance, and as soon as it became necessary to go down to Lewes, my partner, Mr. Fladgate, went down.792 At question No. 1,370, the same witness was asked,—Do you happen to know whether there was any confidential brief respecting the nature of your own case, and which put counsel in possession of the dangerous parts of the case?That was an important question to him as bearing out his assertion in that House that he had never been guilty of any bribery. But what was the answer of Mr. Clarke, who was not his agent?No, I think not.Again, at question 1,375, he was asked,—As far as you knew, there was no brief for the defence got up, stating what you supposed would be individual charges against your clients, and the defence upon them?"Answer. "No, certainly not; I am quite confident in stating that there was not.It was rather extraordinary conduct, he thought, to call for the partner of the firm who had managed the petition, and ask him about it, instead of the agent who was actually engaged. [Mr. Hawes: He saw the papers. Look at question 1,369. Mr. Fladgate gave him the briefs.] Exactly so; but that made his case stronger. The question No. 1,369 was—Had you prepared any bona fide statement of the expenditure of Mr. Fitzroy and Lord Cantilupe?—I do not recollect any brief of that; but, as I before stated, Mr. Fladgate prepared the briefs, and he gave them to me to look at.That implied that he was to act as a personal friend. Hut why did they not call the Lewes agent? [An hon. Member: You had no agent.] Not a legal agent. He had not employed a legal agent since 1835. He stated, that he had an agent at Lewes; and it would have been but fair if the committee had examined him respecting the statements made with regard to clubs, which were most extraordinary and erroneous, and were—uncontradicted, because the inquiry had been carried on with closed doors. The present was the only opportunity afforded to hon. Members to contradict anything which had appeared in the blue book published by the committee, who refused to let those erroneous statements be rebutted at the time. After looking over the evidence of Mr. Parkes and Mr. Briggs, he thought every hon. Member who took an unbiassed view of that evidence must admit, that it was 793 not fair to state that the basis of the agreement was a desire to evade certain charges of bribery. He was not aware of any such condition; and no such agreement could have been entered into by him, unless in a cursory or incidental manner. With respect to treating, he denied having given hot suppers, they had never been given since the Reform Bill; nothing more was allowed than customary — tobacco and beer at certain houses. He had explained this part of the subject before the committee.
§ Mr. Escott
begged permission to state to the House his reasons for voting for the first two resolutions and against the last. No man in the House had a deeper sense of the evils of bribery, or more sincerely desired to put an end to it; but he had entirely disapproved of the mode in which the committee had conducted their inquiry, because, though he had a sincere desire to put an end to bribery, he wished to do it by what were considered fair and constitutional means. The object was a fair, upright, and good one; the means were contrary to all the acknowledged forms of English justice, and not necessary to the end the hon. and learned Member had in view. But he recollected that the question of the mode in which that committee were to conduct their inquiry, had been distinctly brought before the House on two or three occasions, and that every time that mode received the sanction of the House. On one occasion, a motion was made by an hon. Friend to put an end to the proceedings of the committee, and he voted for that motion, be-1 cause he thought the mode in which they were conducting the inquiry mischievous; and improper, and that it ought to be stopped at once. But a large majority of the House were of a different opinion, and sanctioned the continuance of the proceedings in the same way as before. On another occasion, he undertook to ask the hon. and learned Member whether he meant to continue the proceedings of that committee with closed doors, and particularly, whether the parties implicated were or were not to have notice, and be permitted to be present while evidence against them was taken? The hon and learned Member stated at that time, that, as far as he could answer the question, the committee intended to proceed with the inquiry in the manner in which they had commenced it. The House did not sup- 794 port him on that occasion, and by not doing so, they again sanctioned the proceedings of the committee, and their manner of conducting them. That being the case, he now felt that. he should not be justified in resisting the adoption of the first two of the resolutions proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he thought the mode in which the committee had collected the evidence was not a satisfactory mode. He must now take the evidence as he found it. He gave implicit credence, in the first place, to the declaration of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he was able to prove his statements; in the next place, he did not disbelieve the evidence given, but he lamented that the committee had not pursued a constitutional mode to obtain it, because that would have given weight and an authority to the proceedings, which would have enhanced their value; but he did not blame the hon. and learned Member, whose conduct had been described by the hon. and learned Member for Cork as perfectly fair throughout. The committee did not wish the ordinary roles of evidence to be observed; they stated, and perhaps wisely, that they ought not to be adhered to in order to arrive at the truth. His opinion was the reverse; yet, the House having sanctioned that course. he was not the man to stand up there, having read the evidence and weighed all the circumstances, and say that the practices which appeared to have existed in certain late elections should be covered -and screened, because he did not think the mode of taking the evidence which proved the existence of such practices s altogether satisfactory. He should therefore vote for the first two resolutions. With regard to the case of his hon. Friend (Mr. Fitzroy), it appeared that his hon. Friend had compromised the petition when he had obtained what he wanted—the seat. That was not quite the case with respect to the other compromises; the other parties compromised to screen themselves from charges of bribery and corruption. He did not think his hon. Friend was cognizant of any transactions of that nature; indeed, there seemed to be nothing in the shape of treating even, except the beer and "backey." The gravest part of these charges of compromise was that which went to turn over the constituency to a party by whom they did not wish to be represented in Parliament. That was trifling with the rights of the electors of 795 England. Such proceedings demanded inquiry on the part of the House. With regard to the third resolution, he considered it an indefinite disfranchisement of the towns mentioned therein, and he doubted the right of the House to adopt any such proposition. What was their object? To punish the guilty, and prevent the parties in future from, repeating those practices. But there were in those towns large bodies of the constituency who had not been bribed at all. Was there any evidence to show the contrary? Well, then, would they refuse to those who were uncorrupted the right to choose a representative in that House? It might seem like presumption and inconsistency in him to oppose the hon. and learned Member for Bath, after having admitted the propriety of his conduct in the committee, but he really could not tell what that hon. and learned Gentleman was about. How could he, with any respect for public liberty, disfranchise these boroughs? Had he proved them all guilty? j Had he proved the majority of the electors to be guilty? If not, why deprive them of their right to the exercise of the franchise? In many of these no proof of guilt had been brought forward. The House had heard much of freedom of election but were those to be punished against whom there was no evidence of guilt? He hoped that the time would come when not only bribery and corruption, but compromises,' would be put down. They had been engaged during the whole of last night in discussing the bill of the noble Lord the Member for the city of London which measure was, by legislative enactments, to put an end to the corrupt practices pursued at elections; but it was a singular fact connected with the discussions on the noble Lord's bill, that in none of the speeches which had been addressed to the House had any allusion been made to the proceedings of the hon. and learned Member for Bath"s committee. Under these circumstances he must say, that it would be highly inexpedient, if not unjust, to withhold from the electors of those towns the right of exercising their elective franchise. He would again assert, that it was his intention to vote for the first two resolutions, but not for the third.
disclaimed all personal and hostile feelings towards the hon. and learned Member for Bath. He should not have risen to address the House, had 796 not the hon. and learned Member for Bath stated that he had made out his five charges of illegal compromises. Had the hon. and learned Member made out any charge against him? He had been charged with bribery. He now stood free of that charge. Had the First Lord of the Treasury been present, he would have asked him a question to this effect—whether, after the appearance of the report, he ought to have applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, and thus have carried out a corrupt compromise?
§ Mr. Blackstone
did not think that it was possible to consider the compromises which had been made as violations of the privileges of the House. It was clear that the object of these compromises was to avoid the heavy expenses which would have been incurred in defending the seat. In the case of Nottingham, during the examination of Lord Lincoln, the following question was asked of his Lordship;—Then I understand that you never expressed any doubt, or gave Mr. Fladgate to understand, that as the petition went in, the funds should not be' forthcoming. He had no reason from you to believe that the petition was likely to drop from want of funds?—Certainly not; except so far as I have stated. They told me that it might be quite possible for the opposing parties to protract the thing to such an extent as, perhaps, to draw me into an expenditure of 8,0001. or 10,0001. I said it was quite impossible to suppose that I could obtain such a sum as that for carrying on the petition. I was ready to assist in the prosecuting of the petition, but that if that course was pursued, I should be obliged to drop it; but that I should go on as long as the fund lasted.Mr. Walter was called before the committee, and upon being asked,Did the gentlemen who were your friends, conducting the petition, understand that you would approve of some arrangement?—I cannot tell what they might understand; it is very likely that they would; the object was, certainly, to get an amicable arrangement; it was thought for the benefit of all parties, as had been done in other places; and nobody thought that there could be the slightest objection to it, particularly when the petition could 'not have been proceeded with without Ian enormous expense. I had heard that it could not be effectually prosecuted under 20,0001.The House had heard the hon. Member for Harwich state in the course of his speech that evening, that hs was not a man of much wealth, and could not afford to incur a heavy expenditure in defending 797 his seat. Considering the vast sums of money that were necessary in order to carry on a contest in an election committee, he must protest against the terms of the hon. and learned Member for Bath"s resolutions. The last resolution he could not support. Were it carried, it would be nothing less, as had already been stated, than an indefinite disfranchisement of the five boroughs specified in the resolutions. If the hon. and learned Member would move for a committee for the purpose of inquiring into the alleged bribery committed at Nottingham, he would then feel justified in voting for the further suspension of the writ; but he could not support the suspension of the writ on the ground that the compromise stated to have taken place would tend to bring the House into contempt with the people.
§ Mr. Lascelles
rose for the purpose of stating that the resolutions of the hon. and learned Member for Bath had been brought forward in that hon. and learned Member's individual capacity of chairman, and not by the authority of the committee. He could not do this, however, without bearing testimony to the spirit in which the hon. and learned Member had conducted the inquiry. That hon. and learned Member's object was to expose the evils attendant upon a system, and not to promote the interest of any individual party. It was but right to the hon. and learned Member for Bath to state that. It was quite impossible for an inquiry to have been conducted more fairly. In order to take a proper view of the whole inquiry, it was necessary to consider the circumstances which had given rise to the committee in question. What were those circumstances? Certain charges against individual Members of that House had been made of their having been engaged in corrupt compromises in order to secure a seat in that House. Those allegations were brought under the notice of the House of Commons, and this being the case, what course was the House justified in pursuing? Under the circumstances, when so many grave charges were made, an inquiry was absolutely rendered necessary. For that purpose the hon. and learned Member moved for his committee. The object which that committee had in view was to investigate into the accuracy of these alleged facts. The result of the inquiry was that it had been satisfactorily established that certain com- 798 promises with the view to obtain possession of a seat in that House had taken place; the evidence adduced before the committee established that the compromises were entered into, not for the purpose of screening bribery, but for the object of saving a heavy expense, which would necessarily have been incurred in prosecuting the inquiry before an election committee. It was the understanding among the committee that no recriminatory proceedings should be adopted against particular individuals. With regard to the suspension of the writs, were the resolution embodying that recommendation adopted by the House, it would be too penal in its character. Whatever opinions the House might think proper to entertain with reference to the resolutions under their consideration, he must again assert that the hon. and learned Member for Bath had brought them forward in his individual capacity, and not by the authority of the committee over which he presided as chairman.
§ Lord Chelsea
was understood to say, that from the first moment when the hon. Member for Bath moved for his committee he (Lord Chelsea) had abstained from taking a part in the debate. He thought that it was not only an unfair, but an invidious course to pursue, to hold up individual Members of that House as objects of public odium and censure. He had seen nothing to alter his opinion. It was not his intention to enter upon any defence of himself. He thought that it was the duty of that House to decide upon the allegations which had been made. No evidence had been adduced to substantiate the charges brought against him. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had, no doubt, other objects in view in moving for the committee. It would, no doubt, give that hon. and learned Member notoriety, but he should recollect, that although notoriety might be bread and meat to him, it would prove poison to others.
§ Mr. Ward
said, that under any other circumstances it would be unfair to make any five individuals of that House the scapegoats of a system. These general allegations might have been made usque ad nauseam, and the system which had been in operation for the last twenty years would have remained unaffected, had it not been for the boldness, the novelty, and perhaps he might say, the irregularity of 799 the course which the hon and learned Member for Bath had pursued. If the hon. and learned Member had not adopted that somewhat bold, novel, and irregular course, the House would not have been in possession of the report which he held in his hand. It was not his intention to go into the consideration of the individual cases implicated in the report of the committee. He was pleased to hear that all bore willing testimony to the courtesy, fairness, and impartiality of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. A reference had been made to the onerous duties of the members of that committee—it was inseparable from the inquiry in which they were engaged. If the hon. and learned Member for Bath had not pursued the course which was adopted, the facts embodied in the report would not have been elicited. Those facts were said to bear harshly upon individuals. The hon Member for Harwich had repudiated the charges brought against him. He must say, that the committee had acted with perfect justness towards that hon. Member. It was stated, that Major Beresford had not paid one shilling towards the expenses of his election; that Mr. Attwood paid the whole expenses; that the hon. Member had been brought into the House on the shoulders of one of those individuals whose talents for conquest had already been so well described. He would ask what would the House do with the report? It was an understanding among the members of the committee that they were not to suggest any legislative enactment. The House, however, stood in a difficult position when the facts were brought under its consideration. Those practices were now brought under the notice of the House in a tangible shape; who could say, after reading the report made by the committee, and reading the evidence given before them, that those practices were harmless and were not repugnant to the rights of the people and most detrimental to the honour and dignity of the House? Was it right that the House should be silent upon such an occasion? Was it not their bounden duty to express their detestation of such practices? What interpretation would be put on their silence out of doors, but that the fact having been laid before them of most corrupt practices, they were afraid of condemning it? and was it not their duty to prevent such an opinion being formed, by enunciating an opinion upon the prac- 800 tices at the earliest moment? Considering the support which the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury had given to the hon. and learned Member for Bath, support to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had that night borne ample testimony, he trusted it was the intention of the Government to support the resolutions or something like them. At all events, he hoped they were prepared to suspend the issue of writs for all those towns and boroughs which were implicated in the report until some more stringent law was in force for the prevention of bribery. Of course he could only conjecture what the opinion of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government might be, or that of any of his Colleagues, but he as a Member of the House felt obliged to say, that he conceived it was the bounden duty of the House, if they did not wish to destroy all the labours of the committee, if they did not wish to retrace the steps which they had taken in the matter, to place upon record the sense they entertained of the practices brought under their notice. He did not stand up for the resolutions intact, but, unless the House was prepared to place upon record some distinct and unequivocal opinion with regard to future proceedings of the nature indicated in the report, he could not see with what object the inquiry had been instituted—he could not see why the noble Lord opposite (Lord Chelsea) and several other Members of the House had been dragged before the committee—he could not see why their feelings should have been harrassed in the manner described by the noble Lord. Unless they were prepared to agree to the resolutions proposed, or something of the same nature, no good could possibly arise from the inquiry. If the House were to-morrow to agree to the motion of the hon. Gentleman behind him (Mr. S. Crawford), and issue a new writ for the borough of Nottingham, they would only promote those scenes and practices in that town which had been so forcibly and graphically described to the House by his hon. and learned Friend—if the House was prepared so to stultify itself, then the enquiry was useless, and would have been much better left alone. The House would have adopted a more reasonable and a more just course, if they had said at once they sanctioned bribery and the system of corn' promise; for by taking no steps to check 801 the system, they in fact gave it their silent acquiescence. However, he for one was not willing to stultify himself in that way; he had concurred in the appointment of the committee; he had concurred in granting them extraordinary powers; he quite concurred in all they had done, and upon a perusal of their report, was quite prepared to vote for the resolutions then before the House. He again put it to the conscientious feelings of the hon. Gentlemen opposite whether, after acting cordially with the hon. Member for Bath up to that point at which they had now arrived—for the hon. and learned Gentleman had fairly acknowledged that without their support he never could have obtained his committee—after the great expense of feeling which their conduct had caused, if they did not now assist in the endeavour made to correct the system, it would only be one other confirmation of the charge of hypocrisy so often brought against the House.
§ Mr. Hawes
could not allow the hon. Member for 'Wakefield to be the only member of the committee who expressed his sentiments to the House. He wished publicly to state that he agreed in all that had fallen from the hon. Member; neither could he allow the House to come to a vote without attempting to explain what was the difference which existed between him and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath. He could not give his support to all the resolutions of his hoe. and learned Friend. In the first place, the inquiry was one of a very peculiar kind, and he felt, as a member of the committee, that if they were to receive their information from the parties concerned in the transactions into which they were to inquire, and who were willing to contribute it, they then received a species of evidence which they could not obtain by any other means whatever; therefore, he thought they could not use that evidence either as affecting the boroughs, or any of the individuals who were concerned. The committee had repotted rather with the view of exposing a system than with any view to inculpate individuals—rather for the purpose of laying the foundation fur some future legislative enactment than for the punishment of any past offences. What was proposed to be done by the resolutions of his hon. and learned Friend? To the first he entirely subscribed; but when he came to the second. And 802 found that he was called upon to declare that these practices were a violation of the liberties of the people, and a breach of the privileges of the House, he, as a member of the committee, considering the understanding when it was appointed—[Mr. Roebuck The words are "All such practices.") He was aware of that, but he was called upon to affirm that, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, the practices which had prevailed were a breach of the privileges of the House; he would ask the House, was he to stop there—was he to stop by merely declaring them a breach of the privileges of the House,? To stop there was to call upon the House to make a declaration, which in itself was extremely objectionable, for they would. declare that a breach of their privileges which was not to be visited by any consequences whatever—a course he believed without any precedent. His lion, and learned Friend was aware that they did not agree in the distinction he drew between his conduct as a member of the committee, and his conduct as a Member of the House. But the right hen. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, and the hon. and learned Member for Worcester, had stated that a clause in the Bribery at Elections Bill was intended to meet the case of compromises; that clause sprung from the appointment of the committee, and was just as much connected with it as if it had been framed upon the report. It was acknowledged that other measures must be introduced in order to grapple with the evils of the system laid bare by the investigation of the committee. The great merit of the report consisted in this—that it brought to light on positive evidence that which was only surmised before; it was now matter of record, and formed a good ground for legislative interference; therefore he thought the resolutions were unnecessary. With regard to the second resolution, he felt considerable difficulty in supporting it; but when he came to the third, he had no doubt at all as to the course he should take. Alter mentioning the names of the boroughs implicated before the committee it went en to say, that—The present laws having been found insufficient to protect the voters from the mischievous temptations of bribery, it be ordered that Mr. Speaker do issue no writ for any election of Members for the said towns till further legislative enactments have been adopted to protect the purity of election.803 Here he was called upon to vote for punishment upon all those boroughs upon evidence given before the committee in a manner unknown to the law, and which vote might ultimately lead to their disfranchisement; that evidence was obtained by extraneous means—it was not legal evidence, and, although it might form a good ground for legislation, it could not be made ground for punishment. He conceived that the late committee on election proceedings, were much in the nature of the election committee as now constituted. By the bill which was under consideration last night, the election committee by their report might cause a second inquiry; they were in the nature of a preliminary committee to report upon certain charges; so also was the late committee; they made the preliminary inquiry upon which they might legislate, but the foundation of all penal proceedings ought to be upon an inquiry conducted before a judicial tribunal. He, as a Member of the House, concurred in the general object of the resolutions, but having been a Member of the committee he could not give them his support. He differed on that single point from his hon. and learned Friend; it was the only one. Indeed, he might say, that during the whole of the proceedings there had not been a single division, a thing, he believed, that was almost unprecedented. As the hon. Member for Wakefield had made his statement to the House, he had felt that he would be doing his duty in assuring the House, that he concurred in all that had fallen from him; and he had also been anxious to state the grounds of his vote against the resolutions.
§ Mr. Aglionby
said, they were now about to enact another farce among the many in which they had lately been engaged—a farce not calculated to create laughter, but one which would and must create disgust and indignation in the public mind It was necessary, in order to show that the House was really in earnest towards the putting down of bribery, not only to have an exposure, but that the exposure of gross delinquency should be followed by punishment. With respect to the resolutions, he should have been quite prepared to give them his warm support even had they been couched in much stronger words. They were so mild, that he really could not conceive why the hon. Member for Lambeth should object 804 to them; they were of the mildest possible nature. He confessed, he scarcely understood the distinction attempted to be drawn between the duty of a Member of the House and a Member of the committee. What he wanted to know was, would the hon. Member for Lambeth, vote for the resolutions as they stood, as he said he approved of them? He as a Member of the House, was fully prepared to vote for them, because as a Member of the House, he was determined to put down bribery in any way he could, and pursue corrupt compromises to the last. The report exhibited the existence of a system which was a disgrace to the House of Commons. A compromise in itself might be no crime, but a compromise entered into by Members who retained or obtained their seats by it was eminently calculated to bring the House into disgrace. The country would not allow a House so constituted to sit many years. They must have a radical reform not only in election committees, but in the general feeling of the House on the question of bribery; they must erect a competent tribunal, one not only to convict, but with powers to condemn and punish. He had no difficulty whatever in voting for the resolutions—the mildness of the language in which they were couched had led him to hope that they would have met with the unanimous approbation of the House. He joined the hon, and learned Member for Bath most cordially, for he thought no new writ ought to issue to any of the boroughs implicated until some more stringent law respecting bribery was in force. The law was wanted, not for the protection of the candidate, but for the protection of the constituencies; and he would heartily join with any one who brought in a measure with a sincere desire to accomplish that object.
§ The Solicitor-General:
Sir, I have no wish to controvert any of the observations made by the hon. and learned Member for Bath as to the enormous evil consequences of a system of bribery among the constituencies which return Members to this House. On the contrary, I quite agree with him that no evils can be greater or more dangerous; but, Sir, I do not think that that is the question which we have now to consider. The hon. Member for Lambeth and the hon. Member for Wakefield have, in my opinion, put the matter in its true light—they, as Members of the committee, have told the House what was 805 the feeling in the committee as to the understanding on which it was appointed. Sir, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the House armed the committee of the hon. and learned Member for Bath with extraordinary powers. Evidence was taken and given before that committee in a manner not altogether foreign to, but in complete opposition to all the roles which guide evidence in courts of justice. That committee has now made its report, founded upon the evidence so obtained, and the question now is, what steps are the House now to take upon that report? The hon. Member for Cockermouth says if the House takes no step at all in consequence of the report, it will be adding another farce to those in which we have already been engaged; but let me remind the House of what was the purport and object with which the committee was appointed. The hon. and learned Member for Bath made a statement. He said he had no intention to fix criminality upon any indidual, but he wished to expose a system which, he said, existed, and was one of an extremely obnoxious nature, He said he believed the system of corn-promise was not a new one, but that it had taken place over and over again; that he did not wish to fix censure on any party who had been concerned in the practice; but he considered it necessary that it should be inquired into, because the compromise was generally made for the purpose of preventing an investigation into gross bribery. He further said his object was not to punish, but that a committee should be constituted to inquire into the system with a view to found legislation upon the result. That was the object and purpose of the committee—at all events, it was upon that understanding that the bon. and learned Member obtained his support from this side of the House. That, I believe, was the understanding on both sides of the House—not that the committee was to pass censure upon any person, or to take any criminal measures against any one, but merely to inquire for the purposes of legislation; most certainly it was upon that understanding alone that the committee were armed with the extraordinary powers which were confided to them. A defeated candidate presents a petition claiming the seat, and among other matters he charges the sitting member with bribery —he goes before the committee, and upon other grounds he obtains the seat. Surely 806 you would not make him go into all the cases of bribery he had alleged at his own expense, he having previously obtained all he wanted. All that. is to he expected of a petitioner in such a case is that he will look after his individual interest; but says the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that is not all the House of Commons wants—the charges of bribery must be prosecuted, because it is for the public benefit. Some cases were alleged to have been compromised, and the allegations of bribery were dropped; then said the, hon. and learned Member for Bath,Give me a committee, and I will under- take to show that in this case the sitting Member either gave op his seat or the petition was withdrawn in order expressly to keep all the parties from entering upon the allegations of briberyThe committee was appointed, and it is impossible to deny that the result of the inquiry is, that several compromises were entered into for the purpose of preventing all investigation of cases of bribery; that is the result undoubtedly. Then what is the next step the House ought to take? The hon and learned Member for Bath says, notwithstanding the grounds upon which the committee was granted— not with standing the reasons for which it was armed with extraordinary powers to pursue the investigation, he thinks it right to move these resolutions: the first, in general terms; but the others highly inculpating individuals, and charging them with having been guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House. Sir, I should indeed be very reluctant to vote anything a breach of the privileges of the House unless I was prepared to follow up that vote with adequate punishment. If the vote is not followed up, then indeed it would be a farce; the House will stultify itself if it votes anything a breach of privilege, and yet refuses to follow it up with punishment. Will the House be open to the censure of the hon. Member for Cocker- mouth if it refuses to adopt these or any other resolutions? What has already taken place with reference to this subject? No legislative measures have been pro- posed since the report of the committee was presented; but a bill has been brought in by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell), founded not upon the report of the committee, but upon the statements made by the hon, and learned Member 807 for Bath when he moved the appointment of that committee. What is the nature of the enactments of that bill which last night passed through committee? It meets the very grievance of which the hon. Member for Bath complains—the compromise of election petitions. That bill empowers an election committee, in the event of a compromise taking place, or of a petition being withdrawn, to call before it the sitting Members, the candidates, and the agents, and to inquire into the causes which have led to the compromise, in order that the committee may be enabled to judge whether such compromise has been entered into in order to avoid the investigation of charges of bribery. If the committee come to the resolution that a compromise had taken place, they are armed with the power of prosecuting an inquiry, assisted by an agent appointed by the House at the public expense, into the charges of bribery. A legislative measure has, therefore, been applied which completely meets the case contemplated by the hon. and learned Member for Bath. Some clauses of the bill to which I refer were opposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork and by other hon. Gentlemen, on the ground that they required further consideration; but, although those clauses have been withdrawn, I presume the feeling of the House is, that some other legislative measure should be adopted during the next Session of Parliament which may perfect the provisions of this bill. What, I would ask, ought to have been the nature of the resolutions proposed by the hon. Member for Bath—in accordance with the feelings of the House, and with the report of the committee— if no bill had been brought in on the subject? I think the resolutions ought to have been in this form—that from the disclosures which have taken place before the committee, it was the opinion of the House that the compromises entered into tended to obstruct the investigation of charges of bribery, and that it was, therefore, the duty of the House to adopt such legislative measures as might prevent such compromises. If no legislative measures had been brought in, or were in contemplation, I would have concurred in resolutions of this nature; for the House being satisfied, from the report of the committee, that compromises have taken place with the object alleged by the hon. Member for Bath, would have been 808 bound to provide some legislative enactment on the subject, instead of declaring these compromises to be a breach of privilege, and censuring the conduct of the persons who have entered into such compromises. I entertain strong objections to the resolutions of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. Is the House prepared to deal in the manner proposed by the hon. Member with the rights of six boroughs returning twelve Members to Parliament? The hon. and learned Member asks the House to suspend the issue of the writs for these boroughs. With what object does the hon. Member make this proposition? The hon. Member proposes, in his resolutions, that Mr. Speaker shall issue no writs for any election of Members for certain boroughs till further legislative enactments have been adopted to protect the purity of election. What does the hon. and learned Member mean? Is he prepared to introduce some other measure besides that already before the House? or does the hon. Gentleman mean the House to understand that any other legislative measure will be brought forward affecting these boroughs? The bill introduced by the noble Lord the Member for the city of London is the only measure now before the House; and let me remind hon. Members that that bill will contain some important provisions with respect to bribery which have originated from the report of the committee appointed on the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. I do not allude to the clauses which were passed last night, but to the statement of the hon. Member for Liskeard, that at a future stage of the bill he would introduce provisions respecting the payment of head-money and treating, either before or after elections. The hon. and learned Member for Bath now asks us to suspend the writs for six boroughs, and to keep twelve seats in this House vacant—until what time? I stated on a former occasion my opinion on this subject in a constitutional point of view. The House of Commons, as a branch of the Legislature, has the power, if it thinks right, to propose the disfranchisement of a borough for corrupt and illegal practices; but I think this House assumes a most dangerous power when, without the consent of the other branches of the Legislature, it prevents boroughs from sending representatives to Parliament. Considering the nicely-balanced state of parties, what would have been the effect 809 had this House, the Session before last, suspended the issue of writs for six boroughs? The fate of the Ministry might have depended—it would have depended —upon the presence of the Members for those boroughs. It is, therefore, I conceive, a most dangerous power, and one which ought only to be exercised in ease of great emergency and with some definite object. I can understand the suspension of a writ if you intend to introduce a bill for the disfranchisement of a borough, and, with the consent of the House of Lords and of the Crown, to carry that disfranchisement into effect; but what right has this House to suspend the privilege of boroughs to return Members to Parliament? I remember that, on a late occasion, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Wynn) stated that in former times the House of Commons had suspended writs, and for several months; but the right hon. Member referred to a bad period of the history of this country; and I think this House will not follow such a precedent. If you suspend these writs now, you are to pass over the period during which Parliament is prorogued; you are to wait until the next Session. These boroughs are to have no representatives—till when? Will you be prepared, when you meet again, to adopt measures for the disfranchisement of these boroughs? You will not. Then suppose this House adopts the measure which was under consideration yesterday, and that it is rejected by the House of Lords,. are these boroughs to have no representatives? I entertain, then, great doubt whether, constitutionally, the House of Commons is justified in exercising this power. If you suspend these writs you establish a precedent which may be followed in worse times, when it may be important to a party in the House of Commons to suspend, for unconstitutional purposes, the issue of writs for certain boroughs. I hope, therefore, that the House will not concur in the resolutions of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. 1 trust we shall not be subjected to the misrepresentation that, in opposing these resolutions, we afford any countenance or encouragement to the system of bribery. I object to the resolutions of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because I think they are wholly unnecessary, and because I conceive they involve a violation of the understanding into which the House entered when the committee was appointed 810 We are now adopting legislative measures which are directly calculated to meet the evils of which the hon. Member complains; but the principal ground on which I object to these resolutions is, that they recommend the suspension of writs for an indefinite time. I shall, therefore, move the previous question.
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, after the direct allusions which had been made to, him by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, he thought it right to state, that what he said on a former occasion was this—that he conceived an exaggerated view had prevailed as to the nature and extent of the guilt of bribery. He might say, with respect to the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he believed, as far as his public life was concerned, he was no hypocrite; and he thought the hon. Gentleman could not show that he had ever swerved, or, to use a somewhat unparliamentary expression, "skulked "from the avowal of his opinions. He begged pardon of the House for having referred to a matter entirely personal; but as he had been pointedly alluded to by the hon. and learned Member, he thought it right to give some explanation. He entertained strong objections to the resolutions proposed by the hon. Member for Bath, and he wished the hon. and learned Solicitor-general had met them by a direct negative. He would not revive the discussion as to the circumstances under which this committee was appointed, bat he would proceed to consider the results of their investigations as they appeared in these resolutions. The first resolution of the hon. and learned Member stated,That the compromises of election petitions must, if for the future they be allowed to pass without punishment or censure, tend to bring this House into contempt with the people, and thereby seriously to diminish its power and authority.But the horn and learned Gentleman would say that he was not reading the resolution fairly; for, in fact, the resolution was perfectly valueless without this parenthesis—As brought to the knowledge of this House by the report of the Select Committee of Election Proceedings.He found that the very first witness examined before that committee, Sir Denis Le Marchant, stated that he was informed by his legal adviser, that whatever strong 811 suspicions there might be of bribery having taken place to a great extent, still the evidence that he could bring before the committee was very inconclusive; and the witness proceeded—I was told that I had very little hope of our being able to give any evidence of the way in which the bribery had taken place, and that my only chance of success was the strong feeling that prevailed in committees upon the subject of bribery; and he said, so far as the scrutiny went, that was perfectly hopeless; so that in fact my only chance 'was a compromise, if I wished to get the seat. I thought that it might be worth while to make the experiment, and I determined to drop my petition for the seat.He did not mean to say that the evidence of every witness examined before that committee produced the same impression on his mind; but be thought he had rescued one compromise, at least, from the charge affixed by the hon. Member for Bath to all compromises; for he had shown, from evidence upon which the hon. Member for Bath relied, that one hon. Gentleman entered into a compromise because he was informed he could not prosecute his petition with any chance of success. The hon. and learned Member for Bath seemed to have an almost instinctive aversion to the idea of compromise. He seemed to think with the firm of Buzzard, Hawk, and Co., that—"arbitrations were the stain "Of 9th and 10th of William's reign,—and that all disputes ought to be settled by a suit at law. The hon. and gallant Member for Harwich, who was examined before the committee, said,I have had one petition, and that has been enough for me; I am determined never to have another.He believed many gentlemen were influenced by a similar feeling, and he thought no hon. Gentleman who had ever served on an election committee, and above all those who had been themselves involved in such an investigation, could wonder at the desire which existed to avoid such inquiries. The hon. Member for Bath declared in his second resolution, thatAll such practices" as those to which he bad drawn the attention of the House, "are hereby declared to be a violation of the liberties of the people.He was bound to say that the hon. 812 Gentleman had not endeavoured to enforce by his speech this part of the resolution. He asked the hon. and learned Member for Bath whether such practices could be shown to be a violation of the liberties of the people? Although the hon. and learned Member had delivered a very long, and a very able speech, he had not said one word on this subject. The hon. Member had not even attempted to substantiate the other clause of this second resolution—that these practices were a breach of the privileges of that House. If the hon. and learned Member had said that such practices violated the purity of election; or if he had used any term of that kind, he could have understood him. He did not know how the hon. Gentleman, treating these compromises as an offence, could propose to punish those who might hereafter enter into such compromises, while those who had already committed the offence were permitted to escape. The hon. and learned Member for Bath seemed to have forgotten that the investigations before election committees were trials instituted by private individuals in order to obtain private rights; but the hon. Gentleman proposed to punish any person who, in the exercise of his discretion, might choose to withdraw a petition for inquiry before an election committee. He then came to the third resolution. The resolutions of the hon. and learned Member for Bath said they were to suspend the issue of new writs for all these boroughs till there were some further legislative enactments to protect the purity of election. What interpretation was the House to put on this? What interpretation was the House to put on the three last words of the third resolution? What did the hon. and learned Member mean by "purity of election?"He had not stated that, and he (Sir R. Inglis) would venture to state it for him. He assumed that he meant "universal Sufrage"and "vote by ballot."["Hear, hear."' At any rate, there were those behind him who would say, that there could be no purity of election till they got vote by ballot and universal suffrage. Were they, then, to satisfy the hon. and learned Member for Bath as to "purity of election?"A power such as was proposed to be given by the second resolution, conceded to a majority, might fix the fate of any Ministry, and transfer power from one party to another. He thought this resolution unsustained by any previous prece- 813 dent. He would ask the hon. and learned ' Member to point out what liberties of the people were violated, and where the breach of the privileges of the House was? He asked him, respectfully, to point out the page in Hansard or in the journals of the House where "such practices"were forbidden. He (Sir R. Inglis) would tell the hon. and learned Member, there was nothing in the evidence produced to justify the taking of the decision o of those questions from the tribunal to which they were usually referred. If the parties involved in the case felt that the expense was so great as to justify them in withdrawing from such contest, it would be a most mischievous precedent—it followed certainly no precedent—and dangerous to the liberties of the people to give to a majority in that House—a "tyrant majority,"as it had once formerly been called—the power of deciding what persons should or should not continue to discharge the duties of Members of Parliament. For these reasons he would rather have met the resolutions with a direct negative; but it was not for him to interfere with the authority of the Solicitor-general. At any rate, he should record his vote against the resolutions.
§ Mr. Hume
thought the hon. Baronet who had sat down had not done justice to his hon. Friend. The inquiry had gone forth, not with the view of criminating any party concerned or interested. The hon. Baronet seemed to have forgotten that the instruction to the committee was' to inquire into certain corrupt practices alleged to have taken place with regard to certain elections. That was the object for which the committee had been granted. and he did not know but that that object had been completely answered. The hon. and learned Solitor-general had admitted the corrupt practices, and the bribery which had been proved; and had concluded by stating, that he was prepared to move the previous question. He was very sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman should place the House in that situation because the hon. and learned Gentleman admitted the corrupt practices, on account of which the inquiry had been made, to be proved; he admitted that they were practices which ought not to exist, and ought not to be tolerated; and he admitted that the bill which had passed through the House the night before was intended to correct and remedy, if not the whole, a part of 814 those abuses, and he was therefore very much at a loss to know why the hon. and learned Gentleman had taken the course he had. What an impotent resolution the House would come to if the bill to which the learned Gentleman referred should be rejected in another place ! They would then be in the situation of having made the inquiry into these abuses, of having had all the practices fully proved—for no Member had yet attempted to deny them—and of having visited them with no condemnation whatever; for that would be the case if "the previous question"were put and carried. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman say that such practices as had been proved, did not tend to bring that House into contempt with the people? He did not deny that they did. The evils were admitted. His hon. Friend brought them before the House in a manner not to be denied, and asked if these practices were to be allowed to pass whout notice or censure, as they would tend to bring that House into contempt. Was there any man in that House who would he bold enough to say, that such practices did not tend to damage the character of that House in the eye of the public? Would any man say that the expenditure of 100001. or 12,0001., in bribery and corruption at elections of Members of the House was consistent with the character which Members of that House ought to maintain as the representatives of the people? If that were the case, why refuse to condemn such practices? The hon. and learned Solicitor-general, by not condemning them positively, stated to the world that such practices should go on. In his opinion it would be better at once to legalise such practices. Extensive as these abuses had been, and clearly exposed and admitted as they had been, the hon. and learned Gentleman yet called upon the House not to pass an opinion on them. It was as much as to say, they might practices such things without being detected, and even if detected, it mattered not; for the House of Commons had refused in six or seven cases to pass an opinion, on the authority of her Majesty"s Solicitor-general, that such practices ought to be condemned. He most deeply regretted the course which had been pursued. He had given credit to the right. hon. Member for Tamworth that he would endeavour to get these practices put an end to and to prevent their repetition; but how could he (Mr. 815 Hume) reconcile that expectation with the present amendment, in which he presumed the right hon. Baronet concurred? The amendment went to the extent of saying, that it was not fit that the House of Commons should declare an opinion on the corrupt practices which had existed. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Inglis) wished to know how these practices were a violation of the liberties of the people. Did the hon. Baronet not know that anything which interfered with the freedom of election of Members of that House—whether by bribery or corruption, or intimidation—prevented the free choice by the people of their representatives, and was an interference with the freedom of the subject? Did the hon. Baronet mean to say, also, that these practices were not a breach of the privileges of that House? He was sure that the Speaker. if appealed to, would not deny that these compromises were a breach of the privileges of that House? They prevented disclosures of bribery. Full examination into these transactions had been prevented, and was it possible for the hon. Baronet for a moment to believe that these practices were not a breach of the privileges of that House? His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roebuck) asked the House to declare that compromises to prevent the discovery of bribery, and to prevent justice being done between the parties, tended to bring the House into contempt, and should in future be strictly inquired into and severely punished. But if these proceedings were allowed to pass without punishment or censure, would they not bring that House into contempt? And what did her Majesty's Solicitor-general propose? That there should be no punishment for the past, and neither punishment nor censure for the future. He did not know what language the learned Solicitor-general could use stronger than his amendment to express that he did not think the House ought to pass an opinion that such proceedings ought to be punished in future. It appeared to him that their proceedings would appear to the public at large a complete farce. After all the challenges and charges made against his hon. and learned Friend, who had conducted himself throughout this inquiry so much to his own honour and credit and to the satisfaction of all parties, all his labours would be as nought; nay, on the con- 816 trary, his labours would work out evil instead of good, because he had proved the abuses which existed, the manner in which that House was constituted, and in which the Members of it, in many instances, were elected, and the public would see 'that, bad as they were, and condemned as they had been out of that House, her Majesty's Solicitor-general had, by his amendment, said he would not pass any opinion on those practices, or agree that they should in future receive any punishment or censure from the House; and should the hon. and learned Gentleman's motion be carried it must be presumed that such practices had the support and sanction of the Legislature. He could put no other interpretation upon this amendment. He had to express his deep regret at this opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He thought that the third resolution might be objected to, as it had been by the hon. and learned Member for Winchester, without the first two being questioned; but he thought the third resolution might be supported with great propriety, because it asked only that new writs should not be issued for the boroughs about which there had been inquiry till further Legislative enactments should be adopted to protect the purity of elections. A further Legislative enactment was going through the House, and before it was passed it would be improper to issue new writs for these boroughs. What had taken place on the issuing of a new writ for Ipswich? He had opposed the issuing of that writ, because he was of opinion that it would renew the scenes of bribery which had taken place. No sooner was the writ issued and the election over than a petition was presented against the return, and bribery was now proved, he understood, before a committee up stairs. He knew that the report had not been made to the House; but he understood that charges of bribery having again taken place at that election had been made and proved. Could any man doubt that if writs were issued to the other boroughs, extensive bribery would take place? The hon. Member for Buckingham had stated, with regard to the Nottingham election, that he was sure upwards of 2,000 of the electors were bribed. He should support the resolution of his hon. Friend. He believed that universal suffrage and the vote by ballot were the only means to prevent undue influence by money or intimi- 817 dation, and thereby the recurrence of these transactions.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
did not rise for the purpose of protracting this painful discussion, but simply to put a question to the right hon. Baronet as the head of her Majesty's Government. It appeared by these proceedings two or three Members of that House had engaged, in pursuance of agreements entered into to carry out these settled compromises, to accept by a certain day the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. He wished to know, whether it was the intention of the Government, in the event of any of those individuals applying for it, to grant the application? He wished to know whether, in the case of Major Beresford, for Harwich, of Captain Plumridge, for Penryn, and with regard to one of the Members for Reading—for the report did not state which—it was the intention of the Treasury to grant the stewardship, by means of which the compromise might be carried out? It appeared to him that if the Government bestowed the Chiltern Hundreds in these cases, they would be parties to these corrupt practices, and be giving facilities to that which he hoped the House was on the point, by the adoption of these resolutions, of preventing.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer:
As the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds is in the gift of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I may be allowed to answer the question. No application has been made to me by any of the parties referred to for the Chiltern Hundreds; and when that application is made, it will be time enough for me to decide what course I shall pursue.
requested to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether he would give him the Chiltern Hundreds in order to enable him to carry out the compromise.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer:
S He would give an answer when the hon. and gallant Officer made an official application.
I now make the application. He felt himself in a very difficult position, and the reason was, that he did not make the compromise himself; he never would have consented to ask for the Chiltern Hundreds; he was not guilty of bribery; but he had been so far compromised by his agent as to be called upon to accept the Chiltern Hundreds if he could get them. He made that application very reluctantly, so far as related to 818 his sense of feeling, but he did so from a sense of duty.
§ Mr. Cochrane
defended himself against the charge of inconsistency brought against him by the hon. Member for Bath, for having, on former occasions, supported inquiry, with regard to the borough of Bridport, and afterwards refused to give evidence before this committee. He begged to say he never asked for a committee; all he asked for was, for an explanation with regard to Mr. Warburton; but when that committee was appointed no one would have imagined that its proceedings were to be conducted in secret, and without the parties charged having an opportunity of challenging their judges. By his silence before the committee he did not mean to sanction the charge of extensive bribery brought against himself and the Conservative party in the borough he had the honour to represent. The course he had taken he had adopted with a view to vindicate the law and constitution of his country.
§ Sir R. Peel
said: The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath, in the speech by which he had opened the present motion to the House, stated that he had received from me a consistent and decided support in the former proposal he had made for an inquiry into these transactions. The hon. Gentleman had made that willing admission, and I cannot say, although I know the course I pursued on that occasion caused some dissatisfaction and led to some animadversion, that, on reflecting upon the matter, I see any reason to regret that course. I certainly did think that the notoriety and development of those proceedings—the public notification that compromises, as they were called, had taken place, should not prevent the House from instituting an inquiry—I certainly did think that the very inquiry and development of the facts of the transactions referred to would operate as a strong discouragement to their repetition; but at the same time that I stated this much I had a strong impression that it would be unjust on the part of the House of Commons to brand with peculiar censure those hon. Members who had been parties to these proceedings. I felt that for very many years those compromises had taken place almost with the connivance of the House of Commons itself. I felt that it was notorious such compromises were made, and I think, whatever might be wrong in those compromises, the House of Commons itself ought 819 to bear a considerable portion of the blame, because the fact being notorious the House had permitted them to pass for years without the slightest attempt to discourage them or to visit the parties to them with censure; and therefore when the notoriety of the facts was such that inquiry could not be prevented, still my object in consenting to that inquiry and these proceedings was not, as I avowed from the first, to imply a censure upon the individuals mixed up in them, but for the prevention of the system. I thought not only that the appointment of a committee of inquiry would operate as a strong discouragement to future compromises, but I was ready to go further, and to take legislative precaution against the continuance of the practice; and I also thought the result of the proceedings of the committee would be, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath would move some such resolution as this, namely, that it is desirable, in consequence of the disclosure made before the committee, of which the hon. Gentleman was chairman, that immediate measures should be taken by Parliament to correct, by legislation, such a system as had been proved to exist; and if that had been the motion of the, hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath it should have received my support. But only last night a bill (one of the objects of which is to prevent compromises of this kind) was passed through committee, and, therefore, it appears to me unnecessary now to pass resolutions this kind. As to the mode of conducting the inquiry, I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath has been hardly deals with. The appointment of the committee was the act of the House of Commons—the House had associated with the hon. Member for the purpose of the inquiry and investigation, eight other Gentlemen of the highest character. From this side of the House there were selected Sir William Heathcote, Mr. Lascelles, Mr. Bramston, and Mr. W. Miles. For two of those Gentlemen Mr. E. Yorke and Mr. Wilson Patten were subsequently substituted. The report and the proceedings of the committee thus appointed and selected consider to be the report and proceedings, not of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath, but of the tribunal which was appointed by the House of Commons itself. It is true, the hon. Gentleman was chairman of the committee, but that was the act of the committee which elected him chairman; and, therefore, for the whole 820 of the proceedings before the committee, I consider the select committee appointed by this House, and not the hon. Gentleman, to be responsible; and I cannot see in the manner in which their proceedings had been conducted, or in the mode in which truth was elicited, any departure from the ordinary course taken by other committees appointed for similar purposes which can justify a condemnation of the mode in which this particular committee has discharged the duty assigned to them. While I relieve the hon. Gentleman from personal responsibility for the proceedings, or the report, or the mode in which the evidence was taken, yet at the same time I must attach some weight to the recommendations of the committee, and I cannot think, looking at the third paragraph of the report, that the committee ever contemplated any such proceeding as that in which the hon. Gentleman has now engaged. The committee, in their report, state thatThey understand their duty to have been to elicit and lay before the House, faithfully and clearly, all the facts of the several cases, rather with a view to expose the evils of a system than by any direct expression of their own opinion to inculpate individuals, or directly to lay the foundation for any legislative enactment with respect to the particular boroughs in question; and they consider that they are borne out in this opinion by the nature of the debates in the House upon the motion for the appointment of the committee, and upon several subsequent occasions. In this view of their duty, the committee called before them the parties immediately concerned in these transactions; and the committee feel bound, in justice to those parties, to state, that their willingness to appear, with few exceptions, and the full and frank disclosures made by them, have tended greatly to facilitate the proceedings of your committee; and they have consequently been enabled to obtain from the most authentic source evidence relative to practices which, although supposed to have existed, have never before been so clearly and unquestionably brought to light.Now, I cannot help thinking that the parties who so gave their evidence did so under the impression—which I also thought to be the impression of the House at the time the inquiry was agreed to—that if they fairly disclosed the facts of the case they would be entitled to indemnity. Under that impression, and also un the understanding that we were to take due precautions against the continuance of the system, I gave my vote for the committee, but not in order that we might 821 visit with censure those five or six Gentlemen who had been concerned in these compromises; and here is an admission by the committee that the evidence relative to these practices had exhibited them in a clearer light than had ever yet appeared; so that the House had now got the testimony from willing witnesses, and I must say I cannot reconcile it with my sense of justice now to select for censure those particular individuals. [Captain Bernal: How do you provide for the future?] I provide for the future by the bill last night under discussion. But how did the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Roebuck) meet the case? His resolutions are,That the compromises of election petitions must, if for the future they be allowed to pass without punishment or censure, tend to bring this House into contempt with the people, and thereby seriously to diminish its power and authority.And further,—That all such practices are hereby declared to be a violation of the liberties of the people, and a breach of the privileges of this House, which it will in all future cases strictly inquire into and severely punish.Why, that being translated, means no more than this: "You have been guilty of an offence which is a violation of the liberties of the people, and a breach of the privileges of the House. Still we will not call you to the Bar and censure you, but any person who hereafter in like manner may offend, we will." But there are several other parts of these resolutions with which I am not satisfied. The hon. Gentleman, by his resolutions, declared these practices to be a violation of the liberties of the people, and a breach of the privileges of the House. Now, I do not like dealing with general terms of this kind. I think the House ought not lightly to adopt such a declaration. The hon. Gentleman does not state the particular nature of the compromise which shall constitute a violation of the liberties of the people and a breach of the privileges of the House; but he refers to certain compromises, all of which differ in character, and, speaking generally, says, they are breaches of privilege and violations of the liberties of the people. If they he so, why do you not go on and censure the parties to them? When you talk of inefficient proceedings is it not inefficient to pass by those guilty of these violations? Why, you abstain from censuring them because we gave them 822 reason to believe that if they gave their evidence fairly, they should not be visited with censure. I cannot reconcile it to my mind, as a fair proceeding, to brand these parties after they have so given their evidence with censure. Their evidence has been obtained upon a distinct understanding that the inquiry was set on foot and the investigation gone into in order to put an end to the system, but not to punish them. I think the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that that was so. ["Hear, hear."] Well, then, I think the hon. Gentleman's resolutions have the effect of branding these parties with a sort of qualified and implied censure. I concur with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that in all future cases you should deal strictly with such compromises, but I will not do so by mere resolutions, but I will do it by law. I wish to see a law passed which shall insure a full inquiry into and a remedy against such practices, but I am not quite certain that they are a breach of the privileges of the House, because when the House passed the Elections Trial Bill, it divested itself of the charge of inquiring into bribery, and said to individuals, "We leave it to you to prefer and defend charges of bribery,"and the Legislature visited with costs those who preferred or advanced frivolous and vexatious charges or defences; and I think the House when it adopted that course, be it wise or be it wrong, left to individuals the vindication of the purity of the House, and therefore the House ought to take care not to visit with severe censure the parties to such compromises, and by legislation rather than by resolution to prevent them in future. If, therefore, as I have already said, the hon. Member had moved a resolution to the effect that the disclosures made before the committee required a legislative remedy, to that resolution I would have now given my support; and it is only because there is a bill before the House which will effectually, I think, insure a remedy, that 1 believe it unncessary to come to the resolutions proposed. So much for the first two resolutions. With regard to the last,—That whereas in the late elections for Harwich, Nottingham, Lewes, Reading, Falmouth and Penryn, and Bridport, the present laws have been found insufficient to protect the voters from the mischievous temptations of bribery, it be ordered that Mr. Speaker do issue no writ for any election of Members for the said towns till further legislative enactments have been adopted to protect the purity of elections,823 I cannot acquiesce in ft. On a former occasion I stated strongly the danger of establishing precedents for the suspension of any particular writ, but to make a general resolution pledging the House in six cases involving the seats of twelve Members is, as my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-general has pointed out, full of danger, inasmuch as on a nice balance of parties in the House the majority might retain the balance of power. I think it may be right to suspend the writ for any borough in case you are about to deprive that borough of the franchise, or to institute an inquiry with that view, but I greatly doubt whether you have any right to suspend the issue of a writ on the vague intimation that you contemplate some general measure with regard to bribery. In this case it is not intended; at least no notice has been given of any such intention to disfranchise these particular boroughs. It is merely proposed to suspend the writs until further legislative enactments are adopted. From these resolutions, if once adopted, it will be difficult to recede. In the case of Bridport there is no compromise for vacating the seat—there is no seat vacant—and yet the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Roebuck) invites us to agree to a resolution which in that case will have the effect of suspending the writ whenever a vacancy may occur. Again, to pledge the House to suspend these writs until some legislative enactments were passed is, in my mind, a course not only inconsistent with justice, but most dangerous as a precedent. At some future period there might be a difference of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament on the subject of legislating with regard to bribery; and yet by these resolutions the constituent body must forfeit their right to return Members until both the Lords and Commons had consented to some bill which they both might think essential for the prevention of bribery. On that ground, therefore, I must vote against the resolution. At the same time it is my intention to support the bill which we have lately considered, and which I trust will have the effect so generally wished for, of deterring from compromises, and rendering the proceedings connected with elections more pure.
Mr. Vernon Smith
said, that if he sat on the other side of the House, he would not venture to say anything after the masterly, argumentative, and admirable speech of the Solicitor-general; but sitting 824 as he did on that (the Opposition) side, he was anxious to say a word, as some hon. Gentlemen seemed to think it incumbent on them to show their detestation of bribery by voting for any resolutions directed against that practice, however objectionable. To that general condemnation he must demur, and he would briefly point out the reasons why he could not assent to the three resolutions. The hon. Members for Cockermouth and Montrose said, "Are we to allow the labours of the committee to come to nothing?"He answered, that he did not think those labours had come to nothing; he thought they had come to the very termination which was expected when the committee was appointed. The purpose of the committee appeared, as well from the words of the right hon. Baronet, who was a principal party to its appointment, as from the report, to be to bring to light facts which could not otherwise have been discovered, as a foundation for legislative proceedings. When it was said, that the report came to nothing, that conclusion must be derived more from looking to the opening speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, when he moved for the committee, than from the report itself. He did not wish to make any allusion that might tend to revive acrimonious feeling, but he thought the hon. and learned Member for Bath must himself allow that his opening speech went much further than the report of the committee. If the views contained in that opening speech had been acted upon, the House must have gone much further than they could now go, and have taken proceedings against individuals; but he thought, that any prosecution of individual cases was precluded, the committee having agreed that nothing was to be done against individuals who declared themselves guilty. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that if they passed these resolutions, they would not be acting in conformity with the spirit of the order of the House under which the committee was appointed. The first resolution related to the question of compromises. It did appear to him, that these compromises had hitherto been sanctioned by the House —that was, there had been an utter neglect on the part of lion Members to bring them before the House as breaches of privilege. If he were asked, whether any kind of compromise was illegal, he should say, certainly not; if he were asked whether it was a breach of privilege, he should say, though with more doubt, that it was not; 825 tended to give in favour of the motion before the House. He felt strongly that the object of the present motion was one of inquiry, but it was one of principle— viz., whether or not those who had the management of the unions, should have an influential voice in the arrangements connected with them, or whether that authority should be delegated to others. He had seen much of the operation of the existing law; and he had seen instances where the greatest inconvenience, vexation, and grievance were inflicted, and he had himself, on one occasion, been most unsuccessful in endeavouring to obtain relief in a case which he had forwarded to the New Poor-law Commissioners. Though he was not prepared altogether to condemn the existing law, he had pledged himself not to relax in his efforts to obtain such mitigations of the severer clauses, and such modifications of the power of the commissioners as might render its operation more acceptable to the feelings of the community at large, and he was resolved, as long as he had a seat in that House, that he never would refuse a vote similar to that which he was about to give. The country, he was sure, would not misunderstand his vote, for the question was well comprehended. Although the speech he had just heard from the right hon. Baronet had given him considerable pain, yet he was willing to trust in the intentions of her Majesty's Ministers on this subject, and he hoped the country would not be disappointed. He must, however, vote in favour of the motion before the House.
said, hon. Gentlemen opposed to the New Poor-law had been appealed to by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and he was proud to say, that he still retained the same aversion to this measure, which he had always hitherto avowed. He admitted, that in some of the rural districts in the South of England the old law was not well administered, yet he was always of opinion that those evils might be remedied, without a total subversion of the then existing law. In a conversation which he had had at the period when the new law was introduced, he had told this to Lord Althorp; and he observed to his Lordship, that in the contemplated measure the relief of the rate- payers was too exclusively attended to; but no measure of the House, he said, would satisfy the country which did not make humane provisions for the relief of 826 the indigent poor. In the South of England, as he had acknowledged, evils existed in the administration of the old law, but in the north no complaints were made. In those parts the persons who sought relief had it administered to them in their own townships; the distance between them and the dispensers of charity was small; and what was given was given in a satisfactory way, and no one complained of the regulations observed. The hon. Member for Finsbury had said, that many Members of that House owed their seats to the opposition they had professed to the New Poor-law. He did not deny this —nay, he felt he should be unworthy a seat there did he hesitate to acknowledge such to be the fact. He had not used opposition to the New Poor-law as a means of gaining popular support, but he had ever consistently held opinions adverse to the measure, and he had received his reward by a return to that House, for which he was grateful, and he felt convinced it was an honour he never should have received, had it not been for his opposition to this measure. It would, he thought, have given great satisfaction to the minds of many in that House if the right hon. Baronet had given some intimation of the course he intended to pursue with respect to this measure. He entertained a strong impression that in 1834, the bill was laid on the Table of that House before Easter, in order to obtain the opinion of the magistracy and others likely to feel interested in the measure during that interval. In the present instance, he thought it would have been well had this plan been adopted, as by such a course the country would have had an opportunity of expressing either their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the plan which the Government were about to introduce. The question as to how out-door relief was to be administered was most important, and any Poor-law which failed in this respect would never give satisfaction. In order that the mode of administering out-door relief should be generally approved, it was necessary that the poor should be placed under local authority. They must receive relief from those to whom they were known. A poor lame creature, must not be obliged to hobble to a distance to receive relief which he ought to have nigh at hand. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had spoken of many of the Gilbert unions having been dissolved, but he thought that if further 827 inquiries were instituted, he would find that the unions thus dissolved had laboured under peculiar disadvantages; that they were separated at wide distances from one another; and on these accounts had been found inefficient. He had presented two petitions against this bill—one from Keighley, in Yorkshire, and the other from Bradford, signed by twenty-five out of twenty-eight of the guardians, in which the petitioners expressed themselves sensible of the evils of the present measure, and strongly urged on the Legislature the necessity of a change. He wished the right hon. Baronet had thought proper to disclose the alterations he proposed, and he felt sure that very extensive alterations would give satisfaction to many in the country, who had never regretted the way in which the rates were formerly applied.
§ Mr. S. Wortley
said, he must express his almost entire concurrence in the opinions of the hon. Member for Derbyshire (Mr. Colville), who had recently spoken. Still he could not join in those severe censures which had been cast upon the Government, for having declined to state the details of their intended measure. He very much doubted indeed the policy of having many measures on the Table at the same time. Those, however, who felt strongly against the Poor-law had surely a fair right to ask, that they should state their case before legislation was determined on. The presumption was, from the absence of any declaration to the contrary, that the Government meant to propose the extension of the law. Now, all that was asked, was the opportunity of bringing forward evidence of importance to a due understanding of the case. What was the argument against it? Merely that the local acts or Gilbert unions were defective in their working. He thought the local communities decidedly the best judges of this. He was strongly against a coercive extension of the law, in opposition to the wishes and feelings of parishes; and, as he believed the carrying of this motion could not at all prejudice the Government, he should vote in its favour.
§ Sir R. Peel
declared his conviction that it would soon be necessary for the House distinctly to decide whether they were inclined to maintain the principles of the Poor-law or to abandon them. And the sooner this question was decided the better would it be for the public interests; for there could be nothing so prejudicial as to 828 leave authorities exercising an unpopular power paralyzed by the prevalence of an impression throughout the country that Parliament were about to abandon the measure. And he must say he was very much surprised to find that of those who had composed the late Government, who had brought forward this law, and rested part of their fame on their support of it as a measure essential to the welfare of the country—that they should none of them, with one solitary exception (Mr. Tufnell), be present on the discussion of a most material motion affecting the integrity of the law itself. For himself, it was unnecessary to say that he was taking the course which on this question he had always pursued. He had never sought popularity by opposing the Poor-law. He had given his assent to the measure on general principles; he was perfectly prepared to listen to modifications which might diminish its severities, or remove just causes of complaint against its operation; but he had always felt, looking to the way in which the old law had been administered, that not merely for the promotion of economy, but for the general interests of the pour themselves, it was desirable that a material alteration should be established. Of this be was perfectly satisfied, that the measure could not be well administered with a general impression pervading the country of a disposition in the Legislature to disturb or to destroy the law. If the law were to be abandoned, let it be given up in a direct manner. To talk of a motion for inquiry as inconvenient to the Government, why it was directly the reverse. He should certainly have thought that there was ample information before the House on the subject of the Poor-law, without instituting a fresh parliamentary inquiry about the twelve Gilbert unions, which were scattered all over the country, obstructing the administration of the law. Surely the House could decide upon the subject with the information it at present possessed. His right hon. Friend intended to submit propositions on the subject of local acts (necessarily affecting also Gilbert acts) after Easter. Was not the House in a condition to decide whether it were fitting that twelve Poor-law jurisdictions should exist in the country, at variance with the general system? For what could the inquiry be instituted? To allow the, guardians of unions to relieve themselves from charges? That was perfectly inde- 829 sanctioned by the hon. Member. [Mr. H. Fitzroy: Not at all. I was no party to the arrangement.] He asked whether that was an answer to the statement he made? He said that a compromise had been entered into, to which the hon. Member was in some shape a party, the object being to get a seat, and to escape inquiry into acts of bribery. With this view, Mr. S. Harford vacated his seat, to avoid the investigation, and the hon. Member got the seat, and the allegation of bribery was not entered into. He now came to the question before the House, and he would state how far he agreed with the right hon. Baronet opposite. and where he disagreed. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet"s statement that the understanding upon which the committee was appointed and went into the investigation of these eases was, that they should inquire into the system, and not endeavour to inculpate individuals. He went further than this, for if he conceived that the resolutions he had proposed would have the effect of inculpating individuals, he would not have proposed them; but he believed they went no further than the course suggested by the right hon. Baronet. Supposing there had been no bill to prevent corrupt practices before the House, he should have come down and proposed some legislative measure on the subject; but there being a bill before the House, he had not taken that course. but proposed that the House should establish an additional safeguard against the repetition of the transactions he had exposed, by declaring them to be a breach of privilege; and he could not conceive how this was a greater censure than asking for a bill for the purpose of preventing these transactions, which he must always have described in the words of the resolutions. He asked whether this was not a fair argument; and he really and sincerely asserted to the House, that when he framed these resolutions he did it with the most anxious care to prevent them from having even the appearance of a retrospective operation. When he made his statement in the early part of the evening, he said that his object was to guard against a bad system, and not to inculpate individuals. He thought that all the Members on the other side had misunderstood the third resolution. It only meant this "pass a bill providing a safeguard against these practices; but until the bill is passed, suspend the writs for the boroughs named in the resolutions?" Therefore, when they 830 talked of the wholesale disfranchisement of these boroughs, they were frightening themselves by a sort of phantasmagoria. He should leave the resolutions, such as he had propounded them, to the House. He did not think the hon. and learned Solicitor-general had met his resolutions in a fair and straightforward manner. He had not come fairly forward and said, "I think your resolutions bad;"but he wished, by a side wind, to defeat propositions which he knew to be true, without incurring the odium of declaring that that which was true was not true, and that these compromises were not what they really were. He thought such a course would lower the House in the estimation of the public, and destroy its influence and power. The hon. Member had talked of universal suffrage and the ballot, but the hon. Member would find, that the getting rid of these resolutions in the manner proposed would he one of the most potent arguments in favour of those measures; and if he chose to become a prophet, he would bid the hon. Member look forward and anticipate in consequence of the vote the House was about to come to for getting rid of these resolutions, that the people of the country would think that the Members of that House were so deeply imbued with the vices of the system, so mixed up with the bad proceedings by which elections were carried, that they could not declare them to be bad, and so guilty themselves that they could not accuse others.
said, the hon. Member had tried to impugn a statement which he (Major Beresford) had made. But upon what grounds? Because Mr. Currie had seen him. How (lid that prove Mr. Currie to be his agent? [Mr. Roebuck: He acted for you.] Mr. Currie"s evidence proved the contrary. He said in his evidence, when asked to give in the list of voters, who were supposed to be bribed at Harwich, he could not do so, as it was not his property, but the property of those for whom he acted. The committee then sent to Mr. Attwood, and that Gentleman said he was willing to give in the list; and upon that Mr. Currie gave in the list without consulting him. By this proceeding Mr. Currie proved he was not his agent. If Mr. Currie had been ins agent, what right would he have had, according to his own statement, to give in the list without consulting him. On this he stood; and the hon. Member for Bath had no right to describe Mr. Currie as his agent. But it 831 was said that he saw Mr. Currie. That was miserable quibbling;' and individuals must indeed be very cautious if they were to be told by legal authority that seeing a man was making him their agent, and rendering them answerable for his acts.
§ The House divided on the previous question, namely, that "the question be now put."—Ayes 47; Noes 136: Majority 89.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Mangles, It. D.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Martin, J.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Morris, D.|
|Brotherton, J.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Bryan, G.||O"Connell, D.|
|Cave, hon. R. 0.||O"Connell, M. J.|
|Cobden, R.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Philips, M.|
|Currie, R.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Duncan, G.||Protheroe, E.|
|Duncombe, T.||Somers, J. P.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Thornely, T.|
|Ellice, rt. hon. E.||Tufnell, H.|
|Escott, B.||Turner, E.|
|Ewart, W.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Hastie, A.||Ward, H. G.|
|Heathcoat, J.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Williams, W.|
|Hindley, C.||Wood, B.|
|Hollond, It.||Wyse, T.|
|Howard, hn. C. W. G.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Langton, W. G.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Macnamara, Major||Hume, J|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Colebrooke, Sir T. E.|
|Acland, T. D.||Colquhoun, J. C.|
|A'Court, Capt.||Corry, rt. hon. H.|
|Allix, J. P.||Cripps, W.|
|Antrobus, E.||Damer, hon. Col.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Darby, G.|
|Arkwright, G.||Dawnay, hon. W. H.|
|Astell, W.||Dick, Q.|
|Baird, W.||D'Israeli, B.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Dodd, G.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Douglas, Sir H.|
|Bateson, R||Douglas, Sir C. E.|
|Blackburne, J. I.||Douglas, J. D. S.|
|Blackstone W. S.||Duncombe, hn. A.E.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Eaton, It. J.|
|Borthwick, P.||Eliot, Lord|
|Bradshaw, J.||Estcourt, T. G. B.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Farnham, E. B.|
|Broadley, H.||Feilden, W.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Fitzroy, hon. H.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Fleming, J. W.|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Flower, Sir J.|
|Chetwode, Sir J.||Follett, Sir W. W.|
|Clayton, R. R.||Forbes, W.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||French, F.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. SirG.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||M'Geachy, F A.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn.W.E.||Martin, C. W.|
|Gladstone, T.||Masterman, J.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||Morgan, O.|
|Gore, W. R. O.||Mundy, E. M.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Neville, R.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Newry, Visct.|
|Grant, Sir A. C.||Nicholl, rt. hon. J.|
|Greene, T||Norreys, Lord|
|Grimston, Visct.||Northland Visct.|
|Hamilton, W. J.||Packe, C. W.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Palmer, R.|
|Hampden, R.||Palmer, G.|
|Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Hardy, J.||Pemberton, T.|
|Hawes, B.||Polhill, F.|
|Henley, J. W.||Pollington, Visct.|
|Hodgson, R.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Hogg, J. W.||Praed, W. T,|
|Hope, hon. C.||Pringle, A.|
|Hornby, J.||Pulsford, R.|
|Howard, hn. E. G. G.||Richards, R.|
|Howard, P. H.||Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Humphery, Ald.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Hussey, T.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Inglis, Sir R. H.||Seymour, Lord|
|Jermyn, Earl||Sheppard, T.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W.G. H.||Smith, rt. hon. R. V.|
|Jones, Capt.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Kemble, H.||Stanley, Lord|
|Ker, D. S.||Stewart, J.|
|Knightley, Sir C.||Stuart, H.|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Law, hon. C. E.||Taylor, J. A.|
|Lefroy, A.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Leicester, Larl of||Vane, Lord H.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Vivian, J. E.|
|Lockhart, W.||Wilshere, W.|
|Lowther, J. H.||Young, J.|
|Lowther, hon. Col.|
|Lygon, hon. Gen.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Mackinnon, W. A.||Baring, H.|
§ The question, therefore, was not put on the resolution.
§ Mr. Roebuck
moved the second resolution as follows:—That all such practices are hereby declared to be a violation of the liberties of the people, and a breach of the privileges of this House, which it will in all future cases strictly inquire into and severely punish.
§ Mr. Hume
wished to ask, as the Government had sanctioned by their vote all these abominations [great laughter]—oh, no, not abominations to Gentlemen opposite, for they delighted in them—they lived by them, but he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would now grant the Chiltern Hundreds to those Gentlemen to enable them to complete their corrupt arrangements?
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer:
If 833 the hon. Member will make the application on his own behalf I shall be prepared to consent to it.
§ Mr. Hume
understood from that answer that the right hon. Gentleman would grant it, because if he would grant it to him he would not refuse it to any one else, He, therefore, wished the public to understand, that, after all the time that had been so ably devoted by the hon. and learned Member for Bath to bring these practices to light, the Government did consider them as not worthy to be punished in future, nor to be inquired into. They had received the sanction of the House, and, moreover, the Government would grant to those individuals the Chiltern Hundreds to enable them to complete their corrupt arrangements.
§ Previous question put on second resolution, and negatived.
§ Mr. Roebuck
then said, I was led to the third resolution by the conduct of the right hon. Baronet himself. I ask him this plain question. "Why the writ for Nottingham was ever suspended at all?" It has been said that writs ought not to be suspended save with a view to disfranchisement. We went into committee avowing that we wished not to affect individual boroughs, yet, notwithstanding that, the right hon. Baronet sanctioned the withholding the writ, and upon mere hearsay. He has now all the facts proved. How does he get out of this difficulty—that he withheld the writ on my bare hearsay assertion, and that he now grants it, when everything I alleged has been proved? I, at all events, will move:—That whereas in the late elections for Harwich, Nottingham, Lewes, Reading, Falmouth and Penryn, and Bridport, the present laws have been found insufficient to protect the voters from the mischievous temptations of bribery, it be ordered that Mr. Speaker do issue no writ for any election of Members for the said towns till further legislative enactments have been adopted to protect the purity of elections.
§ Resolution negatived.
§ House adjourned at one o"clock.