HC Deb 06 May 1842 vol 63 cc209-34

said, yesterday I gave notice that I should put a question to the hon. Member for Reading. I stated his name at the time amongst the names of other hon. Members, to whom also it is my intention to put the questions of which I have given notice. As I see both the hon. Members for Reading now in their places, I shall proceed without further preface to put my questions to them. In taking this course, I feel that I am justified by some extraordinary circumstances which have recently taken place in the town of Reading. It has been stated, that the hon. Members opposite have entered into a compromise respecting the controverted right to the seats which they at present hold in this House. I have heard also that they are cognizant of, and parties to, some such arrangement. Now, if they are not so, they will naturally be anxious to lose no time in clearing themselves from such an imputation; and as I desire through the character of those hon. Members to maintain the purity of this House and the dignity of our proceedings, I wish to put it distinctly to each Member to say whether or not he knows or has heard, of anything respecting the transactions in question. I have heard, and I have reason to believe, that the election committee in the case of the controverted return for the town of Reading has had its business put an end to by a compromise made on the part of one or both of the Members sent to this House as representatives of that I have also heard and have reason to believe, that a bond has been entered into with their knowledge, if not in their name, to the effect that one or either of them, though both were declared by the committee to have been duly elected, should resign or vacate his seat by the acceptance of the Chiltern Hundreds, thus defeating the determination of the committee appointed to try the merits of the petition in their case, and thus committing a violation of the privileges of I this House. With the most perfect respect, then, for the noble Lord opposite, I beg to inquire of him whether he is cognizant of or party to any arrangement by which it has been agreed, that he is to accept the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, in order to vacate his seat, notwithstanding he had been declared duly elected by the select committee appointed to try the merits of the petitions presented to this House against his return, or whether by any other means he intends to vacate his seat, although duly elected to serve in Parliament.

Lord Chelsea:

As the hon. and learned Member for Bath has put forward my name first in the list of those to whom he intends to put questions, I am prepared to be the first to slate all that I have to say on the subject, and to gratify, as far as the short reply which I can give can gratify, the spirit of investigation by which the hon. Member seems to be actuated. Holding, as I do, a strong opinion as to the unreasonableness of putting a question to any hon. Member respecting a matter which relates solely to his private conduct and affairs, I am bound to decline giving any answer whatever to the question which the hon. and learned Member has thought proper to put to me. I hope and trust that the hon. and learned Member will allow me to express the great regret which I feel that any circumstances should have induced him to depart from the exercise of that sound discretion which on many occasions he has shown. Of this I entertain no doubt, that if he could change places with me he would follow precisely the same course which I have prescribed to myself. Sure 1 am that if I were the catechist and he the catechumen he would have no difficulty in producing excellent reasons for refusing to answer my interrogatories.

Mr. Roebuck:

I now proceed with the same respect to put similar questions to the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Colleague of the noble Lord. [The hon. Member for Bath then repeated the substance of the questions above given, which he had previously put to the noble Lord.]

Mr. C. Russell

I altogether deny the right of the hon. and learned Member for Bath to ask whether I have any intention either to retain or to vacate the seat which I have now the honour to fill. I hold my seat in this House by as perfect a right as that which entitles the hon. Member to the representation of the city of Bath. I was sent here by a large majority of a numerous constituency. If there existed any doubt with respect to my conduct as a candidate, or any reason to question the propriety of my conduct as a Member of this House, then I beg leave to say that the subject would be matter for inquiry by the committee appointed to try the merits of the petition, and not for an investigation to be conducted by the hon. and learned Member for Bath. If we are thus to be catechised by the dozen, what hon. Member of this House will feel himself safe from being put to the question at any time throughout the whole duration of the Parliament? If the House should sanction a proceeding of this nature, I desire to know where it is to end? I do not hesitate to say, that if the House should be so ill advised as to endure anything of the sort, they will thereby make a great stride towards restoring, in its worst and most malignant shape, that jurisdiction which, not long since, this House wisely and deliberately renounced, and which, if resumed, the seats of hon. Members would again become the sport of party contention, personal envy, and inquisitiveness. In conformity, then, with the principle adopted by the House in giving up the jurisdiction to which I have alluded, and adopting the course of which the House seems to approve. I beg leave to decline answering the questions put to me by the hon. and learned Member for Bath; and I protest against the right of any one to draw any inference from such a circumstance. He has no right, personal or Parliamentary, to put such a question to me: and though I say that the House has no right to draw any inference from my refusal to answer, yet I leave the hon. and learned interrogator to draw whatever conclusion he thinks proper, and I have no doubt that his inferences will be quite as pertinent as his questions.

Mr. Roebuck:

I am perfectly satisfied with that answer, and I shall now proceed to carry forward with the other Members whose names I have mentioned the examination which I have proposed to myself to institute, believing that if I hear aught detrimental to any hon. Member, I shall do that which must prove advantageous to the character of the House, by extending the inquiry as far as possible. In conformity with the rule which I have thus laid down to myself, I proceed to ask the hon. and gallant Member for Penryn if he was a party to, or cognizant of, any agreement by which he, in the month of July next, or anywhere about that time, is to accept the Chiltern Hundreds, although he had been declared elected by the committee appointed to try the validity of his election, it being notorious that acts of bribery were proved at that election, and I wish to know if he is cognizant of any such acts?

Captain Plumridge:

The answer which I propose to give to the hon. Member shall be as brief as possible. I understand that a compromise has been entered into with respect to the petition against the return for Penryn; but I was not cognizant of that compromise till after it was made. I beg I may be allowed to finish this part of the statement. I say I knew nothing of it till after it was entered into, and I am not pleased with the arrangement. We are always taught that when we put our cases into the hands of lawyers, we must confide wholly in their advice, and submit ourselves in all respects to their guidance; but yet I must say that I think the compromise has in this case been made rather prematurely. I do not know that I can more fully answer the question which the hon. and learned Member has put.

Mr. Roebuck:

I have to return the hon. and gallant Member for Penryn my best thanks for the candid and honourable manner in which he has answered my question. There is nothing by which he could do greater honour to himself, or confer greater advantage upon the country, than by giving the fair, candid, and manly reply which the House has just heard. In the same spirit as that by which I was governed in the former case I now proceed to put a similar question respecting the borough of Nottingham. Sir G. Larpent is not in the House, but I see the right hon. Baronet the other Member for the town of Nottingham in his place. I wish to ask him whether he has been a party to or cognizant of, or whether, being cognizant of it, he has taken any advantage of an agreement, or is about to take advantage of any agreement, of the following description:—that a sum of money has been paid down to avoid the investigation of the committee respecting the bribery alleged to have taken place at Nottingham; that a further sum has been paid down as a pledge, by which it should be permitted to an hon. Gentleman to walk over the course, as it is called; whether he has any knowledge of it, or whether any such terms, or anything approximating to them, had been come to?

Sir J. Hobhouse:

I beg leave to say, that I do not admit the right of the hon. and learned Gentleman to put such a question to any Member of this House. I shall, therefore, not answer the question. I shall say no more, because I think no more is called for.

Mr. Roebuck

I quite agree with the right hon. Baronet, that nothing more is called for. Sir George Larpent is not now in the House. 1 am merely going to say, that about half-past twelve or one o'clock last night a motion, I understand, was made in this House that a new writ be issued for the borough of Nottingham, in the room of Sir George Larpent; for that he, since his election, had accepted the stewardship of her Majesty's Chiltern Hundreds. To Sir George Larpent, therefore, I cannot put the question which I have just addressed to other Members of this House. I now wish to make a similar inquiry of an hon. Friend of mine, the Member for Lewes. I am about to ask him if he is cognizant of, or a party to any agreement or arrangement by which the question of bribery at the election of Lewes is to be drawn from the consideration of the committee, so as to admit a Member into this House who was not returned by the returning officer, but who would come into this House by agreement? This is the only question I shall put to the hon. Member.

Mr. Elphinstone

I understand that a compromise has taken place with ray hon. Colleague on the other side of the House; but neither directly nor indirectly have I been a party to any arrangement of the sort, nor have I any intention of accepting the Chiltern Hundreds.


I return my best thanks to the hon. Gentleman. I have now to ask the hon. Member for Harwich, or rather the two hon. Members, whether they are party to, or cognizant of any agreement by which either of those hon. Members is to retire from the seat which he now holds, by accepting the Chiltern Hundreds, for the purpose of letting another person into the House, and by those means avoiding the consideration of bribery before the committee?

Major Beresford:

I do in one singular particular agree with the hon. Member for Bath, namely, that the present proceeding is most extraordinary. I know not of, still less do I acknowledge, any right which the hon. Member may claim to ask questions in this House respecting the private arrangements of hon. Members, and, therefore, I decidedly decline to answer the question. However, if the hon. and learned Member has any primâ facie case affecting me, or affecting my hon. Colleague, let him regularly bring it before a competent tribunal, and there I shall be prepared to defend my own conduct and to answer any charges which may be brought against me. Although I decline to answer questions put by an individual Member, I am perfectly ready to afford the House any information which, in its collective character, it may require. Let the bon. Member only come forward in the manner which 1 have suggested, and he may rest assured that I shall be perfectly ready to clear my character from the slurs which questions of this nature might be supposed to cast upon it, and I have no apprehension that if I should ever have occasion to appear before any tribunal, I shall be able to show that my character is free from all blame. Before an authorised tribunal I shall state everything that I know; and then, perhaps, the active curiosity which has suggested these questions may be satisfied. As I said before, I shall answer anything to the House, but nothing to the learned inquisitor himself.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a committee on the Income-tax Bill.

Mr. Roebuck:

Upon that motion I think I am entitled to call the attention of the House to the notice which I gave yesterday, respecting the appointment of a select committee, and which is in these words: — A committee to inquire whether certain practices connected with the trial of petitions presented to this House against the return of certain of its Members be not a gross breach of its privileges. I think I am bound to bring forward this question with as little delay as possible; and I think also that I am entitled to bring it forward as a matter of privilege. I have heard certain statements respecting various Members of this House in connexion with election petitions. Those statements having come to my ears, and being anxious at all times to do every thing in my power to preserve the character of the House, I have thought it my duty to bring the matter under consideration, and it is, I conceive, entitled to precedence, as a matter of privilege. I have heard statements affecting the character of Members of this House, and I now demand of the House a consideration of the question; and I also respectfully request from the Chair a decision upon this point. I have heard imputations upon the characters of Members of this House—I desire to bring the case before the House; I am prepared to state the nature of the accusations, and to support them by evidence, and I ask from you, Sir, if I am not entitled to bring forward that as a matter of privilege?>

The Speaker

If the hon. and learned Member for Bath desires to show that any Members of this House have committed any breach of privilege, the proper course for him to take, is to move that those hon. Members do attend in their places; that being agreed to, and the hon. Gentlemen accused being present, then if it appear that he undertook to show that they had been guilty of conduct which amounted to a breach of privilege, he ought to move that the matter be referred to a committee of privileges; but if he merely now intends to move for a select committee to inquire whether or not "a gross breach of privilege" has been committed by some Members of this House, I confess I do not think that that is such a motion as the hon. Member is entitled to bring forward as a matter of privilege.


I am prepared now to state the accusations which I mean to prefer; they amount to a gross breach of privilege; on those statements, so made, I think I am justified in moving for a committee of inquiry.

Mr. Elphinstone

If my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Bath, has any charge to make against me, I hope he will state it at once, in order that it may at once be disposed of.

Mr. Roebuck

I am not quite sure, Sir, that you heard what I said. My voice is weak, and I have a difficulty in making myself heard. I say that I am prepared to state certain imputations against certain Members of this House. Those Members are almost all here, for I put my question individually to nearly the whole of them. They being at this moment present, I am ready in their presence, and before them, to state what I have heard, and what I state I myself believe, before I make my statement. I wish to bring under the notice of the House what I consider to be a breach of its privileges, and what is certainly a breach of the common law of this realm. And, Sir, stating as I do, my belief that what I shall bring before the House does amount to a breach of its privileges, I believe I shall be in order in moving for the appointment of a committee of privileges to inquire into facts which I shall state.

The Speaker

Certainly, if the hon. and learned Member for Bath states the facts he proposes to bring before the House of his own belief, 1 consider that he would be in order. But at present the House is in this position:—A motion has been made, that the Order of the Day for the committee on the Property-tax Bill be now read, and it will not be competent to the hon. and learned Member to make his motion, unless that motion be first withdrawn.

Mr. Roebuck:

I do not wish, I am sure, for one moment to interfere with or to stop the course of the Government. If the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government thinks it advantageous that a question of privilege should be deferred to Monday, I am not prepared to oppose it.

Sir R. Peel:

I was quite prepared to bow to the decision of the Chair. On the one hand, I think it is most desirable that when a Member brings forward a motion of privilege, he should have every precedence which the subject demands, and to which be is entitled; but, on the other hand, I think it would be establishing a very inconvenient precedent if an hon. Gentleman be allowed to bring forward a question of privilege in any way that is contrary to the usual practice of the House. I need not say how anxious I am, on public grounds, to proceed with the Property-tax Bill, but at the same time the merely accidental difficulty interposed by the fact of my right hon. Friend having moved the Order of the Day will not be insisted upon by me, provided it appears that the hon. and learned Gentleman has a clear right to bring on this question of privilege in its present form. Were he free to bring it forward on Monday, it is quite clear, that I should gain no great advantage by the postponement, but at the same time, I must say the motion is one of so unusual a character that I will not say more than that it appears to me that it would be for the public advantage that there should be some delay. If the hon. and learned Gentleman were to make a speech—of course I cannot tell what the facts would be that he would state—I must say, that I do not think it would be a desirable thing that the House should come to a conclusion at once merely on hearing that speech. On the other hand, it would be most unfair for hon. Members to be subjected to imputations which they might not be in a situation at once to answer. Looking at the matter as one of indifference to the Government, who have precedence both to-day and Monday, unless a privilege question should intervene, I think it would be the most likely to conduce to a satisfactory decision, if the hon. and learned Gentleman were now to give notice for Monday, so that the House might have the interval to consider what course they would adopt. At the same time, if the hon. and learned Gentleman insists upon the right which the Speaker has declared him to have, I shall not interpose the accidental obstacle of my right hon. Friend's motion to his progress.

Mr. Roebuck

said, if the House should think, under all the circumstances, that he had better proceed on Monday, and not to-day, he was quite ready to accede, but he was quite prepared to go on now.

Several hon. Members: Go on; go on.

Captain Fitzroy

Does the hon. and learned Member for Bath mean to include me in his rigid inquisition? [Mr. Roe" buck: I certainly do.] Then I must say, for one, that it is only fair that the accusation should be made as speedily and as publicly as possible. Feeling, as I do, that it will be impossible for the hon. and learned Gentleman to fix any imputation upon me, yet I think it is only fair that I should know as soon as possible what are the suspicions he entertains, and the charges he makes. I trust, therefore, the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government will allow the accusation to be made at once, and publicly.

Major Beresford

said, as the hon. and learned Member for Bath had included the Members for Harwich in his accusation, he only wished to state, that one of those Members—his hon. Colleague—had gone out of town yesterday to his country place before any notice of his motion had been given by the hon. and learned Member for Bath. He merely mentioned the fact, as it might have some weight in influencing the nature of his observations.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

withdrew his motion for reading the Order of the Day for the committee on the Property-tax Bill.

Mr. Roebuck

said, Sir, the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government has said that the course I have pursued on the present occasion is an unusual one. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that my course is an extraordinary one; but I think before I sit down, I shall convince him that the circumstances under which I have acted, are also extraordinary. Extraordinary evils require extraordinary remedies. I have, no doubt, deviated from the ordinary course of proceeding in this House on this occasion, but I think I shall be able to show the House that there exist grave reasons for suspicions as regards the two hon. Members who now sit for the town of Nottingham. [An hon. Member: One!] Against the one right hon. Member who now sits in this House for the town of Nottingham, the other hon. Member having resigned. I am also told, and have good reason to believe, and 1 think I shall be able to prove to the satisfaction of the House, that great suspicion also exists against the two hon. Members who now sit for Harwich in this House, or at least against one of them; and that grave suspicion also rests on the transactions that have taken place with respect to the Penryn and Falmouth case. I believe I shall also be able to show that the same grave suspicion rests against the two hon. Members who now sit for Reading, and also against the two Members for Lewes. And to what do these suspicions relate? They relate to a subject on which, above all others, it behoves the House to be watchful, and to take care that no man be enabled to impose on this House as a representative of the people by the use of corruption, intimidation, and bribery. I am here to charge the right hon. Baronet who now represents the town of Nottingham, with cognizance of and participation in bribery. I am here to charge upon the hon. Member who has resigned the seat which he held for the same town the same thing. I am here to charge the sitting Members for Harwich with bribery. I am here to charge the sitting Member for Penryn and Falmouth with being cognizant of and a participator in bribery. I am here to charge the Members for Reading with being cognizant of and participators in bribery, and I am here to charge the Members for Lewes in the same way; and why do I take this mode of making the charge? It is, that from the ordinary tribunals appointed by the law for the consideration of these subjects they have been withdrawn, and that, therefore, I am driven to the adoption of this extraordinary course. Such is the state of the law — such I find it in these cases to have been —that persons guilty of bribery, or cognizant that bribery has been committed, can withdraw from the tribunals which Parliament has appointed for the consideration of such charges. But shall it be j said that the House, with the power in its own hands, shall allow persons found guilty before its very eyes to withdraw from its own immediate cognizance, which is far more certain than that of any of the tribunals appointed by act of Parliament? By the act of Parliament committees are appointed to try the merits of election petitions; but, according to the practice, any party prosecuted before those tribunals can withdraw, and so escape conviction. Let me, by one illustration, point out the kind of proceedings that may take place under such a system. Suppose there is a general election, and that the town of Nottingham is about to be contested—a sort of Parliamentary Napoleon determines to conquer the town, or in the language of the historian, to "jump on it with both his feet." He rushes down to the town, bribes every man, frightens his opponent out of the place, and is returned to Parliament as its Member. The opposing candidate enters a petition against his return. Say that the committee for the trial of that petition is to be struck next Monday. But fear seizes upon him when about to come before the tribunal which the law provides for the investigation of his proceedings, and he desires to escape from that tribunal. What, then, do the successful parties do? Why, they eater into a compromise with the opposing candidate, propose to pay down a sum of money for the purpose of exculpating themselves and escaping the scrutiny of the committee; and further pledge themselves to allow the ousted candidate to walk over the course. Now, I hearing of these things, put a question to the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Nottingham, who must be cognizant of these facts, if true, and now I ask the House what would have been the conduct of each and all of those hon. Members to whom I put the same question, if they had not been cognizant of such transactions. Suppose any hon. Member had come forward and accused me of a similar transaction; what does the House suppose would have been my answer? Should I have sheltered myself under such a shield as that "the hon. and learned Member for Bath has no right to put such a question?" No, Sir, I should have been glad to answer. I should have been thankful to the hon. Member who had brought forward so base an accusation, and I should at once have declared, in the face of the whole country and of this House, who are its representatives, that the whole statement was a foul lie and a calumny. Has the right hon. Baronet done this? Has not, on the con- trary, one of the Members returned for Nottingham already done that which I should have anticipated had I put the question to him? Did he not, at four o'clock yesterday, accept the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds in fulfilment of the purposes of that very contract which by my question I proposed to bring under the notice of the House? But I am met by a statement which bears upon me with great force. It is said, but suppose that under these circumstances a sitting Member so situated finds it too expensive a process to defend his seat. I at once allow that that may be a reason. But my charge goes much further than that. I have heard, and I have reason to believe, and if the House grants me a committee, I think I shall be enabled to prove, that a sum of money has either been promised or paid down in order that the party might escape the investigation before the election committee. Now, this was a case of payment of something as an inducement to the treaty. It is not simply saying, "I am unable to bear the expense of the contest;" it is going further, and saying, "I am guilty of all the petition lays to my charge, and I am prepared to give something to escape from inquiry." Now I am prepared to say, and I do say, that I have heard these things circulated in every part of the town in which we live; and I am also prepared to say, that if you will give me power to bring before the House the agents in those transactions, I will get out the truth of my statement. Is the House prepared to say, that the facts I have alleged are not a breach of its privileges? Is the House prepared to say, that going down to bribe a whole town for the purpose of securing an election is not a gross breach of its privileges? If the House will say that, then I have no answer to make, and I have done. But if the House admits that such conduct is a gross breach of its privileges, then I am here in my place to say, that I myself believe the accusation made to be true, and that I am prepared, if the House will give me the means, to prove its truth. Making that statement as I do, will the House deny me the committee I ask for? I now come to the Reading case, and I say that I have heard, and have every reason to believe, that a bond has been entered into for a purpose which I will presently state. I say, that one of the hon. Members for Reading— I am compelled to name him in order to dis- tinguish him from the other hon. Member —I should call him the noble Member for Reading, is about to accept the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, under a penalty in which either he or his friends are bound so to vacate his seat by a certain day. Is such a case as this a breach of the privileges of this House or is it not? Of what is the hon. Member for Reading accused? Of bribery, intimidation, corruption, and treating. And before these things can be tried — indeed, after the committee has been sitting only one day— the whole affair is hushed up, the committee returns certain Members as the sitting Members, and if I had not interfered, what would have taken place, as far as the public knowledge of the affair is concerned? Why, the noble Member for Reading would have gracefully retired by accepting the Chiltern Hundreds—it would have been thought that pleasure or some other graceful employment had attracted him elsewhere; and so the matter would have ended. But I charge him beforehand with the intention of retreating. I have accused him in the face of his fellow-countrymen, and he dares not meet the accusation. Let us return to the case of Nottingham. It is very important that we should know what are the charges and accusations of the petition. The accusations included in the allegations of the petitions are, then, that the right hon. Sir John Cam Hobhouse, and George Gerard de Hochepied Larpent, now Sir George Gerard de Hochepied Larpent were candidates at the last election for the town of Nottingham; that, therefore, a poll was demanded on behalf of John Walter, which poll was allowed by the returning officer, and that shortly after the poll had commenced the opposition ceased, and the said Sir John Cam Hobhouse and George Gerard de Hochepied Larpent were returned. But the petition goes on to say that large numbers of electors were carried away to prevent them from voting—? "cooped" is the phrase of the petition— a new term to me, but which, as explained by a very learned and competent person, means that these large numbers of electors were shut up and hidden in large houses; and it further appears that there existed such a mass of corruption and intimidation at Nottingham—all brought to bear upon the election by the admirable strategic operations of the right hon. Baronet—that the opposing candidates were compelled to give way. Such are the facts of the Nottingham case, as they appear from the petition. At Reading not quite the same thing took place, but quite enough was done to frighten the opponents of those who are the sitting Members in this House. I ask, Sir, if these things are to continue, what is to become of the privileges of Parliament? If all honourable feeling is to be put an end to—if after an election petition has been presented the inquiry is to be hushed up in an hour—if arrangements of the kind I have mentioned are to be made with impunity, and the grossest corruption concealed and hidden from the public eye. I ask, Sir, again, what is to become of the privileges of Parliament? Now I come to the Lewes case, I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will not think that I mean to impute anything dishonourable to his party or to him in what I shall say. The question before us is, whether we shall consent to the continuance of a practice which, if not checked, will utterly break up the constitution, as far as the election to this House is concerned. I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite and my hon. Friend will excuse me, then, if finding them in the slough, I bring their case, too, before the House. My hon. and learned Friend at once acknowledged, that as regarded the Lewes case, there had been a compromise, and he has not said that it was not what I declared it to be—a compromise for the purpose of preventing the bribery coming out before the committee. Here is a case where the facts are admitted —where I cannot be accused of rashly rushing in. What is the charge in the case of the Members for Lewes? It is, that they went to Lewes with money in their hands, which was to be employed for the purposes of bribery, and that they were returned in consequence of that bribery. That point is clearly stated in the petition, and it seems that the petitioners had in their hands such proofs as enabled them to say to the sitting Members, "If you don't give up you see what the consequence will be." And the sitting Member being a prudent man, and connected as the parties were together, he retires, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite now sits in his place. I am not accusing the men, I am accusing the system. I say, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is there in consequence of the system, and it is the system which I want to expose. I care not for the men. There sits the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Fitzroy), and here sits my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Elphinstone). Where, and O where is his colleague? Echo answers, "Where." He is gone Now we will come to the case of Penryn and Falmouth. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Plumridge) has acknowledged that there was a compromise, the nature of which he does not tell us, but at which he says he was extremely angry. [" Captain Plumridge— No, not angry; only displeased."] I exaggerated the phrase and am very sorry for it. The committee, however, was appointed. A witness was brought forward. He swore to direct acts of bribery. The thing became exceedingly unpleasant, and an arrangement having been made the night before between the parties, the counsel comes in and states that the whole matter is arranged, that the petitioners withdraw their petition; "And," adds the learned counsel, "we beg to say,"—now mark how they treat the witness—" we beg to say, that we don't believe one word which the witness has said." That is to say, although the charge was bribery, and the witness has distinctly proved it, yet we withdraw, and the world hears no more of the matter. But I see a good deal more. I see that the hon. Member is to retire in July. Now, do not we understand it so? The hon. and gallant Member's lawyer considered what was best to be done in the case; he brought his legal acumen and experience to bear upon it, and having seen men tried before for such practices, he said "The case is up, we will not try this, and the hon. Member will retire in July." Is the hon. Member not to retire in July. This circumstance then, that he is to retire in July, is a confirmation of the accusation. But why is he to retire? If the witness did not tell the truth, why is he to retire? For what reason? He is in health, he is strong, and quite equal to his Parliamentary duties. Why, then, should he retire? [Captain Plumridge; Because he made a bad bargain.] Now, I ask this House and the people of England, whether this is the language which ought to be used in reference to such a case? A bad bargain! Do we buy and sell the representation? If we come to this House fairly and freely to represent our fellow-countrymen, to watch over their interests, to take care of all that is dear to them and ourselves, is the hon. and gallant Member to be per- mitted to say, that it is a "bad bargain" by which he will be removed from this House? I do entreat the House not to permit such language to be used without reprehension. If these are the feelings of the hon. and gallant Member on the subject of the representation, I must say he is unworthy of a seat in this House, and in this case July will be a happy month for us. Every honest man who feels the responsibility of his situation here will concur with me in saying, that such language and conduct ought not to be permitted in this place. I think I have made out my case with respect to Penryn and Falmouth. Now for Harwich. In this case, the Members were charged with bribery, treating, and corruption. There were three petitions, one proceeding from Mr. Denis Le Marchant, now a Baronet and Sir Denis le Marchant, the other from Sir Denis Le Marchant and certain electors: and the third from Mr. J. Bagshawe. Mr. Bagshawe and Sir Denis le Marchant were candidates at the Harwich election. Before anything happened in the committee, a sudden light broke in upon the sitting Members. The three petitions were withdrawn, and the accusation is that one of those hon. Members is to retire, in order to let in Sir Denis le Marchant. The accusations contained in the petitions were bribery, treating, and corruption. The petitions are withdrawn, and a Member retires. The hon. and gallant Member for Harwich has told me I may draw whatever conclusion I please from his silence. I draw, then, the conclusion that either he or his Colleague retires. 1 say now, that one of them is to retire. Why? And why has joy gone forth to the friends of Sir Denis le Marchant? Why do they say "We have got a seat for Harwich?" Because a compromise and an agreement have taken place between these parties. In the case of Harwich a curious thing occurred. The sitting Members presented an objection list, whilst the other parties more carefully reserved theirs. The objection list of the sitting Members was presented, and then it was attempted to be withdrawn; but it was too late; and I find in this objection list the names of eighty-three voters for receiving bribes, and of seventeen for offering bribes. This is on one side only. The objection list of the other side, which has been so potent as to drive the hon. and gallant Member or his Colleague from the representation, has not been presented. I want to know how many voters were objected to in that list. I believe a great many more were objected to in that list than in the list of the sitting Members; and if a committee is granted to me, I will show how many more. I will again call the attention of the House to the case of Lewes. There were objected to on the part of the petitioners eighty voters for being bribed, forty for having made bets on the result of the election, and thereby acquiring a pecuniary interest in it, and ninety-six as being corrupted, making a total of 216 voters objected to on the part of the petitioners. On the part of the sitting Members, 183 voters were charged with bribery, sixty-three with attempts to bribe, 135 with being bribed, seventy-two with being paid agents, forty-five with betting, twenty-two with treating, and forty for being treated, making altogether 560 voters objected to by the sitting Members. How many electors voted at the last election for Lewes? The highest number voted for Mr. Harford, namely, 411, and yet the sitting Members had objected to 560 voters. For Mr. Elphinstone, 409 voted; for the hon. Mr. Fitzroy, 407, and for Lord Cantilupe, 388; so that the number who voted for any one candidate did not amount to the number of voters objected to, which equalled, adding the objections on both sides together, 722. Now, think of the corruption here! It is fearful to contemplate it; and I am told that in the last two elections for Nottingham above 4,000 persons received bribes. Give me a committee, and I will prove this. I now come to the case of Penryn and Falmouth. What was the course pursued there? The committee was struck, and sat one day; witnesses were heard; and what is the observation of all the lawyers with whom. I have happened to have conversed on the subject of the proceedings of this committee? Why, they all exclaimed, "How very unlucky; if they had gone one step further, if the investigation only lasted five minutes longer, it would have been impossible to withdraw the case from the consideration of the committee." What did they mean by saying this? They meant, that had the case only lasted five minutes longer, the whole transaction would have appeared so plain, it would have been impossible for hon. Members on their oaths, to have allowed it to escape investigation. I say these are things requiring examination. I ask for no more. I ask for an inquiry, such as will free hon. Members from the accusations made against them, or by justifying those accusations will lay a ground for further legislative interference. And what is the legislative interference I ask for? Why, something that shall enable this House to consider an election petition something more than a fight between A and B. At present, the return to a seat in this House is considered as a mere matter between A and B. If A gains, his party is pleased; and if B gains, his party is pleased. But the public and the great business of this empire are totally unconsidered in the matter; and we buy and sell the constituencies of this country as if they were flocks of sheep. Look at the ease of Nottingham. The right hon. Baronet on this side of the House (Sir J. C. Hobhouse), as I said before, bought the whole constituency, and I say, Mr. Walter bought them of him. Perhaps the right hon. Baronet may have thought he had made a bad bargain, and may, therefore, have sold the constituency for less than he gave for them. Nevertheless, he has sold them. These are the transactions I wish to inquire into, in order to expose them to the people of this country. I have not confined my accusations to one side of the House or to the other. I have made no party question of this. I stand up for the purity of this House, and, God willing, we will make it pure. We cannot, however, do so, if we allow such things to pass by without reprehension. I address myself to both sides of the House—to the whole House—to you, Gentlemen, the protectors of the general weal, I ask you to enable me to lay these transactions before a committee. Not one among you doubts in his heart the truth of my statements. There is not a man here present who will not say of me before retiring to rest this evening, "However unwise this man may be, he told the truth." Who will believe that the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes is here for nothing? It is impossible to suppose so. Give me a committee, then, and let me prove what I say. [Captain Fitzroy: 1 will vote for it.] That is just what I should have expected. When rumours of all these transactions have gone abroad, and when the public mind is full of the corruption which is stated to have taken place, are you prepared to shrink from the ordeal which has become neces- sary? When I stand forward to demand inquiry, is any man so blind, so careless of the reputation of this House, as to stand up and refuse me the means of an inquiry? I hope to have my motion seconded by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Nottingham. I will not appeal to others. I see one venerable man opposite (Mr. Wynn), who has always stood up for the privileges of this House; but I will not presume to ask him to second my motion. I will get the right hon. Member for Nottingham to do this. I tell him that his character is concerned. My accusations are such that he cannot get out of them by the denial he has given me. I now move for a committee to inquire into the accusations I have made here in my place in Parliament, and I call upon the House to give me this committee, in order that they may see whether those accusations are true. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving, That a select committee be appointed, to inquire whether certain charges made of corrupt proceedings on the trial of certain election petitions, before election committees lately appointed to try the same, and which proceedings are charged as a gross breach of the privileges of this House, be true.

Captain Fitzroy:

I have not the slightest objection to get up in my place and second the hon. and learned Member's motion. I am glad I put the question I did put to the hon. and learned Member, and I am thankful to the House for allowing this discussion to proceed without a postponement to Monday, because that of which I was convinced before is now perfectly clear—that the hon. and learned Member has failed to attach to me, in his accusing speech, and will equally fail if a committee be granted him, any breach of the privileges of this House. I asked the hon. and learned Member across the House whether he intended to include me in the list of those who are charged with being guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House; and he replied, he did; and I now ask him to explain in what way he attached to me any breach of the privileges of the House; for, after having listened to the hon. and learned Member's speech with great attention, I have failed to discover how he connects me with such a charge. I was a petitioner for a seat which I believed was justly and fairly my own, and that seat was conceded to me by the hon. Member against whom I presented a petition. How then am I guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House by taking possession of a seat so conceded? I want to know whether I was to act the part of a public prosecutor? Was I, because I had accused an hon. Member of that House of depriving me, by the means of bribery and corruption, of my rightful seat, to be subjected, after obtaining possession of that seat, to the expense of an investigation which would have lasted, probably, three weeks, for no possible purpose concerning myself? If the House of Commons call on me to be a public prosecutor, they cannot do less than allow me a large salary for the duty to be performed. I maintain that the compromise—if compromise it is to be called—amounts to this:—My late hon. Colleague having failed, by a technical error, on one head of his objections, it became impossible for him to obtain his seat; and, however long the inquiry might have been protracted, I could neither have served him nor my party by proceeding. We presented a petition, got a committee, and, as the hon. and learned Member said, I am here in consequence. Is this any breach of privilege? It appears to me, that the hon. and learned Member has been this night much more discursive and less argumentative than usual. He seems, to desire to see a system established, by which every person presenting an election petition should be bound under a penalty to proceed with it, to prove the allegations made by counsel in their opening speech, and under no circumstances to retire until the case should be strictly investigated. Whether such a course of proceeding would be desirable or not, it is not for me to say. I should perhaps be rather inclined to see a law compelling petitioners to proceed; but as this is not the law at present, I maintain again that I stand free from any imputation of being guilty of a breach of privilege for taking possession of a seat, conceded to me on account of no unworthy consideration or bargain on my part, without payment of money, and without compromise of principle, but simply because the hon. Gentleman previously filling it failed to defend it. 1 am one of those who wish as much as any man to see the character of this House for purity stand as high as possible. I trust that my own character, both) public and private, will always stand high; and I believe that any guilt or unworthy proceedings in public life cannot fail to attach to a man's private character. From all such proceedings I am confident my constituents will declare I have always abstained. I now say, in the face of my constituents, and in the presence of One more, that I have never, during my contests for a seat in Parliament, obtained it by any corrupt or improper means, directly or indirectly, through my agents or otherwise. For this reason I second the motion of the hon. and learned Member. I have always most sedulously set my face against such proceedings, and have told my constituents over and over again, that I would not accept a seat if it were obtained by improper practices. With more than this I will not trouble the House; but I am sure the House will feel that it is the part of every honest man to state the facts relative to these matters fairly and candidly; and the House will not think I have obtruded too much on its patience in attempting to clear my character, as far as my solemn declaration, in the presence of you all, can clear it, of any foul aspersions which may be cast against it. If any one should get up in this House, or state publicly or privately that I have obtained my seat by corrupt practices, 1 will tell him (and in doing so I mean no disrespect to the hon. and learned Member, who has indeed said it is the part of an honest man to state boldly and freely his sentiments)—I will tell him, I repeat, that it is a foul lie and calumny. I shall then follow the advice of the hon. and learned Member, whose very words I use. Any statement to the effect that I have directly or indirectly made use of corrupt or improper means to obtain my seat I designate as a foul lie. Perhaps I may be allowed, as the hon. and learned Member has read a list of objections made by both parties, to mention one fact in elucidation of this point. In the first place, I must deprecate the course pursued by the hon. and learned Member, because I think it calculated to revive among the constituents all the heat of past contests. With respect to the forty bets, those were merely made to raise a legal point — to ascertain whether the betting Is., or a bottle of wine, or 1l., on a candidate would disqualify a voter. With respect to the number included under all the heads of objections, it is well known that in a scrutiny case the lists are filled up with a great many per- sons' names against whom there is no real objection, and against whom it is not intended to proceed. As far as concerns the number of persons accused of being bribed on our side, I know that many persons were included in the list who are perfectly incapable of acting in such a manner, and I fear it was from unworthy motives that this slur was attempted to be cast upon them. I apologise for occupying the time of the House so long; but 1 repeat I never have been, and never will be, cognizant of corrupt practices. I trust the motion for the appointment of a committee may be carried, in order to see whether these charges be true or not.

Mr. Elphinstone

I also support the motion, because I believe that the result of the inquiry will be that no imputations will attach either to my hon. Colleague or myself. I will state as clearly as 1 can the facts connected with the case of Lewes. There were four candidates at the election — myself and my late Colleague, and two other Gentlemen. Immediately after our return a petition was presented against us, and on making inquiry into the case, it appeared that the partisans on both sides had been guilty of bribery and treating. The committee met for investigation, and had it proceeded the probability is this, neither of the four parties would be now a Member of the House. A compromise was come to by the legal advisers; but no personal imputation rested on the candidates, the acts being done by their agents. I am perfectly ready to confess that this is the reason why my Colleague retired. Six hundred persons were included in the list of objections. It was intended that a scrutiny should take place; and I put it to the House whether, considering how utterly incompetent the election committees are to decide points of law, it would not have been a rash proceeding to run the risk of a scrutiny. On these grounds it was determined that one of us should vacate his seat. I will not charge it upon the hon. Member opposite or his noble Colleague at the hustings, but most undoubtedly there existed gross bribery and treating on their side during the election.

Captain Plumridge

Sir, I beg to be allowed to state most solemnly and most emphatically before this hon. House, before the country, nay, before God, that I never gave one penny to any voter, either before, at, or since my election, and I stand in this House as pure and as uncorrupt as the hon. Member for Bath himself. It was my pledge to all my friends before the election that I should not spend one farthing, and I firmly adhered to it. 1 have not paid for even a single bit of riband, and I will not. 1 have not paid one sou towards the expense of my election, and I will not. Although perjury might fix me with that crime, I state, as an Officer and a Gentleman, as a Member of this hon. House, that I neither promised to pay, nor did pay, one single sou to any one for a vote. I beg to state further that I had not even a paid agent.

Mr. Williams Wynn

said, that the question before the House, concerning as it did the honour of its Members, was one of the utmost importance, no one could for a moment doubt. He must, however, say that it was something novel for a question of so important a description to be brought forward upon mere common fame. The hon. Member for Bath spoke as if he believed the charges, and he offered to prove them before a committee, if one were granted to him. Now, the subject was one that demanded mature consideration; they ought to consider whether it were a question that ought to be referred to a committee, or whether it were not one of so much importance as to require that the House should examine into it. He would, therefore, move that the debate be adjourned till Monday.

Mr. Ward

saw no reason why his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath should not at once accede to the motion of the right hon. Gentleman. As he was in favour of the adjournment, he would not say one word upon the question itself.

Mr. Roebuck:

I accede to the motion at once.

Mr. C. Wood

begged to be allowed to say one word before the question was put. The hon. Member for Bath said he could prove that bribery had been committed in the Penryn case. As chairman of the committee in that case he wished to say that even the counsel for the petitioner stated that he did not believe one word which the witness had said, and the committee fully concurred with him. The committee had no doubt that the witness had perjured himself, as he had done in the House of Lords ten years ago.

Mr. W. Wynn

said, committees and the House ought to act with great severity in the punishment of those who gave false testimony before them. He did not believe that it would be advantageous to wait until an indictment for perjury could be preferred, which might not be the case for two months: the power which was vested in the committee ought to be exercised, and the party guilty ought to be at once committed. He was aware of the good natured feeling which existed in the House, which led them to entertain every motion for the discharge of a prisoner, after he had been imprisoned for two or three weeks, but he did not think that was sufficient punishment to deter others from committing the same crime. He had narrowly watched the proceedings of the committees during the Session, and he could not do so without feeling great pain at noticing the manner in which witnesses fenced with their oaths. It was time that a greater degree of severity should be used, in order to stop the evil.

Mr. Roebuck

begged to ask the hon. Member for Halifax whether the committee over which he had presided was so convinced of the perjury of the witness as to report him to the House?

Mr. C. Wood:


Mr. Aglionby

said, the hon. Member for Bath had anticipated the question he intended to put. He would beg to ask why the committee had not reported the witness to the House? He perfectly concurred in the motion for adjourning the question, and he trusted that on Monday, laying aside all party feelings, they would come down to a calm and temperate discussion of these grave charges. He had been much delighted at the manner in which the charge had been met by the gallant Officer opposite, and by the hon. and learned Gentleman and the gallant Captain on his side of the House. He felt much pain and regret that others who had been implicated had not felt that they could take the same course. He begged to ask the hon. Member for Halifax why no steps had been taken for the prosecution of the party said to have been guilty of perjury. It was due, not only to the country, but to the party charged, that no time should be lost in having his guilt or innocence proved.

Mr. C. Wood

said, the hon. Member, belonging as he did to the legal profession, must know that there was great difference between a conviction on one's mind and a sufficient case for a prosecution. The question of perjury never arose in the committee, but they were unanimous in saying they did not believe one word the witness said.

Mr. Wakley

perfectly concurred in the motion of the right hon. Gentleman. It was a question which deserved consideration on two grounds. He was anxious for an extended inquiry; if they were to have one at all, let it be ample. Do not let them select four or five cases, when it was perfectly well known that there were upwards of fifty more members as deeply implicated. A great number of petitions had been presented that had not been prosecuted before a committee, and it was well known that equally corrupt practices had caused their withdrawal. Now, according to the terms of the motion of the hon. Member for Bath, the committee would have no power to inquire into them. It would be a partial, and, therefore, an unfair inquiry. He trusted his hon. Friend would amend his motion so as to embrace an inquiry concerning all the petitions presented after the last general election.

Mr. Hume

did not at all agree with his hon. Friend. If he hoped for any good from the inquiry, let it be confined to the few cases. He wished to say a word to the hon. Member for Halifax. That hon. Member bad taken advantage of his place in Parliament to charge a man as guilty of perjury. Now, he thought he ought either to prove the case or abstain from using his privilege in such a manner.

Debate adjourned.

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